Your Path to Publication, Part Two: Find Your Advocate

February 13, 2013

You want to publish a book.  I knew it.  Don’t we all?

I’m not an expert on getting published.  But as we near the publication of my first book, Life After Art, I decided I wanted to help you reach that goal too by sharing the details of my experience.

In part one, we talked about the need for you to find your great story – the thing you need to write about.  For me, it took four years of blogging, and not one, but three attempts at writing a book.

Yeah, I didn’t say it would be easy.  But a book simply could not have been published any sooner without those years of practice (and the experiences in my life during those years.)

Today is all about making friends.  You know how some people say “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Whether or not it’s true of kids, it’s definitely true of books.

Seeking a Friend

You may have a great idea for a book, or you may have written your great book already.  But if you want to get published, you’re going to have to get used to collaborating.

Starting out, you need a friend.  Not just any friend, but a smart, honest friend who can give feedback on your writing.  Be picky about this.  Don’t just go with some random uncle or neighbor.  For me, this role is not filled by my wife.  Seriously, my wife has not even read my book yet.  (She’ll read it when she buys her copy just like everyone else.)  There’s a couple of reasons my wife does not fill this role for me:

1. Criticism is hard to take, and it’s even harder to take from someone you live with.

2. Your spouse or relatives may not be honest with you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

For me, this role was filled by Darrell and Ally Vesterfelt over at Prodigal Magazine.  I trusted them and wanted their honesty, not their praise.  False praise and sugarcoating won’t help.

Get Down on One Knee and Propose

Now you need to get serious about getting your book out there in some other hands.  But you cannot just start mailing out manuscripts.  They will promptly be placed in the “circular files” of any publishing house you send them to.

You need to write a book proposal.

This was challenging for me, because I did things backwards.  I wrote the manuscript, and then had to write a proposal.  But the process did help me to clarify some key parts of the book (and I recommend writing a proposal just for your own enrichment before you write your book.)

Go to Michael Hyatt’s site and buy one or both of his ebooks on writing proposals.  (He’s the Prez of Thomas Nelson, so he knows what he’s talking about.) I literally followed his directions and examples to a T.  If you cannot answer any of the questions, or complete any of the sections in his examples, my guess is that your book is just not ready for a proposal.  It’s the best twenty bucks you’ll spend.

Salesman, Cheerleader and Advocate

There’s a reason you put references on your resume.  You need people who can vouch for you, who can be your advocate.  It’s one thing for you to boast about yourself.  You need someone who can boast for you.

In other words, you need an agent.  Your agent is your salesman, your cheerleader and your advocate.

In a twist of providence, Darrell graduated from being a friend to being my agent.  We had originally planned on publishing the book ourselves, but scrapped it when we realized we didn’t know how the hell to publish a book.  Darrell evidently looked up “literary agent” on Wikipedia, and learned that he fit the apparent qualifications of “knowing a bunch of people.”  He already had contacts inside five publishers, so off he went.

If the fates don’t send you an agent (which they probably won’t), you’ll have to find one yourself.  There are lots of great resources, but again, Michael Hyatt has a list of places to start.  If you get feedback from agents in their rejections, use it to fine tune your proposal. One publisher’s rejection had feedback that I thought was insulting, but it led to vital editing in the proposal before Moody picked it up. I didn’t want the same insulting feedback twice.

You just can’t go it alone and get very far.  If you are needing someone to be that feedback friend, let me know.  Until then, share your stories of where you are in your quest to tell your story!

8 responses to Your Path to Publication, Part Two: Find Your Advocate

  1. Matt,

    I’m curious how you knew you wanted to write and publish a book. There’s a difference between blogging about our story and living it. Publishing a book is another level of storytelling.

    I’m asking because I’ve had a few people in recent months tell me I should write a book or be a writer. Personally, this isn’t something I feel urged to do. I have a passion for telling my story but not publishing anything. Maybe it’s insecurity. Not sure.

    How did you know?

    • That’s very true, and there is a huge difference between blogging and “booking.” It took me a couple of false starts to understand the difference in topics that lend themselves to blogs vs. books as well as the writing process for each.

      For me, a book was just on my heart. And the false starts showed me what I was going to have to do to get it done. So when that perfect topic came to mind, I was better prepared.

  2. Thank you, Matt – as someone working on their first full-length novel, this is helpful, even though I worked in the publishing field for over a decade. I found it especially interesting that you seemed to suggest doing the proposal before the book – I don’t think I’d heard that before. (BTW, Cheri has to buy her own copy? What, the wife of an author doesn’t get her own comp copy?!) :-)

    • I just recommend doing the proposal because it will help clarify ideas. I had to do a bunch of rewriting and editing because things kind of came out in a big mash of ideas, rather than a clearly defined structure.

      And I suppose I’ll give my wife a copy…but she has to pay for the autograph. :)

  3. I wrote my first proposal late last year and it was a fantastic learning experience. I recommend doing one before or in tandem with manuscript (r)edits. It can act as a cohesive during the sometimes long and arduous process. I appreciate the post Matt! I may have to pick up Hyatt’s books. Thanks!

  4. This was great, Matt, and I’m so excited for your book!