Tag Archives: publisher

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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One book, three authors

This post celebrates an important moment. Yesterday we sent the finished manuscript of our book to the publisher. It’s not the end of the process of course: we still have all the business of queries, proofs and other prepublication things to get through. And there will be some marketing activities. But the manuscript is as ready as we could get it. The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change will be published in September by Policy Press. It was written by three people: Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. Most things are better together and writing a book is one of those.

The three of us

Writing a book is intense even before adding the dimension of three authors. Eileen and Caroline have written together for some time, books and articles for teachers, books and articles on retiring. We have familiarity with our ways of working and those things that really matter to us. The three of us are members of a Retiring Women’s Group. Marianne had been the reader for Retiring with Attitude, by Eileen and Caroline, and they wanted her skills and experiences to augment and complement theirs as they tackled the book on ageing. She has an established reputation from her research on women and leadership, for example Women at the Top.

236 WonTop coverWriting collaboratively intrigues people. ‘How do you actually do it?’ they ask. And indeed how do you align the different views of content, purpose, theme and style and how do you resolve conflicts? And then how does that translate into words?

Eileen and Caroline recorded a conversation about writing a previous book. Writing Together identified the four main ways we wrote together.

  • Side by side
  • Back and forth
  • Separate and coming together
  • Dolly mix of the above.

We did all these again, but less side-by-side, which was harder with three of us. Put another way: we talked, planned, wrote, reviewed, learned from each other through more talk and then planned and wrote again and talked and so on, and so on …

Meetings

Writing tog

You have to talk together if you are writing together. You have to talk a lot. You have to meet and discuss the issues, large and small, that are coming up in the writing. Early on we met to put together a proposal to a publisher, consider the interviews, and decide who would take the lead on what. A year in we looked at everything we had been doing and reshaped the book again.

Throughout we tried to align our three styles of writing and the content: some chapters have more edge, some have focussed more on information, some are more passionate, some more chatty. Latterly we talked to decide the order of the chapters, to take account of readers’ feedback.

I’ve lost count of the number of meetings we have had. We have had two residentials (a previous post described our final residential meeting in January) and many, many one day meetings. There is always lots of paper, and an agenda. We are organised and decide what to do before we break for lunch. We go on until we have finished. We have completed our work together more quickly as we went on. Always, the book is clearer in our heads after each meeting; always, our understandings of issues in ageing have moved forward through our talk.

Emails

In some ways writing together is like writing alone, but with emails: hundreds and hundreds of emails. Collaborative writing would be so much more difficult without electronic devices. We send drafts, feedback, queries, research papers, redrafts, more feedback, more queries and draw attention to likely books, TV and radio programmes. We move material from one writer to another, argue about who gets to include particular quotations, and who writes which bit. We discuss format (especially spacing), point out duplication and omissions, and cheer each other along. So far we have not sent any humorous clips of cats or photos of grandchildren. We said we send twenty in a week in the previous post, but Eileen suggested it might be as much as twenty a day at times.

The benefits

Marianne, Eileen and Caroline meeting at Kings Place in 2014

Marianne, Eileen and Caroline meeting at Kings Place in 2014

Two benefits stand out. Writing together improves our ideas and our writing. We share the stresses of writing to a deadline.

Dialogue leads to learning and better understanding of the material. It develops our understanding of our themes through discussion. It allows us to articulate our understandings in words to each other, then sharpen and refine them through talk. Feedback improves our writing as we learn from each other.

Our life experiences and different perspectives mean we have a rich combination of good stuff – our different sorts of families and lifestyles, ways of living, outlook on life, passions and prejudices, and our own very distinct experiences of others around us ageing and dying have meant that we can draw on those to illustrate particular issues about ageing.

In the two years we have been engaged on this book we have each had more or less productive periods. Some have been caused by holidays, writing other books, other activities and life events. We tend to divide up tasks: we all did interviewing; Caroline communicates with the publisher; Marianne and Eileen with our main readers. Having three of us means we can rely on the others to hold the process for a time and to be supportive. It also means the whole weight of the project and our commitment to the publisher does not fall on one person. Shared writing means sharing the burden of writing.

