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Posted by on Mar 8, 2010 in Arts & Entertainment, Education, Media, Politics | 22 comments

The Three Chances of Publishing A Book: Slim, Fat, and None? No, Quite the Contrary


There’s this secret that most published writers know, but dont often tell: That it is far harder to complete a book than it may be to publish a book. Seriously. How many people do you know who have elevendy-gillion unfinished book starts languishing in metal file drawers somewhere. Or just one book, started elevendy jillion times, but then set aside after page fifteen or page fifty, as life and other matters demand sustained attentions to family, work, health.

There’s another secret many writers wont tell: It has to do with the odds of being published by a mainstream press or a small publishing press. They are actually quite good. Yes, luck is needed in some small part. Good writing that’s compelling to someone somewhere (an audience, a demographic, a genre) is of the essence. Being able to put one sentence behind another is needed. Having a sharp beginning, an unsagging middle and a solid ending are mostly valued, with the exception of a few of my great loves, such as James Joyce, Ferlinghetti (who is 90 yaers old this year), Corso and e.e.

But, every day in the trades I receive online, there is news of at least 40 manuscripts per day being bought by mainstream US publishers alone. 40 x 7 days a week x 52 weeks, year in and year out. That about 1460 manuscripts a year flying out of the ‘finished pile,’ and over half of them, NOT by known writers, but by first time authors. The trade news I receive does not often cover the small presses, like Beacon, Gray Wolf, and sometimes not the university presses either. There are tons of opportunities, not to mention the stalwart souls who self-publish… a whole different and respectable endeavor in these past years of multimedia being within reach of folks like you and me.

For reasons I dont quite entirely understand yet, there’s an idea afoot for decades that it’s really really hard to be published. I’d say no. I’d say that’s some kind of re-direct tactic, a rumor meant to deter author competitors. If you believe it, believe that this only happens to generals, ex-governors, shlock hacks, celebrity authors, or famous drunkards, you’re sunk. And also not in the running to be published, which can be a relief to certain kinds of authors who jealously guard whatever it is they think they are guarding.

But it is not a relief for readers and not for publishers. Your writing is their life’s blood in many good and different ways. They are waiting. Because we are the last storytellers on the earth from the literally thousands of tribes that are now so shattered… so often with only one shred or two of derivative story left to them… there will always be readers, listeners and helpers to give stories life. There is a story gene in us, a story hunger. Food, water, shelter, love, work, meaning, stories. That’s our true aegis.

I say all this while at the same time noting it took me 20 years to write my first book, and that it was rejected 42 times by mainstream publishers I sent it out to, (with the then required SASE, self addressed stamped envelope for return of once pristine manuscript…almost always returned with coffee cup stains, pages missing, wrinkled, unsendable-outable without hand re-typing the entire 600 pages all over again. Ay!) and when it was finally published, it was brought out by a mainstream publisher (now wrapped into Bertalsmann) who had already rejected that very manuscript twice in prior years.

Nonetheless, sometimes at night, and those of you who know me, know I am a night-writer, far far far into the night… I think we can hear the cadence of things, things that are true… and somewhat like stars that are always there but just dont show well during the day, there are some things that can be seen at night and not otherwise. I think we can know that we are here and whatever good we are seeking is also seeking us. It may very well happen in our lifetime that what we create and what others are seeking find complementary usefulness with one another at last, and something… a third thing… comes from that meeting of two. An author with a manuscript, a publisher waiting, hungry even, to publish. And the third thing that comes of it all, a meeting of essential strangers? A book for instance.

Not a rare occurance, being published. A real one that occurs regularly.

A lot of people ask me how to write a book, sometimes how to write a bestseller. I tell them there’s three ways, but fortunately no one any longer knows what they are. That it’s as much about attitude as anything else. In the end, teaching young and middle aged and elders to write, I say it is perhaps just one thing: You have to serve someone.

In that vein, I have a little note at my desk all these years. It is all faded out and I’ve had to trace over the writing at least twice over the decades so I can still read the lettering. In terms of keeping going, so that the service can be rendered… this little note says: Every day do your work with full intent, full fervor, fullest spirit, hold nothing back. If you will do your work this way every day with all your heart, you will succeed: There is so little competition.

