The Blair truth about publishing: v. 1

I’m turning this blog over to our company president –and our all-around publishing guru– for today. Carolyn is planning to offer insider tips on publishing each month, so this is just the beginning. Enjoy! 

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The keepers of the The Blair Essentials have asked me to offer a regular column on the publishing industry. I thought I might start off by offering a few tips for writing a book proposal.

Since becoming president of Blair in 1992, I have read literally thousands of proposals. We receive 1,000 unsolicited manuscripts annually, and we do look at every one of them. The tips I’m offering here won’t ensure that you get published, but they may help you get a little farther in the process.

  1. Do your homework. Send your proposal only to publishers that publish the kind of book you have written. We once received a proposal for a coffee-table book about levitating Tibetan monks. I am not making this up. If the author had researched what Blair publishes, he would have known that we would consider such a book only if it focused on levitating Tibetan monks who lived in the southeastern United States.
  2. Read the publisher’s manuscript guidelines and follow them. If the publisher accepts proposals submitted only by agents, you are wasting time and postage sending an unsolicited manuscript. With the Internet, you can easily find these guidelines for any publisher, including Blair
  3. Write a killer cover letter. You have one minute to get the reader’s attention, so make it good and concise. Give a brief synopsis of the book—think of it as a 30-second sound bite to convince someone to plunk down $20 for your book. If you have published anything anywhere, mention it.
  4. When you submit samples of your work, send the first couple of chapters. A reader starts the book on the first page, and your success in capturing his attention determines whether he continues to page two. If the first chapter of your book does not do it, maybe it’s time to rework it.
  5. Work as hard on the ending as you do on the beginning. Many times we at Blair have been excited about a novel initially, only to watch it fall apart in the second half. The manuscript often falls apart so completely that we can’t even offer editorial suggestions about how to salvage it.
  6. If you include a marketing plan with your proposal, please offer concrete, realistic suggestions. Sometimes we see proposals for novels that feature attorneys as protagonists that say, “There are X number of lawyers in America, and every one of them will buy this book.” Oh, if it were only that simple.
  7. If you submit an unsolicited manuscript or proposal, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope or an e-mail address if you wish a response. We can’t afford to return every unsolicited manuscript we get.
  8. Learn whether the publisher accepts simultaneous submissions. Blair does, but it’s courteous to tell us that you are sending your query to other publishers. If the publisher does not accept simultaneous submissions—and many don’t—be prepared to wait several weeks before receiving any kind of a response. At Blair, it takes at least eight weeks for a manuscript to go through our reading process.

Now, it’s your turn. If you are an author, maybe you can share some tips you’ve learned. If you have additional questions, send them along. We’ll try to answer them. We ask only that you send general questions, not specifics about your own personal manuscript. Your comments and questions may prompt a discussion topic for a future blog post.

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7 thoughts on “The Blair truth about publishing: v. 1

  1. Advice? Get involved in an online community of international writers. I joined Authonomy (hosted by Harper Collins). Writers are the toughest critics, they will tear apart every mistake you’ve made and give insightful suggestions where it lags. The site also has mane freelance editors, and the forum gives assistance writing pitch and query letters. Authonomy shattered my illusions and forced me to be the best I can be – and go further than even my best.

  2. Another way to look at a proposal is to consider it as a proposal… you know… on bended knee, sparkly ring in hand. Woo.

    Because that’s what’s being considered, an engagement of two people, author and publisher, who are going to spend a lot of time together married by project.

    It’s also great, once the book is born if both parents stick around awhile and raise the thing. Blair is a great parent, btw, and always helps the child grow up in the real world.

    A winning proposal should, I think, indicate that the author is going to help raise the child once the book is published. Nobody wants to marry a hit-and-run impregnator. Hint for writers: commit to promoting your book once it is published and make this commitment clear in the proposal.

  3. Pingback: For all you writers out there: find publishing advice on Twitter « John F. Blair, Publisher

  4. Pingback: Blair truth about publishing: The future of the (digital) book « John F. Blair, Publisher

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