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Distilled wisdom from two publishing pros for every serious nonfiction author in search of big commercial success.Over 50,000 books are published in America each year, the vast majority nonfiction. Even so, many writers are stymied in getting their books published, never mind gaining significant attention for their ideas—and substantial sales. This is the book editors have been recommending to would-be authors. Filled with trade secrets, Thinking Like Your Editor explains:• why every proposal should ask and ...
Distilled wisdom from two publishing pros for every serious nonfiction author in search of big commercial success.Over 50,000 books are published in America each year, the vast majority nonfiction. Even so, many writers are stymied in getting their books published, never mind gaining significant attention for their ideas—and substantial sales. This is the book editors have been recommending to would-be authors. Filled with trade secrets, Thinking Like Your Editor explains:• why every proposal should ask and answer five key questions;• how to tailor academic writing to a general reader, without losing ideas or dumbing down your work;• how to write a proposal that editors cannot ignore;• why the most important chapter is your introduction;• why "simple structure, complex ideas" is the mantra for creating serious nonfiction;• why smart nonfiction editors regularly reject great writing but find new arguments irresistible.Whatever the topic, from history to business, science to philosophy, law, or gender studies, this book is vital to every serious nonfiction writer.
|A Note to the Reader||11|
|Prologue: First, a little story ...||15|
|Ch. 1||Thinking Like an Editor: Audience, Audience, Audience||39|
|Pt. 1||The Submission Package|
|Ch. 2||How to Write a Proposal||61|
|Ch. 3||Wrapping Up the Submission Package: The Table of Contents, the Sample Chapter, and Supporting Materials||97|
|Ch. 4||Placing Your Manuscript with a Publisher: To Agent or Not to Agent, and Other Questions about the Publishing Acquisition Process||120|
|Pt. 2||The Writing Process|
|Ch. 5||A Question of Fairness and Other Limits of Argument in Serious Nonfiction||141|
|Ch. 6||Using Narrative Tension||177|
|Ch. 7||From Introduction to Epilogue: Writing Your Book Chapter by Chapter - and What to Do When You Get into Trouble||196|
|Pt. 3||From Edition to Marketing to Publication|
|Ch. 8||How to Be Published Well||223|
|App. A||Sample Proposal and Writing Sample||239|
Barnes & Noble.com Reference Editor Laura Wood met with coauthor Susan Rabiner over lunch to discuss her book. Susan later answered these questions with Alfred Fortunato.
Barnes & Noble.com: Having worked in various parts of the publishing industry for years, I found your book to be refreshingly honest about the realities of book publishing. I especially enjoyed the story about your lunch with a Barnes & Noble Inc. science buyer that got into where a certain new title would be shelved in the stores. Do you find that most novice authors are unaware of the number of people in the book business -- such as store buyers -- who play a role in the success of published books?
Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato: Yes. Most novice authors, and even many previously published authors, work on the assumption that the publishing relationship is between author and editor, and that everyone else in publishing -- from marketing to sales, from subsidiary rights to you folks at the bookstores -- sort of pass along a book but do not really influence its fate. But you can't blame authors for believing that. Who speaks at writers' conferences? Editors. And what do they talk about? What they know best -- either the acquisition or the editing process.
Once authors are put under contract they will hear about these other people, but generally most will never deal directly with anyone but their editor and possibly a publicist. Yet, a person in the rights department may have taken an interest in a book that no one else really believed in and sold an excerpt to a major magazine, which then propelled that book to the bestseller list. Or an art director, by coming up with a very creative jacket, jump-started the creative juices of marketing and sales. I think most authors would be surprised to learn that some of the people at Barnes & Noble.com worked inside publishing houses for years, and that the opinions of booksellers are sought out and highly regarded by publishers. For instance, in my own personal experience several jackets were redone because booksellers we consulted thought them ineffective. One of the reasons we wrote this book was to give authors a much better sense of the publishing process in general and the many people who make books happen.
B&N.com: I liked the way you give detailed instructions on the proposal and stress its importance. Authors need to know that before a contract is offered the proposal will be shown to many people in house, marketing and sales people as well as editorial, then be used after the project is signed up, for writing catalogue copy, etc.