Yet again it affirms that writing is a social activity.

A celebratory haiku

Half my voice is you.

Some notes can only be reached

Singing together.

For Christmas 2012, Caroline commissioned this haiku from David Varela for Eileen. We were working on Retiring with Attitude, just the two of us at that time. Now we would have to amend it to ‘A third of my voice …’ which would unhaiku it. But the sentiment is the same.

Related posts

An earlier post focussed on our learning. Writing Together (part 2) – what have we learned? April 2013

In April we will write a post about the processes involved in taking a book from a good idea to its publication.

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Writers’ Residential

Three writers are collaborating on a book. How does that work? They began in 2014 and send perhaps twenty or thirty emails to each other every week. And they must meet two or three times each year to keep the processes of writing on track and in synchronicity. They must write about 70,000 words, on the topic they indicated to the publisher, and in a coherent manner that adds to the world’s knowledge of the subject. Simples! [Add your own ironic Meerkat cheek squeak.]

Our book is non-fiction. It is concerned with the effects of people living longer and it challenges ageist assumptions and exclusionary practices. We show how the population changes concern everyone, partly because everyone who survives will get old, but also because society, families and local communities need to adjust attitudes and practices.

Postcards from the Look at Me! project: www.representing-ageing.com

Postcards from the Look at Me! project: www.representing-ageing.com

We are due to deliver the completed manuscript to the publisher in early March. We have just finished our final three-day residential in Devon. I was not anticipating that the final stretch would feel any more creative than a slog. But our three days made us energised and keen to get on with our allocated tasks. What on earth happened?

Looking after ourselves

230 StoverWe haven’t lived this long without knowing that caring for ourselves is very important. We are good at celebrating successes, knowing that the Prosecco shortage may be due to our frequent celebrations. We kept ourselves warm, in front of the open fire in the evenings and enjoyed good food. We got some some fresh air and exercise, on this occasion a walk round the lake in Stover Park, and kept good hours.

Our agenda

We had planned for these days, exchanging ideas for our agenda by email from early December. The key thing about this meeting was that we had received feedback from three readers on all 14 chapters. We knew they would say the writing needs to become more consistent. But we wanted to explore how to do that as well as address their other observations and comments. And we needed to plan everything to be done before sending our manuscript to the publisher. We began with a list of all the things to be done and began each day by setting the day’s timetable.

230 TT

Key work on vision

Our publisher had asked us to sharpen up one particular aspect of the book: what needs to change. We decided to use the end of every chapter to do this as well as keeping it in mind as we revise the chapters. And we had planned a short final chapter to encapsulate all that. This became the key work of the residential, achieved jointly.

Mostly we talk, go through our many pages, make notes, but sometimes we write together. We do this with one writer at the keyboard, and dictation by the others, or the keyboarder reading aloud and adjusting and amending, sentence by sentence, over and over again. Eileen and Caroline have worked like this before, but it is much easier with two than three. But in the end we cold not see the joins and were inspired by our own vision of a future in which ageing is not assumed to be a problem.

We have found on previous occasions that the idea of a manifesto is helpful, even if it doesn’t appear in the book in this form. Creating a statement of what the book is about is a dynamic or iterative process. Working on the manifesto, shapes the book and the writing of the chapters moves us towards the manifesto in its strongest form. Ours has emerged gradually over the two years of writing,

I remind myself that I should have trusted the process. I realised how important our vision has become when I found myself describing the book differently the following day. ‘What are you writing?’ I was asked. ‘It’s a book arguing that demographic changes do not need to be seen as problematic and how we can achieve this.’ It sounded good to me, even if the words were not what I would have said even a week ago.

Creating excitement and new stuff from dialogue

Working collaboratively with other writers helps achieve these new understandings. It is a key process in writing together. Through dialogue everyone participates and you end up in a different place, one you would not have arrived at if you had been writing alone. And usually where you arrive is at a better understanding of what we want to say and why. This is sometimes called interthinking.

