« Crowdfeeding | Main | Tuttle in the Balance reviewed by Above the Law »

Monday, December 14, 2015

Publishing with a Trade Press

Because I've chosen to publish with trade presses rather than university presses (even the book I'm working on for Stanford University Press is probably going to be published by the press's new trade imprint Redwood Press), scholars who are thinking about going that route sometimes ask me what they should do--do they need an agent, how do you find one, etc.  So I thought I'd share some of the things I usually say when I'm asked.  I'm sure others who have published with trade presses will have their own thoughts on the issue, and I hope they'll share their advice as well.

First, trade presses buy books on the basis of proposals, rather than full manuscripts (this is for non-fiction; for fiction the whole book needs to be done).  The proposal generally consists of a short overview section which describes what the book will be about, a short bio, an annotated table of contents, a short "publication specification" section that says when the book will be done, how long it will be, and whether it will have any special features like maps or charts or paintings of fruit saying weird things, a "marketing analysis," which is where the author tries to describe who might buy the book (trade presses are very interested in who the audience for the book is going to be), and a section that lists "comparable titles," which is not a literature review but rather a list of what books are out there that are like your book and how your book is different from them.  Finally, you usually need to include a sample chapter, which should not be the first chapter.  Of course, through the sample chapter and the overview, you need to communicate that you can write for the general public.  For goodness sakes, do not include footnotes.  There's a great book called "Thinking Like Your Editor" which describes the proposal-writing process really well.  I highly recommend it.

Once you have a proposal, you have to decide whether to try and get an agent.  To sell to the big trade publishers, you absolutely need one.  But there are some awesome smaller trade presses which will accept non-agented submissions.  My thrice-publisher Beacon Press is one of them, and the trade imprints of university presses will also take submissions directly from authors.  Just go to their websites and find the right editor and send him or her a catchy query email asking if they would like to read your proposal (see below).

If you want to try and sell your idea to a big, for-profit publisher so they can send you on a national book tour on their private Lear jet, then you will need to get an agent.  First, try to identify a set of 10 or 15 or so agents who you think might like your book.  You should certainly start by asking people you know who have an agent whether they will recommend you to their agent (assuming they like their agent), but beyond that, you can try and find out who represents authors who write stuff like you write.  Use the internet.  Also, you can subscribe to Publisher's Marketplace for $20 a month and find out all sorts of information about who sells what and how well they sell it.  Once you get your list together, send each agent a short and catchy query email and ask them if they'd like to read the proposal (don't send the proposal without being asked to, unless the agent's website tells you to).  Agents read hundreds of these a week, so you have to get their attention quickly.  Do not be scholarly.  Do not say "orthogonal" or "problematize."  Show them you can write for a general audience and sell millions of books

Some agents will reject you within minutes.  For others it will take days.  Some will never respond to you.  There's actually a site called Query Tracker or something like that which will tell you the average response times for each agent.  Hopefully one or more agents will be excited about your project and want to talk more about it.  Then one will agree to represent you, and you will sign a contract that gives 15% of your earnings to her or him.  The agent will take over from there.  If you're lucky, you will be on the jet drinking goblets of Remy Martin Louis XII on your way to readings in San Francisco and London and Istanbul within no time.

Posted by Jay Wexler on December 14, 2015 at 11:05 AM in Books, Jay Wexler | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment