You have your great idea. Maybe you even have part or all of your manuscript completed. How do you get your work to the public? This post is all about the research stage — not research for your book, but about your book category and audience. A little preparation will save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.
Start by identifying similar books to the one you want to write. To figure out parallel books as models, you first need to be able to answer a few questions about your potential book:
- How would your potential book be categorized at a library?
- Will your book be written for a popular audience? Or a smaller sect within a popular audience? For roughly what age group (distinguishing between children and teens vs. adults)?
- What is the purpose of your book? To reflect on personal experiences? To offer instruction? To capture a moment in history?
- Why are you writing this book? (“To make money” is not the best reason).
Select a few fairly recent texts that somewhat match your responses. They don’t need to directly align with your specific topic, but broadly fit the book type, audience, and purpose. Skim through these books, paying attention to their overall package. Jot down the authors and the publishers.
This next step might sound a little out there, but I recommend emailing the authors of these books. Your purpose is to find out how to get your foot in the door, not to pitch your idea. I especially encourage writers who are not making a career out of writing to do this. Briefly introduce yourself, praise the book, and ask about the publishing process. How did they get connected with the press? Did they first secure agents? What advice do they have in moving projects forward?
For academic books, you can either contact authors or use social media to ask about working with that particular press. If you belong to a professional organization, it is likely that someone in your network has experience. Were the editors good at communicating? What was the timeline? Were their books priced low enough to generate interest? Other advice they’d like to share?
You might be tempted to skip this background step, either because it may seem daunting to reach out to strangers or you don’t think you need to do it. Unless you already have a contact at the press, I strongly recommend doing your pre-contact research.
Reasons to do the background research:
- You want to find the right publisher for your book and within a press, the most appropriate acquisitions editor to contact. If a press only publishes anthologies and your manuscript is single-authored, it is not a fit, no matter how amazing the concept.
- Many acquisitions editors get bombarded with ideas. You want to breakthrough the clutter. Background work can help you get connected so you’re not just sending an unsolicited email.
- Knowing the process increases the likelihood of success. Just like a job interview, you want to make a good impression.
- You are writing a book because you care about the project. Don’t waste your time on a press that will likely fall through or charge you money to make it happen (not to be confused with self-publishing).
- A little guidance is good. Connecting with others who have been through this experience will help you navigate through the publishing stages.
Email at least 3-4 people with your questions. Be polite, positive, and brief. If you don’t get a response, no worries. Just focus on those who do reply. Most people want to assist others.
From these responses, you can build a spreadsheet of potential presses/editors to query. Congratulations! You are ready to tackle the book contract process.