Ask your writing/ publishing questions

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

So this time next week I’ll be headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan for theFestival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College.

On Friday, April 16 I’ll be participating in a lunch forum from 12:45-1:45 withJason Boyett, author of the Pocket Guides and O Me of Little Faith. We’re calling it “Naked Non-Fiction: Confessional Writing and the Memoir.” I’m told that afterwards we will be signing books—which makes me a bit curious, seeing as mine hasn’t been printed yet.  I guess this means I’ll be signing Jason’s books….[insert mischievous laughter here.]

I’ve already heard from several readers who plan to attend the conference.Please contact me if you will be in the Grand Rapids area April 15-17, and maybe we can grab coffee or lunch one day.

In the spirit of the conference, I’ve finally gotten around to writing my “publishing story”—a bit like a “birth story” but without all the blood.  I’ve included several tips for those of you who are interested in writing a book yourself, and will keep a permanent link to the story on the “about me” page:

My Publishing Story

Ever since I was a little girl, I had a knack for writing. I knew from the moment I finished my first official reading at the Parkway Christian Academy third grade talent show—a selection from my inspirational piece, “A Helping Wing,” a story of avian solidarity in the face of Mrs. Robins’ nesting disaster—that I wanted to be a published author one day. (Tip #1: Elementary school teachers love stories about woodland creatures working together to achieve a common goal.)

I majored in English Literature in college, worked for several local newspapers after graduating, and slowly but surely built up enough of a freelance writing business to make a living working for myself. (Tip #2:  If you want to get paid peanuts to become a better writer, try journalism; it’s worth it.)  Every now and then I’d talk about my dream of writing a book about my experiences in Dayton, and one day my husband Dan said, “Why don’t you stop talking about it and just do it? I’ll support you 100 percent.” (Tip #3: Surround yourself with people like Dan.)

I piddled around with the book for a couple of years before I finally decided to put together a proposal. (Tip #4: For nonfiction, I recommend writing and pitching a proposal BEFORE completing the book. For fiction, you have to write the whole book first.) I bought a couple of books on how to write a non-fiction book proposal, followed those guidelines, and put one together. (Tip #5: Even for creative non-fiction, a proposal is helpful because it forces you to outline and summarize the book and to consider how your book fits into the market.)

Once I had a proposal, I met with an author acquaintance of mine, who liked it and recommended me to his agent. (Tip #6: You’ve got to be willing to take advantage of ANY connections you might have in order to break into this very competitive industry.) My friend's agent was not interested, but passed it on to his associate - Rachelle Gardner - who was interested. (Tip #8: Try to get an agent!!!  Mine got me a book deal within a few months, a higher advance than I expected, and a better-than-average royalty rate; plus, a lot of publishers won’t even look at a proposal or manuscript from a non-agented writer.

Rachelle pitched my proposal to several publishers, and after a few more painful rejections, I got a "yes" from Zondervan. (Tip #7: Rejections are a part of the process; get used to it.) I signed a contract with Zondervan in September of 2008 with a deadline to send in the first draft on April 1, 2009. (Tip #9: Send your stuff in on time; editors will love you for it.) I finished the first draft on deadline and then worked with my editor to polish it up.  Evolving in Monkey Town will be on shelves in July 2010. (Tip #10: Prepare for a long ride. The whole process takes years, not months.)

Be sure to check out my agent’s blog. It’s one of the best in the industry:

What about you? Are you a writer? If so, what are you working on? Do you have any questions about writing, the publishing process, or the book industry? (I'll try to stay on-hand to answer them this afternoon.)

And what sort of discussions questions should Jason and I consider using in the “Naked Nonfiction” forum?

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