Posted on October 28, 2008
The Birth of a Book
I’ve given birth to three children, but never have I experienced a pregnancy as long and arduous as the one associated with the birth of my first book, Speaking for Spot! I laugh when I recall how naïve I was at the onset of my literary journey. It began with a unique book idea, and I thought it fitting to send my good idea off to a dozen or so publishers with the expectation that they would line up with invitations asking me to write for them. Much to my chagrin, I received only one response from someone kind enough to inform me that my methodology wasn’t the way the publishing game is played.
Thus began my research on “how to get a book published.” I learned that the first step is recruitment of a literary agent. The way one entices said agent is with the perfect “query letter” that must include a complete description of the book, proof that there is nothing else remotely like it on the market, and irrefutable evidence that I, Dr. Nancy Kay, am absolutely, positively the most qualified person on the planet to write the darned thing. Oh, and did I mention that every single word must fit on no more than one page double-spaced with standard margins, and a font size that would not require use of a magnifying glass! Not only that, the letter must be catchy and compelling lest it end up in the circular file along with 98 percent of all query letters.
Any thoughts I had about being a talented author were quickly dispelled when I began writing my query letter! Oh my goodness- I must have spent a full month crafting the darned thing! After hours of agonizing and eons of editing, I felt I had the finished product. Now it was time to figure out who would be the lucky recipients of my query letter. I pored through encyclopedic listings of literary agents looking for clues that a dog book would be right up their alley. A dozen or so made the final cut based on their expressed love of dogs and/or their prior representation of other “doggie authors”. Off my query letters went. Now I had to play the waiting game- one must wait six to eight weeks for a response (it is taboo to initiate further contact before this waiting period is over). Thus far I was five months into my “great idea” so what the heck, a bit more waiting couldn’t hurt. Alas, my hard work, research, and patience paid off! Five agents (four from Manhattan and one from Los Angeles) expressed interest. I interviewed all of them and made my final choice- a savvy Manhattanite who pronounced the word “niche” in a way that made me think she was terrifically sophisticated.
My agent (I thought it was awesome to say, “my agent”, by the way) outlined the game plan. I was to write a “proposal” that she would submit to various publishing houses. Back to the library I went to learn how to write a phenomenal proposal, a project that would occupy the next two months of my life. A winning proposal contains the following ingredients: a biography to showcase the author’s “platform” (highly embellished in my case), an overview of the entire book complete with table of contents and two completed chapters, a detailed marketing plan, discussion of future writing projects, and in-depth research documenting that no such book has ever been published before. This last requirement seemed ironic given the fact that my local library housed no fewer than a dozen books on “How To Get Your Book Published.”
Once the proposal was completed, my agent emailed it off to a dozen or so publishers. We heard absolutely nothing for what seemed like an eternity. When we finally did hear back, the news was discouraging; “Loved the book, but it’s not for us.” “We’ve already got a dog book in the works,” or simply, “No thanks.” Needless to say, my agent was no longer eagerly responding to my emails and phone calls. I got the sense that, in her mind, my book was a lost cause and we quietly ended our relationship.
I was at an all time low point with this book idea of mine. I remained incredibly passionate about the concept, but was contemplating bailing out so as to cut my losses (I was approximately one year and who knows how many hours into the process at this point). This was the period of my book-writing career I now fondly refer to as “transition”. During childbirth, “transition” describes the emotional low point that is brought on by pain and exhaustion. Transition is characterized by tears and the firmly expressed desire to give up (often embellished with expletives and threats) in spite of the fact it is apparent to everyone involved, including the woman giving birth, that “the show must go on”. I was now at the state of transition in my “book birthing process”. I felt profoundly discouraged, emotionally pained, and tired of the whole publishing process (or lack thereof). As much as I wanted to simply call it quits, I somehow knew in my heart of hearts that this was not an option. I couldn’t give up on this baby of mine.
I was an “agentless waif” yet decided to approach some publishers on my own. I’m a horse lover and noticed that Trafalgar Square was the publisher of some of the horse books in my home library. I wrote to the Trafalgar editors asking them to read my proposal. After all, I had nothing to lose (I’d perfected the art of dealing with rejection), and maybe they were ready to branch out into dog books. After all, most people who love horses also love dogs. Boy, oh boy was this one of the all time great decisions of my lifetime! Not only did they receive my baby with open arms, they were encouraging and nice and welcomed conversation with me. I learned they already had some dog books under their belt, written by a rather famous author- Linda Tellington Jones (I was to be in good company). When I received their invitation to work together, I felt like Sally Field accepting her Oscar- “They like me, they really, really like me!”
Whew! At long last, people were finally going to have a chance to read what I was so passionate about. Now all I had to do was write the darned thing and I had a whole year to do it. Initially a year seemed like plenty of time, but as the days passed and the seasons changed, I fell further behind my anticipated schedule. I began waking up well before sunrise to write before leaving for work. My laptop accompanied my everywhere- on vacations, to work, even to my daughter’s volleyball matches. My editors’ initial worry that the book would be too short turned into the startling revelation that there was too much content. Their edits dished up more red ink than I’d seen through my twenty some years of formal education! There were moments of writer’s block, impatience, discouragement, and complete wonder at why in the world I’d ever wanted to write this book in the first place!
At last, Speaking for Spot has arrived, and just as occurs with the birth of a child, my agony morphed into ecstasy! What have I learned from my experiences? Becoming published is not nearly as simple or easy as I once thought it would be. It is terrifically challenging and one heck of a lot of work. As much as aspiring authors must be original thinkers, capable of transforming words into creative meaningful thoughts, in the end, tenacity, fortitude, and some luck are perhaps the most essential traits that lead to success.