Reaching out to Publishers
Next up we're gonna talk about reaching out to publishers. The first thing you gotta do is find the right publisher. Now this is very similar, I think I make a lot of parallels throughout this whole second half of the class to applying for a job or sending in your resume somewhere, sending in a cover letter somewhere, doing a job interview, being educated about what another company does, that kind of thing. Because it's when you're looking for a job or when you're looking for a publisher, the parallel here is, it is very tempting to think of yourself in the position of just needing something. Like I just need a job. I just need to find a publisher for my book. I would take anything, whatever, just anything. But really, as with when you're interviewing for a job you're interviewing them just as much as they're interviewing you. You're there to see if this job would, in fact, be a good fit for you. Just as much as they're deciding whether or not you're a good candidate. You should be men...
tally interviewing publishers. Is this publisher a good fit for you? Just because you think you might be able to get your book published there, if you don't feel good about having your book published there, then you shouldn't be pursuing that. You should be really looking for who is the right fit with you and with what you wanna do. Putting yourself, kind of, empowering yourself in that way. Putting yourself in that position of not just, sort of being, God I just hope someone wants to publish this. But really like who's the right person to publish it? Because I think your much more likely to meet with success if you're pitching it to the correct, home where it belongs. So, again, the way to do this, is to first think about what kind of stores do you envision your book being sold in. Probably book stores, that would be logical. Probably there are other kinds of stores as well. If you browse around in museum stores, or Urban Outfitters, or paper stores, those kind of big national specialty chains, or little mom and pop, cute gift boutiques in your neighborhood, or the cool little shopping street you like to go to. Think about all the different places you would love to see your book sold someday. In your best case, you know, fantasy scenario. And spend time in those places and look right here, at the spine, for a logo or on the back, or on the title page, or copyright page, to find out who published the books that you are seeing. So, you're looking for books that have a fitting with yours. That share your aesthetic, maybe, or that share your subject matter. So if you're proposing a craft book there are certain publishers who do a ton of craft publishing. There are certain publishers who do none. So spending some time in the craft section of the book store, or at Jo-Ann Fabric or whatever, and finding out who all the publishers are who are publishing the types of books that you wanna do, and making a list. Once you have your list of publishers spending time on their websites. So you've got the name of a publisher you go to their website. Most publishers at this point have their whole, like, catalog online. And you go and you look through some books. And you start looking at their books. And the questions you wanna ask yourself as you're doing this is can your picture your book happily sitting along side the other books on this publishers list? If you keep looking at their and thinking oh yeah, mine is sort of like that but it would be different because x, y, z. Maybe you haven't found the right publisher yet. In the best case scenario you look at those books and you think, oh yes, mine could be right here, in among all of these and it would be perfect. And then thinking about things, and this is where I say you're sort of interviewing them too, are you happy with their quality, are you happy with their environmental and labor practices and policies, which should theoretically, also be on their website. You want to be someplace that you feel good about. So, once you've sort of got your short list of publishers that you're interested in, before proposing to them, this is where, and this is something that you don't do, with oh my God I wrote down 50 publishers in the book store. This is okay I have narrowed it down to the three, or four, or five that I really like and care about, and seem right. Then you wanna do a little bit deeper dive. You wanna be really familiar with what they do. It's that thing of not walking into a room and not knowing, what this company your interviewing for a job at does. You you wanna be really aware of time frames. This is, we touched on this a minute ago. Publishing is a old, long-running industry in every since of the word. We've been doing this for a long time and we still do it kind of the old fashioned way. Things are slow. Submission guidelines on publisher websites will generally tell you how long a publisher needs to review proposals. Four to six weeks, four to even eight weeks, is not at all uncommon. And if that feels a lot or annoying you don't have to think for a second, about how many proposals they're getting. There's a lot to be worked through, there's probably a lot of, sort of, in line ahead of you basically. Many publishers will make it very clear on their website that they only respond if they are interested. So after a certain period of time has passed it's been eight weeks, or however long they said on their website, and you have not heard anything, you can take that to mean it's probably not happening and you can move on. And then also while I'm on the subject of timeframes I did wanna touch on something we talked about a minute ago, which is publishing timelines. From the time you pitch a book to the time you're holding a physical finished book in your hand is typically one to two years, and often closer to two. So, in very broad strokes if I do two years with someone, it's typically the first year they're creating the content and the second year it's with us and we're editing it, designing, color proofing, printing, binding, shipping, the whole production process. So, this is just something to be aware of, because I often get phone calls of people who are like, this amazing event, this documentary film, this amazing thing is happening in the Spring of 2019, lets make a book about it. And I'm like that would have been great if you had told me about that two years ago. But it's often already too late, or people are just really hopeful. They're like well I'd really like to see my book come out for next Christmas. You know, that's probably not going to happen. So rather than having to disappoint people it's nice if there's sort of an awareness of how long these things often take. Projects can be fast-tracked when it really warrants it, but it's speeding up a big complicated, slow process, so it has to feel really worth it 'cause it means basically a ton of people at the publisher are gonna be working their butts off on like a fire drill kind of level. Okay, so how to actually reach out. Follow the publishers submission guidelines. Publisher will tell you if they prefer hard copy proposals or electronic proposals. If they prefer electronic they will give you an email address to say this is where to send it. You know, all of that kind of thing. Follow the guidelines that they give about how to submit to them. Another sneaky trick that I'm going to let you in on, is reading the acknowledgments pages of books that you like. 