Rebecca Eckler is one of Canada's most talked about newspaper columnists, the author of Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother to Be, which has been translated into nine languages. Also the author of the bestsellers, Wiped!, Toddlers Gone Wild, and Rotten Apple, the first in a YA series. Random thoughts on life in the competitive world of modern mommyhood. Blog will be loved by trendy mothers who still feel, or often feel, that the most important word in "mommee" is ME!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I want to publish a book!!!

About three times a week, I receive e-mails from people telling me they have a really good idea for a book and they want to know how to go about getting it published.

I am not an expert in the book publishing world. I only sort of kind of have a grasp on the whole book business. But, mostly, I don't get it.

I do know one thing for certain. It's a fucking hard business to break into. And even if you do break into the publishing world and get a book deal, it's still fucking hard. And then, even if you get a book published and into the stores, it's still fucking hard.

It's one of those businesses that if The Dictator ever said, "Mommy, I want to be a writer when I grow up," I'd say, "Um, really? Don't you want to be a pilot or an actress or, well, something, anything else, but a writer?"

Almost 99 per cent of the time, people who ask me how to publish a book do have a great idea for a book. I think. I mean, I would read the book if they get it published. That's the truth.

Unfortunately, there can only be so many books published. And I know most writers would hate me for doing this (then again, all writers hate all competition, because it is so competitive) but if people ask how to do a book proposal, I e-mail them an outline of how to do a book proposal.

Hey, I love reading. The more authors out there, the better. ( if you want a copy of how to do a proposal.)

One of the main reasons you will not get a book published is because you will not end up finishing the book. Writing a book is really fucking hard. So, yes, you may have a brilliant idea, but sitting down and writing it is a whole other story (Hey, that's a funny pun. The story part?)

In fact, I think it's funny that many people will read a book and think, "I could do so much better than that. What is that book published?" It's published because the author actually finished it.

These days, if you are a first time author, you pretty much need the entire book done, before anyone will look at it.

People assume that just because they have a great idea and write a proposal, that they're going to get a book deal. I, too, would absolutely love it if that were the case.

I have 5000 ideas for books, and I'm always thinking, "I should really do that." But, sigh, most of the ideas stay in my brain. I don't even do the proposals. Why? Because I can be seriously fucking lazy and I just found this new game show on television called "Deal or No Deal" and I rather watch that. (Hi Howie!!)

This is what I've learned (and, remember, I'm really not an expert. This is purely my experience.)

If you have an idea, and then write a brilliant proposal (basically, you have to argue why this is the best idea ever since the invention of tampons and that all the other books out there on the same subject - and there always are books already published on the same subject - suck and yours will be so much better) you need to get an agent.

I was once at a Christmas party at a publisher's house and she showed me her closet. I swear to god, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. There was a stack of manuscripts, taller than me, by authors who sent her their manuscripts. This is called the "slush pile." I don't know why. But I do know there are a million hopeful writers out there whose manuscripts are in a closet.

I do also know that it's very rare that a publisher or editor at a publishing house has the time to read all the manuscripts sent to them. This publisher was nice. She did take all the manuscripts home and attempted to go through them all over her break. I had a new respect for her.

Anyway, the point is, you need an agent these days. Well, it definitely helps. Because publishers listen to agents. They respond to their e-mails - with good news, or bad. At least agents get a return phone call.

Sometimes writers become friends with their agents. I love my agent. I'm not sure I'd consider her a friend, like I wouldn't tell her for example that I'm PMSing and so am in a bitchy mood or anything. In fact, I think I've talked to her on the phone five times in my life. But she's done amazing things for me. And I try to keep our relationship business-only. That way, I can't get mad at her over anything, because I'm not emotionally invested.

I know a lot of writers who are super close to their agents. And sometimes it does not end well. Like, for example, if their agent doesn't sell their book to Turkey, they'll take it personally and blame their agent for not caring about their book enough.

Which is kind of ridiculous because agents make their money off the writer, so of course, selling your book to Turkey is in their best interest as well. (I think my agent takes 20 percent. But I'm happy to give it to her, because I do not want to deal with ANY business aspect at all. When I say I'm not about the money, it is true. Hey, money is great. But writers write because they have too, not for the money.)

So, get an agent. Google Canadian agents and lists will pop up. And then e-mail them.

Then, let's say your agent likes your idea and proposal and they take you as a client and you actually write the entire book and the agent sends it off to publishers and one actually bites and offers you a book deal (I think this is probably a 1 in 10,000 shot) But it does happen.

