[pullquote]I’ve chosen a hard road, and that is OK.[/pullquote]
So last night, after literally years, I finished my monograph. Many of you know that I am taking my dissertation and turning it into a monograph. The dissertation was written for an academic audience with a goal of ultimately earning me a doctorate. The monograph is being written for a lay audience, particularly for people who love mysteries and want to either write them or read them. Finally, I finished the last chapter of the book and sent it off to my friend Mark who reads all of my crappy drafts.
The thing is, what we new writers and want to be writers and would be writers often think (or at least it seems to be the case with at least a few of the workshop participants I see in my writing classes) is that writing the book is easy. All one needs to do is find the time to write, and once the book is done (as if by magic) then it will easily be picked up by a publisher and everything will be great. A really common refrain from workshop participants is the assumption that what they write will be national bestsellers and they will be set for life. The statistics on earnings for professional writers remain the same: about 5% of writers are able to support themselves completely on their writing. That means around 95% aren’t able to support themselves by writing alone. I learned this figure over 20 years ago, and it made a huge impression on me. In a strange way, I feel fortunate to know what to expect. I’ve chosen a hard road, and that is OK.
In addition to recognizing that my book will probably not be a bestseller (and this term has so many different meanings–I’ll talk about that in another post), I also know that while writing the book is the most important part of the process, it is really in some ways, only the beginning. In addition to revising and editing my book, which I’m doing with the help of The Four Readers and The Crappy Draft Reader, I also need to do a whole slew of other things. While I’ve been researching and writing this book, I’ve been collecting tasks that need to be done.
Let’s say I’ve written the greatest non-fiction text on the mystery genre ever. Yay! That alone will not make this book a success, because if publishers aren’t aware I’ve done this wonderful thing, nobody is going to publish it. In order to let the world know this book has arrived, I need to write a query letter. I’ve got a couple of books that show me what to do, and I’ve attended a couple of workshops put on by Northeast Ohio Sisters in Crime (NEO SinC) on how to write one, so that is a huge help. But I’m lucky in that I have several friends who have published, and three of them have agreed to help me with the letter. After reading up on it, and teaching it to my English class today, I feel ready to write my own query letter. My plan is to take two Sisters in Crime members out to lunch and share my letter with them. I will be thrilled to death if they tear up my letter because that will mean that what I send will be all the better.
But to what publishers and/or literary agents am I sending this letter to? Well, I’ve given that some thought. One of the reasons some people fail when it comes to getting published is because they’ve sent the manuscript to the wrong place. If you have written a romance novel, don’t send it to a publisher of scientific works. That sounds pretty obvious, but some people do not study the market. My clever plan is to make a list of writers who have been nominated or who have won the Agatha and Edgar awards for non-fiction mystery and find out who their publishers were. I will then narrow down that search to the books that most closely resemble mine. I already know from previous research that my book is unique, which is part of the reason I want to get it out of my hands soon before someone else produces a too similar book. When I see my Sisters in Crime, I will share with them the list of possible publishers. I’m hoping they’ll both approve of my list and perhaps have some further suggestions for places to send my query letter.
A very important part of the query letter is a paragraph (or more) on my qualifications for having written the book and information on my author platform. I have a Ph.D. in English from a notable institution; I have taught courses on the mystery genre at a few different schools; I have won teaching awards; and I have lectured to different groups about subgenres in the mystery field. Those are my qualifications. As for the author platform, I’m feeling almost cocky about that. For the dissertation, I collected information from over 700 mystery readers, over 90% of whom said that I could contact them again. I’ve set up this blog, and I started a Buffy, the Vampire Slayer podcast. I am active in my Neo SinC group and I am also active in the National Sisters in Crime. I am slowly but surely getting my name out into the world. There is a lot more that I need to do in this area, and I am each week adding another arrow to the quiver.
We are at a time in publishing where we are responsible for our own marketing. Publishing companies will do very little for midlist writers, much less for newbies like me. This is where the author platform can be incredibly useful as a basis for a marketing campaign. I have a lot of ideas, and I will share this with my blog audience as I experiment with them.
I am really pleased about finishing the book, and if you’d asked me months ago, I would have told you that I would be feeling elated and overjoyed. I’m actually not feeling that way though, which I guess is strange. I’m pleasantly content. I’m feeling good about this achievement (and did feel really good when students in my second class cheered for me today when I told them I’d finished. That was nice.) I think what is going on is that I know that the journey is only beginning, and that there is a lot of work ahead, most of which I’ve never done before. I think I’ll do it well, in part because I’ve been planning it for so long, but who knows? I’m assuming I’ll make a ton of mistakes. This is part of why I decided to keep this blog. I’ll share with you all the successes and travails as I navigate the world of publishing and marketing. I’m so glad that there will be some others who will witness the journey.