Below are just a few of the manuscripts sold today. I added additional ones that have been sold in other countries today, also. Ramping up the chances of being published by about a factor of 100x. I’ll add some more ‘forthcomings’ this week. As I said, anyone with a manuscript “that’s built” has more than a fighting chance. Lots of chances to publish if that is the call they feel they have to heed or else their lives will ever remain unsettled. Many writers can, indeed, grok that.

Jan Watson’s SKIP ROCK SHALLOWS, when a young woman graduates from medical school in 1906, she unexpectedly finds herself the only physician available to a group of hard-driven Kentucky coalminers, to Tyndale, ifor publication in Fall 2011

Harry Turtledove’s SUPERVOLCANO, an epic disaster trilogy based on the terrifying scientific fact that an enormous volcano, bigger than any in recorded history, exists underneath Yellowstone National Park and could blow at any time, taking most of American civilization with it, to Roc,for publication in 2012, 2013, and 2014

Children’s: Middle grade
Caldecott Honor winner Tony DiTerlizzi’s THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA, when an intruder destroys the underground sanctuary that a girl was raised in by her robot, Muthr, the twelve-year-year-old is forced to flee aboveground: somewhere she’s never been before, tomon & Schuster Children’s, for publication in September 2010,

President and CEO of global microfinance organization FINCA International Rupert Scofield’s HUMANITARIANS AT THE GATE: Surviving and Thriving in the Treacherous World of the Modern Not-for-Profit, a field manual/management guide for social entrepreneurs, to McGraw-Hill, to be announced, likely 2011.

History/Politics/Current Affairs
Astrid Karlsen Scott and Tore Haug’s DEFIANT COURAGE: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance, the shocking true account of Jan Baalsrud’s WWII escape, made famous in the We Die Alone, to Skyhorse, for publication in September 2010

Janet Thompson’s THE TEAM JESUS BUILT, a practical, teambuilding model based on Jesus’s example, to equip women in developing biblical leadership in women’s ministries within the church, New Hope, ifor publication in 2011

Mark Frary’s BETTER LIVING THROUGH SCIENCE: The Basic Scientific Principles You Need to Solve Every Household Conundrum, an illustrated book explaining how all of the things we learned (or didn’t learn) in math and science class can help improve life in and around the house, to Rodale for 2010

Eccentric(in the eye of the beholder)
Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze’s WALK OUT, WALK ON, taking readers on a learning journey into eight diverse communities that have walked out of a world of material individualism and walked on to develop a healthier, more resilient world based on people partnering together, to Berrett-Koehler, for publication in March 2011

Sarah Bakewell’s HOW TO LIVE: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Answers, to JOther Press, for publication in October 2010

H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace’s THE OFFICIAL CIA MANUAL OF TRICKERY AND DECEPTION, to Hardie Grant for 2010

Erin Blakemore’s THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF, a look at literature’s greatest and most enduring female characters — such as Jo March, Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Laura Ingalls and others — and their authors, who have helped shape the inner lives of generations of women, teasing out universal tenets of strength, wisdom, and survival, to Blackstone Audio, for publication in November 2010

((Interesting to see what other nations’ publishing companies are interested in channeling to their readers, some seeming contemporaneous buys, but some seeming (see Dylan, below) years after first pub in other parts of the world.

Translations (often interesting to see what publishers in other nations are channeling to their readers, either contemporaneously or somewhat late viz Dylan, below)

Translation into German: Philip Carlo’s THE ICE MAN: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer, to Piper

Spanish translation to Patrick Rothfuss’s THE ADVENTURES OF THE PRINCESS AND MR. WHIFFLE: The Thing beneath the Bed, with illustrations by Nate Taylor, to Random House Mondadori

Dutch translation: Meredith Cole’s DEAD IN THE WATER, to De Fontein

Turkish translation: Karen Quinn’s THE SISTER DIAIRIES, to Pegasus

Translation into Korean: Wray Herbert’s ON SECOND THOUGHT: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits, a guide to how our brains make snap decisions and what we can do to override our instincts, to Book 21

Arabic translation of Shelina Janmohamed’s LOVE IN A HEADSCARF, a Muslim woman’s search to find The One, to Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation.


Portuguese Translation for Brazil: Garth Sundem’s THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION, to Pensamento-Cultrix

Traditional Chinese translation to Bob Dylan’s CHRONICLES – VOLUME 1, to Locus

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