For the Budding Vegan Author
I have an unusual number of e-mails from individuals who have written, are writing, or would like to write a book about animals and asked about various steps in the publishing process. Because I've been writing other people's books and helping them get published for 20 years, and I've written my own that I'm putting the final touches on, I'm in a decent position to deliver some advice. Please note that I run like the wind when someone asks me to help them with their novel. I don't work with fiction. I hardly read it, and wouldn't be good at writing it. Plus, selling it is a bit different as the quality of the writing and the story is of paramount importance.
- Books are obvious opportunities for advocacy and vegan education. How successful they are at creating new vegans or animal rights advocates depends on many factors.
- The publishing business in the US is unfortunately celebrity-based. This simply means that you can write the same book as Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie, but you might not be able to even get yours published, and they'll get a seven figure advance for theirs (not to mention someone else will probably write it). Celebrities also include people who are already franchises and can submit a manuscript–or even just an idea–that's not spectacular but it will get published because the author already has a fan base.
- Quality of writing or concept will get you nowhere with nonfiction unless you can demonstrate that you can sell 10,000 books (maybe 5,000, but 10 is a safer number) in the traditional publishing model. This makes the most important part of how you sell your book to publishers your platform (how you're reaching the people you reach).
- Nonfiction is usually sold on proposal, not the full manuscript, so get yourself a book on writing a nonfiction book proposal (here's a primer by Michael Larsen, the author of the most famous book, who is also an agent), and get to work. You'll need to know all of the information in your book proposal anyway in order to sell it, so forget carping about having to go through the exercise of a 50-odd page proposal (the bulk of which is your writing sample anyway).
- When your proposal is complete, query agents. There are entire books written about query letters. They should be about three paragraphs and are often the one chance you will have to create enough interest in your project that the agent requests a proposal (hence the proposal should be complete first, as you want to send it a nanosecond after you get word of its request).
- Querying agents should involve research. There are books and websites that list literary agents, and they are helpful to a point, but your first order of business should be to hit your bookshelves or the bookstore and find out who agented the books that are most like yours (and don't say there's never been anything like your book–you surely can find some similarities). Check the acknowledgments and then find that person's agency. They might not take unsolicited queries, but if they do, your first line of your query letter is already done–"I am writing you because you represented XYZ and PQR, which are two of my favorite books, and my book, ABC, is similar in topic and target market." Knowing what kinds of books someone is interested in and represents lets you know where you fit into their list and if you fit in.
- Despite the fact that nonfiction is sold on proposal, in my opinion, if your book is something you simply must write, then do it, and finish it. Many will say: Why write the book if all you need is the proposal and it might not get sold anyway? But I say: You only know exactly what your book says after you've written it. All kinds of things happen during the writing process because it is organic. The exception is how-to books and other nonfiction that is in some way prescriptive.
I've heard people say that books are out and more immediate media is in. And I think that's true for niche audiences. But middle aged women (like me!) are still buying millions of books, and your real question for yourself regarding how to best present your message (traditionally-published book, ebook, self-published book, podcasts/series like an audiobook) is answered by: Who is my target market? If it's 20-year olds, you can forget about the traditionally-published book. Is your market vegans? Think about that. If what you're writing is about vegan education, the bulk of your market isn't vegans, and presenting statistics about the number of vegans in the US isn't all that helpful (but not useless, as some might buy it to give to others, but that happens with every book). In my experience, the biggest problem for prospective authors is that they don't know who their audience is and they say "everybody should read my book and can benefit from it." Wrong answer (though that might be true).
Finally, getting published the traditional way takes months and months. If you're a first-time author, you're not exactly a priority. So if you want your message out there now, do a podcast/audiobook or an ebook, or even a vlog series. If you can wait a month or maybe two and order at least a couple hundred books, start a publishing company and self-publish. Regardless, have a plan for the marketing and distribution of your project.
As I always say, as much as I like to imagine that what I do (writing) is valuable, it doesn't matter as much as the author's ability to get their book to its intended audience and get them to buy it (for my clients this is a profit-making venture, but you might not see your project that way).
I hope some of that helps.