Tips for Writing/Publishing a Book

I’ve got a good idea for a chess book, and I’ve already started writing it. I did some Google searches for book publishing, but all I got was “pay for us to help you” schemes. One company was at least willing to help me get it published first, on the condition that I pay $600 dollars later!

Anyone here published before? I’m going to Barnes&Noble later to check out the publishing lables on some chess books, maybe that will help me get in contact with the right people.

Any general tips? A friend of mine, a ways older than me, told me, “I’ve heard many people talk about writing a book, but very very few actually got it done.” Would you say this is because it’s a hard process with the publishing company or because people don’t just get it done?

Thanks in advance for any help!

Very few get it done because it’s such a long process. There are people who have good ideas about a book and stop there. There are people who have a good idea and start writing and stop there. There are people who have a good idea and start writing and stop writing and start editing and stop there.

You get the picture.

There are a few ways to go. You probably don’t want to go with a “pay us to help you get it published” thing.

A friend of mine wrote a book in college. He wrote it over the course of a year or so, distributed it to a few friends who helped him edit it, and kept seeking out a publisher. He never found one.

But he didn’t stop there. He offered me a bit of money to lay it out for him, which I did. He contacted printers to find out how much it would cost to publish it himself. He ended up going that route, and had maybe 1,000 copies printed. You can’t walk into any Barnes and Noble and find it, but it is on Amazon and I think in some local bookstores.

It’s not impossible, just a long process with many, many possible “Eh, just forget it” moments.

I am in the editing phase with my fourteenth book. It is my third with Allen & Unwin, the most respected publisher in Australia. It’s been a long haul with plenty of tears on the way - but I wouldn’t do anything else.

The entire secret to getting published is perseverence. Many people start books. A few get the first draft done. Most that do give up after a few rejection slips.

You have three choices: vanity publishing (which the vanity publishers will say their own version isn’t). That is when you pay part or all of the publication costs, but they are the publisher. I would recommend against. They are in a win-win, which leaves you the loser. Unless you are self-publishing, you should not pay any money for the publication phase.

Self-publishing - which is dismissed by many snobby writers and shouldn’t be. If you are writing for a market which you can get access to, or are well known in, then self-publishing can be a very profitable way to go. Chess may be just such a topic. Others on this board will know more about that than me.

If you want to publish through a regular publisher, then you are doing exactly the right thing going to a bookshop to see what publishers publish the sort of book you want to write. Be very careful listening to the advice of amateur writers and writing groups. They talk fiction, short stories and poetry, and you are writing non-fiction. It is a very different game.

I have had ten books published for education as well as a novel and three popular science for trade (that is the name for books to be sold in a normal bookshop for a mass audience). For fiction, they will want to see the whole manuscript for a new writer. For non-fiction, they usually want a proposal and then the publisher will set word length and other criteria to fit the book format. If you are going to include a lot of photos or diagrams, that is a very different book to straight text and adds to publication costs, so that is discussed with the publisher during the proposal phase.

Most publishers have submission guidelines. Don’t hesitate to ring and politely ask for them - or check the website. If you are going to ring, be ready to describe what you are thinking of writing in two sentences. If they ask, you want to be able to answer succinctly and confidently. You may just be put through to a non-fiction editor. That never happens for fiction!

I am writing my second novel and fourth popular science book at the moment. I am also self-publishing online education units for gifted kids, although all my education books have all gone through education publishers before. You probably won’t be buying a mansion with your royalties (it is the rare writer who eats well on royalties), but actually completing a book and seeing it published gives a huge sense of achievement.

It is perseverence, not being able to write the flowery stuff which gets high marks at school, which will get you to the finish post. Good luck!


I would just add that if you are planning on trying to find a real publisher, finish the book first. Unless you already have a few published books/articles and an agent under your belt, or are some kind of star in your field, few publishers are going to give you a deal on spec.

Get a copy of Writer’s Market. This has listings of virtually all publishers and many agents.

Writing a non-fiction book for a niche market is a considerably easier sale than fiction for a general audience (not to say its an easy sale). Get in touch with some of the publishers that are active in your niche and have put out books similar to yours. Some of these publishers take unagented submissions.

I personally think it’d be easier for a new author to go the agent route instead of trying to figure out which publishers accept unagented submissions. There are a few benefits to this. First, even publishers who will accept proposals (for non-fiction) directly from the author will have huge slushpiles. Publishing is a “hurry up and wait” business, but having your proposal sitting in a slushpile will take months and months of your life away.

First, find out the proper way to create a proposal for a non-fiction book. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m pretty sure you need to include your “platform” and credentials. Then I would get a Writer’s Market, or go to something like and begin researching agents who will represent non-fiction books. You’ll also have to research if they’re scammers (some are. Remember the money always flows towards the author, and also, agents take their cut after a book is sold). You’ll also have to research what other books they represent, what other sales they’ve had, and if they’re currently accepting queries/proposals. Most agent websites will have submission guidelines, informing you exactly what they want and how they want it. Follow them to the letter. After many queries, you might find an agent who wants to represent you and your book. The agent will deal with the publisher on your behalf and take a percentage of the advance/royalties later (15% is standard, I think).

As for people who start books and just don’t get it done–I’d say because writing a book is a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. You need to be pretty self-motivated and self-disciplined, and most people aren’t. It’s easy to find excuses not to work. And there’s a lot more to writing book than the writing part, anyway. Drafting, editing, researching…when you finally have an acceptable manuscript, you go through the long, hard slog of finding an agent or publisher. Along the way, you’ll pick up rejections, some more crushing than others. Then you finally find a home for your book, and the editing process begins. And it feels like it never freaking ends, and lines and scenes and characters you love may simply be taken out. Your title and cover are all subject to the whims of whoever decides those things. Your release date and get pushed back, and a book you wrote in 2008 might not hit the stores until 2010 or later. After you go through all that insanity, and your book is finally released, you’ll weather reviews from “I love it” to “I never finished it because of its flaws.”

Why anybody does this at all is beyond me.

I’m in agreement with what’s been said, but I’ll add one thing. Getting an agent is difficult in itself and requires perseverence. I do not want to discourage anyone, but I should warn you about the terrible truth about publishing. It is simply this. A huge share of the authors who get published have friends or relatives in the publishing industry, and they use their ties with those people to help get their first contract. Upon hearing this, it may sound bad if you don’t have any such friends or relatives. However, if you think it through carefully, you may realize that you do actually know somebody with some connection. Get in touch with them, and ask them if they can connect you with someone who can help you.

Dover Publications has a fair number of books on chess, FWIW. Writer’s Digest says they “welcome new writers,” too.

Cite? A huge share? Really? I’m going to call bullshit on this. I actually do know a number of authors, and this isn’t true for any of them. And the authors I know I met after I made my sales, so it’s not like I had anybody on the inside helping me either. I know there are other published people on the board—I would be really shocked if any of them report that this is a correct assessment of the publishing industry. The fact is, every day new authors find agents, new authors get publishing deals, new authors sign contracts, and new authors have their books sold. And no editor or agent will ever ask you if you “know a guy.”

Do you want to know the real Terrible Truth About Publishing? Most people who try simply aren’t good enough. I’d say 7 out of 10. Of the remaining 30% who might be good enough, probably only one of them will have the combination of the drive, perseverance, talent, hard work, and sprinkle of luck one needs to succeed in the industry. And that’s depending on how you define “succeed.” Getting the book published and out in the world is an entirely different goal than making a living out of writing books, for example.

Forget about “knowing somebody.” Write a good book people want to read. Query agents–10, 50, 100. However many it takes. Send them a professional, concise, engaging proposal. Work hard and write well.

I have to disagree on the agent thing. It’s just as hard to find a good agent as it is to find a good publisher. I have 20 books out, with two more in the works, and I’ve never had an agent.

The process varies significantly depending on what kind of book you’re writing. With the chess book, you may not have to write the whole thing before contacting a publisher, but you’ll have to have several chapters done, along with a detailed outline. You’ll also need a brief sales pitch explaining what makes your book better than (or different from) similar books that are already in print.

My first two books were self-published. That is a lot of work. You have to do all of the layout, indexing, illustrations, and cover design. You need to register with Bowker and get an ISBN assigned, and then get it turned into a barcode to put on the cover (a Library of Congress number is optional, but it’s a good idea). Then you hire a proofreader and a professional editor (I don’t care who you are - you need one). You’ll have to find a print shop, select paper stock and cover stock, work with a cut size they can do, shell out the money to print a pile of books, find a place to store them, and do the promotion. You’ll have to take orders and pack & ship books. I don’t plan to do that again, although I really enjoyed the upside: your cut is much bigger. My first tech book cost me around $7.00 per copy to print and sold for $24.95. I had to come up with $10,000 up front for the initial print run, but made a reasonable profit from it.

The problem with print-on-demand vanity presses like iUniverse and PublishAmerica is that (for the most part) bookstores don’t want to stock them. I know this. I own a bookstore. The PoD books are significantly higher-priced, bookstores get a lower profit margin, they’re usually non-returnable, and they’re often printed with cheap cover stock that starts to curl after a few months on the shelves. One local woman did a neat kids’ book with PublishAmerica. It’s the same size and same number of pages as my kids’ books. If you go to the country’s biggest wholesale book distributor (Ingram), my books are $9.95 with a 40% discount to the bookstore, and if a store orders too many, they can return the extras. Hers are $19.95 with a 5% discount and non-returnable.

