April 21, 2008
Words to write by: How to get your book in a cover
By leslie king
Target your audience. Know how long your book will be. Get a name at a publishing house. Sum up your argument in the query letter.
This was some of the advice offered by publishing heavyweights at high-profile industry firms who came to the Emory Conference Center on April 11.
At “Academics as Authors: A Symposium on Book Publishing,” faculty and staff heard a panel from academic publishing and one from trade publishing discuss industry trends and give practical insights on getting published.
The event, moderated by Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the University, was sponsored by the Provost’s Office’s Manuscript Development Program.
To find a publisher or literary agent, panel members advised talking to published colleagues about their experiences; looking at publishing houses’ lists of titles; and reading the acknowledgements page of books for names of editors and agents.
“Ask you colleagues and peers what experiences they’ve had. What’s it like to work with a particular trade or university house?” said Patrick Fitzgerald, a publisher at Columbia University Press.
Get a name, said literary agent Miriam Goderich. “‘Dear agent’ doesn’t endear you to anyone going through bags of mail.” Goderich also advised succinct, well-written and typo-free query letters.
“An incomplete idea is not the best way to approach an editor,” said Susan Ferber, an executive editor at Oxford University Press-USA.
“Make it very, very clear exactly what you have to say,” she said, because pulling it out takes time and effort.
In other words, said Princeton University Press’ Chuck Myers, “If we think it’s a mess, we’re not going to take it on.”
Wendy Harris, Johns Hopkins University Press editor, urged authors to keep in mind that “publishers think backwards — from readership to the story — so be absolutely explicit in your project description.”
While getting the input of your peers is “incredibly important,” Ferber said, the least valuable effort is to have all your peers and friends write and say they’ll use it in their courses. “It never happens,” she said to laughter.
Crossing over from academic to trade, or trying to write for audiences in both, is very difficult, several said.
“You really need to pick your audience. Directing a book to the general reader, students, professors — trying to span all areas — is very difficult. On the other hand, if a book has success with one group, others may take a look at it,” Harris said.
Unlike in academic publishing, most trade-published books come through an agent, said Dedi Felman, a senior editor at Simon & Schuster.
Henry Dunow, a literary agent, noted that every book on a trade list has two purposes: to make money and be entertaining. “This is not assigned reading,” he said.
Authors, he said, can appeal to a wide general audience or to a certain niche.
The symposium also offered opportunities for one-on-one appointments with the representatives of the publishers and literary agencies.