Friday, December 8, 2017

How Do You Get a Book Published?

Painting by Ernest Meissonier
Christina asks: "What's the process was like for getting your books Color and Light and Imaginative Realism published? I recently finished a book manuscript...and I don't really have any idea of what to do next. I'd really appreciate any pointers or advice you could give me!"

Max asks: "I have been working on a novel that I would like to turn into an illustrated book. I have no idea how to go about this kind of thing and was hoping for some guidance. You have published many books, so I was hoping to pick your brain about what needs to be done."

Max and Christina, in a nutshell, here's how:

1. Use social media to focus your book idea and to develop a fan base.

2. Develop your book idea to a point that a publisher has enough information to make a decision on it. They need to know that you have a good idea, and they need to trust that you can deliver everything on time. For a nonfiction book, I'd suggest developing at least a comprehensive outline and a sample chapter. For a long-form illustrated novel, I think you'd need at least an outline and 10-20 sample pieces of art. If it's a written novel or a short children's book, and you're both writer and illustrator, you will probably want to have the whole thing completed.

3. Find out which publishers have actually published books similar to what you envision.

4. Study out their submission guidelines, and follow them.

5. Submit your presentation to one publisher at a time, starting with the best candidate. If they reject it, move on to the next one. Take note if they give you any suggestions.

6. Check out the website and the regional meetings of the SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, a group designed to help you develop your ideas and get them published.

Max, In your case, I'm not sure what you mean by a novel that you want to turn into an illustrated book, but keep in mind that the publisher is usually the one to choose the illustrator, and that commissioning art can get very expensive. In the event you have an illustrator in mind, you might want to try to team up with them and do the book as a Kickstarter project.

Remember: It can be challenging enough to write a book and get it published. But what's even more challenging is getting it distributed, advertised, reviewed, and kept in stock. Doing all that successfully requires a dedicated creative collaboration between the author and the publisher, a commitment that goes far beyond just writing, illustrating, printing, and binding.
Blog post: [Where I talk about my plans for Color and Light]How About a Book
Helpful resourceWriter's Market 2018


Roca said...

Writers, whatever you do, don’t ask an artist to illustrate your book for “credit” or a “percentage of sales.” (If I only had a dollar every time that happened!) Ask their rates and plan to pay them up front. Don’t expect it to be cheap. Think $45 an hour and up, on something that might take 4-8 hours per page (this is a huge rough ballpark) If your book is bought by a publisher, they will choose the illustrator.

Dani said...

There is a ton of excellent information online in this rapidly changing industry. I would add one other tip to Mr. Gurney's advice: if there are any words in your book ;), get an independent editor to make sure your writing is solid before you pitch. Many a manuscript ends up in the slush pile because of weak writing, poor grammar, and incorrect punctuation.

Philip Newsom said...

So Meissonier painted nearly the same scene twice? Interesting, I wonder why? Based on the nose it looks like different models. I like the second one. A master of various textures.

Aleta Karstad said...

I have published three books with commercial publishers, and I know how hard it is to have a book accepted initially, and how disappointing it is when the publisher stops actively advertising the book after the first year. Then it's up to you - and after several years, they'll offer you the remainder of what's in their warehouse, and you want to have the money to buy it, and a safe, dry place to store all those boxes. Often the publisher's plans for your book launch are downgraded, and sometimes book signings bomb. You feel helpless, and at the mercy of a corporation that's going on to publish other folks' books, and you hope they do justice by yours! When their first run goes out of print, it's their decision whether to reprint, not yours!

There's an easier way - and you can be the illustrator of your own books, and in charge of title and cover design as well! "On-demand publishing" is taking the publishing industry by storm! I've been using, and you can make your book for no cost, it's user-friendly, and if you want, you can pay them for help at any point.

You can keep your book private until you're ready to publish, ordering any number of proof copies as you make changes in it, for only the cost of ordering each single copy at the author's cost. Then if you want to take that finished book to a publisher, it makes a great presentation! You can change it to "public" at any time, and Lulu then includes it in its catalog.

You can have an author's "spotlight" page showing all your books - and calendars too - and share that link on your social networks. Here's the link to my spotlight page. You can order boxes of your books at your author's price, and place them in stores, or sell them in person. Lulu also places their authors' books in Indigo and Barnes & Noble online.