I don’t know the chess world, but don’t overlook trade associations as publishers. One of my books was published by a trade association press, and it worked very well for me.

With traditional publishers, just be polite, be persistent, and don’t get discouraged. With 20 books out, my proposals are still rejected about 2/3 of the time. My last tech book was rejected by two publishers before I found someone to take it.

Absolutely go out and find out what publishers have put out chess books. But check their Web site before sending in a proposal. I got a scathing rejection from one publishing house, and then discovered that every author listed on their Web site has the same last name, which happened to also be the last name of the publisher. sigh

This is absolutely, unequivocally false. You must have gotten this information from some disgruntled would-be author who got rejected. I am an author, and since I own a bookstore, I’ve met many authors over the years. The vast, overwhelming majority got started the same way I did: write, submit, persevere.

Sing it, sister. I’ve seen a lot of self-published and vanity-press books by people who simply aren’t good enough, too. Lots of bookstores won’t even talk to authors who use vanity presses for that reason.

Incorrect. In fact, I got this information from an agent, and have had it confirmed by several others.

So a bunch of agents who make a living off of convincing people that you can’t get published without an agent told you this? They’ll be your “friend” that gets you in the door, and get their 15% for doing it. These are your unbiased cites? I don’t believe a word of it.

There are over 70,000 books published each year. Smaller publishing houses, especially, are struggling to find good stuff. If they receive a good book with a well-written proposal, they are NOT going to chuck it out because it doesn’t come from an agent’s friend or family member. If they get a bad book from the publisher’s sister-in-law, they are NOT going to print it. They’re in business to make money, and printing bad books doesn’t make money.

Sure, knowing people helps to get a book published. But most authors don’t get published because the publishers are “friends or family members.” They get published because they write. They submit proposals. They go to conferences and workshops. They cold-call. They buy a copy of Writer’s Market and use it to make contacts.

The first publisher I signed a book deal with was someone I knew. You want to know how I knew him? Because he also had a magazine and I’d written two dozen feature articles for him.

Well, of course an agent is going to tell you that you need a connection to get published. He is trying to sell you a connection: his.

Like the others who have replied to this comment who are actually published, I disagree totally. And I find it offensive. In fact, I would suggest the reverse. If a commissioning editor is approached by someone they know about a friend or relative who has this ‘great book they should look at’ then they are more likely to run a mile.

Approaching through a friend or relative is unproffesional. Whoever gave you that advice is amateurish - no matter what credentials they claim.

I have 14 books published - none were helped by anyone I knew. All were through the process known as hard work. Perseverence. I don’t have an agent.

The book I used to write my proposals is A Decent Proposal

I stuck to their format heading for heading. From what I have read, it will work just as well for America. At the price, it’s worth its weight in gold.

I am very evangelical about self-publishing. This is not the same as ‘vanity’ publishing. My advice would be: produce the book yourself, set up a website from which to sell it, and sell it. You’ll learn more, you’ll make more money, and you’ll have more fun.

However, since nobody ever follows this advice, there’s not much point in my either extolling its virtues or providing any guidance.

I’d say this para just shows that you can make anything sound like hell if you want to! Seems rather burdened down by negativity to me. Yes, self-publhsing involves some work and some effort, but so what? That’s not a bad thing. It’s still better than trying to deal with the publishing industry. Using an off-the-shelf cheap DTP pacakge, you can lay out a book in less than a wekk. Cover design? Less than a day. You don’t need to get an ISBN (because you won’t be selling via the retail book trade). You don’t need a proofreader or a professional editor (I’ve never used either). Ask the printer what size pages they’re happy working with, pick one, end of problem. Storage? Ask the printer to store whatever you can’t handle immediately. Taking orders? Automated via website. Sending out books? Delegation is the answer. Add one dollar to the price, pay someone one dollar to send out each book for you.

Who am I to give this advice? I have self-published my own work for ten years. If I want to, I can earn enough money just from self-publishing to enjoy a very nice, comfortable lifestyle with no debts and lots of the finest things life has to offer.

I won’t bother chiming in too much on ITR Champions comment about relatives in the industry, other than to agree it is totally, ridiculously, absurdly, wrong. Publishing is a business, and writing is a difficult skill, so no publisher could stay in business if they only published their friends. (Some small press magazines that pay in copies do have an “old friends” network, since sales don’t matter, but nothing that is run as a business instead of a hobby).

Have any of these “agents” ever actually sold a book to a commercial publishing house (i.e., one that pays money to its authors)? I seriously doubt it.

