By Jodi Brandon
With tens of thousands of books published annually and hundreds of thousands of magazine articles published annually, it’s easy to see how you (and your work) can get lost in the shuffle. If you’ve chosen the right outlets for your writing — and by “right,” I mean the most appropriate — that won’t happen.
The process is tricky because writers want to be published. We want the by-line or the book deal so badly that we sometimes lose sight of the long-term and instead choose the short-term gratification of having our work accepted and published. Choosing to work with any ol’ publisher or publication instead of waiting for the right one, though, can come back to haunt us. So how can we prevent that from happening?
The short answer is the one we all learned in Writing 101: Make a list of potential markets (by way of our old friend, Writer’s Market), study them, narrow down the list, study some more, and choose the best — most appropriate — fit.
What do I mean by appropriate? There are two aspects that need to be considered: topic and size of the publisher or publication. Let’s start with topic-appropriateness.
Let’s say you’re working on a nonfiction book proposal. Your first step is to weed out fiction-only publishers. You’re left with a huge list of publishers of nonfiction books of all kinds. To narrow down that list, be as specific as possible about your proposal. What kind of nonfiction book are you writing? Let’s say it’s a book about the crisis in the Catholic church. Now you can search for publishers of religion and current events books. This list would include American Catholic Press, Four Faces Press, and Regnery Publishing. This step will be even easier once you identify your approach. Are you tacking the subject from a religious perspective or a current events perspective? There — you’ve narrowed down your potential publishers list still further. You’ll find out what to do with that working list when I discuss finding a size-appropriate publisher later in this article.
Sticking with topic-appropriateness, let’s say it’s an article on the crisis in the Catholic church, not a book. To perfect your query, you need to focus that idea. Will your article be a commentary on the legal aspects of the situation? Will it be a commentary on the state of the church today? Or perhaps it will be a profile of several victims? The focus of your article will guide you to the appropriate market. Perhaps your list includes Christianity Today, Church & State, and Spiritual Life.
Writer Julie Hood, freelance writer and moderator of The Organized Writer recommends that writers do more than just read Writer’s Market to find the best fit for their work. Julie says, “They need to check the advertisements and ask themselves, ‘Would a reader buying X want to read my article?’” In her e-book, The Organized Writer, Julie recommends using a fill-in-the-blank form called a “Publication Analyzer” to study a market. The form has sections on demographics, article topics, and advertisers to help writers find the most appropriate publication.
Where Do Agents Fit In?
For book writers, often the path to the appropriate publisher is via the appropriate literary agent, particularly if you want to work with a large publishing house. Most of these houses don’t accept unagented material. You can find literary agents who specialize in your subject matter in the Literary Marketplace. Another option is to go to a bookstore or library, find the section that will host your book, pick up a few titles, and scan the acknowledgments for agents’ names. Some authors mention their agents; others don’t. Once you have a couple names jotted down, you’ve got a starting point: a list of agents who you know have worked with your genre, perhaps even your specific subject area or topic. These people will know which publishers to contact — and, better still, which editors at which publishing houses.
Once your topic is focused — and this applies whether you’re writing a book or an article — you should be looking at a handful of appropriate publishers. So which of these appropriate publishers is the most appropriate? Let’s look at the pros and cons of large versus small and mid-sized publishing houses as well as national, large-scale magazines versus smaller and regional publications.
Money is the name of the game in book publishing. The equation is simple: Generally speaking, the larger the publishing house, the larger the authors’ advances and marketing budgets. That’s a bit misleading, though, because if a publisher’s marketing budget is, say, $100,000, and that publisher has 100 authors, that doesn’t mean that each author gets $1,000. Big-name authors will get the bulk of the advance money and be sent on national author tours with book signings, TV appearances, and so forth. The majority of writers, unfortunately, get lost in the mix.
If you’re willing — and able, financially — to take on the bulk of marketing and publicity duties on your own, and the cache of a large publishing company appeals to you, then go for it. The publicity department will love you, in fact, because you’re doing its job: Promoting a book for as little money as possible — in this case, nothing out of the publisher’s pocket. You’ll be the one creating postcards and/or bookmarks, sending out press releases, setting up book signings, paying for expenses, scheduling interviews with media, and so on.
There’s less money to go around for all writers at smaller publishing houses, but as long as that money is spent wisely, you’ll be in good shape. Maybe you won’t go on a national book tour, and maybe you won’t make it onto Good Morning America, but maybe you’ll get a regional book tour and a national radio tour, in which you conduct phone interviews from home with radio stations across the country. As Massachusetts-based writer April Prince points out, “Especially if your work is aimed at a niche market, specialized publishers are a terrific avenue for getting your message out.” The reason for this is specific familiarity with a certain subject matter.
This familiarity translates into every aspect of the publishing process. Your editor knows the right questions to ask, the sub rights department knows which magazines to contact about serial rights, and so forth. Laurie Kelly, Sales Representative at The Career Press, Inc./New Page Books, notes that an appropriate publisher is critical to the sales process: “Publishing with a company with existing relationships in the marketplace in your subject is essential. It means I know which buyer to contact at bookstore chains, which mailing lists to use to target special sales, and so forth. Otherwise, we’re starting from square one.”
If you’re writing an article, certainly a publicity budget doesn’t apply, but the same principle does. A national magazine gives you national exposure with mountains of readers (and probably a higher per-word pay rate), whereas smaller, trade, and regional magazines have a more limited, and sometimes specialized, readership. Are you trying to establish yourself as an expert on a particular topic? If so, a subject-specific publication (as opposed to a general-interest publication) could be the way to go. The smaller per-word pay could be worth it in the long run if your clip gets into the right hands and puts you on your way to being the expert in a particular field.
Sure, it takes a bit of work, but finding the most appropriate home for your work is worth it in the long run.
In her role as president of JBedit, Jodi Brandon has edited and/or contributed to a number of high-profile book projects, including The Barnes & Noble Guide to Children’s Books (3rd Edition), The Buzz on Beer anthology, the Frommer’s Irreverent Guide travel series, The 50 Best (and Worst) Business Deals of All Time, and Copyright Plain & Simple. In addition to her editing responsibilities, she has also completed a number of writing projects on behalf of national and regional clients. You learn more about Jodie Brandon on her website.