The work of writing: Publishing process for a collection of essays

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The final book, on a shelf or in a hand, represents fractionally the what was put into it. Even before it gets bound, a cover is designed, and it goes to press, thousands more words have been written than appear in the final manuscript. The writer has expanded, whittled, tweaked, editing, excavated, and redrafted his or her manuscript enough to ensure the final draft is a close cousin of the first – a slimmer, more articulate cousin.

On top of this, there are hundreds, even thousands of words sent to and exchanged with the publisher and editors. I’m in the middle of this process at the moment and, when explaining it to a friend (who is in the wholly unrelated field of accounting), she mused “I thought your job was just the mansucript?”

For established writers, we know this is far from true, but for new or aspiring writers, perhaps they have a similar starry-eyed belief. The manuscript is certainly essential – you can’t publish without it – but for a working writer, the manuscript is also just the beginning. For anyone out there not familiar with all the other writing you will need to do, this post is here to tell you more.

Right now I am contributing to a collection of essays, and the process for this is slightly different than for a monograph (single-author work). I’ll take you through the process of this as a writer, but try to highlight what points are also relevant to a monograph.

  1. If you want to edit a collection of essays you would start with a proposal and finding a publisher. In my current case, it began with a call for contributions. Two colleagues sent out the pitch for an essay collection, which had already been accepted by the publishers. The call outlined the kind of essays they hoped to collect. This included word count and formatting as well as topic and theme. As they requested work from around twenty people, but were only including a dozen essays, they asked us to write a proposal first.
  2. The proposal. This is a stage writers go through for anything from contributions to monographs, to essay collections. Fiction and non-fiction alike, in addition to writing your essay/book/poetry you need to write a proposal. A good proposal should:
    • Include the title, word count and any technical information they ask for. This may include illustration information, or simply sticking to formatting requirements.
    • Summarise the argument or your work without going into too much detail. For longer books you can give examples, but with a short proposal I stuck to the core argument in one sentence.
    • Express why your writing is a valuable contribution to the existing work. Yours is not likely to be the first or only book/essay on the subject; rather you may have a new approach or new evidence. Think about this thoroughly: what about your work is new? Who does it appeal to? What other writing or research it like, but also what makes it unique?
    • Meet any other criteria the publisher asks for. Many ask for an author biography, indicating the other work you have done; others may ask for a one-sentence elevator pitch of your book, or an explanation of how you plan to promote your material. Carefully ensure your pitch answers their requirements.
    • Keep it short. How do you feel when you get a three-page email in the middle of a busy work day? Good proposals grab attention and then keep it short and simple. This will keep the publisher/editors interest.
  3. The Manuscript. If your proposal is accepted, you then move on to the editing phase. This begins when you send in your manuscript. For first-time writers, it’s wise to have the manuscript in a good state before you send in a proposal. In the case of this contribution, I had a vague outline of the essay I wanted to write, but chose to wait until my essay was accepted before I began to write it. This was possible because the editorial deadline was months after the proposal acceptance. For monographs, I advise that you have a rough draft containing two or three chapters thoroughly edited by the time to send in your proposal. This is because they may ask you for a sample chapter or two in the proposal or between the proposal and a formal decision. Once accepted, though, they expect a manuscript free from typos and clerical errors. I cannot stress this enough: put your best foot forward.
  4. Sign a contract. For a book this stage will likely come before edits, but for contributors it may come during the editing process. Always have someone look over your contract for you. I joined a writer’s Union here in the UK – Society of Authors – who offer this service free to members. Even if it’s a small contribution contract, it’s important to make sure someone takes a look at details that extend beyond the publication of the book – like reproduction rights, copyright, etc.
  5. Edits. Even if you are a best-selling author, you will have an editor to make sure your book comes across clearly and consistently. In the case of contributing to a book, the editor(s) also ensure that your chapter works well with the overall themes of the book and the other contributions. This may mean a lot of back and forth, and certainly means more writing work for you. If you have questions, though, don’t be afraid to ask. They want the book to be at its best.
  6. Finally, you will contribute to PR. You’ve written a pitch, an outline, a manuscript – which you have also rewritten – and there is even more writing ahead. Different publishers will have different levels of contribution for their authors with regard to the PR campaign. This makes it hard to know exactly what to expect, but it should be laid out in your contract. They may have you write or contribute to the back of book description, PR materials, and text for social media and print media campaigns. In addition, it’s wise to do some of your own PR. Mention your publication date on your blog or to your followers. If you choose to have a mailing list, write a few emails to lead up to the launch and one announcing the book launch and where to purchase it. Once it is published there may be even more to come, including anything from school visits to interviews!

Above I’ve offered a basic pathway to publication which I followed in contributing to a collection of essays. Depending on publishers there may be variations, but you can rely on five of these six stages existing in any publishing process: proposal, manuscript, contract, edits and PR.

I think it’s so important for new and emerging writers to be aware that in addition to the manuscript or essay, there is a lot of other writing involved. In addition to the text, you will spend a great deal of time “pitching” your material. Even though it can feel exhausting, or even repetitive, put the same passion into it that you did your manuscript. The real secret to getting something published is to believe in your work. Edit it ruthlessly, and promote it passionately and honestly – and do both because it’s a book you would love to read.

If you are new to the process and want to know more, or perhaps learn more about your writer’s union, do feel free to get in touch on my contact page. As always, happy reading!