A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: How Books Get Published -- Anecdotes from the Trenches

 

                                                                    (photo by Frank Perez)

It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Ever wonder how books get to be accepted for publication? There is often more to any author's story than non-authors and not-yet-published authors would image. 

Yes, of course, every publisher has the normal channel of proposal reading and acceptance based on the quality of the proposal, the "fit" of the book, the quality of the writing, and the perceived marketability, typically based on the author's platform. But...some books come into being in some other ways. Here are a few from the MSI Press experience.

CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE. Irit Schaffer ended up on the same plane as the acquisitions editor. The plane was delayed. Someone from first class canceled out and took a different flight. The acquisitions editor got bumped up to first class, and Irit got bumped up to the editor's seat in the premium section of the regular cabin. Seems pretty non-descript, right? However, both were called to the agent's desk to get the tickets re-done, and while waiting for the plane to arrive, they entered into conversation. Irit was working on a book about her family of Holocaust survivors, Good Blood, and the acquisitions editor saw potential in it. The rest is a longer story of mentoring, which still happens at some publishing houses, like MSI Press.  

 

A FRIEND. Yes, acquisitions editors do have personal friends and although in most cases, they try not to mix business and pleasure, in some cases, it just has to happen. When our acquisitions editor learned that her childhood friend, Wally Amidon, had published with a vanity press and essentially had been ripped off without even realizing it -- he had a book, The Musings of a Carolina Yankee, but the production was inferior in quality -- she offered to republish the book (republishing is generally rare) and, in the process, helped him improve on the organization and content. The result was a 4- and 5-star book that the editor has since used to demonstrate in workshops the difference between a professional publication and a self-publication through a vanity press.


RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PERSON, RIGHT TOPIC. When Brittany Renz, the personal trainer of our a couple members of the MSI Press staff wanted to write a book on staying fit while pregnant--she was pregnant at the time--they were sure it would be a winner. However, she had no writing experience to promote her strong content. They put her in touch with a ghost writer they trusted, and before the pregnancy was finished, Brittany had a book ready for publication. The book signings came right after the birth of her child (actually, child #2), and her family were not only featured in the book's photographs but also at the book signings. Here, the key connection was the staff's awareness of the quality of the content--they experienced it.


A FELLOW PUBLISHER'S CAUSE. When two events juxtaposed for MSI Press author, Dr. Elizabeth Mahlou--the survival of her parish's much-loved cat who survived a second bout of cancer and the need for the church to retrofit for earthquakes at a cost of $14 million dollars, she saw a way to honor the one and help the other, and wrote an article for the well-known publication, Guideposts. That publication led to a book, Surviving Cancer, Healing People: One Cat's Story "by Sula the cat" -- and that led to six popular books by Sula, including one in Spanish by popular request. Without the author and publisher connection, no one in the parish was likely to have thought of cat books as a fundraiser, but as of two years ago, Sula had raised $20K toward the required church retrofit--perhaps twice as much by now.


RECOMMENDATION OF A FRIEND. There is nothing better than a successful author who recommends a friend to her or his publisher. Publishers look much more kindly on a proposal that comes from the friend of a successful author. It is just human nature to do so. Such was the case for MSI Press when Dr. Geri Henderson, au-author of Healing from Incest, recommended the work of Dr. Susan Lewis, JD, From Deep Within. The acquisitions editor found the book fascinating, and the rest is history: positive book reviews and positive television and radio interviews with the author, who has written quite an unusual book with unique insights into what one might call the (criminally) insane.

PUBLISHER REQUEST. Publishers often seen gaps in the literature where a new book would fit perfectly. Such was the case with Joanna Romer, author of ten books for MSI Press. It was her second book, though, that was unusual. Her first book, Widow, was well received. Already tuned in to bereavement literature as a result, our acquisitions editor was visiting a dying female relative at a hospice and noticed that the chapel had much literature for bereaved women but none for bereaved men. Upon return, she asked Joanna to write such a book (with an advance, of course). The result, The Widower's Guide to a New Life, was very favorably reviewed by Library Journal and a number of reviewers and was selected as a Book of the Year Award finalist. 


Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Luck happens! 
Yes, that proposal counts a lot, and in at least 95% of the cases, all the formalities apply and are required. But, once in a while, good luck is on the side of an author. To promote good fortune, do what the authors above did. Talk to people--anyone, everyone--about your book. You just might find an acquisitions editor where you least expect one, and that editor might just happen to like your book. The back door opens much easier than the front door, but you will have to jump through most of the hoops required of all who make proposals at some time in the process. Still, when an editor is holding the door open, those hoops are much less scary.





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