Care to list which authors have broken in solely due to “knowing someone” (and I don’t mean being taken on by an agent)?

The fact is the reason why most authors don’t publish is because their work isn’t good enough. Pepperlandgirl estimates than only 3 in 10 authors are good enough to be published. She overestimates. Most editors will tell you that 9 out of ten manuscripts/proposals are not good enough to be published. And of that 10% only half will get published.

For a nonfiction idea like a book on chess, you don’t necessarily have to write the book first. You write a proposal and outline, and send writing samples.

But you must hew to Yog’s Law: “Money flows towards the writer.”
This leads to Yog’s Corollary: “The only place where a writer signs a check is on the back.” (To endorse it.)

And, finally, there’s Rothman’s Rule: “Never, under any circumstances whatsoever, pay money to an agent.”

Really? Which one? A real agent like Kristin Nelson, Janet Reid, Nathan Bransford, Donald Maass, Jennifer Jackson, Jane Dystel, or Kim Lionetti? Or scam agents like Bouncin’ Bobby Fletcher? Cris Robins? Barbara Bauer?

Without breaking a sweat, I could name 20 people who have landed an agent or a publishing deal without knowing anyone in the industry. I’ll start with myself.

Your “fact” is completely and irrevocably false. I’ve never seen a real agent say you have to know someone to get published. I have, however, seen a whole lot of scammers and clueless wannabe agents and publishers try that “you have to know someone” spiel.


As for the OP: you’re on the right track by going to a bookstore* and looking for publishers who publish the kinds of books you want to write. Look on their websites, find their submission guidelines, and follow them. You might also look for a book on how to create a nonfiction proposal. I don’t do nonfiction, so I haven’t a clue what you need to do for that.

A good, general book for writers is Jenna Glatzer’s The Street-Smart Writer. She give advice on the kinds of things to look for in contracts, how to avoid scammers, bad contests, etc.

*Make sure it’s a physical bookstore, not online. Everything with an ISBN can be listed on the online bookstores including vanity published books.

Yeah, that came off more negative than I intended. For some people, the marketing and fulfillment are lots of fun. I’ll agree with you that you can delegate a lot: I actually payed a fulfillment house to store, pack, and ship books so I wouldn’t have to do it myself. I will take issue with a few of your comments, though:

Layout/DTP/Cover: This largely depends on what you’re writing. The last time I did my own layout was when I wrote a book for a big publisher. They subcontracted the layout on my book back to me for $5,000. It took me over two weeks to do the design and layout (400+ pages), and another 60-hour week to do the index. A lot of the layout time was dealing with tables and charts. If, on the other hand, you wrote a novel with no tables, charts, index, illustrations, and so forth, layout time would be a day or two. The same applies to the cover. I’ve done covers in a few hours, and others have taken a week dealing with a professional artist.

ISBN: An ISBN is your ticket into every wholesale and retail outlet in the trade, from Amazon to your corner bookstore. If you have a professional-looking cover with an ISBN and barcode, and you give your self-publishing operation a name, your book looks just like books from the big guys. Without an ISBN/barcode, it looks like an amateur garage-shop product.

Editor/Proofreader: You must be the greatest writer on the planet, because I’ve never encountered anyone else that can produce perfect prose. Even the best in the business make mistakes. When a book hasn’t been properly edited and proofed, it shows.

Bingo. This is the answer to the OP’s question and the response to the you-have-to-know-somebody controversy. Of course you have to know somebody! You have to know the editors, writers, magazine owners, workshop leaders and publishers with whom you’ve been writing, editing, hobnobbing and carousing for the last ten years. They have to like the work they’ve already seen from you, and they’ll be willing to have a serious look when you produce a book, or a part of a book.

It’s tough (though not impossible) to come absolutely out of nowhere with a book and get it published. It’s a lot easier if you can say you’ve written a dozen articles on chess for the leading chess magazines, and you’ve done some editing work for X, the editor in chief of ABC. But most people don’t want to go that route. They all just want to write the book and then see it in print, immediately. How do I go about that? Is there someone in particular I should contact? Do you think I’ll need to send it out often? Geez.

Agreed totally. If you are going to approach a commercial publisher then you need the portfolio. Write for anyone who will publish you - chess magazines are a great place to start, if you haven’t already done so. I started with articles in education journals, then ten books for the education market before I broke into the mass market with a novel. The novel told publishers I could write narrative, the education books and articles that I could write accurate science - together they gave me the chance to write narrative science for our major publisher. That is what I want to write most of all. They are also interested in another novel as well as my next natural history book. It was a long hard haul with lots of rejection slips, but I am really glad to have done it.