Showing posts with label book publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book publishing. Show all posts

What To Do When a Book--Any Book--"Fails"

Determining What Went Wrong to Get Future Marketing Right

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Once upon a time, way back in the last decade, author and researcher Lisa Ann Hewlett's publicity predicament illustrated to the world of books what we authors suspected all along: Huge amounts of publicity surrounding a release don't necessarily translate into massive sales figures. I still remember it today and am haunted by it whenever a client tells me that her marketing isn’t working.

When a major publicity coup like Lisa’s turns out to be the most bitter dose of rejection we could expect to encounter, it’s an indicator that it could happen to anyone. That may happen even when the publicity is the stuff of which dreams—in Surround Sound and Technicolor—are made of.

It is reported (variably) that Hewlett’s Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children sold between 8,000 and 10,000 copies. Many authors would be ecstatic with sales figures that look like that, but everything is relative. It is believed that Miramax paid a six-figure advance for this title and projected sales in the 30,000 range for hardcover alone. Considering expectations for the book, the figures do appear dismal.

Therefore, smart people in the publishing industry searched for reasons for its less than stellar performance, especially with the kind of publicity this book received, and I mean biggies like Time Magazine (the cover, no less) and several "New York" magazines. TV shows like "60 Minutes," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," and "NBC Nightly News" lined up behind this book, for heaven's sake. Even Oprah's magic book-sale-wand was not effective.

Hewlett’s book made great news! It warned young career women that they have been mislead by petri dish miracles reported in the press. She pointed out that women have come to believe that they can put conception after career and be reasonably sure they can have still have both. She attempts to exorcise that notion in Quest.

So, just what did go wrong?

Many groused that he title was not scintillating nor was the book’s cover. Those in the know wondered if that influenced book sales. But that’s a huge burden to put on professionally produced book cover or title choice in a book published by an experienced, savvy and BIG publisher. Something else was clearly wrong.

My thirty-seven-year-old-daughter who had just returned to college to embark on a career in anthropology suggested that women don't want to hear the dreadful news. She says, "I just flat out don't want to hear this bad news in the middle of something rewarding, exciting and new! Why would I slap down the price of a book to get depressed?" Another unmarried friend who is also caring for an aging mother said, “I wouldn’t buy it. What am I supposed to do with that kind of information once I have it?” For women like them, delaying childbearing isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity.

All this searching for answers may reap results, may help publicists and publishers and authors determine cause and effect so that this syndrome can be avoided in the future.

The problem lies in the fact that this soul-searching and hullabaloo was misdirected. Even Hewlett says, "I don't know what to make of this absence of huge sales." One can see her shaking her head in disbelief. If someone with her research skills can't figure it out, can anyone? It may be the economy, stupid. Or retailing. Or the book biz.

It's surely something completely out of the author's control unless someone had thought to run the idea by a focus group of career women the age of the book’s expected audience. In the publishing industry, the term “beta reader” is often associated with this kind of research, but it must be accompanied by hard questions posed to the readers and that seems to entail some notion of unforeseen exigencies.

That seems like a bit of a conundrum, don’t you think? To do that, a similar trial I might run for my The Frugal Book Promoter might miss the mark for brand new authors because a large percentage still might be operating on decades-old ideas of what big publishers will do in terms of marketing! If that hadn’t occurred to me or my publisher, we wouldn’t have asked the hard question!

But, I think the most valuable lesson that can be learned with the Quest kind of rejection—any kind, really—is that it is not personal, that it pay to search for the lesson even after the fact.

We must keep the faith, keep writing, and keep publicizing, because if we don't, we’ll never know if a book—or a career—was given the best possible chance at success.

Here’s what I know for sure. I now fear publishing less. If my faith should slip a tad, I know it need not be fatal. I know those things thanks to Sylvia Ann Hewlett.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. She taught editing and marketing classes at UCLA Extension’s world-renowned Writers’ Program for nearly a decade and carefully chooses one novel she believes in a year to edit.

