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Tips for Finding a Publisher
by Brian Meyer
Founder and President, Western New York Wares Inc.
"One of the signs of Napoleon's greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot."
-- Siegfried Unseld
Writing books is fun. Finding a publisher can be unpleasant, frustrating and downright maddening.
Since I founded my publishing company in 1984, I have spoken to literally hundreds of authors and aspiring authors across New York State. I've had the good fortune to forge literary alliances with a couple dozen of these talented folks.
But if you do some simple math, you will arrive at a sobering reality: The vast majority of authors who pitch us with ideas -- more than 95 percent -- end up getting rejection letters.
Don't despair. In most of these cases, the rejections had less to do with the quality of the literary proposal and more to do with the fact that the author did not take into consideration a number of key factors.
If you are about to begin the search for a publisher, you might want to ponder the following thoughts.
1. Define Your Product
Hollywood moguls have a rule for pitching television show concepts: if you cannot clearly define the essence of the show in a single sentence, you should go back to the drawing board. The same holds true with a book proposal. If it takes you two word-crammed pages to describe your concept, you probably haven't given the project enough thought. Define the essence of your book in a simple, vivid sentence. Two sentences at most.
2. Probe Your Publishing Prospects
Before submitting a manuscript, consider the publisher's mission statement.
Our mission statement is pretty straightforward: We publish, market and distribute books that focus on Western New York. We've done books about regional history, nature architecture, politics, sports and tourism. But recognize the common threads that are interwoven through every project: Western New York.
When you hear the word "Starbucks," what pops into your mind? Probably the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Since 1984, our goal has been to build brand recognition for our company. When people hear the name "Western New York Wares," we want them to think about books that focus on the Buffalo area.
That's why we have to say "no" when aspiring authors pitch us titles that deal with everything from coordinating weddings to counseling children. We're firm believers that McDonald's should never experiment with pizza. Likewise, we intend to stay within our publishing niche.
Learn about prospective publishers by perusing Writer's Market (you'll find it in just about every library.) When you visit bookstores or libraries, have a pad handy so you can jot down notes about what type of titles various publishers have recently introduced. Read book reviews. Page through publishing trade journals. Be a private investigator, of sorts, gathering as much information as you possibly can about various publishing houses.
3. Make Yourself Publisher-Friendly
Sorry, folks. If an aspiring author tells us that he or she is still using an old-fashioned Smith-Corona typewriter to peck out a manuscript, we're immediately hesitant. Word processing on a computer is essential in this age.
Smaller publishers might also be persuaded to tackle a project if you have experience indexing books, taking high-quality photographs or drawing pen-and-ink sketches. While larger publishing houses have their own teams of experts, regional publishers might be more likely to consider a project if authors bring with them an array of skills.
4. Think Promotion
If you think that publicizing a book is solely the job of the publisher, you are in the wrong mind-set. The author must be a P.T. Barnum right from the very first pitch to the publishing house.
You know your literary venture better than anyone. Once you clearly define your target audience, let your creative juices flow. What unique promotional strategies can you propose to ignite excitement about the book? Can you come up with a quality mailing list of prospective buyers (start with friends and relatives, but also think about organizations, community groups, etc.)
When you've finally landed a publisher and your book hits the store shelves, be prepared to do autograph signings, in-store programs and speeches in the community.
5. Genius Lies In the Details
As you work on your project, think about some of these details: what type of front cover do you envision for your book? How about the back cover? Have you come up with a riveting title and attention-getting chapter titles? Have you thought about art for the inside?
Large publishing houses often make these decisions independent of the author. But smaller houses are usually eager to include authors in the decision-making, especially if they come to the table with some carefully conceived concepts. Think about the "details" as you are writing the manuscript. Keep a notebook handy and jot down ideas as they pop into your mind.
It is my hope that this will give aspiring authors some general guidelines as they embark on their safari to find a suitable publisher.
There's one more guideline I failed to mention -- perhaps the most important rule. HAVE FUN!
Founder and Publisher
Western New York Wares Inc.
P.O. Box 733
Buffalo, New York 14205
© 2000, 2003 Western New York Wares Inc.