Taking your book 'from proposal to print'

authors-publishers panel

The beauty of a panel session is that the speakers don't always agree. Author Pam Novotny insisted you've got to have an agent, while another speaker said agents aren't necessary.

Bob Baron, of Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colo., stated that some say everyone has a book in them, but cautioned that first books are not likely to sell. After all, he says, you wouldn't expect to pick up a brush for the first time and be able to sell your artwork. Also, some people just write for themselves or for their grandchildren.

Baron suggested that prospective authors ask themselves before they begin to write: Do you have something to say? Will you do the work? Can you write? Have you done the homework?

Novotny posed a few more questions: What story do I want to tell? What are the turning points? Who is the reader? What makes this book different? She urged writers to view the broader implications of the story and search for universality.

Panelists Novotny, Baron and Diana Saenger also discussed what authors should expect from a publisher. They will edit on two levels: content and fact checking. Traditionally publishers offered a marketing program and sales support, but mergers and changes in the industry have resulted in cut-backs on all of those services. Authors often have to do their own marketing.

Novotny, who has had nine books published, said, "Write about the things that have you in their grip. You have to want it enough to get it done."

Along with the idea, you need the energy and stamina to do the work. Even though it will probably change, give your book a title. It will hone your idea and help you focus and stay on target, she said.

Should you write the whole book or send a proposal first? Saenger, a California writer and publisher, stressed the importance of preparing a good proposal. Big publishing houses work with proposals while smaller operations want the whole book, she said.

A book proposal is really a business proposal, she said. As such, it is not just a cover letter. It should run close to 20 pages and offer a few completed chapters. It should have an introduction that points out that the book is marketable along with a synopsis, a strong title and sub-title, possible illustrations, an outline and chapter heads. The proposal is likely to take from six months to three years to prepare.

Pam NovotnyBob BaronDiana Saenger

When the publisher buys your work and the writing is done, there's plenty of work ahead to get those copies sold. The average person spends just seven seconds selecting a book. Writing "The End" is just the beginning," Saenger said.

— Pat Ryder, Pennsylvania Press Women