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. (firstname.lastname@example.org 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, blah...fast 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 then....it'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!