I wrote a book... but I only had a copy for me...
September 25, 2009 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I have this amazing idea for a book that has never been done before and will sell like hotcakes. (No, seriously!) But I have absolutely no idea where to start. What do I do?

I am very into local history, and I am astounded -- ASTOUNDED! -- that nobody has ever written a book about Local Phenomenon X. (Sorry to be so coy; I know it's annoying. I'm doing it anyway.)

For the purpose of explanation, let's say that I'm talking about the Empire State Building: you look at it and say, "You're kidding me, right? Surely people have written SOMETHING! I mean, it's the fricking Empire State Building!" Maybe people haven't written about it because it's too big of a subject, or they assume it's been done. Whatever the case, I know that there's nothing out there. Maybe a few historical booklets, but nothing of substance.

The thing about writing a book about the not-Empire State Building is that it could be so awesome. I have access to a huge repository of photos and stories, both in historical archives and from tourists. It's a beloved physical landmark with a great history, but people also have really strong feelings about it: working there, being tourists, the way it looks, what it means to the city, rumors, legends, you name it.

And that's just it. I know it could be a beautiful coffee table book, or even a bigger book with stories and a Website and and and... where do I begin? How do I focus my idea? I have ideas for the divisions (history, famous people who have been there, a tour of the area) but I want to make sure it's not too much of an overload.

(Also, I have ADD. Ooh, is that Julie Andrews over there?)

Things I have on my side:
--I've seen this thread.
--I am a writer and media professional, so even if I don't do it myself I can give it to someone who is good.
--I know the perfect people to get involved with it; one is a great photographer and the other has been involved with Local Phenomenon X for many years. They're young, but they've written a somewhat-similar book that is getting good press.
--People in my area will buy it, no doubt. I'm not concerned about making money, but I could price it really high and they'd still buy it. This is a huge nostalgia item.
--I work for the university and, as I've said, have access to all sorts of public information, experts and the historical society archives.
--My dad has written multiple books (coffee table and nonfiction) and operated his own publishing company, so I know he could be realistic with me about what has to happen.
--I have many contacts at our university press, who would probably publish it (or at least tell me where else I could take the idea).

Am I crazy?
posted by Madamina to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Nope. Do it.
posted by rokusan at 4:07 PM on September 25, 2009

Go for it. You sound very passionate about your project, always makes working more fun.
posted by JujuB at 4:19 PM on September 25, 2009

Do it, sounds like you have everything going for you.
posted by gene_machine at 4:21 PM on September 25, 2009

Write it?
posted by kylej at 4:21 PM on September 25, 2009

It seems like this would work just about the same as any other book: write a proposal, see if you can find an agent to take you on based on your proposal (and possibly some sample chapters), agent shops book to publishers, one of which buys the book.

You could also go the new media route of starting a website first, and then use the website to get the agent and book contract (sometimes just book contract, but an agent isn't a terrible thing to have).
posted by Lyn Never at 4:23 PM on September 25, 2009

Response by poster: So... I should just start with the proposal?
posted by Madamina at 4:24 PM on September 25, 2009

Am I crazy?

I've spent over twenty years working in non-fiction book publishing.
Given your background and resources, I don't think you're crazy.

But: (1) It'll take longer than you expect, perhaps much longer. I've received manuscripts years later than when they were originally promised. (2) If you self-publish don't get yourself into a situation where your cost per book is more than people are realistically willing to pay, despite your optimism. (3) Every writer needs a good editor, or at least an experienced proofreader. For this sort of publication conform to The Chicago Manual of Style. (4) Be wary of "designers" who can make pretty posters and brochures but don't really have any experience doing real book design and typography.

Good luck, and remember it's a labor of love.
posted by D.C. at 4:36 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Write the proposal. Write the first three chapters, or about fifty pages, to send to an agent if requested. (Most agents don't want you to send them anything but the proposal when you do your initial queries, but from my paltry experience they do expect that you'll have something up your sleeve to show them, should they express interest.) You may also want write an outline of what you plan to include in the book, how you hope to structure the narrative, etc. Agents do sometimes ask to see outlines. Be sure to research which agents would be right for this kind of history and/or coffee table book. See if your dad or your university press can give you some suggestions about which agents you should contact. Put together the best damn query letters in the history of the world.

... And then go for it. Don't expect riches or fame; do expect a long, hard slog.

If you are crazy, so is every other person who has done this. Good luck!
posted by brina at 4:54 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have at it. Go to the local public library and tell them you're looking for the big book of literary agents. I don't recall the proper title, but it will list agencies, tell you their location and what they specialize in. You can then contact the ones who handle books on the not Empire State building.

Alternatively, self publish and when you sell enough copies, they'll come to you!
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:09 PM on September 25, 2009

Go for it. In addition to traditional publishing, if the interest is more local you might be able to get a local community/government arts grant or sponsorship from local businesses or something like that depending on what type of iconic landmark (or whatever) you're writing about...
posted by glider at 8:55 PM on September 25, 2009

There's a book named Staziland. In the first chapter the author basically says she wrote the book because no one was talking or writing about East Germany and it was quickly disappearing. It's a best seller.
posted by xammerboy at 12:03 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

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