biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: writing a book, part 2

by Grace Bonney

today’s second biz ladies post is the second of a two-part post on writing a book by meg mateo ilasco. by 2010, meg will have authored six fantastic books, so she is my go-to girl for anything book related. today meg is finishing up her series with writing a book, part two. if you missed part one, click here to check it out. thanks again to meg for taking the time to share such great advice!

[be sure to click here to check out all of the biz ladies archives on their new archive page]

CLICK HERE for meg’s full post after the jump!

Last week, I told you that Chronicle Books turned down my first book proposal (an off-the-wall DIY wedding book). In my head back then, I thought the book idea was solid. It was fresh and different! It was clever and funny! No book like this existed yet! Well, there was a reason why it didn’t exist: not enough people would buy a book like it. So the marketing side, knowing who would buy your book, is very important. In your proposal, you have to convince the publisher there is a market for your book. While editors may be the first people to review your proposal, if they find it promising they may take it to a larger meeting where individuals from their marketing department chime in on the final decision. If their marketing folks don’t see a strong selling potential for your book idea, then your proposal may be rejected.

(In your proposal, include as much marketing information as you can. Figure out who the book’s audience is [demographics], provide newspaper, magazine clips, or articles from trend forecasters that underscore the relevancy of your topic, and show how you, as an author, have a following—perhaps you’re a designer with products in stores worldwide and an extensive fan base or you’re a blogger with a solid readership. Basically, provide as much information as you can that will shows the publisher your book will sell!)

So what do you do when your idea is rejected? You have several options. In my case, after they sent me a rejection letter, I totally understood why the book wouldn’t work. But there were a few things I could have done: I could have taken their feedback and resubmitted a revamped proposal with normal DIY wedding ideas or if I really believed in the original concept, I could have submitted the same proposal to other publishers with more marketing information to showing it’s salability. But since Chronicle offered me a meeting—I focused on coming to the meeting with a range of new book ideas. During the meeting with two editors, only one idea (out of the ten or so I brought with me) survived editorial scrutiny: the bridesmaid dress book called You Can Wear It Again.

(If you have a book idea: don’t sit on it too long. Give yourself 3-4 months or less to put the proposal together or give yourself a month to write a query letter. The sooner you can submit your idea, the sooner you’ll find out if your idea has any merit. Don’t coddle your idea for a year or more because timing is everything. Your idea might have been worthwhile when you first thought of it, but if you wait two years to submit a proposal, the market or trend may have shifted or other similar, competing books may have been published in the interim causing you to miss your window of opportunity.)

I had to quickly put together a proposal for the bridesmaid dress book—and after it went through rounds of meetings—it was finally accepted. Once I got the offer, the first thing I did was get a literary lawyer to review my contract largely because the legalese—options, subrights, world rights, etc.—were all new to my personal lexicon. Plus, I didn’t trust my negotiation skills, so I figured my lawyer could negotiate better than I could.

(I found my literary lawyer randomly while I was walking around Fort Mason Center in San Francisco before I got my book deal. I saw a sign for California Lawyers for the Arts and figured I could use them at some point. So it helps to grab cards/brochures for services you may one day need. You could probably find a literary/publishing or intellectual properties lawyer in your area will a little research on the Internet or by getting recommendations from other authors. I no longer work with a literary lawyer since a literary agency represents me now. They submit my proposals to publishers and negotiate my contracts for a fee. But if you’re comfortable with reading contracts and negotiating, you can certainly do well without lawyer or agent.)

The second book, Space Planner, was sort of an accidental book. A bunch of editors were coming to pay a visit to my neighbor, Lotta Jansdotter—and one editor I had met previously came by to my shop to say hi. I had already moved on mentally from weddings and was already making plans to launch my news business in home accessories and stationery. So I showed her my sketchbook which had ideas for products and books related to my new venture. She saw the idea for Space Planner and asked me to quickly put together a proposal which was approved soon thereafter. The proposals for both You Can Wear It Again and Space Planner were approved within months of each other. Suddenly, I was working on two books!

(Don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there. Addressing the comments on the previous post–don’t worry that publishers will steal your ideas. If you want to write a book and have a relationship with them, you have to trust and believe in the integrity of the publisher. Also, you have to realize that publishers get hundreds—maybe thousands—of proposals and queries every year. Since people often develop ideas from the same trends and inspiration, it is possible that they may have thought of a similar book idea in-house or received a similar proposal from another person.)

As you can see, it pays to put your ideas out there—even knowing that rejection may meet you at the other end. Certainly, not all my book concepts have been winners. Sometimes I had to fight for my ideas, while other times my ideas were accepted with little resistance. Case in point: my best-selling book, Craft, Inc., was not accepted immediately. In fact, it was initially rejected, so I had to prove why it would do well. Rejection and criticism go hand-in-hand with making your ideas known, but if you don’t take it personally, you’ll learn that criticism is an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve your ideas.

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  • I used to work at a small publishing house, and I can attest to the fact that we got thousands of submissions each year, and we were tiny! And yes, it is very possible for a publisher to get multiple proposals for the same book idea. I once got three different submissions for a really similar idea that had all been mailed within a couple of weeks of each other, from different states!

  • Wow. It’s great to hear what you have to say, thanks! I’ve been working on designing and self-publishing knitting patterns and making one little pattern booklet is a lot of work- I’m hoping to work my way up to a book.

  • If you do get an offer from a publisher after submitting a proposal and don’t have an agent or lawyer, i would highly suggest you start by joining the Author’s Guild (www.authorsguild.org). They have amazing in-house lawyers that offer free contract review.
    Whether you end up using an agent or a lawyer to negotiate your contract, the Author’s Guild advice is priceless!

  • Thanks so much for this.
    I know if I ever tried I would probably take the first rejection and give up.
    Thanks for giving us inspiration. :)

  • Fantastic advice. I love your writing style. Wondering how you manage to do it all without your head exploding.

  • Great article! Thank you for the inspiration. I have had a book idea in my head for about a year and a half and have just not found the time to move forward with it. As a retail store owner my day is full but your article has given me the inspiration to make my dream a reality. Thank You.

  • I never comment on things but this is one of the most insightful and transparent things I’ve ever read concerning writing and publishing. Fantastic! Thank you for sharing.

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