HOW DOES AN UNKNOWN AUTHOR GET PUBLISHED??
Here is my journey from handwritten journals to printed book.
Our younger son, Todd's, professional baseball career ended in 1999 during spring training with the L.A. Dodgers. He had spent six years with the Boston Red Sox, attaining AAA status (the highest level of the minor leagues) for the last two years. When the Dodgers released him in '99, it was time to move on. Our older son had played in the same Red Sox minor leagues with Todd during '92 and '93.
I had written all my life, first as a child writing poetry, then as a high school student who won writing prizes. I obtained an MA from Columbia Teacher's College in NYC and went to work teaching high school English in Connecticut, Georgia, and Maine. So it was natural for me to keep journals during our sons' saga through the Red Sox minor leagues. Besides, I think every English teacher believes he/she has a book buried within!
It took me eighteen months after the story ended to corroborate the facts and convert the journals into narrative form. That was the fun part for me! Memoirs must be completed in full to be sold.
The first step
I did what every author has encouraged future writers to do...I networked! I contacted at least 100 people I knew and told them my story; then I contacted at least three times that number whom I did not know to tell them my story. The first break was finding the brother of a Colby classmate of my husband's who was a reader for a literary agent and a published author himself. He edited my 400+ pages and convinced me I had something worthy of publication - a unique story and a readable one! His editing took six months.
The most important thing!
I then called a sportswriter for The Providence Journal newspaper (also an author and friend of the family). If you want something badly, you have to believe in yourself and then sell your product!! Over lunch, Bill Reynolds perused the first fifty pages of my manuscript and declared, "You've got to publish this!" He also recommended two resource books to purchase:
How to Write a Proposal for Literary Agents and
Guide to Literary Agents (2002) .
The latter is published yearly.
Literary Agents in a Nutshell
Manuscripts are not submitted in totality to an agent. Agents only accept proposals, which must be preceded by a query letter. Writers can spend months on the wording of the query letter, which is an introduction not only to you, the author, but also to your manuscript. Queries should only be one page long. Nathan Bransford, literary agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd., has excellent suggestions for writing the perfect query letter on his website: http://www.nathanbransford.com/. Although Nathan did not take me on as a client, I am devoted to his blogs!
I included my query letter with my proposal, since I had a prior entree to the literary agent in Boston through his reader, who was editing my manscript.
In general, if the agent likes the query letter, he will ask for the proposal. If he likes the proposal, he will ask for a partial manuscript. If he likes the partial, he will ask for the complete manuscript. I spent six months developing a seventy-page proposal for this agent in Boston, who handled sports memoirs. It is very important to find an agent who specializes in your genre, since each agent has his own niche. My query letter and proposal were hand-delivered to the literary agent in Boston by the man who had edited my manuscript.
The Waiting Game
The literary agent rotated my proposal between his office in Boston and his office in NYC. Six months later (!) I got a two-line rejection letter. Eighteen months later, I had received seventy of these two-liners. It was a Catch-22: literary agents aren't interested in an unpublished author, but how does an unknown author get published if no-one is willing to take a chance on him/her?
It was now four and one-half years since our son Todd had finished playing pro ball. Then life interfered! My Mom and Dad, healthy and in their nineties, were hospitalized for the last ninety days of their lives in successive years in the town next to us in Fla. I concentrated on their remaining months and settling their affairs for three years.
Persistence Pays Off!
Finally, I went to Plan B. I explored the option to self-publish and decided that wasn't the road for me. So I began to solicit small, independent publishers, from Florida to Maine. Fortunately, New River Press, in Woonsocket, R.I., was interested in my proposal. They had formed an imprint division for new authors from New England called Barking Cat Books. We signed a contract twelve months ago (Aug., '08), with scheduled publication for April, '09 (to coincide with the opening of baseball season).
The Hard Part
I submitted the manuscript and all the photos to the publisher electronically by early December, '08. He sent it electronically to his editor in England. As part of my proposal there was a two-page marketing plan. I began to market the book and myself on the internet in January '09. The publication date was set for April 7, '09, since my husband and I reside in Florida until May and book signings were already scheduled there before the "snow birds" went north.
The Waiting Game
We waited for the editor's final proofs...and waited...and waited. In an ideal world, the editor and author work closely together. In my case, I got three emails over three months from the editor, while the publisher remained in close contact with her.
There is something else over which the author may have little control - the book cover. In my case, I sat with the publisher and artist. Together we changed the title of the book and developed the cover. The upper section of the cover with the "heart hands" is my contribution.
Finally, the third week of March, the editor sent the final proofs, without having cut anything! The book was supposed to be shorter, with larger print. The theory in publishing is that anything over 300 pages won't sell well. Because of time constraints, we had to go with almost the entire manuscript as the editor had returned it; hence, we needed smaller print. We were under a tremendous deadline to print in THREE WEEKS!!
The pros of small, independent publishers and a lousy economy
In general, the process I am describing, from manuscript to published product, can take a year or more. Small, independent publishers have a much shorter turn-around time. The publisher chose a printer close to us in nearby Deerfield, Fla. Because of the economy, the printer was able to slide our job in first. My husband and I almost had nervous breakdowns awaiting the finished product! Invitations had gone out and deposits had been made for the book signings at various clubs around Fla. We made it with FIVE DAYS to spare!!
The cons of small, independent publishers and a lousy economy
And so began a marketing campaign that in ideal circumstances would be handled by the publicist on the publisher's staff. In this economy, my publicist was now part-time and had five other authors to deal with. The internet, book signings, the ads, radio interviews, press became overwhelming for me. I hired a publicist in NYC for three months - all I could afford. Like agents, publicists specialize. Mine handles radio and tv. All the rest is up to me, except distribution and websites. I now spend two - four hours every day marketing. I hired a videographer and we put a promo video on YouTube. The book has its own website; I have a Facebook page, and two blogs (this is one). I am still learning how to spread the viewer base on the internet. I have two book signings/presentations with powerpoint show every week which I must prepare for.
A Wild Ride and a Full-time Job
So, ten years after our second son finished his pro career, I have a finished product called, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. It's been a new life for me, from teacher to interior designer to author - interesting, challenging, exciting. Certainly the most fun has been interacting with wonderful people I meet at the book events. As Nathan Bransford said in his blog on August 11, '09, "There's no such thing as 'just an author' anymore, and I suspect there never was."
Visit the book's website: www.minorleaguemom.net