What Happens When You Publish A Book: Newton and the Counterfeiter/Tom’s personal experience no. 0.0

Longish title to announce the start of a series of posts aimed at providing one writer’s account of what happens in publishing a trade non-fiction book.

This post is background/procedural.  It’s going up at the same time as post 1.o, which actually contains some useful information (sez who? — ed.)

So:   This series focuses on publishing the thing, not writing it.  No doubt, some of my writing process will slip in, but what I want to do here is give a soup -nuts (AKA feeding time at the asylum) treatment of what it happens to take an idea and turn it into a block of thinly sliced dead tree, available for purchase.

This is a follow up, long overdue, to the session at Science Online ’09 that Dave Munger and I led on going “Blog to Book”  My excuse for the lag time is that I was actually finishing my first book to be published after I started blogging — it’s called Newton and the Counterfeiter, as most readers of this blog have probably figured out by now.

Dave and I had expected that those at our session would want to talk about the nitty-gritty of how to get a book published (and how to get paid enough to write it).  Instead, we spent most of our time in discussion on the deeper conceptual question of what it takes on the level of idea and writing practice to go from the scale of a blog  to a sustained text a couple of orders of magnitude longer than a single post.

So what I’m going to do here and in a number of posts to follow over the next two or three weeks is to go through some of what Dave and I imagined we’d talk about.  I’m going to start at the beginning in this post with a look at the proposal process; I’ll step back in future posts to the pre-history of a proposal in giving my take on the dread topic of agents.

Then I’ll go through the steps I went through to deal with each stage of the publishing process.  I’ll begin with what happens (for me) to deal with the editing and revision process.  Then it will be on to what happens after the writing is done and attention shifts to the problem of producing the book in the form you like.

The next phase — the one I’m actually in the middle of right now, is the process of getting a finished text-and-package (aka, the hardbound book of the sort that just arrived in boxes at my house yesterday) the attention it needs to find any kind of an audience.  I’ll talk there about my evolution from book 1 to book 4 in problems like getting blurbs; thinking about hiring a publicist; producing other materials, even other media to accompany the book and so on.

That last sentence provokes a bit of background.  I’m on to my fourth book with the Newton tome.  I love my first three texts/children still.*  Each taught me important lessons ranging from the rich content I learned to write them to what reserves I had to create to survive the long slow process of each one.  None of them were huge — o.k. even small — successes in sales terms, though each received enough serious praise to keep me going (and more importantly, to keep publishers willing to pay me for each passing book on the hopes that prior performance was no predictor of future returns).  The real purpose of this series is to capture some of those lessons.

One last preliminary, the obvious one.  This series is an account of my personal experience.  I hope it will answer some questions, including some of those raised in the hallways in Raleigh back in January.  There are lots of ways to get books out of one’s head and into readers’ hands.  I’m not trying to provide a comprehensive view of all of them.  I will reach out to some of my bookish friends to see if they want to add their concurring or dissenting views, but the key fact to remember is that you should take whatever appears here as one subjective point fo view

*Ignore Death of a Star.  I’ve tried to correct Amazon on this before, but that title refers to a pamphlet spun off from a NOVA film about Supernova 1987a for which I wrote an NSF proposal.  I had nothing at all to do with the document listed here.

Image: Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Still-Life of Books, 1628.

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4 Comments on “What Happens When You Publish A Book: Newton and the Counterfeiter/Tom’s personal experience no. 0.0”


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