May 19

Almost Done with That Novel

I notice that many authors bail out, or want to, when their books are 95 percent of their way into reality. It's not writer's block; it's a more insidious self-subversion rooted in stress and exhaustion, like that of a mother who feels she can't summon the strength for one last big push to bring her baby into the world. True-life examples:

Jul 20

Find Your Publisher in Less Than One Day

While your professional editor finalizes your book manuscript, begin seeking possible publishers. Taking one afternoon to do the following simple steps will save you days and weeks of scattershot effort.

1. Find books similar to yours in your personal library, public library and bookstore, and write down the names of the publishers. Don't quit until you have at least 20 names (there are so many publishers nowadays!!).

2. Take this list and find each publisher's website to see whether the publisher is still in business, has a current catalog, and, under "Writers Guidelines" or "Submissions," read about what kinds of books or authors they are looking for; and YOU decide whether it looks like a publisher YOU would like to work with. Make a note of your best finds.

3. While you are on "Writers Guidelines," check whether the firm likes to correspond 1) by snail mail or 2) by email; and whether your first contact should be with a) a query letter b) a query letter with sample chapters, synopsis, or table of contents ("T of C"), or something else, or c) if they want you to send the full manuscript. Write down the editor's full name so you will have someone to address your correspondence to.

4. Having now narrowed your list of possible publishers, Google each to find any news, reports, reviews, complaints, or other material confirming the reputation or economic health of this publisher.

5. Browse amazon.com or the shelves for recent books similar to yours. Make note of any books strongly resembling your own. These are "competing titles," and your publisher will want to know how your book differs from the books already available. That will be an important selling point.

Jun 27

That, Plus 50 Cents, Will Get You Coffee

I once edited an autobiography by a Holocaust survivor. The author was 10 when transported to Auschwitz with his father, an M.D., late in the war. The doctor told the Nazis – then badly in need of a camp M.D. – that the boy was 16 years old and his assistant. Both were therefore allowed to live, and both survived.

However, because the author was so young when imprisoned, he retains few vivid memories about the camp and its inhabitants. Most of the book is about the rest of his life.

The author’s question was: Did I think he could get an agent for the book? It was, after all, a memoir by a Holocaust survivor. Life stories don’t get any more dramatic than that.

My research turned up these surprising (to me) facts: Holocaust memoirs are “a dime a dozen.” Agents, publishers and readers don’t buy such books out of respect for the survivors. They snap them up only if such memoirs are very detailed and shocking and revelatory, and if the book centers on the camp experience. Agents and publishers want THAT so badly that they will seize upon phony Holocaust memoirs cooked up according to that recipe.

Very carefully and politely I told the author my crushing conclusion: If he wanted to see his memoir in print, he should self-publish. He wouldn’t stoop to that. Can’t blame him. But since that time, someone has tried to establish a Holocaust-memoir vanity-publishing business to make themselves some money from these dime-a-dozen manuscripts. I’m not kidding.

And you want an agent for that memoir you wrote about your relative with Alzheimer’s? Your broken hip? Your infertility treatments? Save time and effort: Publish it yourself.