'Cause you see a book that you like that is kind of like the book you wanna do and you think it's great. You, oh if only this publisher would publish my book too like they did this one. If the author is nice then they thanked their editor in the acknowledgments for editing their book. And they'll say thanks to my editor Bridget Watson Payne, or whatever. And you can address, even if you're sending it in to a general submissions email address say, you can address your letter, Dear Bridget Watson Payne, I know you work on art books I'm proposing an art book, I would like you to look at this one. If something comes in and actually has my name on it the odds are sooner or later I will see it. I can't speak to whether that's true any place else, but at a publisher the size and scale that I work at that does happen. So figuring out who you might actually really be talking too is great. Following your favorite publishers on social media. Pretty much every publisher has a Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, and whatever that you like to do. So you can find out more about what they're doing and what they're publishing and what they're up too, and following your favorite editors online, if you can find them. Just don't stalk them too much, like a little stalking is okay, but be reasonable. Okay agents. Let's talk about agents because this is another top top question. Everyone asks do I have to have an agent, and there are for sure times when, yes, you definitely wanna consider working with an agent. And there are other times when maybe it's option not to work with an agent. So it's, it's a mixed bag. If you are adverse to dealing with business. If you don't think of yourself as a businesses person. If you're like I'm an artist, I want to make art. I don't want to negotiate contracts. I don't want to figure out about finances, I just wanna make art. Then you probably will want to try and work with an agent, because that's exactly what they do and if they don't do it then you're gonna need to be doing it. Somebody's got to be reading contracts and working on your behalf, and if it's not going to be you it should be somebody who knows that business. If you're trying to break into a really competitive category, a couple of examples of really competitive categories I would say are children's books and cook books. Children's publishing, you know those big white plastic US Mail bins that are about yay big, the children's department at Chronicle gets, I believe, a couple of those a day of book proposals. A lot of people want to write children's books. It's very competitive. And we do sometimes publish things out of those bins. It's not like that has never happened. But having an agent who has a relationship with editors who can be like, hey my friend editor I've got this cool project, do you wanna take a look? It's certainly a useful thing to have for competitive categories or, and this is an important one, if you've done your research and you've found the publishers that you consider to be your top publishers and they don't accept unsolicited proposals. So on their website they will make it abundantly clear that they either do or do not accept unsolicited proposals. What unsolicited means, basically, is un-agented. Because this is literally what happens, like insider secret here, agents call me up and say hey I've got this book proposal, it's about x, can I send it to you? Do you want to see it? I say yeah sure. I have just solicited that book proposal from them, by saying yes I want to see it. So until they've done that it is unsolicited because we didn't ask for it. So if someone says they don't take any unsolicited proposals there is no point in sending something in, that is not what they do, that is not how they operate. Chronicle accepts unsolicited proposals that's why we have these mail bins, that's why we have a submissions email address, and other publishers do too. It's a mixed bag. Some do, some don't. Yes.
What percentages of the authors at Chronicle that do fine art books in your field have agents versus not?
I would say that art books, it tends to be on the low side. I don't know a number but the reason being, I think a lot of artists there are a lot of things on their list that maybe they need before it occurs to them to get a literary agent. Maybe they want a gallerist, maybe they needed an illustration rep, maybe they need a licensing agent, like there's a lot of other professional help they could maybe use before they get around to thinking book agent. So I work a lot with people who are un-agented. I also work with quite a lot of agents. I mean, as I say, it's a mixed bag. I think every category does sort of have it's own percentage. I don't know what any of the percentages are, unfortunately. But I would say on the art side, it's probably more un-agented, fewer agented, unlike the children's side it's way more agented, fewer un-agented. That kind of thing. Obviously, at some houses where they don't accept un-agented it's going to be 100% agented because that's how they are doing business. So if any of these things are the case pursuing working with an agent is definitely worth doing, and basically, you go after, I don't know that much about this, I don't want to speak out of school, but, I believe, you pretty much go after an agent similar to how you go after a proposal, or after a publisher, rather. You shop around, you figure out who the right agents are in your category. There are guides to agents that exist both in book form and online. And then you're sending your proposal to an agent instead of to a publisher saying hey do you want to represent me? So the pros and cons of agents. Basically, in summation the pros are contraction negotiation skills, legal knowledge, and relationship with editors. All of which are really important if your project needs or wants any of these things, that's when agents are the right way to go. The cons are, of course, they get a cut of the money. Typically the industry standard is 15%. So you're paying somebody. And one of the other things I do want to mention is typically less contact between the editor and the author before acquisition. With in an agent to deal, usually what happens is I'm mostly dealing with the agent. There will usually be one conference call set up with me and the agent and the author, where we all do a little meet and greet, talkie talk, until the deal is done and then usually, kind of steps out and I'm dealing mostly with, directly with the author. Versus if I'm developing a project with Lisa Congden directly, she actually does have an agent that I do the deals with, so maybe that's not the best example. But lets say she didn't for purposes of example. We're talking, which is true anyway, we're talking, talking, talking, talking, all the time about book ideas and what we wanna do and going back and forth and work shopping things. So there's a lot more direct contact. So hopefully that's clear as mud. Basically, you know, pros and cons, personal decision.