SR/AF: Yes, as you correctly note, we discuss the fact that a good proposal will better your chances of being published well. And we also say that putting time and effort into a proposal will help you write a better book. Here's what would-be authors need to better understand about the relationship between a well-thought-out proposal and successful publication of your work.
Quite a few people in a publishing house will read your proposal besides your editor, including the publisher, the associate publisher, other editors, sales and marketing people, and subsidiary rights people -- that is, the folks who will try to place your book with a book club, place an excerpt from your book in a magazine, and possibly sell the rights to publish your book to publishers in other countries. Most of these people will never read your finished manuscript. They will be motivated by and work off the initial impression created by your proposal, supported by follow-up discussions with your editor.
Out of these discussions many important decisions will likely be made, including the size of your first print run, how much money to set aside for marketing the book, even at times the title and jacket of your book. Why the rush to get all these things settled? Because publishers need to talk to bookstores about your book many months ahead of publication, often before you turn in your manuscript, which means they need a title, a jacket design, an estimate of how much money the publisher is willing to spend promoting the book, so that booksellers can get a better idea of how important this book is to the publisher. There is a saying among publishing people that "lost sales are never found." Because it will have been undervalued, underprinted, and undermarketed, a book that comes in better than the proposal promised may spend its life playing catch-up.
B&N.com: You, Susan, have been an editor, an editorial director, and are now a literary agent. You bring up the issue of agents in the book. Aren't agents even more important to authors now than in years past?
SR: Editors are still the most important advocates in-house for the books on their own lists, but they do have less power these days than they had many years ago. As an editor, I could make the most reasonable suggestion for change, and I would have to diplomatically fight my way up the chain of command to bring it about. Most publishers, on the other hand, will tell their people to accommodate all but the most unreasonable requests of an important agent -- that is, an agent who regularly sends them good projects.
But agents are also becoming more and more important because the industry is more volatile. As imprints are bought, sold, and merged, editors are frequently switching houses, or losing their jobs, or in other ways losing power. Inevitably, when an editor loses power, his or her authors suffer as well. For instance, an orphaned author may be reassigned to an inappropriate editor. Few authors have the clout on their own, or the know-how, to handle this type of problem, but agents can quietly make some phone calls and straighten things out. In this new bottom-line environment, the agent's fiduciary and moral responsibility is to the author. The editor's is to the publishing house.
But the single most important reason agents are becoming more important to authors may be that more and more of them are ex-editors. They can steer authors away from problem projects by telling them stories about other books with similar flaws that could not be published successfully. They can step in and rewrite bad catalogue or flap copy and can advise an author about what makes a good jacket. They can also tell authors when to back off and let the editor do his or her job.
B&N.com: Although this book focuses on serious trade nonfiction, there seems to be a lot of information here for many kinds of authors.
SR/AF: You are very right. We now use many of the same techniques to place works of narrative nonfiction, self-help, sports, and even memoir. And if we were ever to start to take on fiction, we would rely on the very same general questions to guide us in determining which projects to take on and then how to present them to publishers. Because in virtually every instance, the most important two questions are: Who is the core audience for this book? And, What is new here that will appeal to that audience? Those questions do not change no matter what genre of project you are proposing to a publishing house.
Posted March 18, 2008
I highly recommend this book if you thinking about writing a serious nonfiction book for the general trade market. The authors show the reader how to craft a proposal and outline a book that will appeal to both editors and intelligent readers. In addition, they give the reader all the necessary information, from finding a publisher or agent to dealing with an edited manuscript. The only problem is the sample proposal at the end of the book -- it is so well-written (the author of the proposal earned a Pulitzer Prize) it risks giving the reader writer's block. Seriously, this is a perfect book for anyone new to publishing and for those helping anyone new to publishing -- get published.
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Posted March 20, 2013
The authors do a very good job of showing how to get a manuscript ready and presenting it to an editor or agent. It uses step by step advice with an appendix that includes actual examples. It would be helpful for independent writers or undergrad or graduate level students who are looking to publish their theses. Their experience in both agency and editing gives it real authority.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 3, 2011
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Posted July 30, 2009
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Posted December 6, 2009
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