Friday, February 11, 2011

So you want to publish a book

Judith Bertoglio-Giffin’s excellent blog on self publishing answers many questions about self publishing and anyone interest in the same should be able to proceed. I have never self-published a book and I found it very enlightening. Having plugged myself into traditional publishing, my perspective is a bit different and so here is information for anyone who wishes to pursue this publishing avenue.

There are many publishers available to you. So, how do you know which publisher is a good fit for you. As a new author, you’ll have limited control over how your work will be presented.

The best way to determine a good fit in terms of presentation of your work is a simple process of examining your own art and craft books or sitting yourself down at Border’s or Barnes and Noble and spending time in the Art and Craft area of the store. What you see is, most likely what you will get. Is the color good, is the paper a high quality, is the basic layout pleasing to you?

Books by Watson-Guptill (my publisher) will share a look or sensibility and even organization of material (not that all titles will have the same look - much depends on the theme, books with fun and funky material should have a different look). If you look at Judy Belcher’s book, Lindly Haunani’s book and my books, you can see what they have in common. The design is “clean” and uncluttered. There is an overall consistency in the way they look. I have a book by another publisher that gives me a headache. Each project and its step outs has been shot on a different color background – primary colors, primarily –now, this was the decision of the author but my publisher would probably not have stood for this. Others might not be bothered by this but the experience of learning out of a book benefits from consistency – consistency of background of step outs, of the backgrounds in a gallery. The consistency of presentation isn’t something that most people will verbalize, but they will feel it and it eases or troubles the sub conscious mind.

A book, published many years ago, even referred to polymer clay as a material that could be heated or “air dried” to cure. Air Dry? Really? Polymer clay? This was not the author’s fault, That information did not come from her written text but from someone with the company who decided that that was the case and they didn’t send it to her before they printed it on 8,000 copies. So, publishers vary in terms of the level of their core understanding of what you do and how well they communicate with you.

Look at books you own - are they well written? Did you find typo after typo? Very rarely is a book perfect and everyone and every publisher may make an error or two but errors should be just that, rare. After my first book, I received many compliments on my writing. As I had written very little of the finished text, my reply to this was “I’ll thank my editor for you – she wrote it!” I write more of my own text these days but my editor is still the one who puts the final touches on, makes sure that the text is clear and the grammar is correct.

Once you have determined which publisher you’d like to work with, write an outline of what your book will contain. Publishers usually request a sample chapter, too.

Next, is the contact phase of the process. If you can attend a trade show (CHA or CHA Summer) this would be the best time to approach the publisher in person. Editors attend these shows and they are looking for potential authors. You aren’t bothering anyone, you represent an opportunity, for them. Be prepared with your outline and sample chapter, pictures of your work and wear something you’ve made that represents what you will do in the book.

When I began, it was taboo to contact more than one publisher at a time. In other words, don’t pass the same information to 10 publishers at the same time. Make the contact you want, wait for their answer and move to the next. If you are denied by one publisher, don’t take it personally because 99% of the time, it simply isn’t. There are frequently internal decisions that you aren’t a part of.

Contracts are pretty much the same but are not identical. You will always receive an advance on your book but that amount will be taken back after your book begins to sell. It’s an advance against your royalties, not a gift. So, that amount has never much mattered to me. These funds are for you to pay for photography or any expenses related to the book. Some publishers will offer an additional set photography fee and that is paid to the photographer

Some publishers may offer a one time payment, instead of, or as an alternative to royalty payments. I’ve never done this and I don’t even know if Watson Guptill (Random House) even offers this option. Many years ago, I attended a publisher roundtable. One publisher related that they don’t expect a book to sell more than 8,000 copies. 8,000 copies! I nearly fell out of my chair - had I even heard that, I might never have written a book. Most likely, your book will sell more than that but none of us can expect Tom Clancy sales figures.

New authors have little to no say about anything. Yes, it’s true, you won’t have much, if any, say about what appears on the cover. You also won’t have the freedom to put as many images in a book as you’d like so take it from me, you don’t want to shoot 800 images when the publisher limits you to 144. Yup, Vernon shot 800 images for my first book that allowed for 144. He still loves me, sometimes, I wonder why.

Finally, the issue of content should be discussed. There are so many books on the market today. Many of them are essentially the same information offered by different authors and if you have one of them, you don’t need all of them. This is why it is critical to you and your book’s success that the majority of the information is the result of your technical innovation. What you have created. Yes, you can certainly have information that you did not innovate but if that’s the case, you must also give credit to the originator. This is simply being honest.

It took me 10 years to feel I had enough new and unique information to fill a book – 10 years. My publisher did press me to write more books but stopped when they realized that the continual “book a year” didn’t serve them or me very well. It takes time to innovate and re hashing the same information over and over is a waste of energy, paper and ultimately results in too many books that don’t earn as well as one good book. I value my time more than that – it takes at least a year out of your life to write a book.

Make sure that you are happy with the content of your book because you simply cannot take it back and once it’s in print, it’s there for everyone to see and judge. If you’re lucky enough to have an “honest broker” in your life, ask them for their assessment – not for what they think you want to hear, but their honest opinion. If they and you believe you are ready for a publishing adventure, go full tilt boogie and get your creativity in print!

Donna Kato is a polymer clay artist, author (The Art of Polymer Clay, The Art of Polymer Clay - Surface Effects, The Art of Polymer Clay - Millefiori Techniques) and teacher. She teaches many online polymer clay art and craft classes at

When not busy in studio, she happily resides in the mountains of Colorado with husband Vernon, 5 horses, 2 dogs and a new kitty, Dulce.

1 comment:

  1. Your article is very interesting! Thank you for sharing these informations. I'm writing "my" book right now and wish I read that before, surely I would have gained lots of time.
    I just wanted to add that I'm a fan of your work and own all of your books, thank you so much as you were (and still are!) one of my virtual teachers during so many years on my way to much better quality in my own work.
    Have a good day !