I have an idea for a book...what now?
September 17, 2016 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I have a great idea for a type of reference book. I'd love to make it a reality as I think it could really be useful to a lot of people. I only have the idea though. What do I do now?
posted by Amalie-Suzette to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Look at EVERY reference book even VAGUELY related to your subject published in the past decade: make sure there's a need and a market.
posted by listen, lady at 8:13 AM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also every website in the same field to make sure there's not a digital way of people accessing the same information (even if they have to pay for it). Digital reference materials are so much easier to keep up-to-date than printed ones that you'd need to massively outstrip the quality of information printed online to make it worth doing in print.

Do you have expertise in this particular area that might convince publishers you are the best person to do this?
posted by penguin pie at 8:28 AM on September 17, 2016

You'll want to do some reading on how to produce a proposal for a non-fiction work. If you don't already have substantial expertise and a rock solid proposal, agents are unlikely to take a chance on you. (If your proposed work is a niche enough interest you could probably try just writing the thing and selling it yourself on Amazon, though. It will depend on how broad the appeal of your book would be.) If your topic is something specific like an OReilly book, you'll need to be able to prove you're an expert in the topic area.
posted by MsMolly at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2016

Write it.

This is not meant to be snarky. People who haven't already written books have almost zero chance of publishing something based on just an idea (I think even the book proposal idea is more for people who've done this before). The only people who can get a book deal based on an idea for a book are authors with a strong track record of success or celebrities who are already famous in other areas.
posted by Sara C. at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

As Sara says, you pretty much have to write it. The idea of an unknown writer pitching an idea and getting someone else to advance or fund it are pretty much Hollywood fiction.

A lot of books in the last few years are actually adapted from self-made websites/blogs, too. So if you can write it as a series of blog posts (chapters?), it may be an easier pitch to suggest a "book version of this". I suspect (but do not know for sure) that there are even people out looking for these, since they're such easy projects once the right websites/blogs are identified.
posted by rokusan at 3:58 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fiction book (literature) deals require you to have a manuscript in hand unless you're, like, Franzen or Murakami.

Nonfiction book deals usually start from a proposal, and almost always go through an agent. Usually you'd write the proposal after you've found and signed with an agent.

At least if you're in the US, don't reach out to editors (except at VERY small independent presses), reach out to agents who do books related to yours. In the UK I think people work directly with editors more. But, having a decent agent will get you a better deal.

Also, think about: do you want to do this as your job, or do you just want to end up with a published book at the end? (Bluntly, this means, are you looking for $2K or $20K or $100K in funding/advance for it? And DEFINITELY don't go for a deal where YOU end up paying to publish, which happens when shady publishers take advantage of people's fervent desire to just have a book out there with your name on it)

Things that will make a publisher want to publish you, which in turn will help you get an agent:
-Can you demonstrate that you're a known person in this field, or even better, an expert?
-Can you get other experts to contribute to your book, or write a forward, or a blurb for the back cover?
-Do books related to yours sell well?

If the first two aren't really a true in your case, start becoming a recognized expert in your subject: pitch stories to blogs and magazines in your subject area, or write more academic papers on the subject if you're in an academic job. Go to conferences, meet people, present at said conferences, propose or moderate panels, etc. This is a long-haul plan, but reference books are long-haul jobs.
posted by zingiberene at 3:55 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

As someone who was a total unknown before she found an agent and sold a non-fiction book on proposal to a big five publisher, it can definitely happen. You'll need to prove that there's a market for your book, though, and that's where it can get tricky. That said, depending on the kind of reference book an online resource may be much more practical.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2016

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