Try it some time. You need tact, patience, trust and an open mind to do it. And you get better the more you do it. Reviewing the process from time to time also helps.

That tricky and elusive title

The publisher wanted us to get to a better title. We have the one from when we proposed the book: Ageing Now. And a revision as a result of an earlier writing session: Living Longer Together. These are not considered satisfactory by the publisher. But she needs it now for the American catalogue. The three of us have been brainstorming away since December when she told us we would need to do this. We had asked her for suggestions, knowing that our previous publisher had suggested the title that was exactly right: Retiring with Attitude. No luck this time.

101 RWA coverBut we tried several ways to agree a title, including looking at the final chapter, our vision. In the end we sent her our two least bad titles. I expect she will favour a variation of one of them. I would have liked to give you the title, so you could run to your bookseller and reserve a copy of this book, but I can’t.

I think we have found the title harder than any other single aspect of the writing of this book.

Future posts about writing this book together

We plan to post every month about the progress towards publication in September. We think that there are some good things to share with other writers: how we write together, the stages towards publication, working with feedback, marketing and so on. And here’s some advice for free – keep celebrating and laughing together, even if it results in a celebratory selfie that casts doubt on the authors’ sanity.

230 3 writers

From left to right: Eileen Carnell, Caroline Lodge and Marianne Coleman.

Related posts

On the tricky topic of titles on this blog in November 2015

Published today: what our editors did for us in July 2014

 

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On-line Writing Course #5 Deadline approaching!

OK! So I said I was going to finish the second draft of my novel by the end of August. To put it another way I planned to complete revisions to the first draft by then. Here we are the beginning of August and – guess what – I’m not going to make it. And – guess what again – I don’t feel guilty.

Here are my reasons (others might call them excuses) for falling behind:

The Builders Were In:

The most compelling reason is one that anyone who has ever had building works done in their house will understand: my kitchen floor needed to be relaid and an external wall of my cottage waterproofed. Remember the great storms of December 2013? Yes, when the railway line between me and Exeter was washed away at Dawlish? Those storms? Well on 23rd December 2013 water came flowing through my kitchen and since that time I have been trying to get the damage fixed, and in June and for three weeks there was MAJOR DISRUPTION. In a good way. It’s all done.

153 tick

And I have been doing other things. Three of them are writing things:

  1. I’m co-authoring a new book on ageing. I had an outline plan for my sections, which I have revised in the light of not quite getting the writing done quickly enough. I do love the research, tracking down the right figures, looking through our interview material, thinking about how the issues of the topic fit our overall themes. Currently I’m working on a chapter about older workers. Should be a doddle. I’ve written about this before in Retiring with Attitude. Somehow re-writing material can take longer than starting from scratch. I don’t understand why, but I know this is true.
  2. I’m writing my blog. Yes I know. That’s what I am dong, now this minute. About every five or six days I write something about books: a review, some thoughts about writing, something else related. I love it. It’s not a burden, but it does take head space and writing time. 145 writing keyboard
  3. I’m writing a new short story to submit to an anthology that our writing group is getting together. I’ve done the first draft, but it needs close revision (not revising again!) to get it in shape and to meet the deadline.

And then there are more other things

Grandmother duties, picnics, trips to country parks, and summer in Devon; visits to London; a wet weekend in Cornwall attending a nephew’s camping wedding (of course it rained. It poured and blew a gale, except during the Saturday afternoon when we all put on our glad rags and waterproof footwear and enjoyed wedding things: champagne, cake, bunting, speeches, relatives, and weather reports); completing the visa form in preparation for a visit to Russia (people – it’s more complicated than doing income tax on line – although I haven’t done that yet, because of the visa thing).

So I am behind. And since I have been having such a good time there is no point in beating myself up. Some deadlines can be moved. One should never plan oneself into a corner with a deadlines if you can help it. Planning should not produce guilt.

86 Mind the Gap

I still love revising. I shall do it by Christmas, I hope. But finishing the manuscript of the non-fiction book and getting it to the publisher by/in March 2016 is an immovable deadline.

