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So you want to write a book
1996, February (June 18, 2008)
By Michelle Corbin Nichols

With a panel consisting of Bill Horton (writer), Terri Hudson (John Wiley & Sons editor and publisher), Carol Barnum (writer and STC publications), and JoAnn Hackos (writer), we were treated to quite a mountain-full of information about writing, publishing, and (a little) money making off of a book.

While focused on technical, nonfiction books, many of the writers’ ideas and experiences could apply equally as well to fiction books. Bill Horton moderated, summarizing the process of writing a book as follows: propose, write, publish, market, revise, republish. He also organized the discussion around a set of predetermined questions.

1. Why do you want to publish a book? Fame? Fortune? Ego?

Simple answer: Yes. There is always some ego involved, but when you have something to say and you are willing to work hard, then it is something you have to do. The money won’t come right away, but can accumulate over the years. “Writing a book will open the door for you as a consultant,” says Bill Horton. Imagine that. One surprise was that you have to market your own book if you want it to sell well (publishers typically won’t).

2. Is there a market for my books?

To write a proposal that will be accepted, you must do market research. Go to the bookstores and see what books have (or have not) been published. You can be first, or you can do it differently or better. Carol Barnum suggested that STC publications are a nice first step. Writers also need to be realistic with their market size predictions and focus on the real market.

3. How do authors drive publishers crazy?

The number one pet peeve of all publishers is...late manuscripts. Publishers sell books six months in advance of when it will be in bookstores; when a manuscript is late, it hurts publishers and authors alike. Writers must communicate the progress they are making. The number two pet peeve of all publishers is...a poorly organized manuscript. If the manuscript is not neat, clean, and carefully bound, then it wastes time and paints a very bad impression.

4. How do publishers drive authors crazy?

One of the ways publishers drive authors crazy is in the writing and keeping of a contract. When the contract is not clearly and completely articulated (who owns what, and when will what be delivered and how), the author usually gets the short end of the stick. Also, writers should remember THEY are 100% responsible for the quality of their book.

Publishing is a long and tedious process. One time estimate quoted is a 3-year cycle, others, a year or less. STC publications are usually completed in the shortest cycle and the author has more control. As for royalties, one estimate was 10-15% of the domestic rates (about $2.00 per book sold). Finally, some recommended books were: How to Be Your Own Literary Agent, How to Negotiate a Book Contract, and The Writer’s Market. 'End of article.

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