The Frugal Editor ( award-winner as well as the winner of Reader View's Literary Award in the publishing category. She is the recipient of both the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and the coveted Irwin award. She appears in commercials for the likes of Blue Shield, Disney Cruises (Japan), and Time-Life CDs and is a popular speaker at writers’ conferences.

Her website is

Small Book Publishers Fill the Gap

Oh, boy. In 10 years I've never missed a post publishing, but I did on the first of this month. Between family and work, my life is a bit out of control. I'm working hard to reign it in. To make up for the first, here's an interesting post for those who are having trouble getting a major house publishing contract.

One of your primary concerns as an author is to get your book published. While self-publishing is a viable option, many authors still strive to be traditionally published.

The problem though is getting your manuscript past the acquisitions editor of a major publishing house. And, while I always say nothing ventured nothing gained, getting published by one of the “Big 5” publishers isn’t very probable for a new author.

According to Book Business, the Big 5 are: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan. (1)

And, while you may have a better chance with one of the Big 5’s imprints, getting published will still be a tough goal to achieve.

So, what do authors who want to be traditionally published do?

Simple, they submit to small publishers.

In an interview with her local paper, Edmond, Oklahoma, Vivian Zabel said, “There needs to be something between the major publishers who won’t accept anything and the vanity or self-publishing entities.”

Taking the ‘bull by the horns,’ Zabel created her own small publishing company, 4RV Publishing. It’s put out 115 quality books over the last 10 years.

Zabel went on to say, “4RV looks for authors who fall through the cracks at major publishing houses.” Larger publishers look for the “marquis authors.” Because of this, 4RV gets to find some great stories.

To read about 4RV and get an idea of how a small publisher works, check out Zabel’s interview at:
Small Publisher Fills the Gap Between Major and Vanity Publishing

This post was originally published at:


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

Check out the DIY Page and don’t forget to sign up for the Newsletter that has great monthly writing and book marketing tips.

And, get your copy of Walking Through Walls (a middle-grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China. Honored with the Children’s Literary Classics Silver Award.)


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The Small Home-Grown Book Publisher - The Pros and Cons

I'm thrilled to announce that I have an article up at Writer's Digest!

It's about the pros and cons of working with very small book publishers. What I mean by "very small" is the publishers that are primarily one-man or one-woman businesses.

While these home-grown publishers can be a life-saver for the new author and certainly do have benefits, there are a few things to be aware of before jumping in.

Here's the very beginning:

As a new author or even if you have one or two books under your self-publishing belt, you may be thinking of entering the traditional publishing arena.

I’ve been there and have had my share of rejections from the larger well-known publishing houses.>

But, I didn’t let that discourage me … well, not entirely.

While disappointed, I dug in my heels and attended writers conferences and joined writing groups. In one of the online conferences I attended, small publishers were on hand to take pitches from authors. Naturally, I took advantage of this opportunity. I gave my pitch and the owner of the publishing house asked to see my manuscript.

Excitement, excitement.

Check out the full article - it has very helpful information and insights into publishing with a home-grown publisher:

The Pros and Cons of Publishing with a Small Publisher

HEY! While you're there, please SHARE!

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author, children's ghostwriter, and author online marketing instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

For writing tips or help with your children's story visit Karen Cioffi Writing for Children

Every Writer Must Be Passionate About Their Writing

By W. Terry Whalin

As writers, we hear the words “no, thank you.”  How rapidly you hear “no, thank you” (or some version of rejection), will depend on how often you are pitching your work to magazines, literary agents or book editors.
Some writers insulate themselves from rejection.They love to write for their blog but never get around to sending off their material to print publications or agents or book editors. Why? Because they don't want the rejection letters.

One of the most published works in the English language (outside of the Bible) is Chicken Soup for the Soul. What many people have forgotten about these books is Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were rejected over 140 times. Finally they found a small publisher in Florida to get their book into the bookstores. That is a ton of rejection. How did they handle these rejections? 

Jack and Mark learned to look at each other and say,”Next.” That single word (Next) is futuristic and looks ahead. You can use “next” when you get rejected to propel you ahead to the next submission. Mark Victor Hansen wrote the foreword of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams (follow the link to read the sample).

