When Your Publisher Drops You and Determining the Viability of a Book Idea


by Bobbie Christmas

Q: My publisher closed the imprint under which my book was published. What should I do now?

A: You have several options, but first and foremost, you must have the publisher return your rights to you. After you receive a letter that officially reverts the rights to you, you can then look for another publisher or choose to self-publish.

Cardoza Publishing, which bought and published my book on creative writing, Write In Style, did exactly what you describe, a few years after releasing my book in 2004. It shut down the Union Square Publishing imprint that specialized in books for writers and moved the company from New York to Las Vegas, where it concentrated on books about gambling.

I halfheartedly queried one or two publishers about rereleasing the book, but no one snapped it up. Frustrated, I let the book languish. Years passed, and the information in the book grew dated.

One day when talking to the owner of a local book printing company, he asked whatever happened to Write In Style. He knew it had sold well but was out of print. When I said I was remiss in updating it, he suggested I self-publish and release it at a conference he had planned in a few months. With his encouragement, I had a plan and a deadline, if I wanted to launch the second edition at his conference.

My decision was a great one. With a deadline looming, I revamped, updated, and expanded the book, had a new cover designed and the book printed in time for the conference. The printer brought the first fifty copies to the conference, and I sold all but one of those copies, the first day the book was released. The book continues to sell copies through Amazon and other outlets. I make much more per book than I did with the traditional publisher, and I had complete control over the cover, the layout, and the title.

Speaking of the title, I needed to keep the same title for continuity, but I updated and simplified the subtitle and ditched the long, convoluted subtitle the previous publisher had insisted upon. I even added an index, which the prior publisher would not do. Because I had more control over the self-published edition of Write In Style, writers get more information from it than before, the printer makes money every time a copy is sold, and I make more money per book. Everybody wins.

Self-publishing is not for everyone, but it met my needs.

Q: I am a musician and a big music fan. Years ago, a musician friend of mine pointed out that in his view, a specific year was an especially strong one in music, and that many music artists released their best work that year. I agree with him; while searching through the discographies of artists from that era I have found it to hold true. It got me thinking about that year in particular. Was there a certain energy to that year?

Believing that music reflects the times within which it is created, I started to look at other events outside of music that occurred then. It does seem to be a pivotal year, with organizations, iconic buildings, concepts, and technology entering our society and culture that are still with us today. [The year and the events have been deleted, for proprietary purposes.]

I haven’t come up with a unifying theory that ties it all together, and I’m struggling to weave together a narrative that explains it. I’d love to hear your critique. Is this topic too broad? I haven’t been able to find a similar book out there about the zeitgeist of a particular year. Any suggestions and whether you think this idea is a viable one for a book would be appreciated.

A: I thought long and hard about this set of questions before I sat down to respond.

First, the unifying element (not theory) that ties all those things together is simply that in one year, important, interesting, and life-changing events took place. What a year it was! I agree with you that the year hosted many vital events, all of which I find fascinating, with the possible exception of [subject deleted], but that’s just me. If you uncover an interesting and untold story behind that subject too, though, then it might also be of interest to the general public and to me as well.

The topic is not too broad, if, as you say, it has a unifying element, and it does.

The next issue, though, is whether I think it is a viable idea for a book. Oh, if only we could predict what the American public would buy! No one can predict such a thing; however, one way to avoid spending years writing the book only to find there’s no market for it would be to write a strong book proposal and shop it to agents and publishers. The details of how to write a book proposal are set out quite simply in several books, including Michael Larsen‘s book, How to Write a Book Proposal. I followed his formula and sold my book, Write In Style, to a New York publisher in 2004. A proper book proposal includes sample chapters, so it was only after I sold the book based on the proposal that I had to write the remaining chapters.

If no agent or publisher shows an interest after receiving a well-written and thoroughly edited proposal, you may then have your answer, that it’s not a viable book idea. On the other hand, you may also decide to avoid the proposal/agent/publisher issue altogether and self-publish the book and market it yourself.

In general I’d say that whenever a subject fascinates one person willing to research and write about it, others will find the subject fascinating, too, provided the book is written well and carefully edited.

For hundreds of subjects of vital importance to writers, order Purge Your Prose of Problems, a Book Doctor’s Desk Reference Book.

Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor, owner of Zebra Communications, and quadruple-award-winning author of Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.


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