Being published –tips for you
My new history book is just out. I’ve got some insights (from this and previous books), and I now see what I should have done ages ago. So I thought it might be useful to share thoughts on the process with WHN members who are yet to be published.
The book is Women and the Royal Navy (IB Tauris/NMRN). It’s a trade book (sometimes called a cross-over book), which means it’s accessible AND written with scholarly rigour. For example I had to find simple ways to say ‘patriarchy’, ‘hegemony’, ‘the gender order’ and ‘agency’. Trade books usually have more pictures than an academic book. This one had a generous 92. A hardback and e-book, Women and the Royal Navy will be paperbacked when 1,000 are sold, probably within a year. The good thing about a trade book is that more are published. A university press prints an average 100, although e-reading rights are different. Also a trade book gets more thoroughly edited than an academic book. The publisher tells the copy editor the required grade of editing. For trade books it’s ‘interventionist’, not ‘light’.
Much of the information in my book was gleaned from interviews (as well as documentary sources). This means I owe a lot to people I barely know, but also that they have a stake in it and want to buy it and tell their friends about it.
Things to enjoy
- Being able to give this information to the world is an honour. Too many of our foremothers didn’t get the chance. Luckily we don’t even have to convert ourselves into ‘Currer Bells’. Publishing books about women from the past means recording, valuing and explaining in ways that will benefit women in the future. It’s an activist act. Hopefully it will empower as well as illuminate.
- Getting it done, after so many revisions. But I also value having learnt from the commissioning editor and copy editor about how to write it better. That detailed attention to every word is ALWAYS constructive. Being edited is free Continuing Professional Development, very germane, and more thorough even than the Ph.D. critique-ing process.
- Making something accessible – including biting the bullet and arranging for all the expensive pictures (sponsors helped me) – always feels worth it in the long run. This ‘illustrated collection of information’ or ‘exhibition inside covers, with a lot of captions attached’ will be available for posterity. It will reach many readers and have unpredictable impacts on their understanding and even their lived lives.
This is the two-week window when the book has to be quickly brought to as many people’s attention as possible. In a fortnight you’ll be chip-wrappings.
My book has now been out for 4 days. A box of 50 sits in my living room. (If you buy 50, you can get them for half the RRP, which enables you to make money but also give away some freebies). By this stash on my carpet are the jiffy bags, parcel tape, stack of flyers and Amber, the cat, who is waiting for me to make enough space in the box for her to nest in.
I’m in the process of thanking all my interviewees and advisers (for hours a day). Mainly this stage involves emailing them with info about how to get a discount copy (including via ethical online booksellers The Hive), telling them what pages they are on, showing how they specifically helped, snail-mailing them signed copies or just bookplates … and longing for a lie down, with a Yorkie bar and a cuppa. I’ve just done a local author interview with a newspaper.
Things to think about for next time.
- This cluster of pages: Ask the publisher in advance about the quality of paper they will use, the usual look of their photos etc. It’s a good idea to ask to see an example of a book like yours. You have more power at the start of your relationship with the publisher than when they’re in a rush to get it out.
Also check the selling price will be as agreed. Succeeding in being allowed to write extra words will be a hollow victory if the selling price is then hoiked too high for your punters. Waterstones won’t order in a book over £20 on spec. That’s the cut-off point in consumer spending. Waterstones will order a copy of the book if an individual requests that, but the shop won’t have a stack available if it costs over £20.
- Organising publicity. Promoting the book is something ideally done strategically, not reactively, starting six months ahead of publication, for example, if you want to be on BBC Woman’s Hour or do a local signing. Publishers benefit from the author questionnaire you fill in for them (telling them e.g. about media contacts you have, blogs that might carry a min-review, prizes you should be nominated for). Insist on doing this form early.
But also you need to expect to do some of the publicising yourself, because you know your field and your possible readers, whereas the publishers are generalists. Many publishers have an advice sheet on how to publicise your book, including on your blog, via twitter and via Facebook. You can make life easier for yourself if you set up these social media resources in advance. Hastily learning website editing is too stressful at this stage. Have copyright-free pictures available to send out on request, both small versions for the web and 300dpi versions.
- Be bureaucratic. During the earlier stages of production keep up 3 lists of names and addresses: those you will thank and send a couple of flyers to (word of mouth publicity is VERY effective); those to whom the publishers will send complimentary copes (usually those who have donated pictures, or written endorsements for the book jacket); those to whom you personally will give a free copy (plus a few flyers).
I say this because having the lists ready in advance frees you to write properly fulsome thank you letters, rather than brief dutiful ones as you scrabble round looking for mislaid addresses in different places in your filing systems. Cutting and pasting such lists can take up an annoying amount of time when you should really being basking and sharing your pleasure with those who’ve helped you create the book.
You can’t thank people enough. Sending a suitable thankyou greeting card in an envelope with a picture stamp, and enclosing a signed bookplate, and at least 2 flyers, is a tactful and productive way to proceed. If you’ve time you can get the enevelopes and the draft emails ready in the weeks just before publication – or pay someone to take the routine bits of such tasks off your hands.
Dear WHN member, I wish you well in the process of enabling your book to reach the widest possible public. Here’s to reading it – and seeing it win prizes.