First Catch Your Publisher

One of the most stressful parts of writing for publication is finding a publisher. We have had good experiences such as being invited to write a book on a particular topic; and stressful ones, like having a first draft but no publisher.

243 New Age cover

I’m delighted to say that Policy Press took on The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, early in the writing process. Because of the tricky process we had been through – as Eileen explains – we were careful to target a publisher who would be interested in the book. They will be publishing it in September. We are very pleased that they have just been named the Independent Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year 2016.

I asked my two co-writers, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to say something about the process of finding a publisher.

Eileen begins with a ballad called

The long and winding road*

We’ve walked the road before

243 Retiring Lives coverAs experienced authors we set out on a new collaborative expedition. We knew we had a book that was prescient. Reviews of Retiring Lives, our work with retirees, our membership of a retiring group, all revealed a demand for a more in-depth account of the long and complex process of retiring.

We were confident, we knew how to write and knew how to submit proposals. We knew the terrain, we had the map and compass. We were excited about approaching publishers – starting with those who had published our work before. We studied their checklists and adapted every proposal. We analysed the competition, re-wrote the synopsis, submitted draft chapters and waited.

Don’t leave me standing here

We sent proposals to eight publishers. One problem is that you can only approach one at a time. We left an interval of a month between sending material and chasing up a response. ‘A wonderful idea for a book,’ they all agreed, ‘but not the sort of thing for us’.

After all these rejections, friends suggested approaching an agent. We contacted six. Same story: ‘Great idea, but not our area’.

During this 18-month period of contacting publishers and agents, we completed the first draft of the book and polished and burnished chapters.

And many times we’ve cried

To say we experienced ups and downs would be a massive understatement. But the good thing about writing collaboratively is that the highs and lows hit one or other of us at different times. After a rejection we soon felt hopeful and excited again when we approached someone new. We were convinced every time that this was going to be the one. Throughout this period of misery and elation we refined our chapters, found further research articles and redrafted.

Dead-ends and roundabouts

Then we thought of self-publishing and attended courses and workshops to help us down this avenue. While fascinating we were not convinced about this route.

The seventh agent said:

This book is so nearly finished why not send it directly to a publisher. Look for a different sort of publisher, one who had a good, changing list that appeals to the sort of readers you want to attract.

So we approached Guardian Books.

Your destination is on the left

The editor liked the book very much but said it needed EDGE! It would be a ‘trade book’, intended for general readership. So we rewrote the whole book to address the reader directly, became more informal and modified our referencing system. This was a major change for us. We submitted – with the required EDGE. But it still wasn’t edgy enough and we had to do it all over again.

Retiring with Attitude was published by Guardian Books in the summer of 2014 and was top of their best-selling chart for ten weeks.

What did we learn?

Never give up

Get a contract before doing so much writing

* with apologies to Lennon and McCartney

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline's kitchen in January 2015

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline’s kitchen in January 2015

And Marianne wrote this about the proposal for The New Age of Ageing we made to Policy Press:

Writing the proposal is the most important single step in writing a book

The time we spent talking about and polishing the proposal was time well spent. As we have moved ahead with the writing process we have checked back to the proposal many times. Looking at it now that the book is finished I think we remained true to the initial vision, although there has been quite a lot of re-arranging of chapters and their content. As one of the three authors, I have only been involved in writing non-fiction so what I have to say may not apply to fiction, but in my view, writing the proposal is the single most important step in producing a book.

When I look back on the notes that I took from our first meeting, the first word I wrote down is ‘purpose’. The notes that followed sketch out not only purpose, but also some of the key themes that have continued to dominate our thinking as we worked our way through the writing. The first draft of the proposal emerged from those notes. Although the key themes and purpose stayed largely the same, I lost count of the number of times the whole proposal was revised. At one of the early meetings we actually read the draft out loud, which turned out to be an excellent way of picking up half finished thoughts and unfortunate wording.

What does a proposal cover?

The suggestions of what to include vary a bit from one publisher to another but the main headings are pretty similar for all. In the case of Policy Press they are:

  • Title and sub-title (we will come back to this thorny issue in another post)
  • Synopsis and aims (250 words, five key factors in bullet points and five key words)
  • Background information (e.g. why did you want to write this book?)
  • Target audience
  • Competition

Trying to make our ideas fit those headings sharpened up the thinking wonderfully!

In addition publishers need some practical details including the estimated word count, an idea of the timetable to completion, names of referees and author CVs. Policy Press were also keen to have a sample chapter to send out to referees with the proposal.

It was great to get feedback after the proposal and chapters had been read by the referees and the editor. We revised the proposal in light of the comments and it was then sent on for a final decision about whether or not we got that vital contract.

While it is important to have a good, well though through proposal it doesn’t mean you have to stick to it rigidly when writing as other ideas may occur to you and through writing you may come to understand things differently. For example, we added the final chapter, which includes our vision.

Related posts

In March we posted about collaborative writing: One Book, Three Authors. This was reported on Policy Press’s blog.

In February we posted about a residential writing retreat: Writer’s Residential

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change is available to pre-order on the Policy Press website for £14.99 here.

In May we plan to write about getting and using feedback.

Over to you

What strategies can you recommend to find a publisher?

 

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8 Comments

Filed under Books, Learning, Publishing our book, Reading, Writing

8 Responses to First Catch Your Publisher

  1. Congratulations to you all on your forthcoming book. Interesting to read more about your process to publication. There are a couple of places where it differs from fiction: unless you were already famous there’s no point trying to get a publisher for an unfinished novel but on the positive side you can target more than one publisher/agent at a time. I was also interested to read about referees – presumably these are experts in the field who would be in a position to advise whether it’s worth publishing?
    PS, love the “what the hell are we going to do now” photo!

    • Caroline

      Thank you Anne.
      The contrast with finding a publisher for fiction is interesting. Yet both kinds of writing seem to make publication like climbing Everest for the poor writer. Thank God I had my two (cold) colleagues to go through it with.
      Yes Experts were anonymous, but there to comment on the validity of the topic, arguments, quality of writing and so forth. Their comments were very helpful.
      There’s more to come about the process to publication.
      Caroline

  2. thanks Caroline – good to read about the long road to success! Having invested a lot of time, energy and money in a fiction project that is proving difficult to ‘land’, I welcomed the advice to have a proposal and a purpose as reference points. With fiction – usually written solo – I suspect these reality checks may be even more important in preventing drift… Thank you again and good luck with The New Age of Ageing.

    • Caroline

      Thanks Jon. Your comments came through just as i was replying to Anne, saying that it was helpful to have colleagues to share the grief!
      In all my writing I have found it helpful to make summaries, or elevator pitches, or three sentence chapter summaries to see how the thing flows.
      I hope you are getting on well with your novel. Are you still in Spain?
      Caroline.

  3. Congratulations to you and your colleagues, Caroline. I thought finding a publisher for your second book might have been easier. What a lot of work! I’m pleased you were all persistent. It’s a good thing that you are able to support each other at different times. I look forward to reading this one. I’m sure I’ll find it just as enjoyable as “Retiring with Attitude”. I wish you all much success.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these comments Norah.
      I think it is never easy to find a publisher. We had already published more more than half a dozen books between us when we set out to find a publisher for The New Age of Ageing. I expect our record helped, but it did not make it a certainty.
      And yes, it was a lot of work!
      I hope you enjoy the book when it’s out in September.
      Caroline.

  4. Pingback: First Catch Your Publisher | The Policy Press Blog

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