Managing Digital Content

So You Want to Write a Book...

If you want to publish your book, you need access to an editor—not just any editor, but an acquisitions editor. (Publishing has all kinds of editors--copy, developmental, photo--you name one, we have it.) For authors trying to break into publishing, the hardest thing to do is find an acquiring editor who will listen and read. This is especially true if you want to write fiction or a trade book. With tens of thousands of people convinced they are destined to be the next John Grisham, you can imagine the chaos if all their ideas, proposals, and final manuscripts were allowed to flow into publishing houses. Who would sort through it all?

There was a time when a neatly typed manuscript, with a stamped, self-addressed return envelope, was sufficient to send off to a publishing house. You might have received an acknowledgement—even a letter.  There was actually some human contact. Up until ten or fifteen years ago, some junior editor might actually sift through the week’s mail looking for something promising. Now you need an agent; you need access; you need a reputation. It’s like getting your first job out of college: you couldn’t get one because you had no experience, and you couldn’t get experience because you had no job!

As difficult as it is to get an editor’s attention, getting an agent to read, listen and think about your book proposal or idea is never easy.  Agents earn their cut of the royalties (say 10%) because they can and do help develop projects, and they know what acquiring editors and publishing houses are looking for. Just as important, they have contacts. They can pick up the phone or send an e-mail and get answers. In some cases, they find multiple interested publishers and can set up the exciting and potentially lucrative Dutch auction.

Why has the publishing game become so difficult, so complicated? Part of the reason stems from the consolidation of publishers over the last 25 years. There are simply fewer independent houses that are willing to risk taking on new names. Further, the entire industry has been under great financial pressure—and not just recently. With consolidation has come expectations of ever high earnings, and most editors are judged (and paid) according to their ability to produce high-income books. Marketing, too, has a much stronger influence. The traditional model in which editors ran things is disappearing; marketing has taken over with a bottom-line perspective.

So what is a humble and struggling author to do? For one, find an agent; second find out what is selling and what kinds of books publishers sell. (The worst mistake is not doing research and trying to sell your great American novel to a house that does not publish fiction.) But there are other, interesting alternatives. Lulu and Amazon, among others, have made it possible to self-publish a book—an alternative that even established writers are increasingly considering. (And, of course, there are books on how to do it.) But let’s be honest: It is not easy to make a name or get your-self-published book in the retail stores, thus the luring attraction of an established publisher.

Before self-publishing became the rage, vanity publishing houses existed (and still do).  These publishers can take your manuscript, edit it, make pages and eventually create cover art and bound books. The only problem is that you have to pay for all of this and these houses typically have little or no marketing assistance. They can store them, for a fee, so that you don’t have to fill the basement with boxes of books. But you have to get make the rounds to bookstores, get on sites, and generate orders.

If your goal isn’t to write a best seller there are many small and specialized houses that are very approachable. Often they are professional organizations who publish for their members, such as ALA Editions. We are very open to submissions, proposals, and inquiries. But this is equally true for smaller houses that specialized in everything from poetry to wellness. The most important action to take is to research the respective publisher’s website and find out how and if they take unsolicited manuscripts and in what form. For example, Skyhorse, a New York-based independent, publishes in a variety of areas. They offer very specific advice when submitting a proposal; they especially encourage you to look through their site to make sure what you are proposing matches their publishing program.

So, join the fun and publish your book…

Welcome to!

I would like to welcome you to and our open-forum blog. It is my privilege to be the Publisher of both TechSource (subscriptions, e-learning, webinars, and workshops) and Editions (professional and reference books, both print and electronic). My team is part of a larger unit at the American Library Association called Publishing.

The dirty little secret is that I am not a librarian, but I know a great deal about what librarians do, what they think about, and what they are concerned about.  But I never know enough; I will never be close enough to the action because I do not work in a library. So my colleagues and I depend on you tell us what is going on and what you need for your professional development. And here is a chance for you to do just that.

Something that we in publishing share with librarians of all kinds is high anxiety about how quickly our work world is changing. I am old enough (the proverbial 39, thank you Mr. Benny) to remember when the art and science of putting a book together meant having a hand-written manuscript typed by two different people (in order to ensure that the material was correct), comparing the documents, creating a master with hand edits, and sending it off to the compositor—who made galleys. (And why did we call them galleys, anyway. A galley is a long metal tray that holds type ready for printing.)

The galleys would be edited, read by the author, edited and corrected again, and sent back to the author. Changes would be made again until we finally had page proofs, which were sent back to the author and then to a proof reader. Cover art had to be hand drawn; even charts, graphs, and other display elements were hand drawn—we had an art department with lighted tables, for goodness sake.  And permission letters were a horrible bore—they took forever to do and get back. Did I forget the index……done manually? Once the art was in place and the index readied the second set of page proofs were sent off to the author. Corrections always came back, no matter how often you explained that an author could not rewrite anything! Finally, everything was sent to the printer, who put the book under the camera to make film, to make plates....and on and on.

Well, the back and forth still goes on, and we still go to the printer (for how long, one wonders). But it is all so wonderfully different now; still a lot of work for both author and publisher, but our output is more than just a physical book. It can be a PDF of the book you can print yourself; but it also can be an e-bundle that allows you to read one of our books on your Kindle or iPad or whatever your favorite device happens to be.

And of course, this is part of our shared high anxiety: Will an actual book disappear? Some may remember a quaint little movie “84 Charing Cross Road” with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins from 1986—a movie that glorified and revered not only books, but old books. In it are great scenes from the proverbial musty book shop in the basement of a London building. The staff was totally devoted to and knowledgeable about books, great ones and little volumes of seemingly no consequence other than the fact that someone wanted to own them and read them. To have them. Librarians and publishers alike are anxiously asking if patrons will continue to want and to own books. And no one knows for sure.

Now I have to confess my second dirty little secret: I have owned a Kindle for over two years, and I love it. Not only do I love it, I take it everywhere. My non-publishing friends are scandalized. But you are a book publisher. No, I respond, I am a publisher and my world has changed greatly. I want librarians to own our books, courses, and newsletters, but I don’t care if they buy an actual book or something they load on their Sony Reader. Just tell us by your buying decisions that we are publishing correctly for you. What I really want to know is if our content is helping librarians be better librarians, which is what ALA Publishing in general and TechSource and Editions in particular are all about.

So, welcome again to our blog. We want to talk about anything that has to do with books, with publishing, with libraries, with technology…..come join the party.


P.S. Many of you may have heard that Barnes & Noble is for sale. Leonard Riggio, the founder, will probably lead a group of investors and take the chain private (again). It was not long ago that the entire industry was in fear and trepidation about the power and control that the super store chains would have on the book world.  Everyone fretted that one company, with over 700 stores, would so dominate the market. They indeed did change the landscape. There are very few independent stores around. In 2001, B & N’s total market capitalization was $2.2 billion while Amazon’s capitalization was $3.6 billion.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. B & N today is capitalized at $950 million while Amazon is currently at $55 billion. Who’s the monster now…….?

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