Writers have to be passionate about their work to find the right place to be published. It is not an easy process and if publishing were easy, then everyone would do it. As an acquisitions editor at a New York publisher, I tell every author that it is going to be 80% up to them to sell books. Why 80%? Because as a publisher, we can sell the books into the brick and mortar bookstore but if the author does not promote their book, then these books are returned to the publisher.

Even if you get a large advance from your publisher for your book (rare but still happening), that publisher will run out of steam about your book. It doesn't matter if you've written a novel or a nonfiction book or a children's book. Every author has to use the passion about their subject to continue to market and tell others about their book.

One of my passions as a writer is to help authors produce excellent book proposals. As a frustrated acquisitions editor, I've read many proposals which were missing key elements. I wrote Book Proposals That Sell to guide authors and the book has over 130 Five Star Amazon reviews. I discounted the book and have the remaining copies so buy it here.  Yet my passion for proposals is more than this book. I have a free teleseminar about book proposals. Anyone can get my free book proposal checklist (no optin). Every other month, I write a column called Book Proposal Boot Camp for The Southern Writer magazine. I also have a step-by-step membership course on how to write a book proposal

Also I created Secrets About Proposals. In addition, I often guest blog about proposal creation different places and write print magazine articles about proposal creation. I hope these examples show you my passion and how it has continued way past one book. You should be doing likewise for your own topic or subject area. It's more than writing. Use the passion that drove you to complete your book to continue to market it.  Why do I continue to display my passion and keep working at it? Because I want others to use this book proposal material for their own success—and I want each of us to be producing better submissions.

There is not one path to success in the book publishing business. Yet every author must channel their passion into the ongoing promotion of their book. It takes many forms such as magazine articles, guest blog posts, tweets and much more.


Every Writer Must Be Passionate About Their Writing. Learn details here. (ClickToTweet)

W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing.  He has written for more than 50 magazines and several of his 60 books have sold over 100,000 copies. Terry lives in Colorado and has over 183,000 followers on Twitter.

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Pitching in the Publishing Industry (Part3)

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Pitching the publishing industry is like offering a taste of perfectly chilled spring water to the publisher or agent most suited to selling your book. You proffer your book’s essence so that whoever drinks of it is sure to want more.

When authors offer their book, they generally don’t use the term “pitch.” They say “shopping a book.” Many are averse to the term “sales.” In reality, they are pitching, and their efforts will be more effective if they admit they are . . .  mmmm . . . selling.

Even if authors don’t know or won’t confess to what they are doing, most already have experience as pitch writers. That’s because they have been writing query letters, a basic skill we discuss in Chapter Fourteen. Some of you have already used pitches to get an agent, to get published, to get reviews. You may have embedded pitches into media releases and book proposals.

A book proposal is, in fact, a very long pitch. Some fiction writers need to know how to write them but proposal writing is essential for writers of nonfiction. Learn more about when to write a proposal and how to write one with my booklet The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything you need to know to sell your book in 20 minutes or less (

Pitching your readers is like sending them a love letter. It may be commercially packaged, but it must be delivered with passion for your book and the needs of your reader.

Early on you pitch readers in writing; later you’ll pitch both friends and strangers verbally. In an elevator or a restaurant, at a book signing, and when you’re being interviewed by an editor or radio or TV host.

When a reader (anyone really) says, “What is your book about?” you need to tell her quickly (in the time it takes her to get to her floor in an elevator) why she will benefit from reading your book or give her a synopsis of your fiction that will make her want to read it.

When you see a tease like this on a movie poster, they call it a logline but it’s also a mini pitch. It goes something like this: “When  . . . (fill in the blanks here), then . . . (fill in the blanks here).” Here’s an example:

“When an earthquake rocks Carrie’s world, she faces the consequences with a pickax, stored water, and the talents of her two young sons.”

Notice that a good pitch or logline for fiction focuses on conflict just as all great fiction does. Nonfiction authors can find conflict in their books, too.

Stop back on December 22nd, for Part 4, the final part, of this Pitch series.

Excerpted from the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter, 

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS
Web site:

Innovative Marketing with Images

"A picture is worth a thousand words." We have all heard this well-known adage, attributed to a number of people including Napoleon Bonaparte, but what does it say for us writers? We're wordsmiths, not artists.

Obviously, unless we are writing comic books or children's picture books, we are going to use words. So this proverb doesn't apply. Or does it?

We've had some excellent suggestions in this special week of innovative and proven writing and marketing strategies, and you'll notice they all have one thing in common. They all make use of images.

Karen Cioffi kicked us off with a professional and attractive mini-poster that promised us "Tips, Strategies, Guidance—Your Way to Success." I don't know about you, but I immediately stopped what I was doing and read the article. Not because I wanted to learn more at that point. (I was in the middle of another project.) But because I was drawn to the article by the poster. And of course it was an excellent article.

The next blog post was by Annie Duguid, and this time I was attracted by her colorful screenshot. The bold red arrow drew my eyes to the icon for CamStudio, and I wanted to know more. Was this something I needed? Did I already have a similar package that I wasn't using? I read on . . .  Annie offers some fascinating suggestions on ways to create attractive screencasts as well as other software we can use to create promotional tools.

Next up, Magdalena Ball shared three clever (cheap) ideas with us, two of which involve creating images, either online or on a blackboard (which you could subsequently photograph and transfer to your computer for use on your websites etc.)

There's nothing new about the concept of showing pictures to attract attention to the message. Show, don't tell, remember writers? Okay, I know that means we should write to show, but this can also refer to showing images.

Imagine going to, or any other online bookstore, and reading through the pages of books— but they have no images. I'm sure you'll agree you wouldn't spend as much time browsing through their pages and almost certainly wouldn't spend as much money. (Hmmm!)

There is no question that images are one of the most powerful ways we can connect and engage with our readers. But no, images don't substitute for your words. They endorse them, or they encourage people to read them in the first place.  

Here are four ways we can use images in our marketing posts, blogs, websites, and social media sites.

1) Use Existing Images: 

The issue of copyright in connection with images is huge, and we have to tread very carefully through this mine-field. However there are sites out there which are genuinely free.

   a)  Morgue file contains a vast selection of high-resolution stock photography images which you are free to alter and use in different ways.

The image on the right is of a first birthday cake which I downloaded from Morgue. I then edited the image to create a banner for an event on Facebook, celebrating the first anniversary of my book, Strength Renewed.

   b)  FreeDigitalPhotos allows you to download and use small images of professional photographs in a resolution suitable for websites, for free. The only proviso is that you must include a short phrase of credit (and why wouldn't you?)

2)  Make your own images: 

   a)  Use your own photographs, or collect photos from friends, making sure they understand what you want to do with them. Don't forget to ask if they want you to give credits. Use them on your Facebook cover, or your profile picture, as well as on your website, articles, and bios when you guest blog.

This is a snap my son took of me shortly after the launch of Strength Renewed. I cropped the photograph and reduced it in size and I now use it extensively on bios as well as my profile picture on my Facebook author page. It is casual and relaxed while still clear enough to show the title of my book, and has proved to be a most useful photograph.

 b)  Use scenic photographs, and add quotes from your book, links to web addresses, or any other short phrase relevant to your message.

These can stand alone on sites like Facebook or on your website, or even be offered in a good resolution as freebies.

3) Get yourself a series of images or characters.

  a)  Adapt these to various subjects and situations. For example a few years ago, I purchased a set of 3D characters from Warrior Forum. These are not free, but I have used them extensively in all sorts of situations. They have been well worth the money I paid for them. (See the little character t the top with her whiteboard.)

  b)  There are other similar characters available on the web, but be warned that they can become extremely time-consuming.

  c)  Make a very basic comic strip with a message, using Comix H/O, a fun site which Annie Duguid told us about on 24 November. This is not difficult at all, and I can see how I can use this to incorporate my own characters, or in front of one of my scenic photographs.

