Trying to break into publishing can be daunting, to say the least. For me, it was something akin to scaling the wall of a fortified castle, surrounded by a mote filled with hungry crocodiles.
I tried to break in as a fiction writer for years, first with a young-adult novel, then with a suspense-thriller. Both were well-written and polished. Both received good reviews from published authors. And both had received wonderful, glowing rejection letters, complete with encouraging notes from editors.
“This is great writing. Sorry, it’s not for us.”
“We love this, but we’re stocked up on YA material for the next three years.”
“The entire publishing committee wants to encourage you to keep writing. We feel you have what it takes.”
The first few times you get notes such as these, it is indeed encouraging.
After you get about 30, you begin to wish someone would say, “Hey, pal, don’t quit your day job.”
By May of 2000, I’d been trying to scale the wall of Castle Publishing for six years and had little to show for my effort aside from a stack of rejections and a seriously-bruised ego. For all intents and purposes, I had given up on the idea of ever breaking through and winning that coveted publishing contract. This was especially disappointing, as I had recently resigned my position as a pastor in order to devote my time and attention to prison ministry.
I’d hoped to have a publishing contract in hand by that time because I planned to support my prison outreach by royalties from my books. (Yes, I know that was a pipe-dream, but that story is for another post.)
Now that I was officially unemployed, I had to turn my attention to generating some sort of income. My brother-in-law, who teaches computer languages, offered to help by asking me to develop a course in HTML (the language in which Web pages are written). He told me that if I developed the course, he could hire me to teach it. The idea sounded good to me, so I started to research HTML.
During my research I discovered two things. One, HTML was very easy to learn. And, two, most of the books out there were much harder to understand than they needed to be. They were written by “techies” who could communicate well to like-minded people. However, for readers who didn’t grasp the technical aspects of web authoring, these books might as well have been written in Chinese. The more I considered it, the more I saw a need for a book on web authoring written in easy-to-understand language.
I looked at the class outline that I’d just developed, and it looked remarkably like a book outline. I knew that it wouldn’t take much work to further craft it into a book proposal. Over the next few days I wrote a query letter for a book on HTML written “for non-techies by a non-techie.” I sent the letter out to thirteen computer-book publishers.
Out of the thirteen, I received two positive responses.
One was from Osborne/McGraw-Hill.
They liked the idea and asked if I would modify the book to fit a series called “How to Do Everything With…”
I agreed, and within a few months I had my first book contract.
I never intended to be a computer-book author. That wasn’t even on my radar. My plans were to be a novelist. But when I allowed myself to think out of the box and consider a different type of writing, the walls of Castle Publishing came crashing down.
If you’re frustrated with trying to break in to publishing, in what ways could you think “out of the box”?