Watch this space if you want. Updates will appear.

Related posts

On-line writing course #3 Finished? in which I revealed my plan to complete the revisions by the end of August

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot in which I reported that the schedule was beginning to slip …

What keeps you from getting a writing task done? I hope it’s good things.

 

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The Craft of Blogging #8 Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton

If you are a writer who blogs you might want to consider looking at this book. Robin Houghton published Blogging for Creatives in 2012. I referred to it a few times in earlier posts about blogging. Now we have a version specially for writers: Blogging for Writers: how authors and writers build successful blogs.

154 BFW

What’s it about?

It covers some of the same ground as the earlier edition, including retaining some of the important considerations about blogging. For example, Robin Houghton asks writers why they might want to blog. What’s in it for the writer? She notes that before the internet most writers found it hard to get any kind of readership. They had to get through the almost impermeable barriers created by the complications and demands of publishers. Today it is different, Robin Houghton observes.

On your blog, you are the publisher – you are in total control of what you put on it and how you present it. You could use your blog to try out new ideas for writing projects, asking for comments, or calling for contributors. Or perhaps you will post sample chapters, or work-in-progress, or write about the writing process, or about what you are reading and what is influencing your writing. Blogging gives you the potential to reach out to a worldwide audience. (8)

She may exaggerate the group function of a blog when she suggests that yours could become a kind of online writers’ group, ‘a place where you can draw support and inspiration throughout the ups and downs of what can essentially be quite a lonely occupation’. It’s an ideal, and I expect there are places where this happens. But it is not guaranteed.

What are the qualities of this book?

Blogging for Writers shares many of the qualities of its predecessor. It is updated and is more specifically aimed at writers and their blogging needs.

145 old handsIt is very good on the step-by-step processes of setting up a blog, especially for people who don’t warm to technical stuff. It’s not that technical in Robin Houghton’s account, and it’s well illustrated so you can see what should be happening and what other writers have done on their blogs. It is as attractive as many handicraft books, good colour photos and no assumption that you know what is meant by a widget or a plug-in.

It’s also good on the craft of blogging – what makes a brilliant post (headline, topic, photo, length, readability, etc); types of post (lists, interviews, reviews, stories, polemics, etc). And it is realistic about how to manage the practicalities of planning and maintaining a blog. On frequency and length of posts, for example, she has some useful things to say, but is not prescriptive. Instead she suggests the advantages and disadvantages of different pratices.

She’s helpful about how to get your blog noticed, and to keep things going. One of the traps for bloggers is addiction to statistics. She suggests thinking of them ‘as indicators rather than absolute measures’, helpful in setting goals – if you like that sort of thing. And she suggests the tools that can help.

I make no money out of my blog, but I expect that the advice on this is good too.

Throughout the book there are screen grabs of lots of writers’ blogs, and also short quotations about some aspect of their blog.

Do you need copies of both Blogging for Writers and Blogging for Creatives?

154 BFCWriters starting from here would not need the earlier volume. Blogging for Writers is both more up-to-date and more targeted. The examples are especially helpful. I responded to the sidebar that featured Molly Wizenberg and her food and writing blog orangette.

What my blog does is force me to show up. That’s huge. A lot of writers and creative people have said things along the lines of “showing up is 90% of the work,” and that’s certainly true for me. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write. Blogs help us show up, and that’s priceless.

I want my blog to keep me excited about writing. I want it to be a place that forces me to keep writing and practicing, and to be a cattle-prod to me to keep cooking and working. I want my site to reflect what I’m excited about. (161)

I understand this as turning up and writing interesting posts has contributed to my learning as a writer and as a blogger.

Some previous posts in the Craft of Blogging series

#3 My checklist for blogposts

#5 How I write my blog slowly

#7 Finding readers

Blogging for Writers: How authors and writers build successful blogs, by Robin Houghton (2014) published by ilex press. 176 pp

Do you have any ‘how to blog’ books you recommend?

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