Over the past year, I’ve helped several nonfiction authors, both scholarly and mainstream, to write and submit their book proposals. Here are a few tips, based on my own experience, that I’d like to pass along to help ensure your success:
- Be familiar with the publishers that you are approaching. If you don’t know their publications list well, become acquainted with it. Why did you choose this publisher? What makes your book a good match for their audience? You must sell not only your manuscript’s inherent value but its marketability and its suitability to the publisher’s own brand.
- Stay on top of recent developments and publications in your field. In your proposal, demonstrate to the publisher that you understand the market and will be able to assist with promotion of the book.
- Know and follow the submission guidelines, which can often be found on publishers’ website. Submit unagented manuscripts only if the publisher accepts them. Prepare and deliver the proposal exactly as the publisher requests. Don’t send more material than prescribed. Some publishers ask that you follow a particular style or use a specific format. If you fail to follow these rules, they may disregard your submission entirely. If a publisher specifies that you should not shop your manuscript elsewhere while awaiting their decision, be patient and wait for their response.
- Ask several people, including colleagues in your field and professional proofreaders, to review the final proposal before you submit it. Don’t assume that you will catch all errors yourself. You will be surprised how valuable additional perspectives can be.
- Have realistic expectations. It may take a while to hear back. If the response is negative, don’t be crushed, and don’t take it personally. Many successful authors confronted repeated rejection before their manuscripts were finally accepted. Publishers receive many submissions and have to make their decisions based on a variety of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Perhaps for external reasons, the acquisitions editor doesn’t think your book is a good match for the publisher’s list, or perhaps she thinks the current market in your field is too saturated. If you are luckily, she may tell you the reason for the rejection; if not, thank her for responding and move on.
- If an editor rejects the manuscript but offers constructive criticism, politely thank him, suppress your ego, and carefully consider the feedback. There is always room for improvement and growth. If the he points out problems with organization, grammar, style, or content, seek editorial assistance to address these issues before continuing with your submissions.
- As a good friend of mine once said, sometimes success is just a matter of waiting for a change in the weather. At the same time, giving up guarantees you won’t get published, so don’t throw in the towel. Continue to polish your manuscript, and when it’s ready, submit it to other publishers. In some cases, self-publishing may also be an option.
- Talk with your colleagues and author friends about their own publishing experiences, both failures and successes. Their stories may help to put your struggles into perspective. And once your book is accepted, they may also provide invaluable advice about the next steps: contract negotiation, marketing, book tours, and so on.
If you have additional suggestions, please feel free to comment below.
I’m excited to announce a new joint venture with my mother, Randa Dubnick: Memory Imprints, through which we now offer a variety of services to help you shape your memories into text and images on paper and canvas. Whether you want to research and write your family history, to see your memoir published in print or online, to commission a portrait of a loved one (including pets!), or to retouch and organize your photos, we can help. For more information, please visit the Memory Imprints site.
I’m very excited to announce that I’m now offering personal and family history services, including writing and ghostwriting, editorial and publishing services (including self-publishing consultation), and assistance with genealogical research. Watch this space for the launch of my new blog, Little Oak: Roots and Branches, documenting my own family history journey.
Let’s face it, no one writes perfect first drafts. It may seem frustrating to devote so much time to perfecting something and working in stages, but anything worth publishing is worth the time and effort it takes to do it right. Considering how much ugly text is out there in the universe, crafting good prose should be the goal of every aspiring author.
Working in stages helps break down the task of writing into manageable chunks so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming. The staged approach also defuses the tendency toward perfectionism that can keep you from even getting started.
I break down the writing process into five stages: Brainstorming, Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Proofreading. A brief summary of each stage follows. Upcoming posts will be dedicated to describing each of these stages in depth.
Brainstorming takes place early on, from the moment an idea comes to mind or a writer sets out to write, and can involve mind maps, sketches, lists, outlines, and mockups—whatever works—as well as actual prose. At this stage, anything goes. Don’t restrain yourself. Tap into your thoughts, memory, and imagination.
During the drafting stage, you will further develop your ideas and put them into words. Keep in mind that writing is not just a matter of generating text but also of refining ideas. By the end of this stage, the idea you started with may look entirely different, the writing will likely be stronger, and the text body will be structured into parts and chapters. You should also decide whether to include an introduction and a conclusion. At this stage, you may also want to enlist the help of a developmental editor to help you shape your book. A developmental editor will read through the text with the big picture in mind, suggesting places that need more work as well as ways to restructure the parts to create a more coherent whole. It may take several drafts before your text is ready to move on to the next stage, revising.
Once you have developed your book into a recognizable whole and have the basic structure in place, you should begin revising—after taking a short break from it, at least a day or two to refresh you mind before you get back to work.
Every writer approaches revising differently. You may want to revise part by part, but I recommend reading the text through in its entirety at least once before beginning to revise, noting any restructuring you need to do as you go. At this stage, your goal is to improve the flow of your prose and strengthening the connections between ideas as you move from paragraph to paragraph. Catch grammatical errors and typos if you see them, but at this point try to focus on the big picture: the structure of your book, the relationship between parts, and the logical connections linking paragraph to paragraph.
Once you have fully developed the body of the manuscript, the next step is line editing. Editing is a very general term; in publishing terms, there are actually a number of different kinds of editing, roughly correlating to various stages in the writing process. The editing that takes place in stage four is line-by-line editing to improve flow at the sentence level. This is a good point at which to bring in a copyeditor to help you improve clarity and concision in your prose and to catch grammatical errors. Even if you were an A+ English student, a copyeditor will establish consistency, find problems you’ve missed, and suggest areas that need development.
Proofreading is not editing. Editing takes place before the final formatting of the text. Proofreading is the quality control that occurs after the book has gone through the production process. You should proofread your book once all parts are complete, in place, and fully formatted, and you should enlist the assistance of others to proofread it as well. One set of eyes is never enough.
© Copyright Heather Dubnick 2013
Writing takes place in stages, over time. As a provider of editorial services, I help you take your writing to the next level, whether that means helping you to develop a manuscript or to finalize proof pages for publication. What does that require of me? Among other things, it requires a good eye for catching errors and inconsistencies, a knowledge of standards and style manuals, and a good sense of how language should unravel on the page. Ask me for a free consultation, and I will tell you how I can help you improve your writing.
I am now expanding my services in developmental editing. As a developmental editor, I work closely with authors to improve the sense and flow of their writing while helping them to better express their unique voice and point of view. For more information about my experience in this area, please feel free to send me a message via the contact page.
I’ve just chosen a new template, and I will be updating this site and my list of projects soon. For information about specific types of projects, please feel free to contact me.