“A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever”, wrote 19th century author Martin Tupper. Most of us would agree with that sentiment. A book can be a constant friend, enriching our lives. It can entertain, educate, console, move us to tears and laughter. Most of us have a favorite author whose new titles we await with eager anticipation, much as we would relish a banquet from a master chef.
Of course, everyone looks at a book from a different perspective, depending on whether you’re a reader, a writer, a publisher, a critic or a bookseller. I spoke to one avid reader. He told me: “When I select a new book, I already know what type of book it is – whether it belongs to a particular genre such as mystery or biography. Then I look for the name of the author. I go through stages – for instance, I have a whole collection of Alister Maclean’s books. When I was 15, I believed that there could never again be a novel to compare with A.J. Cronin’s “The Citadel.” Today I can be influenced by a book reviewer to read an unknown writer. I read biographies and history for education, and novels for their entertainment value.”
Every writer has a different agenda, but those who churn out books just to make money usually lose their readership eventually to authors whose novels reflect life in a way with which people can identify. If a book doesn’t move you, if its characters fail to arouse your compassion and the emotional progress of the story isn’t satisfying, 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, like each life, is unique – the rites of passage of courtship and marriage; the birth of offspring; how one approaches the onset of old age; personal tragedies and triumphs; the painful losses we accrue and the people we meet and learn to love. This does not mean that every book is an autobiography, yet in a way it is, even in fiction, for every work of creation is a self-portrait. To be a writer, you must autograph it with excellence.
With each book I’ve written, it has been to clarify something for myself. Writing for me is always both therapeutic and a learning experience, and most writers I have met seem to feel the same way. Writing is a compulsion and the way we come to terms with the world. As our needs change, so do the books we write, just as artists and musicians also go through different phases in their lives.
How does one get a book published? In practical terms, you write it – or a large part of it – and then send it out in the market place. If you feel you can’t do it alone, you try to find a literary agent, although this can be more difficult for new writers than finding a publisher. If your book is fiction, study books of a similar genre and see who publishes them. Then you might send a letter to the publishing house, asking for permission to send them a synopsis and a couple of sample chapters (never the whole ms. unless they ask for it). Don’t send anything without a query letter first – if it just comes across the transom, it will be consigned to the dreaded
slush pile”. If your letter, which should be very creative, triggers their imagination, you may get a reply – especially if you send a stamped-addressed return envelope or the equivalent postage in International Reply Coupons (available from main Post Offices). With non-fiction, such as popular “How to…” titles, 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 few sentences of what it will contain. Make the Book Proposal as attractive as possible, even using some computer graphics. Today many publishers let you do all of the above by e-mail – read their Writers’ Guidelines before submitting.
The bottom line for publishers is how many copies they anticipate it will sell, for it is, after all, a business. There are many publishers, the so-called vanity press, who will publish your book for a price and you must decide if you want to follow this route, which may be the only possibility if you are unknown. However, there are also publishers who will go out on a limb and take a risk with a first book if they see great potential and talent, or if they believe the writer will enhance their prestige. Like everything else, getting the first book published is a challenge, but after that it gets easier as you establish a reputation.
I read a couplet 50 years ago by an unknown writer, which still remains with me:
“Writing is dreaming, head in the skies;
Reading is sharing another man’s eyes.”
I am always happy to hear your comments, and will help you free of charge with any writing problems. My latest novel, “Searching for Sarah” is available at discount direct from me at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or an earlier novel “In A Good Pasture”. My first novel “The Pomegranate Pendant” has been made into a movie, titled “The Golden Pomegranate.”