Have you ever dreamed of publishing your own book?
Maybe you long to share a collection of your all-time favorite craft projects, or an inspirational call to action for fellow artists and designers, or a cookbook with all the techniques you’ve perfected.
The great news is that it (really!) can be done. But if you’re new to publishing, and haven’t done a project like this before, there are some things you need to know if you want to bring that dream to life.
Here are some writing industry tips and advice from four CreativeLive instructors, who have published twenty books between us over the last decade. We’ve learned most of this stuff the long way, and would love to widen the path for newer writers.
One note: please keep in mind that this advice mostly applies to creative non-fiction authors – if you write fiction, there are great resources out there for the ins and outs of that specific genre, but do read on for some general encouragement and advice.
A great book starts with a great concept. If you love to sew, it won’t be enough to just come up with a nice collection of sewing projects. You’ll need a Big Idea that ties them together and gives them meaning.
So if you aspire to write a creative non-fiction book, start with the ones you already own. What’s the Big Idea behind each of them? And what’s your Big Idea for your book?
Here’s some good news: a creative non-fiction book proposal usually doesn’t have to include your final, complete book manuscript. The proposal simply shows that you can write well, design original projects (if it’s a tutorial or instructional book), meet deadlines, and have done your homework.
You’ll need to explain your Big Idea fluently, describe your competition (competing or similar titles that are already in the marketplace), present a sample chapter (for how-to craft books, I usually include several written and photographed projects and tutorial text as a “chapter”), offer good marketing ideas, and, of course, introduce yourself… all double-spaced, with numbered pages, and no dates anywhere (so it’s evergreen and doesn’t look dated).
Remember, none of the content is binding – so if things shift around in process, it’s okay to work with your editor to change content or projects later. I like the book How to Write a Book Proposal for reference.
Working with an Agent… Or Not?
Susan again: A good agent can be an invaluable ally. In my experience, he or she will take a 15% commission from your advance and royalties, and will most likely improve your book deal by at least that much (or more) through skillful negotiation. An ethical agent will never charge you anything out of pocket – the fees are only from monies earned.
Your agent will also make sure you get paid in a timely fashion, navigate any disputes or misunderstandings you may have with your publisher, and advocate for you so you can do your part of the job – writing the book – without distractions.
I recommend asking other published authors for a referral or checking out the most current annual literary agents guide from the library (or even looking in the acknowledgments of other topical books for an agent’s name). Many agents also write blogs or have detailed bios on agency websites, which is a great way to get a feel for what they may be looking for.
Your agent can certainly help you shape or fine-tune the proposal and will send it around to editors for you, most of whom he or she probably has relationships with already (a nice bonus), and make sure any questions are answered.
If you’re working solo, check individual publishers’ sites for un-agented proposal submission requirements and be sure to follow those. Some pretty amazing and successful books have been spotted in the “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts.
Another path to publishing is to develop a relationship with an editor or art director at a publishing house and create a proposal together. If you network at an industry or business event and connect with publishing folks, be sure to follow up with them later to share your ideas and proposal materials at the right time – rather than trying to talk details on the spot.
The Writing Process:
The thing that no one ever tells you is just how tedious it is to write a book. Sure, you can get your first or final drafts in without too much trouble. But the devil is in the details and it is mostly your job to make sure those details are right. There is a lot, a lot, of reviewing, editing, proofing, and fact-checking that goes into making a great book. The author has to do most of that herself. At least, in my opinion, you don’t want to rely on anyone else to make sure it is right.
Also… writing a creative or craft book is a team effort. Yes, your name goes on the front cover, but you won’t get it there without working with a handful of people from your publisher. It is a back and forth process from first draft to first copy in your hands. Finding a team you want to work with it just as important as finding the contract in the first place.
Get ready to be flexible! As Cheryl pointed out, when you team up with a publisher, you’re entering a partnership, and like all good partnerships there is a lot of give and take in your future. Also, writing a book was more lonely than I imagined it would be. Have a great support system in place to help you get through the inevitable doubt that comes along with this awesome opportunity.
Be really committed to your subject! You will be selling it for a long time and that means talking about it for years to come. Speaking of, are you good at keeping secrets? It can be really tough keeping the contents of your book quiet until it’s published. Sometimes years pass between you getting a contract and the pub date.
We’d love to hear from you – feel free to chime in with your book publishing questions, from refining your Big Idea to promoting and marketing the finished book in your hands.
Wishing you writing success, creative fulfillment, and a cover you love so much you can’t stop looking at it!
Are you ready to start selling your handmade craft projects?
Download our free PDF: Etsy 101: A Guide to Getting Started! This comprehensive collection of notes, worksheets, and slides from Marlo Miyashiro’s class, Etsy 101: Launch Your Handmade Shop gives you the tips and insights you need to launch a successful Etsy shop!