Getting Published
January 27, 2004 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I have some questions about getting a non-fiction book published. [more inside]

I'm relatively clear on the package that most publishers expect for a book proposal - the executive summary, the detailed outline, sample chapters, market analysis, bio and so on.

I know there are quite a few people here with one or more books either out there now or soon to be on the market, though, and I wonder if you'd be willing to share any general tips on how to get a non-fiction work published, and pitfalls to avoid. Projected sales would be upwards of 10K copies off the get-go, and then, say, 4-5K or so every year thereafter, thanks to the nature of the niche market involved (which is, at this stage, almost entirely free of any competitive publications). Friends who have published non-fiction have told me these are numbers that might interest some publishers.

A few specific things I'm wondering about :
1) Is it wise to seek out an agent (bearing in mind that I don't live in North America)? Does anyone have any suggestions on the best way to do this, if it's advisable? If it's not, why would you say so?
2) If one were to simply shop the proposal around to likely publishers, is there a best way to approach this? Is it the best way to go?
3) What sort of terms are the norm, if a publisher does decide to take on an author and his or her project?
4) Do you know of any no-bullshit online resources for information of this nature?

Any other general tips and gotcha-warnings to someone who's never dealt with this stuff before would be most appreciated, as would any stories of your own experiences. Best answers get free copies of the book, if and when it gets published....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
If this is your 1st book, its like music... unless you have a smash hit best seller right outa the gate, don't realistically expect to make money from the venture. Your publisher will make money, but you most likely will not make a whole lot when you factor in your time.

What you stand to make is a reputation as a published author, and based upon that, if your 1st book meets sales expectations, then subsequent books you get to publish will enable you to negotiate better deals than a first author is likely to get.

Have you ruled out self publishing already? Todays print on demand and short-run printers make it quite economically viable, provided you budget for a publicist, advertising etc.

In the recent past, i ran a small publishing company, so when my neighbor was proud to get his first book published (Yoga for MBAs) I kept my mouth shut. On an initial print run of 20,000, his publisher had him travel all over the US to promote the book (travel expenses paid for and deducted from the gross). All told, he made about 50 appearances in one year's time, and sold about 16,000 copies. He told me he netted about US$11,000.

Based on the above experience, he self published his 2nd book (Yoga for Pets), too soon to guage the results...
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:53 PM on January 27, 2004

I agree with Fupped Duck -- consider self-publishing.

My grandmother self-published a biography about one of the original Pilgrims about 25 years ago, figured her market of geneology buffs, Mayflower descendents, and amateur historians.

She advertises in geneology mags, historian mags, and has gotten some touristy bookstores in the Plymouth, Mass., area to carry it. She has since had several reprints, with steady sales each year. It's not a big money maker, but provides a few thousand dollars each year on top of her retirement.

This approach requires your own capitol investment, plus the time and money required to promote the book. But in the long run it may make you more money -- you get to keep all the net profit. And you don't have to deal with a publishing company.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:08 PM on January 27, 2004

I don't think I'll be self-publishing (I'd rather not publish it at all) (and thus my specific questions), under any circumstances, but thanks for the advice with regard to that stuff.

This book (and I'm collaborating on it with a colleague) would be as much, or more, for visibility in my bozo-strewn field than for monetary gain.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:16 PM on January 27, 2004

Can the book become one of a series? A friend of mine recently got a book published, and that was a big part of what sold me and i can put you in touch with her if you want, stav...she's a doll.
posted by amberglow at 6:28 PM on January 27, 2004

This, by the way, is a good introductory resource for evaluating agents if one has decided to look for one.

amberglow - I'm a little hesitant to discuss precise details here, but yes - this book would probably not only see new editions released at one or two-year intervals, but it's part of our business plan to pitch it as the first in a possible series/brand, the likes of which doesn't really exist at this point.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2004

Excellent! Sell it as a new series and play that up in the proposal--they love that. Establishing a brand is really important, especially if it's in any way how-to ish.
posted by amberglow at 7:35 PM on January 27, 2004

This book (and I'm collaborating on it with a colleague) would be as much, or more, for visibility in my bozo-strewn field than for monetary gain.

I'm assuming from this that being a professional writer isn't your aim, in which case you may want to skip trying to find an agent. In my experience, agents are looking for two things:

1) Someone they can make a bunch of money with.
2) Someone who'll enhance their prestige in the publishing world.

But if you're planning on a niche-market book and on money being incidental, I don't see where an agent's going to be that much help. If, however, an agent thinks your idea's a goldmine, he/she might take you on just for the commission; but if your idea's a goldmine, that should be evident to an editor as readily as to an agent.

All of that said, the main reason to have an agent, as far as I'm concerned, is so that you don't have to trouble yourself with business details. Someone else'll negotiate the contract, someone else'll figure out the subsidiary rights, someone else'll hunt down potential publishers and send them your proposal. For me, this was worth the 15 percent cut in everything I make, 'cause I hate the business side. If you're okay with this kind of boardroom-type stuff, though, I'd suggest approaching publishers yourself, at least at first. (If you can't get a single call/email/letter returned after a few months, then maybe start contacting agents.)

Okay. So which publisher? Do some research. Everyone's got their current booklist online - so read 'em. Look for houses that publish stuff that'd be in the same section of the bookstore as yours would be. Publishing houses (and the multiple subsidiary imprints of a giant house) are like record labels: they specialize in certain genres etc. (e.g. don't go to Knopf [literary fiction] with a how-to book - it's a waste of your and their time).

Second, figure out what each house's submission guidelines are, and obey 'em religiously. (Many publish these on their websites; a quick phone call to any others can get you their guidelines.) This'll save you from sending the proposal to the wrong editor, from omitting a key supporting material, etc.

Third: terms. They vary, I think, depending on the kind of book. First rule: when you get to the contract-signing stage, have it read by a lawyer who knows copyright. It'll be worth the couple hundred bucks.

Beyond that, standard practice (at least in the general non-fiction category I write in) is that a publisher gives you an advance that's intended to buy you the time to work on the book, and which is about equal to their conservative guess as to the minimum amount they'll make on the book or the minimum amount they think they can buy you for, whichever's less. Publishers usually buy rights one market at a time, though some may try to buy up all the foreign/subsidiary rights all at once if they think it'll sell in multiple markets. (Make 'em pay for that sweet plum.) Then there's royalties, which are usually scaled I think (mine are, anyway). You get say 10 percent of gross on the first X thousand copies, 12.5 percent on the next X thousand, 15 percent on all the ones after that. It's also my understanding that you renegotiate terms for each new edition of a book, based mostly on its sales the previous time around.

Good luck with it.
posted by gompa at 9:39 AM on January 28, 2004

Thanks for the info, folks. Very helpful. If anybody has more, please drop it in-thread or send me an email, if it's more confidential. Amberglow, I will send you an email later.

Thanks again.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:15 PM on January 28, 2004

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