Do not be surprised when you are offered $7,000 for the book it took you four years to write.

You take the fucking deal, even though you may wonder how you are going to pay your rent. So you, of course, have an actual job as well. (oh, and you will be rejected by more than one publishing house before you may get the deal.)

I actually keep all my rejection letters. In fact, I am so used to rejections that I read the letters and go out for dinner.

Then, oh god, the editing process. I'm in the process of writing two books now. Both are in the editing process and I want to crawl under my covers and never wake up again. Actually, that's not entirely true. One book has been kind of easy to edit. The other one, not so much.

In any case, you might hate your editor and think, "What the fuck? I love that line! Why do they want me to take it out?" Or, "They hated that one character? So now I have to rewrite the entire book?" I actually love all my editors. After the initial, "What the fuck?" I think, "Fine. They're so right." Because editors do know better.

Blah, blah, forward a year (yes, it takes a year to edit.) If you get a book deal in the year 2004, you'll be lucky to get your book out in 2007. That's how long it takes.

Then the fun part. Just when you can't stand your book any longer, because you've read it 1009 times, and it's been through editing three or four times, it is done. And they'll send you cover options for your book and you might tear up, because it is like seeing your baby for the first time. (That nine months of hard work being pregnant is nothing compared to popping out a book. Yes, that's right. Giving birth is way less painful then publishing a book.)

Fast forward another six months to when the book is actually ready to be released. The best thing to do is to leave town when the reviews come out, because unless you are Margaret Atwood, at least one reviewer in Canada, (or, actually, maybe almost all of them in my case) will find fault with your book.

This will sting. I actually think being a book reviewer is one of the best jobs around. I love to read. To get paid for doing it? Brilliant.

In any case, you must remind yourself that the reviewer is only one person. I always read book reviews. Not everyone does. In fact, most people don't. But I read them and ignore the criticism and compliments, because I just want to know the plot of the book. If the plot sounds good to me, I'll buy the book.

I mean, someone like Plum Sykes gets awful reviews. I love her books. It's one of those things like Britney Spears. What's good is read and what's read is good. You may not think Britney is talented but she sells. So you can argue that she must be good. That's my theory.

And you will want your book to end up on the bestsellers list. It will sting when it's not. (Of course, bestsellers list are hard to figure out. I understood a bestseller in Canada was 5000 books. I never made any bestsellers list in Canada and Knocked Up sold way more than that number. I know because authors get these pieces of paper that show sales.)

And then you will basically sell your soul and call every single person you know in the media in hopes they will plug your book. And you pray to god your publicist is a pitbull and will get you on every show on television. And they may, or they may not. In fact, getting publicity for your book and convincing people to buy your book is harder than writing it.

In fact, you actually do contemplate sending Heather Reisman a bottle of champagne, or a hot male stripper (joking) to be a "Heather's Pick."

Meanwhile, your agent is hard at work selling your book to the States, everywhere in Europe, Israel...anywhere. So you get rejections again, or you jump in glee when a country offers you a few thousand Euros to publish your book. (or a few hundred Euros.)

And all the covers change for every country. One country who bought Knocked Up put on the cover a baby, with its umbilical cord going into a martini glass. Fucking hilarious.

That's how you make money off your book. But 99.9 percent of writers will not be the next Dan Brown. You will not make a billion dollars from your book. You could blow your whole book advance on an expensive dinner and a new outfit.

And's all over. Five years of work, your book is out, and the party is over. And then you have to start all over again with a new proposal for a new book, getting rejections, bad reviews....

So, you still want to write a book? Good for you! Because, after the dust settles down, and you forgive the book reviewers, and spend your book money on expensive footwear, it kind of seems worth it.

The best piece of advice I've ever gotten is that writing books is a career. Which means, your first one may not do well, maybe your second one won't either, but maybe the third one will be the next Harry Potter. Or maybe your first proposal will be turned down, and so will your second, but maybe someone will take the third proposal.

All I know is that I should be editing right now. But thanks for letting me procrastinate for just a little while longer. Oh, and buy books!


Blogger Sheena said...

This was probably one of your best posts to date.

I put my "book" on hold because I love my day job too much.

But it will gnaw a gaping wound in my gut until the day I die. Or win the lottery and put it back on the front burner.

4:30 PM

Blogger Cindy said...


