Home / Tomorrow is Today’s Backup Plan – An Author’s Journey (Part 2)

Tomorrow is Today’s Backup Plan – An Author’s Journey (Part 2)

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In Part 1, Ian Coburn introduced us to his book concept. Now let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of getting the project underway. If you are squeamish and hate to read about pain and suffering, you may want to skip some of the article. On the other hand, if you are an agent or a publisher, I recommend that you read this carefully. Ian’s experience is by no means unique.

Finding The Killer Title

Oh wait, I did need a title. That took a while. How could I explain what the book was about without using a thousand words? (I’m not big on the long subtitles most books have, especially in the dating genre, like Better Single Than Sorry: A No-Regrets Guide to Loving Yourself and Never Settling. The titles are simply too long and unmemorable.) I tossed ideas around with everyone I knew as I began to write the first chapter and draft query letters to agents and publishers. Friends asked their friends for ideas. I needed God in the title but it couldn’t be mistaken for a religious book, so God is a Woman wasn’t enough. Plus, people had to know it was a humorous book. It’s funny but with all the dozens of titles I considered, the only one I can remember is God is a Woman and Dating is a Bitch.

Searching For An Agent

I have a manager for screenwriting. She does a very good job but has no interest in representing books. There’s far less money involved, almost nothing if the book doesn’t sell well, which most books don’t. She doesn’t have contacts in the publishing world. Why spend time pushing a book for a little money when she could be using that same time to push a screenplay for lots of money? So, I had to find an agent. This turned out to be a huge fiasco and the biggest waste of time.

There are tons of agents. You have to research each one to make sure they are reputable. The most effective and reputable ones don’t accept queries, they work on referral only. I don’t know anyone these agents know, so no referrals for me. The problem with agents became very clear very quickly. In screenwriting, agents have no time to waste. In publishing, they apparently have plenty of time to waste. After carefully reviewing an agent’s website to make sure my manuscript fit his genre, I queried the agent. Many of them responded favorably, asking to see the now-completed first chapter. I was hitting a lot of agents and felt good about my odds of finding the right one. Then the replies came back. “Great concept, liked it a lot. But I only do cookbooks.” “I’m retired now.” “I’m not taking on new clients now.” “I only rep historical non-fiction.” And so forth. More than forty queries came back with such replies.

My big question, as would be any reasonable person’s, was why did these agents request the manuscript? Why did they have me spend money to mail it to them? Why didn’t they say the only repped cookbooks on their website? They wanted to be in the loop. They wanted to know what the latest works were, and therefore accepted my query and manuscript. Forget that it wasted a lot of my time. Forget that it cost me hundreds of dollars in postage. They wanted to be in the loop.

I stopped looking for an agent. It wasted too much of my time.

Searching For A Publisher

I queried publishers that accepted unagented manuscripts. Most of them never replied. Some of the bigger ones were simply annoying and egotistical. I called to verify the contact person to query. I then mailed my query to that person. In the two months that my query sat in his pile of queries, he quit. The new editor simply sent me my query back, unopened, along with a letter that read “This wasn’t addressed to me, he is no longer here. Send it back to my attention.” Two of the biggest publishers I queried did that to me three times before I gave up on them.

I stopped looking for a publisher for the time being. At this point I was well into the book and decided to just focus on the fun of writing it.

Of course, there was always the self-publishing route. I looked into it. Today, it seems to be mainly print on demand (POD). My assessment was that it was very taboo and frowned upon by the industry. I decided that this was not an option.

It’s Written, Now What?

I finished the book. It took me three months to write it, less time than I spent querying agents and publishers. What did I do now? I had no agent, no publisher, and no writing left to do. I did, however, have hope. Monica Wang, an editor at Basic Books, replied to my manuscript quite favorably. She said it was the freshest, funniest thing she had read in ages and that she and her friends enjoyed reading it. Could I please send her the manuscript before it was published? She couldn’t wait for it to come out to read the rest. (Basic Books had switched gears and was no longer publishing anything but serious non-fiction.) That single flame of hope kept me going.

The Big Break (Maybe!)

I went to a party one night. I spoke of my dilemma to various people. As it happened, a guy at the party had just started a publishing company and was looking for his first book. I spoke to him. He was quite green but he really just wanted to say that he was involved with a book. I told him about mine. I got a copy to him the next day and a week later he told me he wanted to do it. I was nervous, though. I was afraid I would lose control to a guy who really didn’t know what he was doing. On the other hand, I wanted to be published. The book was good and I wanted to get it into readers’ hands. We all know what that feels like.

I reached an agreement with my publisher, who apparently had a partner. We added a friend of mine to the mix, simply to make me feel better. I would do all the marketing for the book, which I was going to have to do any way, and he would front the money for the setup costs of the book. We would run a printing of a few hundred books every so often, take orders, and do some print on demand, as needed. Everything would be put in my name, so that I could go with a bigger publisher at anytime. My thinking was that if the book did well, a bigger publisher might pick it up. If I was locked in with a small publisher who had no contacts, I was screwed. The book would eventually fade away, unnoticed and not serving its purpose — to provide good dating advice to those who needed it and entertainment to those who just wanted a good read.

Like I said, the publisher only wanted to say he had gotten a book published. In fact, I later learned he had to keep his name off everything because of a possible conflict of interest with his job. So, everything was put in my name. Before I knew it, I was part owner in a publishing company. I had the power of self-publishing but not the black-eye. It was the best of both worlds, including total control. I hired a topnotch editor and three months later we went to press (the editor tore the manuscript apart, causing me to take more than a month to rewrite it). Additionally, I added another friend as the website host.

We Need A Website

On a low budget, you have to improvise. I know nothing about computers. I bought FrontPage (frowned upon by web designers), along with a manual, and learned how to create a website. You can see it for yourself.

You Can Judge A Book By its Cover!

This was the hardest part about the book. I needed an eye-catching cover that would let people know the book was funny and be attractive to both genders. Hmm. If I put a babe in a bikini on the cover, it would scare women away. If I put a woman on the cover, sitting on a cloud, squeezing a miniature me between her index finger and thumb, I would lose men. The day before we were scheduled to send material to the printer it finally hit me. I’d use my fridge. It worked out perfectly. People knew instantly that the book was humorous and about dating. It was enough to get them to pick the book up and read the back cover, where a book is really sold. We put some snapshots of pretty women friends on the fridge, a grocery list that included “condoms,” and the title of the book, as well as “by Comedian Ian Coburn” instead of just “by Ian Coburn,” to help push the humor notion even further. I wanted it categorized as humor because guys don’t like to purchase self-help books. This way a guy could buy the book without the stigma of buying self-help. Plus, again, people can just read it for the stories and I didn’t want to lose them by putting the book in self-help.

Off To The Printing Press

I didn’t do much with the printing and publishing aspects of the book. My partners did that and found it to be a bit of a nightmare. We used a more experienced third-party publisher to deal with the printers and there were layout problems, several delays, and so forth. Thankfully, the third-party company was very experienced and got everything resolved. They did a great job.

I am really glad that I did not know Ian during this phase of the project, I am sure that he was pretty upset most of the time. In part 3 he will be explaining the wonderful world of marketing the book.

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About Simon Barrett

  • well i’m setting forth on this phase of the plan so this was good reading. now all i need is to bump into a guy with a publishing company at a party 🙂

    Seriously though, I’m beginning to understand how big a part luck plays in the process