By the book: Publishing 101

How to get your first book onto the shelves

Book 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Book 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With the International Jerusalem Book Fair just behind us and Jewish Book Week still to come, books have taken center stage in our thoughts.
But what about the author? Whenever I’ve had a new book published, along with some congratulations, you’d be amazed at some of the comments I have received. “You’re so lucky” from a fellow writer, implying that talent had little to do with it. Several readers have told me that they have thought about writing a book “but I just don’t have time,” as though that’s the only thing needed and they are far too busy to waste it – as I have obviously been doing. I had one phone call from a woman who gushed, “I was delighted to read that you have a new book out, as I thought you’d died years ago!” Such is fame! But what if you seriously want to write your first book? You should choose a theme that reflects a way of life with which readers can identify. If a book doesn’t move you, if its characters don’t arouse your compassion, and the emotional progress of the story isn’t compelling, then the writer has failed.
This applies to every genre, even to children’s books, where a lack of sincerity is immediately spotted.
Each book is unique – the rites of passage of courtship and marriage; the birth of offspring; the onset of old age; personal tragedies and triumphs; the painful losses we accrue, and the people we meet and learn to love. To be a writer, you must autograph your work with excellence.
How do you get a book published? In practical terms, you write it – or a large part of it – and then send it out to the marketplace.
If you can’t do it alone, you try to find a literary agent to represent you, although for unknown writers, this can sometimes be more difficult than finding a publisher.
Study successful books of the same genre you are writing and see who publishes them. Then write to the publishing house, asking for permission to send them a synopsis and three sample chapters (never the whole manuscript unless they ask for it). Don’t send anything without a query letter first. If your work just comes across the transom, it will be consigned to the dreaded slush pile.
If your letter, which should be very creative, triggers their interest, you may get a reply – especially if you send a stamped, self-addressed envelope or the equivalent postage in International Reply Coupons (obtainable at main post offices).
With nonfiction, send a book proposal consisting of a cover letter outlining your idea and your personal expertise in the area, plus clippings of anything you’ve had published on the subject. You should also include a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, with the title of each chapter, plus a brief summary of what it will contain. Make the book proposal as attractive as possible.
The bottom line for publishers is how many copies they anticipate it will sell. There are publishers, the so-called vanity press, who will publish your book for a price. You must decide if you want to follow this route, which may be the only possibility for a first novel if you are unknown. However, there are some publishers who will take a risk if they see great potential and talent or if they believe the author will enhance their prestige (it helps if you’re a well-known politician, military general or rock star).
With fiction, you need a compelling plot, a hook opening, a satisfying ending, and a middle that keeps the reader hoping, guessing and involved. Don’t overlook short stories as a break from your novel. American and British magazines pay very well and are a good way to give yourself short-term rewards while you’re working on that fulllength novel.
Very few authors become rich from writing books.
Usually after your initial triumph, your book will only have a short shelf life – some of mine disappeared a few months after I finished a book tour across America.
That said, being a writer is an exciting life. You don’t need capital to begin, you can write at your own pace, and you can work from home. The one quality you need to develop as a writer is the ability to accept rejection.
Insults are also par for the course. The greatest put-down I’ve ever heard came from someone named Moses Hadas: “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it!” The writer is the author of 11 books, one of which, The Pomegranate Pendant, was made into a movie entitled The Golden Pomegranate. It premiered at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival and will be released in