Bad girl, putting off your work to fool arond! JK. I'm putting off all types of work (packing, cooking, etc.) and playing on the computer.

Enjoy the procrastination, it's fun to do.

5:02 PM

Blogger Wendy Boucher said...

I couldn't have said it any better and I'm living it.

I've heard plenty of times that it takes at least five books before you really have a readership.

I'm tapping away on number three. Hope I get that readership before I have grandchildren to take care of.

6:35 PM

Blogger Haley-O said...

I know what you mean about getting asked about publishing. I may have it worse than you, though(!), because I'm in children's publishing--and everyone wants to write or illustrate a children's book (and it takes a lot less time to write a children's book than it does to write an "adult's" book). Can I copy your post and paste it to my blog?? Kidding, of course! I would like a copy of your proposal template, though, to show people and for my own curiosity.--I'll try to remember to email you about that. Thanks for this post!

7:14 PM

Blogger Blog-o-licious said...

...what if it's just a wee teensy book? Still same amount of "trouble"? I only want to write one and then be done with. Only for me, know one else...

8:00 PM

Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

Thanks for the info! I have two finished books (one that can sell and one that can't), and two half-finished books (one that can sell and one that probably can't), so at least I've done something right so far. ;) Now if I could just get someone else to think so.

12:07 AM

Anonymous Naomi said...

Great post! I've always wanted to write a book (or 5), but never really knew where to go. Oh, and there's the actual WORK involved, too!

I do know a lot goes into the process, and do appreciate the details. Not something I believe I will ever accomplish, as it's only one thing on my VERY LONG to do list!

4:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rebecca, it is so nice of you to do this post. I don't really want to write a book. Well maybe kind of but only because everyone else does, not in a sincere way and I never will. But I still think it is GREAT that you took the time to post this information because not only is it really interesting but incredibly USEFUL to al the people out there who really DO want to write a book and don't know where to begin! Most writers, editors, publishers, etc would never give the time or effort to do something like this. Way to go.

7:29 AM

Blogger Ashley said...

I would LOVE to write a book, but I don't know that I have the talent, patience or time. Plus I totally don't deal well with rejection.

8:04 AM

Anonymous Tavin said...

Hi Rebecca,
Long time lurker, first time commentator....just wanted to say I loved your book and am really glad you stuck with the process (as grinding as it sounds) and published Knocked Up. While I have yet to experience the "joys" of pregnancy *shudder*, I couldn't put it down and laughed like a crazy person thru much of it. Then I got lucky and found your blog which has been a delightful discovery all its own. This post was a great one - for all who have maybe wanted to write or were wondering what would be involved in writing! Writing has been addictive for me for years and while I would love to be published, telling my stories for myself and my friends will probably need to be enough.

12:17 PM

Blogger Carol said...

I think you should write a book on writing a book! Karyn Bosnak's second book is about to come out, which is also why she has hardly any time to blog anymore.

Now get cracking on that (new) book -LOL

1:05 PM

Blogger Karla said...

Writing a book was always a dream of mine, but I start....get halfway through and then throw it away because I'm sure no one wants to read it. Then I started blogging. Now my "writing itch" is being scratched for the time being.

1:20 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome post. I started reading your columns in the National Post when I was 19 and first moved to Toronto. And when Knocked Up came out I bought copies for all my friends - sent them as far away as the UK and Taiwan. Thank you for taking the time to share your success with others - can't wait for your next book!

6:01 AM

Blogger Helen said...

This is what one of the best posts ever - so real...thank you for being so honest as always!

7:12 AM

Blogger slapchips said...

A central tenet in Social Psychology is that we're all far more alike thank we like to think. We think of ourselves as unique and special, when in fact we're all bunched in the middle of the spectrum under 'normal.' This is not such a bad thing, when you remember that schizophrenia lies a little ways down the same spectrum. But it also means that our thoughts and insights, when we put them on paper, sound pretty much like the thoughts and insights of most other normal folk. Hence that chillingly tall slush pile in the cupboard.
One of the saddest and most touching examples of a writer meeting the brick wall of his normality is to be found in Sophie's Choice, by Styron. In the beginning of the book the narrator works for a publishing firm, and he is hand delivered an absolute tome (I think it filled two small suitcases) by a farmer from the midwest. It was written in the style of an epic poem, about the life of King Harold, I think, from Norway or somewhere up there. It was all, 'And Harold did spake thus, and thus did manfully forward stride ...'
Of course the old man is sent away with his battered suitcases, which comprises a lifetime's work. The poem isn't even all that bad, its just hopelessly and terminally out of touch with the market - modern or otherwise. You have to read it though, to capture the melancholy that wafted up at you from that slush pile.