I set the price. Lulu handles the mail order business, and sends the revenue to my PayPal account quarterly. I feel liberated as an author. My recently published books on Lulu have been written for local interest, but I know that when I have a potential best-seller, a little money to Lulu for their extra marketing services will give it access to the wider market it deserves!

My first book "Canadian Nature Notebook" was published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson in 1979 and became a "Canadian Best-Seller". It was published by Scribners in the US at the same time, as "Wild Habitats". I bought the remainders, and only have a few left. The only way I can re-publish is to scan the pages, as the original film was lost by the publisher. But I do intend to republish - on

My second commercially published book was an illustrated daybook, (a hardcover perpetual calendar) unpaginated, put out by Methuen and taken over by Stoddart after several reprintings. Again I bought (and stored) about 30 boxes of remainders, and am on my last box. I intend to publish a new one just like it, with different paintings - on Lulu of course!

And my third commercially published book, "A Place to Walk" was published by a smaller publisher, in 1995, but the deal was that the organization that supported the expedition to write and illustrate it, would receive half the print run... so the publisher ran out of stock before we were finished with the first season of promotion, and refused to reprint because the colour was so expensive! That was heartbreaking! So our lesson was.... take control of our own books!

Oh yes, there's more - two that the publishers dropped! Two coffee-table books contracted with Methuen (We received advance-royalties to support the painting and writing) were dropped by Stoddart, who inherited them after Methuen was taken over by International Thompson and sold to Stoddart. Someday we'll publish "Fragile Inheritance, a painter's ecology of glaciated North America" - either through McGill-Queens Press (who likes it) or on our own, perhaps in a series by habitat type.

Philip Newsom said...

As the son of two long-time illustrators, I know one of the biggest misconceptions is that the author needs to find and hire an illustrator, when that should be the publisher's job. Of course this may be changing with self-publishing, but that leaves the problem of distribution.

Diane Dawson Hearn said...

If the book is a children's book, if you are the author the editor will find the illustrator. If you are the illustrator as well as the author, you need not complete all finished art. Make a dummy to show story flow and type placement, with rough sketches of what will be illustrated. Include about three to five clear sketches and two to three finishes (don't send originals). If you complete all the illustrations the editor might think you would be unwilling to change anything, and since changes are quite common after a book has been accepted, it might lessen your chances of acceptance.

Warren JB said...

Lots of interesting info to take in here! I'm curious about a couple of things.

- Not to sound too mercenary, but which is more profitable: going through an established publisher, or self-publishing? (I realise it's a moot point if the publisher rejects the book!)

- Does the author have any input as to the illustrator chosen by the publisher? If anyone has the experience: what's it like if the publisher chooses an illustrator whose style isn't what you imagined for your book, or which just rubs you up the wrong way?

James Gurney said...

Diane, I think you're right: With a children's picture book, it's probably better strategically to show a comprehensive dummy and sample art. The publisher reasonably wants to be involved with the process because their input on trim size, page count, and myriad other details can make or break the book.

Warren, it's a very good question, one that many creators are grappling with. Of course with an established publisher you make less per book sold, but they can potentially sell more books because of their advantages in distribution. If you self publish, you can sell directly to your audience and you can sell on Amazon (make sure your product is printed with a barcode), but it's much harder for self-publishers to get the attention of brick-and-mortar buyers.

On your other question, beginning authors usually don't have much say about the illustrator, but the publisher wants everyone to be happy. This is true of paperback authors, too: publishers make the call on graphics and cover art except in rare cases. Their taste is usually best for the book, hard as that is for the author to take sometimes.

Phillip, yes, first time authors coming with illustrator packages is almost a kiss of death with a presentation. If you're an artist who wants to write your book, you have to win over skeptics that you can do a good job with the writing.

Aleta, thanks for the detail about your experience with on-demand publishing.

One other point is that there are some small publishers like Design Studio Press and Flesk which will sometimes publish books with artist-authors and cut a better deal with them if they help with the up-front printing costs, and they have also been instrumental with Kickstarter-driven publications.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

"If they reject it, move on to the next one."

This appears to presume that you will get any response at all, James. In my experience, it is far more likely for a submission to be completely ignored, at least for electronic submissions, than it resulting in any response at all, even a form rejection. For you it was likely not the case, but for someone with less of a name it is, apparently.