4) Try out some free graphics programs and find one you are comfortable with. Start with simple tasks, such as adding text to an existing photograph. As you gain confidence, you will find yourself able to make different posters, advertising messages, and other images.
  • Photoscape is a fun and easy photo editing software that enables you to fix and enhance photos.
  • GNU is an image manipulation tool that many compare with the huge Photoshop, but it is free.
  • Paint Shop Pro is a well-known program similar to, but much cheaper than, Photoshop. Nevertheless it is still expensive. However, you can pick up an older version of this, or of many other programs, for free at
Finally, a warning and an encouragement. 

The warning: It is easy to get caught up in the creation of images and posters. As a writer, be careful the adage at the beginning doesn't turn into: "A picture just cost me a thousand words."

The encouragement: When you download, buy, create or edit images or posters, strive to make something you will be able to use many times. For example, yesterday's post by Caroline Howard-Johnson uses one of those 3d characters I spoke of above. The little woman is placed on a bright green background with the title, "It's all about Pitches." That same image could be changed to call out a hundred and more different titles. I could put it on a pink background and say, "Read Strength Renewed!" as a means to attract people to an article about my book based on breast cancer. I could even add a little pink ribbon to her chest and a link to the book at the bottom.

There is a lot of work involved in making images or logos, so go for ideas that you can use over and over again. Think of how you can use them to market your work in an innovative and time-effective manner.

For example:

As you find new ways to use images to market your work, you may well find your picture is worth a thousand words, because people who would normally skim right past your article will stop and read it--because your picture has attracted them to your words.

SHIRLEY CORDER  lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. 

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. 
Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook, and if you tell her who you are she'll be happy to be your friend and follow you back.

Writing and Book Marketing - Your Pitch (Part 1)

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

This is a four-part series that starts during Writers on the Move's Special Writing and Marketing Week and goes throughout the month.

YOUR PITCHES are tools you’ll probably have to rethink. You’ve seen characters in films about the movie business. A screenwriter sits across the desk from a big producer and pitches his screenplay. He is scared and miserable. His job is to convince this gatekeeper that his script is the best thing since baked Alaska. We shudder. We think that pitches are pushy at best, desperate and seedy at worst. In our real world, authors need to know how to make pitches that don’t feel like that.

Sales are the cogs that make our capitalist society work. Pitches are what make sales. Simply put, if you have a distaste for selling, you need to get over it fast. The best way to do that is to be so passionate about your book you know you aren’t selling something to someone who doesn’t want it, and certainly not to someone who won’t benefit from it.

Pitches come in two flavors. Let’s call them the “benefits” and the “beejeebees.” First we’ll talk about those two categories which are as different from one another as licorice ice cream is from French vanilla bean. Then we’ll talk about how to write them and then how to use each of them when addressing different audiences—the publishing industry, the media, and your prospective readers.

Two kinds of pitches must be stowed in your bag of now-and-forever PR skills. Most of us are aware that our sales pitches make audiences aware of the benefits of the product we offer—in this case our books, our expertise, or our personal entertainment value. We know how to list what readers will get from our books. Entertainment. A thrill. A little romance in their lives. Important information. The trouble is, many times those things don’t seem much different from what they would get by reading any other book of the same genre. So we may need to examine the advantages of pitching consequences (what will happen if a reader doesn’t read your book).

Using consequences instead of benefits is espoused by Dan Seidman in The Death of 20th Century Selling. As unfortunate as it may sound to you, consequences can be more powerful arguments than benefits. Our politicians know this. They use consequences against the public all the time—quite effectively.
When I owned retail stores I told my new sales associates that people shop because they want to buy something. I was surprised that I had to give them this lecture, but past experience told me it was necessary. “Shopping makes them happy,” I’d say. “When we shop, our friends may ask, ‘How did you do?’ They know you ‘did well’ if you found something to buy. If the shopper didn’t find something she loves, she is disappointed. Her shopping companion is disappointed. And the sales associate who was trying to help her is disappointed, too.”

We almost always sold the benefits of a product but sometimes consequences were implicit. As an example, when people bought gifts for their bosses, they were often reluctant to buy less prestigious brands.

It is no different when customers are thumbing through the books at a bookstore; your book’s cover is a silent sales associate. Of course, if you happen to be a presenter or are signing at an event, you shouldn’t be at all silent. Your pitch must jump from print to the spoken word. You will become a walking, talking pitch from what you say, to how you say it.