9:00 AM

Blogger Jenn said...

That was a wonderful post.
I thought about writing a book. For about 3 minutes.
Too much time and effort, I can barely keep up with my own little blog.
If only blogging paid better.....
Maybe someday down the road.
Good luck with your latest book. I love finding editing mistakes in books though - makes it a little more human, to me.

1:26 PM

Blogger Paige said...

At the begining of this post I started losing hope for my novel-writing goal of current--oh but by the end of the post! I now feel refreshed and more determined than before, so merci :)

2:52 PM

Blogger slapchips said...

Read Sophie's Choice I mean, not the epic poem

1:06 AM

Blogger tomama said...

Brava to you for acknowledging this. I see meds as no different than insulin - it's just a way to rebalace chemicals in the body. In Cosmo's What SSRI are You? Quiz, I'm a Zoloft. And baby, there ain't no side-effects to speak of so tell The Dog no worries.

OK, and the finger thing - that f***ed up. You are too nice. I won't even retrieve the neighbour kid's tennis ball that landed in the mud.

Jen (Still Nuts but Likeable)

11:10 AM

Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

This post should nominated for a public service award. I think that you have helped a whole lotta writers out there.

Including me.

(Gotta catch up on your other posts now! Have been away too long!)

2:42 PM

Blogger Laclos said...

I have no desire to be published or for my ideas to be heard... that aside I liked "some" of the things you said. ;-)

3:01 PM

Blogger Kristen said...

Seriously, I think my face got red during the part about not finishing books. LOL. I start, and then they get all dusty. LOL.

8:14 AM

Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

Rebecca, that was incredible. Truly.

What you described reminded me of the music business. All the way down to the closet full of manuscripts. I've seen drawers full of demo CDs - I even have two demo CDs sitting on my desk at home that I am supposed to send to an A&R guy I used to know who may (or may not) listen to them.

I thought I wanted to write a book when my grade school class took a field trip to a bookstore. I've tried several times (never as an adult though), and I know better than to try right now.

2:47 PM

Blogger Ali said...

i tried to post before but blogger was a mess i hope i'm not double posting.

since i work at the same place as Haley-O (see above), i can attest to the fact that everybody and their grandmother asks for book publishing advice.

i've actually even given in a few of my friends' manuscripts for review. i mean, why not? it doesn't hurt. well, not that much. i do feel badly, though, because the publishing world is a tough one, man.

so much of it has to do with luck. i know, because i spent a good six months reading manuscript submissions and whether i gave the book a yes/no/maybe depended a lot on what sort of mood i was in at that given moment.

so my advice is, find a happy editor. it's almost more important than your content. :)

8:47 PM

Blogger JennC said...

"... every obstacle should at first be put in the way of the aspiring artist, as it is only those you cannot discourage who are worth encouraging."

-Harold Speed

Nice post.

4:18 AM

Blogger Jezer said...

You know, I've always wondered about how that process actually went down. Thanks for the insight.

4:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

rebecca - i'm currently enrolled in the publishing program at Ryerson and i am learning first hand everything that you just wrote in this post. it is absolutely true. as an intern at a large pub house - i read 65 manuscripts on the slush pile in less than 3 months... sadly only a few were decent...

4:52 PM

Blogger jaycurrie said...

I've been reviewing on and off for is indeed a great job. But it is also an astonishing look at what can get published.

There is an old maxim: hard work is no substitute for talent. And there is nothing sader than knowing how hard an author has worked to produce something of really remarkable banality.

Worse, bad reviews are actually a lot harder to write than good ones because you really do have to justify your opinion. If you write a good review and have entirely missed the point no one is going to call you on it. But with a bad review you have to explain why the book is a waste of good trees. This takes work.

A great post.

9:27 PM

Blogger Trellick Tower said...

I agree, a fucking brilliant post!

3:23 PM

Blogger Mom101 said...

Great advice. When I first got published it blew my mind how many people had the balls to pitch me books. Like I have the key to the inner sanctum at Harper Collins? Nyet.

The problem is, as my agent put it, that most people don't actually like writing. They like having written. It's an excellent distinction.

12:01 PM


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