Part 6: The Road to Publication
Getting a book published is difficult. Lots of people are trying to publish books, the market is crowded and there’s a whole industry trying to find something original to say. What’s more, in February 2010, I was an unknown person attempting to do something totally outside-the-box.
To complicate matters, as well as trying to get The Jolly Pilgrim into print, I was at my desk in the City for 55 hours a week; orchestrating my father’s move from the house he’d lived in for 40 years; assisting my aunt to sell said house; and dealing with a series of time-consuming, family-related legal and financial entanglements. There was a lot happening. It was all happening at the same time.
In the end, it took a year and five months to bring a product to market.
Free download of documents for selling a book to agents and publishers
The sales document for the book, used to represent it to agents and publishers, are available as a free PDF download. Writers and aspiring writers should feel free to use these documents for ideas, inspiration, or as an example of how to sell work.
The Publishing Industry and Literary Agents
Three quarters of books don’t make back their production costs and given the size of the book market, there are far more people writing books (and books being written) than could possibly make a decent living out of it (or sell a lot of copies).
The publishing companies which underlie this industry are therefore fickle, profit-seeking institutions. My initial strategy was to persuade a literary agent to represent me to them.
There were 171 agents listed in the 2010 edition of the Writers and Artists Guide (the standard industry Bible – if you’re thinking of writing a book – get hold of a copy). Narrative non-fiction was listed as an interest by 106 of those literary agents. Most agents receive 10+ submissions per day. They rarely engage new clients.
My first task was getting a grip on their world. That involved googling agents, checking-out their websites, reading reviews of their authors and joining two data-gathering websites: ‘Publishers Marketplace’ (for industry info) and ‘Writewords’ (a writers’ discussion forum). That research ended where best practice stopped and self-help began. Then I began my approach.
Approaching Literary Agents
The practical task was to get an agent to absorb why the product was a commercial proposition. Given that The Jolly Pilgrim is complex, original and works on multiple levels, that was a non-trivial feat of communication.
On approaching an agent, one sends them a sample. The standard submission guideline is ‘the first three chapters’. But in the case of The Jolly Pilgrim that could mean 2,500 words (too little) or 35,000 words (too much) depending on one’s definition of ‘chapter’. I made the judgment call at 8,000 words – a miscalculation, as it turned out.
After bouncing the sales documents off 10 people and discussing them with a marketing person, I had them copyedited, went to Ryman to stock up on posh paper and had everything professionally printed. Those sales documents contained a four-paragraph letter, a two-page book pitch (with a 280-word synopsis), a four-page chapter-by-chapter synopsis and the 8,000-word sample.
Through April and May 2010, I spent my weekends sending out a wave of pitches, then went off to sort out some other aspects of my life and complete the book’s post-production.
Praise for the final product:
I caught myself memorising passages to pass off as my own in conversation.
- William Sutton, author of The Worms of Euston Square
Writing a travel book – menu: