Friday, January 28, 2011

Getting a book published, memoir edition

Since I'm fully immersed in this whole process, I thought it might be helpful to friends and blog readers to know exactly what it takes to get a book published.  I worked for a short time on the other side of publishing after attending the Denver Publishing Institute after graduating college.  I have to say, knowing the process doesn't make it easier!

Memoir is complicated.  It's technically non-fiction, but it's obviously quite different from a book on how to shell a crab or decorate your house as a neo-con.  Non-fiction is most often sold on proposal with one or two sample chapters.  Fiction is almost always sold after the entire book is written.  No one can agree on what to do with memoir!  It reads like fiction, and the author has to be able to tell a story.  But it's still non-fiction, so some agents and editors want the proposal, not the whole book.  Confused?  I have opted to try the proposal route first. 

I've spent months (and months and months) working on the proposal and sample chapters.  I believe my mom said to me, "When is that first chapter going to be finished?" because I've been working on it for so long.  The challenge for me has been deciding how to structure the book and what the central theme is.  I'm too organized to write without an outline, so until this structure was in place, I kind of felt like I was floundering around.  It's a good thing I'm a writing class addict as this has really helped pull all the pieces in where I think they should be.


Anyhow, I've finished the proposal and I've written my sample chapters.

The next piece to this confusing puzzle is understanding how the publishing business works.  Companies like Random House and Hyperion and Penguin are all publishing houses (usually owned by some European media conglomerate).  You can't just send them your stuff.  Well, you can.  But it's a bad bad bad idea.  In order to get your stuff in front of an editor, you need an agent, and literary agents exist in abundance.  Finding the right agent is important in terms of a working relationship with them as well as getting your book actually sold.

And that's where I am right now.  I have a list of agents.  That list grows every night actually.  I send off a letter that summarizes my book as follows:
His nursery was finished: the star knobs adorned my refurbished childhood dresser, the crib was assembled with the blue and brown Restoration Hardware bumper firmly in place, the books sat quietly in the bookcase beside the rocker, the onesies were washed and hung, ready for my son to come home.  But instead of packing my hospital bag on Labor Day weekend, I stood over the charred remnants of my leveled home, looking for anything recognizable that could help me reclaim my foundation.  Sweetwater Drive: My Road Home tells the story of preparing our house for our son’s arrival and the journey we had to take to find our way home.
And then I wait.  If an agent is interested, they ask to see my proposal and sample chapters.  If not, I get something like this:
Thank you for thinking of me, but this isn't quite right for my list.
Best,
[agent's name]
So far today I have received the rejection above and then another sort of rejection where the agent passed on my query to another agent in the office.  She requested my proposal, which I immediately went through to make sure it was as clean as possible.

And now it's the weekend, and all I can do is continue to wait.

If you have more questions, ask.  I'd be happy to answer.

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