Faculty members share advice to help you publish your book.
October 2012—“Publish or perish” is a phrase coined decades ago to sum up the need—and often the pressure—for academics to continuously get their work into print and advance their careers. For the Santa Fe University of Art and Design faculty members and alumni who write books, however, the desire to publish is fueled by a more powerful passion: a dedication to their art.
“The first step to writing a book is to be passionate about your topic,” says Terry Borst, a faculty member in the Moving Image Arts Department who has written trade books on new media story design and media pre-production. “Writing isn’t a gateway to fame and fortune,” adds Emily Rapp, a memoirist and a faculty member in the Creative Writing and Literature Department. “You need to enjoy doing it.”
Beyond the desire to follow one’s bliss, publishing a book has additional benefits. “It’s a tremendous calling card,” Borst says. “A book increases your credibility and visibility in your field and enhances your authority and expertise. Publishing a book also brings in new writing assignments, speaking engagements, and teaching opportunities. And, on rare occasions, you make money on royalties.”
For photojournalist Tony O’Brien, a faculty member in the Photography Department, having images that originally appeared in Life and The New York Times Magazine republished in books “is huge,” he says. The books become tangible manifestations of “very important aspects of my life.” Below, faculty members offer tips to help you navigate the world of publishing.
On their first books, Borst and O’Brien benefitted from collaborations with other creatives who were their co-authors. When Borst was co-authoring Story and Simulations for Serious Games: Tales from the Trenches (Focal Press, 2006), he and Nick Iuppa split the work. “Nick is a producer and I’m a screenwriter,” Borst says. “To assemble the book, we divvied up chapters and then shared our drafts for editing and revisions.”
Later, O’Brien travelled to Afghanistan with his brother-in-law Michael P. Sullivan to gather stories and photographs. Together, they published Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan (Bloomsbury, 2008). Consider collaboration as a means to help you define a book and—most importantly—complete it.
Find an Agent
While Rapp was earning her MFA, she shared the beginnings of her first book, Poster Child: A Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2007), with an instructor who introduced her to his agent. The agent, in turn, sent her essays to several publishers. Random House initially bought her memoir, but when Rapp’s editor got a job with Bloomsbury, Rapp andthe book went with her.
Helen Molanphy, a faculty member in the Liberal Arts Department, says finding an agent for her book Over P.J. Clarke’s Bar: Tales from New York City’s Famous Saloon (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012) was “Irish good luck.” During an Internet search, she found an editor in Ireland. After working with Molanphy on the manuscript, the editor shared it with an agent, who then found the publisher. “You can send out your manuscript yourself,” Molanphy says, “but you’ll have to send out a lot of letters, and you may receive a lot of rejections.”
“In this business, you have to understand that rejection is a part of it,” Rapp says. An agent can help, she stresses: “An agent acts as your mediator, representing you and your interests.” While Rapp was preparing to sell her second memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World (Penguin Press, 2013), she switched agents. “My first agent didn’t have the same vision,” she explains. “It was hard to make that change, but it worked out fine.” Rapp talked with 10 interested editors, was given offers by two Penguin imprints, and ultimately chose one.
Write a Proposal
Unlike fiction and creative nonfiction, trade book publishers “need to know if they can successfully market the book,” says Borst, who has also published Mastering Celtx (Course Technology PTR, 2011). “To get a green light and an advance, you have to assemble an extremely detailed outline for your book.”
The outline, or book proposal, usually includes a table of contents with chapter synopses, several completed chapters, and well-researched descriptions of the book’s audience, competition, markets, and strategies for marketing.
Be Prepared to Negotiate—and to Wait
Molanphy was initially asked to write 75,000 words, but she negotiated to write 35,000 words. Her first contract also stated that she would provide all of the images for her book—including resourcing, obtaining, and paying for the photos. Instead, her agent helped her change the contract so she would provide only the archival family photos she already had.
As for waiting for the right time to publish, O’Brien learned patience from his own project. During a year in a monastery, he created images for Life that drew attention from a number of agents and publishing companies. “But I didn’t feel right about any of them,” he says. “They had their own ideas about the direction. So I let it sit for a few years.”
When he was asked to contribute those images to the exhibition Contemplative Landscape at the New Mexico History Museum, the Museum of New Mexico Press offered to publish his work. In 2011, Light in the Desert: Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert was published. “If you have the passion and the book means something to you,” O’Brien says, “you’ll make it happen.”