December 3, 2014

4 things to know about publishing your book

I just exchanged a series of emails with one of our authors regarding an issue we needed to resolve with our printer. Our emails soon turned into a discussion of values, ideas, and other strange thoughts. As I was thinking about my response to her last message I thought: “This is kind of like having a pen pal!”

Does anyone else remember the days of pen pals? Hopefully I’m not the only one old enough to remember those times. For those born since the emergence of email, way back in the 1960s people actually wrote letters, put them in an envelope, bought a stamp and dropped the letter in a mailbox. Then they waited several days (sometimes even months) for a response.

Back during those times, someone came up with the idea that some people in the U.S. might want to communicate with complete strangers in another country. They placed advertisements in magazines and literally connected those who responded with a person of similar age (and usually of the opposite sex) in another country. For me, a farm boy in West Michigan, it was like magic imaginging connecting with someone from a far away place.

Normally a relatively fast writer, I struggled for hours to construct my first letter to my pen pal from France. I could only dream about what it would be like to live in such a glamourous place. After several rewrites, and some coaching from my older sister, I finally had something I dared to share with a complete stranger. It was just the right mix of details about my life combined with some probing questions sprinkled with my attempts at humor so that I appeared interesting. After mailing it, I recall how nervous I was hoping that my words would be interpreted as I had intended.

As a publisher, it can sometimes be a bit intimidating communicating to authors who have already demonstrated their gift of expressing themselves through their own writing. Often I actually take a little more time responding to emails hoping to avoid any major grammatical errors or being misunderstood through what brings us together—the written word.

Have you started writing a manuscript? Or do you have a story in mind you are thinking about writing but are waiting until you have the perfect final product prior to sending?

One of the most frequent questions I get from authors is: “How do I know when it’s time to stop writing?” While there is no one single answer to that question, here are some things to think about before making your decision to contact a publisher:

1. Virtually every book written requires professional editing and proofreading. If you wait until you have “the perfect manuscript” you may never survive the task. Nearly every author we work with finds something they wish they had added, or amended. My advice? Don’t let “the perfect” get in the way with having your voice heard.

2. Publishers (or bookstores for that matter), rarely “sell” books from new and emerging authors. The truth is that authors—especially authors who are not yet known—influence the sale of their own books. Finding a niche market to introduce your book and establishing initial sales is key to finding success as a new or emerging author. An interview with an industry professional early in the process will save an author significant time and energy. This is the reason we at Principia Media offer this invaluable service without charge. It also allows us to streamline the process for those authors whose work fits into our community.

3. Write a query letter, book proposal and marketing plan. There are numerous samples and outlines readily available online. It is critical that you go through this process. It is virtually impossible to communicate with prospective publishers if your only task is simply to write.

4. Learn what you don’t know about publishing early in the process. Book publishing, for those new to it, can be a very strange and unique experience and something where what you don’t know can actually derail you. Take the time to talk to our professionals at Principia Media. Even in the event that your manuscript is not accepted, I guarantee that your book will have a much greater chance at success.

Now, in case you’re wondering, do you think it’s too late for that young lady in France to respond to my pen pal letter?

By, Vern Jones, Principia CEO and author

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