Thursday, 9 June 2011

"The Perfect Proposal" - heads-up for wanna-be writers

The one and only Tony Collins of Monarch Books (an imprint of Lion Hudson) has given his permission for me to post here two articles he has written to help writers find their way through to seeing their work published. Tony (if his face looks familiar to readers of this blog, the name 'Badger' may jog your memory) is an experienced and respected figure in the world of Christian publishing.  Back in the last century, at the end of  the 1980s, I first met him when he invited me to speak about my first novel at the Kingsway trade sales meeting - Monarch was in those days the imprint that Tony had developed at Kingsway publishing house, and my first novel was an unsolicited manuscript that a friend working at Kingsway put on Tony's desk.  He read it, loved it, and accepted it.  We first met in person at that trade sales meeting.

Over the years Tony has published (and edited) several books for me.  Five years ago this September we got married.  Though we have continued to work together professionally, my fiction is nowadays published by Crossway, a US publishing house whose books are distributed in the UK by IVP.

The only thing I don't like about being married to Tony is that is has necessitated a greater distance between us professionally, and I have never come across so fine an editor. 

This guest article by Tony was originally written for the magazine of The Association of Christian Writers.  Find them on Facebook here 

                          THE PERFECT PROPOSAL

I love books, and have been publishing them for over 30 years.  A particular joy is to discover new authors.

Yet I turn down most of the proposals I receive.  My equivalents at other publishing houses do the same. Why?

I received a submission when a rookie editor at Hodders.  The author, a kind lady, knew that Anglican ordinands need a healthy devotional life. Accordingly she had written a 300-page collection of thoughts and prayers for this highly specific readership. There were at most a thousand or so ordinands each year in Britain: not a bustling marketplace, yet this lady had spent years on her project. Every week I receive enthusiastic proposals which are equally heartbreaking.

Many readers will be impatient with the basics, but they are so often ignored that they bear repetition.  You are planning a Really Good Book.  Ask yourself:
  • What is your subject? (Where would you find it in a shop? If it is fiction, what is the genre?)
  • What is the function of your book?  (Is it designed to resource, to teach, to entertain, to encourage, to provoke? Is it necessary, restorative, corrective or fun? What is its point?)
  • Which readers do you have in mind? (Be specific: ‘adult Christian’ does not help much – ‘adult Christian leaders in evangelical and charismatic churches, particularly in tough urban settings’ is more useful).
  • Who are you? (Why should a reader pay attention to your words? Do you know your subject? What qualifications do you have?  What position do you hold? What networks do you belong to? Do you have a speaking profile?)
  • What are the main alternatives? (Indicate why yours differs. What is original about your book? How is it superior?)
  • Would your book fit our list?  (Which section? Have you approached the right publisher, the right imprint?)
  • How would you support the marketing of your book? (Budgets are always tight, and paid advertising is frequently ignored.   How could you help our marketing team to get your book into the public eye?)
  • Who could endorse your book? 

It is possible to tick all of the above, and still fail to catch the attention of a busy editor.  Publishing is quite an individual business, and editors vary.  
For myself, I am looking for energy, focus, courtesy and spiritual authenticity.

Energy – is the reader compelled to turn the page?  Is the writing spare, articulate, stimulating to read?  Are the ideas crisp?  

Focus – Has the author got a grip on both subject and readership?  What they are trying to achieve?  Could they write a mission statement for their book? If fiction, has the author done their research?

Courtesy – You, the author, are a guest in your reader’s brain.  Imagine yourself seated at your host’s supper table, and set out to entertain, to charm, to inform, to be agreeable.  Remember that your ‘host’ need not invite you back, nor finish your book, nor recommend you to friends.

Spiritual authenticity – this is the hardest quality to discern, but probably the most important.  I pray daily for the wisdom to spot true gold, and it is never easy, since I am as spiritually myopic as most. Whatever the genre, I am looking for that particular quality that tells me: here is a book by a man or woman who walks in the company of the Almighty.

There is one further constraint. Publishing, when it works, is a joy. But authors and publishers of Christian books must always be able to answer the question: would your book not be a greater tribute to the Creator if left as a tree?

Tony Collins is publisher of Monarch Books, an imprint of Lion Hudson plc,  Find Monarch on Facebook here.


Ganeida said...

Thanks for this. I have been considering self publishing simply because I think I am just too odd. I don't seem to fit neatly into the usual categories. One reason I blog¬ lol At least I can waffle on about whatever takes my fancy & if people don't like, well, they read elsewhere. ♥

Ember said...

:0) If I take you seriously there friend(and I'm not sure I totally do, because I think you often blog on things that have been laid on your heart to pass on)then I would say that the blog is the right place for all the oddnesses that don't fit into any categories.
That's why I have my little novella about Eb and Flo ("Taking The Tide Of Love") up here on my blog. It's too short for a novel, it's not a children's book but it gives out the signals of a children's book - it wouldn't fit into any category and as such is probably not publishable. But people still enjoy it, and I enjoyed making it - all the costumes and the pictures and everything as well as the story - so I just left it here for other people to enjoy if they want to.
But writing a book is a whole different ball-game. It's a much tighter discipline, because it starts a dialogue with a readership, and the author has to take almost all the responsibility for that dialogue - finding the right publisher, working constructively with the editor, pitching the book right for the likely readership, marketing and promoting the resulting book, creating a platform as a writer, eliminating all self-indulgence from writing technique so that the resulting text is accessible, attractive and draws the reader along.
It has to be funny and original and moving and surprising and well-paced.
Something I really like about being published by a publishing house is the discipline of submitting to an editor (though I think that statement might draw a hollow laugh from some who have had the unenviable task of being my editors!). It's a wise discipline for a writer.
However like you I have a couple of pieces (one short story, one full-length book) that I feel certain would be right for publication, and the Badger and I are discussing self-publication as an option for exactly the reason you raise here - that they don't fit into any obvious category. x

Linda said...

The book I wrote with a distant cousin was published by his own publishing house.

My progression into Christian fiction came from bonnet books. Janette Oke after Laura Ingalls Wilder and on from there. Lots of people won't make that step into Christian fiction like they are scared. Often they don't read at all. At the time I didn't read, and found this was fantastic and got me back into reading again and I haven't stopped.

Linda said...

I was given a book to review, and it was written by a lady who goes to a Penecostal church in the north of my State, I live in the north so it is not so far away, and I have visited her church in the past. It was published by vmi publishers.

Ember said...

:0) Hi Linda! Waving!

Linda said...

Ganeida there is an interesting title on this page

It’s Time Your Manuscript Became A Book!

Linda said...

I must say that the book that I reviewed was unusual I thought. It is called A Word to the End Time Church, but read better than it sounded.

Linda said...

There is even an email your proposal here button and feedback.

Ember said...