Writing Books/Sticky Situation - Sample Chapter
Hi there Liz! I have done a very silly thing. I've been toying with an idea for a collectibles reference guide on vintage Xmas ornaments. Its been on my mind for more than a year, and 3 days ago, I threw caution to the wind, and decided to test the waters. I don't know what possessed me to fire off that email to the publisher. I suppose it may have been the open invitation on the website, calling for new authors with fresh ideas. Or, my decision may have been affected by their lack of query requirements. All they wanted was a brief description of the idea, some sample pictures, and my opinion on marketing and sales. No problem! The email was finished in under 10 minutes.
I explained that my book was different because there's no competition. My book would be the first to cover this particular collectibles subset. The market for vintage ornaments is on fire, and prices are doubling every 2 years. But the lack of good reference material is opening the door for myths and over generalizations regarding history, design, age, etc. As a seasoned collector, it is breaking my heart! This is what I told them.
In all honesty, I was expecting to wait a month or more for a response, if one came at all. I'd have ample time to start writing some text. But, oh boy, was I wrong! There was an email from the publisher waiting for me less than 24 hours later. It was short and sweet and simply said, "I would be pleased if you could send me a sample chapter, and a table of contents." He also threw in something about me not covering enough ornament manufacturers. I thought to myself, "He obviously doesn't know the field because I listed all there were at the time." Why was I busying my mind with that silly thought?! I was totally unprepared. I had an idea for the book, but certainly hadn't considered the TOC. And a sample chapter, are you kidding me?
Oh yeah, let's not forget the part where I reply to his email, thanking him for the quick response. Which would've been fine had I just stopped there. But, oh no, I went on to tell him that I understood his concern over the small number of manufacturers, and explained that there just weren't that many. (Wait a minute...did I just correct him? Oh, geez.) I offered some other options for includes that would lengthen the book, and told him that I could, without a doubt, make it work. Again, I should've turned on my mental filter, and ended it there. But instead, I went on to ask that he give me a week or so to forward the TOC and sample chapter. I confessed that I had been putting most of my time into research and formulating current market values, and had neglected to write much text. Stupid, stupid girl! So basically, I may have just insulted him by telling him that he didn't know anything about my proposed subject, and told him I pitched a proposal for a book that I hadn't begun writing.
Going with the assumption that my next email won't immediately meet the trash can, I've started working on what he requested. I don't know if you have ever flipped through a collectibles book, but typically, each section will have a page or two of text. The remaining pages are filled with reference pictures, with relevant information appearing under each photo. He obviously needs to see how I write, and I chose the ornament style that had the most history, thus more text, for my sample chapter. But at best, the finished chapter text will only be a page and a half, double spaced. Do I include pictures? I assume he will want to see what I'm writing about. How many photos? I don't have a picture of each ornament I plan to include because, well, I don't have the ornaments yet. Do I add place holders for those photos and just include the details under them? How many pages do I need to come back with? I've heard 20 to 30, but that's a lot of pictures.
On the upside, I did work out the TOC. I'm sure he'll be happy with the organization. It solves his worries regarding the lack of manufacturers by categorizing the ornaments according to style instead of by company, and it will also be easier for the reader to do quick references. That part was actually easy.
Another worry I have is what I'm going to say if he asks me for any type of biographical information. I do have 8 years of collecting and intense research under my belt, but this is just a hobby. I'm a grad student and an office manager. I'm only 27 and have run into many situations where I'm not taken seriously in this industry because of my age. My writing resume is light as well. I've only been published once before. I had 3 poems run in book. I was paid, and it is experience, but it hardly relates to this field.
Please, help this desperate, lost, impulsive girl! I appreciate any advice on addressing the biography issues, but my main concern is the sample chapter.
All My Best,
Well, you have put yourself out on the proverbial limb but life isn't any good if you always play it safe. As it happens, I have written a price guide on antique quilts. You obviously know the genre, format and did the research to find out there isn't one on Christmas ornaments. Don't worry about your writing history being light. If the editor asked for a sample chapter he's very, very interested already. He's just looking for confirmation that you are professional (read that as easy to work with) and know your topic. So . . .
1. Stop with the panic already and just get to work! You know exactly what to do, I'm just going to confirm it. Can you do it? Definitely! Nothing like a closely looming deadline to get the adrenaline flowing and the work done.
2. Most definitely send a price chapter. Yes, that will mean only two or even less pages of text. If you don't have all the pictures you need for that chapter, list what you'll go out and find to photograph and get price stats.
3. Were you going to include some general information chapters? Such as: Best places to buy, Finding a dependable dealer, How to buy at an auction, The history of ornaments, The state of the market today? You almost have to for these type of books. Pick the one you feel most comfortable, most knowledgeable about that will require the least research and write that one, too. I know you were only asked for one sample chapter but two won't hurt and the editor gets a chance to see how you do with the two different styles of chapters included in these books.
4. DON'T' SENT ANYTHING ORIGINAL! Only send copies of your pictures, copies of your chapters. You never know when the post office is going to burp and lose your material.
I hope this helps. Go for it! You are now in a position that about 50,000 other writers wish they were in.
Please let me know how you make out!
Liz Aleshire (as Liz Greenbacker) with Kathleen Barach
House of Collectibles Guide to Antique Quilts, 2nd ed.