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This two-part post comes from our friend Dan L. Hays, previous WBN blog contributor and author of Freedom’s Just Another Word.

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Publishing the Book I’m Writing

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Someone wrote recently and said they were trying to finish a book they were writing, but had gone into a fearful place when thinking about having it published. “It’s got me so twisted up that I am afraid to even write at the moment because I don’t know what I’ll do with the manuscript when it’s done.”

They knew from a friend that I had studied the publishing industry extensively before publishing my first book, and wondered my thoughts on writing and publishing. The following is my reply.

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What a great set of questions you raise! Thanks for asking me for my input! Yes, I studied the publishing industry extensively before I put my book out. I’m thinking it might be handy to break your question into its two natural components — writing and publishing. Because they are distinctly different parts of the process.

I was surprised when I went to a writer’s conference in 2008 that most of the writers I talked to hadn’t finished their book. One woman was even going to use her 10 minute meet with a New York agent to ask which direction she should go with her plot. What the speakers said several times in the conference was before you present your book to agents or publishers, you would be well served to have it already written, and as edited and polished as you could get it.

So what I’m suggesting from that is that before you look into the publishing part, it might be best to get your book written and cleaned up as spiffy as you can make it.  It’s like they talk about in the 12-step programs, when you’re going to take a personal inventory — really study your life with an eye to improvement. The next step in the process is to share it with someone (like confession) — actually read it out loud. They suggest you not look ahead to who you’re going to do that with, because it will flavor how you write your inventory.

And if you look ahead to publishing, you might overwhelm or discourage yourself into not finishing the book. Once you get the book finished, then you’ll be a lot more comfortable investigating how to release it to the world.

Now, about publishing. I have an MBA and a Marketing degree, and I threw those into the project of investigating publishing. I did a lot of research on the industry, went to several writer’s conferences, and looked at the options very seriously. Here’s what seems to have changed in recent years – many of the traditional publishers have been bought out by large conglomerates, and the publishing arm is no longer considered a very vital profit center, so those houses don’t get as much financial support. Which translates to “let’s be very cautious and look for the next big book like the last one which did well.” They’re not very risk taking.

The other part of that is that they have essentially outsourced their culling process to the literary agents. You can’t even get looked at by a major house any more unless you go through an agent. The agents are by necessity as cautious as the publishers, since they have to try to pitch books that they actually think the publishers might use. And honestly, I have met with 5 different agents at the writer’s conferences, and as a businessman I haven’t been terribly impressed. In 2008 I had one of the agents from a very prestigious New York agency take home and read my book, and he later declined it. It was the closest I got, but even if he’d taken it, there was no guarantee that he could get a publisher to pick it up.  (I heard one agent say at that same conference that she’d shopped one book for seven years before getting a publisher to agree to accept it.)

On top of that, with traditional publishing, you would have to do most of your own publicity any more. They seldom do much publicity these days, unless it is for proven authors where they risk very little.

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(For Part II of this post, check back with us tomorrow.)

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Lost creativity and the effects of family alcoholism are just two of the elements of the story Dan L. Hays explores in his first published book, Freedom’s Just Another Word, which chronicles events around the time of his father’s death. It is the first of a cycle of seven books about healing old wounds with his father. That cycle will culminate with Nothing Left to Lose, written in 1993, about a critical turning point in his father’s life, depicted from a perspective of forgiveness and admiration.

Dan has been pursuing his craft for more than 25 years. His passion has always been writing, but he had a writing block that he could not understand for many years. He wrote two books that publishers were interested in, but he backed away and the books were never published.

Read more of Dan’s work on his blog and at Life as a Human, or follow his various radio features.  You can also catch him on Twitter and Facebook.

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And while you’re at it, catch WriteByNight on Facebook and Twitter, too. We appreciate the support.

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2 Comments

  1. I want to offer a counterargument to Dan’s assertion that you should finish your book before thinking about publishing it. While, for this particular person, that might be a decent solution since he/she gets phobic every time the idea of publishing arises, there’s nothing at all wrong with using your ten-minutes-with-an-editor to ask for suggestions about plot direction. These people see hundreds of pitches a day, they know what works and what doesn’t, so if you’re amenable to taking criticism, that’s a great way to create a product with a better chance of selling. You’ve also, at that point, developed a rapport with someone, who feels some sense of ownership over the product you’re sending, so when you do finish it, the chances that they’ll actually look at it go up.

    On top of that, “a publisher is waiting to look at my book” can be a GREAT incentive to actually finish something. I’m currently working on Web series bible that wasn’t going anywhere — until I talked to a producer who was interested in seeing the thing when it was finished. All of a sudden, that project became a priority.

    And on top of all of that, you have to remember that success in this business requires lots of help from lots of people — even if you are self-publishing. You can’t just finish a book, send it to someone, and then expect to be a millionaire. It takes years to develop the relationships that will lead to your success. The sooner you start developing those relationships, the quicker you’ll get somewhere when you actually have a product to show people.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, David. I do appreciate it.

    Actually, I suggested that you finish your book before thinking about publishing based on what I heard from industry professionals. If you notice, in my article I said that those were comments from speakers at a writer’s conference I attended (Agents and Editors, in Austin 🙂 ) where “speakers said several times in the conference before you present your books to agents or publishers, you would be well served to have it already written, and as edited and polished as you could get it.” That was the basis of the suggestion to the person who asked the question.

    Sure, I think what you’re suggesting, having an agent suggest plot direction, can be a great way to get input. It was just my experience that they were more interested in looking at finished products that they could take to market immediately.

    But if someone is “waiting to look at your book,” what a wonderful motivation to get that book finished! 🙂

    Great input!
    Dan


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