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Thread: On spec or commissioned?

  1. #1
    Away with the fairies
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    On spec or commissioned?

    For those of you who have published non-fiction titles, do you mostly write on spec or are you commissioned to write specific books?

    For those of you who have had something you wrote on spec accepted and published, what do you think sold it (e.g. topical subject matter, finding a niche, etc.)? Did you write your book and then find a publisher, or did you write with a specific publisher in mind?

    For those of you who are currently writing non-fiction but have not yet been published, do you have a particular publisher in mind? Are you just writing what you want or need to write or have you identified a niche or a particularly popular topic?

  2. #2
    Fish Whisperer aka eraser's Avatar
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    For those of you who have had something you wrote on spec accepted and published, what do you think sold it (e.g. topical subject matter, finding a niche, etc.)?

    My subject matter was a perennial one - fishing. I had to bring something new to the table, not necessarily factual data or innovative theories - but a fresh voice/slant to an age-old topic. None of that was in my mind when I began though. It was a labour of love that I hoped would find a publisher. I think the fact it was well-written and humorous is what sold it.

    One of my current projects is a much more conscious attempt to get published. It's a subject in which I have a lot of interest, is topical, and hasn't been beaten to death yet.

    Did you write your book and then find a publisher, or did you write with a specific publisher in mind?

    I took the former route after trying, and failing, to interest an agent. Agent-hunting is on my to-do list this year.
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    He who conquers others is strong. He who conquers himself is mighty. - Lao Tzu

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    Empirical Storm Trooper MadScientistMatt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TashaGoddard
    For those of you who are currently writing non-fiction but have not yet been published, do you have a particular publisher in mind? Are you just writing what you want or need to write or have you identified a niche or a particularly popular topic?
    Still working on my first book here. I've been thinking of sending mine to Bently Publishing because they specialize in car books and do not require an agent. But there are plenty of other publishers that cover the same topic.

    I got my idea when my girlfriend wanted to get into modifying cars but had no idea where to start. I've often answered similar questions on car message boards. And it got me to thinking: Most books on car mods for newbies don't provide much useful details, and most advanced car mods are difficult for a reader with no prior knowledge of cars. So I thought I'd try and write a better guide for beginning hot rodders. I know there's a market for it because there are a few competing books out on the shelves already.

  4. #4
    Just the Basic Facts Uncarved's Avatar
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    I research a book proposal format and a first chapter on something that interests me and that I can be passionate about for the length of time it takes to write, publish, and promote. I sell based on that proposal. I have been published though, but I wanted to answer this anyhow.

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    Thanks, guys. It's good to know that it is possible to sell non-fic on spec.

    I work in educational publishing where probably 99% of books are commissioned and almost exclusively written by teachers. Sometimes it bothers me that there are a lot of books in this field (mostly for IT subjects) that I could write, but there's not a chance in h*ll that I would be able to sell any of them, because I'm not a teacher.

    However, I'm now feeling inspired to look into the kind of educational books that I might be able to sell (i.e. those not aimed at schools and colleges, but at individuals who just want to improve some skills). I'm going to do some research into a couple of publishers that I think might fit the bill. Find out about the authors who write their book and whether I would have a chance to be accepted.

  6. #6
    Super Browser triceretops's Avatar
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    Tasha, definitely check with publishers with a strong proposal or query first, outlining what you intend to cover subject-wise. Make sure that your credentials are in order, that will give you some credence and platform for writing about your subject. More than ever, nowadays, publishers are looking for academics, with solid professional backgrounds to script educational, social, or scientific texts. Of course general subjects can work well if they haven't been beat to death.

    In 1988 I decided to write the first ever book on Garage Sales--did up the proposal and three chapters, sent it out, and it was accepted imediately by three houses. I took the one I liked and signed.

    Second book had to deal with my profession--auto mechanics. So I decided to write a consumer warning book about automotive rip-offs. Again it was snatched right up.

    Third book was about the third biggest ice age discovery of Pleistocene megafauna in my city ten years ago. Again I wrote up a complete proposal and 100 pages. Not remembering my past experience with non-fic books, this third installement has met with opposition because I am not a paleontologist, therefore I'm not considered a credible source to even document this historical discovery. I didn't have previous articles published about this find, which might have helped. Being a great science writer did not count in my favor in this case. Which equaled: weak platform, and non-narative.

    I didn't have an agent for any of these--went straight to the publishers. Non-fiction accounts for just about 70% of all books sold, so it's a much easier route to persue. Just keep in mind, have good experience or a solid credentialed platform for an academic work. If you want to write a diet book, it sure helps to be a doctor like Atkins, or Stillman. Or even, a dietitcian (sp?)
    I think that if I ever write another non-fiction book, it will be about subject matter that does not require a PHD. Cryptozoology and Ufology, come to mind, except that I'm damn willing to bet that the guy who has a degree in zoology or biology will get his book on Bigfoot published a hell of a lot sooner than I will. As for UFO's, an astronomer will probably push me out of the market place.

    It's been said that if you have a zeal and the insufferable desire to write about your favorite subject, then you can submit it with the hopes of publication. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is certainly not the case in this day and age anymore. For less topical subjects, I believe the amateur can arrive at a certain amount of sucess. But I would not, as a reader, like to learn how to fly a plane from a book that was written by a model plane builder, if you catch my implication.

    Triceratops

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    Thanks, Trice. Hmm, so having a brain isn't going to be enough for that book on brain surgery? Darn it!

    Don't worry, I only have intentions of writing in the fields where I have considerable experience and qualifications. I may find that this isn't enough when set beside a current academic, but I'm going to do plenty of market research before even writing a single word. I'm quite happy to drop the idea if necessary and continue with editing other people's works - which to be honest, might well be more lucrative than writing my own. (And, of course, working on the novel!)

  8. #8
    I Heart Mac Absolute Sage Lauri B's Avatar
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    Hi Tasha,
    Another route you might want to take is to have a co-author who does have the academic credentials to help bolster your own expertise.You don't necessarily need the co-author to do the writing, but he or she could check over what you've written, provide additional commentary, and help support your own ideas. The down side is that you'll share credit (and probably some royalties). The upside is that your pitch and ideas are strengthened by a proven "expert."

    We publish some teaching books and receive submissions from many writers who don't have teaching experience but have good ideas--but we have to turn these writers down. Why? Because in general, readers want advice from someone who has experience in the field or letters after their name. It's just the way the industry works.

    Good luck!
    Lauri

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    That's an interesting idea. It has crossed my mind before, but I've never taken it any further. Definitely something to look into, I think.

    I have now come up with an idea for which I have enough expertise (in comparison to other published authors in the same field), so I'm going to have a go at that and see if I can take all my own advice and come up with a good sales pitch.

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