Seidman’s book gives readers detailed instruction on how to turn benefits around to scare the beejeebees out of prospective readers and tell them the horrors that will befall them if they don’t buy your book. You already hold The Frugal Book Promoter in your hands but, if I were trying to sell you using consequences, I would tell you:

  • One-third of all books published traditionally each year get returned to publishers. Those publishers ship them off to be used on remainder (discounted) tables. When they’re returned a second time, they’re often shredded.
  • If you don’t promote yourself and your book early, the same thing (or something like it) could happen to your book.
  • And that the best place to learn to promote yourself is with this book because it gives you marketing basics and ideas straight from someone who has used them herself.

The first two are “beejeebees bullets.” The third bullet gives a benefit. You can see how they may be used in conjunction with one another for greater effectiveness and to soften the beejeebees part.

Paul Hartunian, the author of How To Find the Love of Your Life in 90 Days or Less, used a twist on the consequence approach in one of his media releases. He used a short list of “Don’ts” and included: “The worst place to go on a first date—go here and you’ll probably never get a second date.” He tormented the editors by not giving them the answer to the question he posed in his query letters. The recipient of such a release is not only curious but also aware that his audience will be, too. It’s a sure bet that Hartunian’s release was effective.

Though it is easier for writers of nonfiction to use consequences, fiction writers should try to use them, too. In 2002, I might have told prospective readers that their enjoyment of the Olympics would be severely impaired if they didn’t read This Is the Place so they would understand the history and culture of the city in which the games were set or why they would have difficulty getting a Rum Bacardi with their dinner in that state.

Hint: Select benefit, consequence, or both when they fit the occasion, not when they feel forced.

Please stop back on December 7th for Part 2 of Carolyn Howard-Johnson's The Pitch series.

Excerpted from the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter,

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS

The Frugal Book Promoter:
Web site:

Writing for Children - Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

If you’re in the children’s book industry long enough, you’ll find out there are two schools of thought. Some editors, authors, and agents believe the chicken came first. Others argue it was the egg.

Personally, after writing over 80 books for such publishers as Scholastic, Reader’s Digest, and Chicago Review Press, I’m a firm advocate of the egg.

What am I talking about? The “chicken” I’m referring to is a manuscript. The “egg” is a contract. If you want to have success, build a rewarding career, and earn a steady income from writing, which should come first, the manuscript or the contract?

There are countless articles interviewing successful writers who believe the chicken came first. These say, “Write the manuscript first and then get it published.” These articles explain how it took years for the author to hone her skills, revise her manuscript innumerable times until it was polished to perfection, and then catch an editor or agent’s eye. There are numerous conferences where editors and agents speak and repeat, “Send me a manuscript that knocks my socks off, and I’ll publish your book.”
What I want to know is, how did those authors pay the bills all those years? How did they maintain their sanity through the mountain of rejections? How did they build a career?
You see, I believe the egg came first. If you talk to career writers, those successful authors who earn a decent and steady living writing for children, you’ll find a surprise. More often than you realize, these writers land a contract before they write the manuscript.
How did I discover this? It happened at my very first conference. A friend said, “I signed you up for an appointment with an editor!” After I got over my shock, curiosity got the better of me. I went to the appointment. And listened. The editor told me about a new book idea she wanted. I found myself nodding my head and saying, “I’ll send you a proposal for that idea.” I went home, followed her directions, and sent her a sample of a potential manuscript. I landed a contract. And then I wrote the book. My very first book.
At that same conference, I stood in the lunch line next to a different editor. I asked her what she published. She said a series of Bible storybooks. I asked her if I could try to write one. She explained what to do. I went home and followed her directions. I landed a contract. And then I wrote the book.
And so the story continued. Time after time, I landed a contract first, and then wrote the book. I was starting to see a pattern here. It was exciting, and it sure helped pay the bills!
The story continues today. I found a blurb in a writer’s magazine saying Sleeping Bear Press was looking for alphabet books about multicultural topics. I studied their website, noted which topics their books already covered, and saw they didn’t yet have an alphabet book about African American history. I e-mailed a query asking if they’d like to see a proposal for such a book. They e-mailed back and said sure. After submitting the proposal, I landed the contract. Then I wrote the book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. Which came first in the picture book genre, the chicken or the egg? Once again, the egg. The same was true for my teacher’s book, Readers Theatre for African American History. Which came first in the educational market, the chicken or the egg? The egg, again!
My search for a new contract usually follows the same pattern. I look in market guides and writers’ magazines, browse bookstores and libraries, and network at conferences and writers’ groups. I look for a publisher who accepts queries. When I find one that interests me, I study their website, look at their catalog, and think of three to five ideas that could fit into their product line. Then I send a query asking the editor if she’d like a proposal on any of those ideas. When that query is in the mail, I look for another publisher to target. If an editor replies and asks for a proposal, I prepare one to submit. If I’ve never written for that genre and the editor requests a writing sample, I ask for a sample assignment so I’m submitting a sample targeted to that publisher. Once that’s in the mail, I continue the cycle again.
And so it goes. This method works in every genre. From middle-grade novels to nonfiction to novelty books to fiction picture books, I land the contract first and then write the manuscript. It’s daunting. It takes work. But it’s very, very rewarding. And it helps pay the bills.

Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books with publishing houses both big and small. She wrote a children’s writer’s column in The Writer’s online magazine, the Institute of Children’s Literature e-news, and The Christian Communicator. Nancy still lands the contract first before she writes the book. You can learn more about how she does it in her award-winning book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career.  It shares insider tips and winning strategies that have helped her land over 80 book contracts. Learn more at:


Writing Fiction for Children - 4 Simple Tips

Discover Pitch Wars by YA Author Brenda Drake

Everyone Starts Small So Get Started

5 Good Reasons to Write Short Stories

Should You Self Publish or Not

Whether to self publish or vie for traditional publishing is a question brought to the forefront because of the direction publishing is moving today. Ultimately, the author must make the final decision.

With fewer traditional publishers, more books written, and fewer readers reading books, many traditional houses aren’t willing to work with unknown authors, or don’t have a following.

Authors need a platform with followers, a book marketing plan, and more laid upon the shoulders of authors, many authors feel that self-publishing is the way to get their book into the hands of readers.
If you self publish your book, how will traditional publishers look upon your book if you decide to vie for a traditional publishing house in the future is a question only the publishing house can answer.

Experiences from some writers is that self-published books are akin to what we call vanity press books, pay and they will publish anything as Amazon found out with blatant plagiarism of many titles that Amazon published, and then had had to remove when they finally found out what some so-called authors were doing just to make sales. Amazon’s reputation was hurt, and rightly so.

Why have reviewers been complaining about the quality of self-published books? The complaints range from editing to grammar, and poor quality.

Publishing houses once employed editors to clean up these problems for authors; this is no longer the case. Self-published book editing is now the purview of the author; and authors need professional editing. Don’t rely on software like spellcheckers and grammar checkers to find the errors because they will not find subtle errors. Grammar checkers will vary depending on the individual program.

A literary agent may cost writers thousands to have their book shopped to publishers. Many authors can’t afford these costs, and opt for self-publishing.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual author how to publish their baby. First, is to hire an editor that has no interest in the book other than making sure that they edit for typos, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, redundancies,  over use of words like “and”, “or”, and “but”. Editors will notice these because they have no stake in the book other than making it the best book for the reader.

If authors such as James Paterson, David Baldacci, or Orson Scott Card want to publish a book with a traditional house, most houses will take a chance, but they are probably not willing to take a chance on previously self-published authors, or unpublished writers. Authors need to find creative ways to convince publishing houses to take a chance. One creative way is to create a well-written, well-edited book. Don’t forget a well-crafted proposal.

Robert Medak
Freelance Writer, Blogger, Editor, Proofreader, Reviewer, Marketer

How to Sell Your Book in Bulk

  by Suzanne Lieurance Did you know that studies have shown that most self-published authors sell fewer than 200 copies of their book?   Tha...