Category Archives: Writing and Publishing

I just happen to be writing TEOH during a revolutionary period in the world of authoring and publishing. These posts will follow the process of writing and promoting this book in the new bibliosphere.

AWESOMEness

When I was thinking about pitching TEOH to publishers, I wrote a book proposal to summarize the book and its target audience.  I brainstormed some of the adjectives I would use to describe the book’s point of view.  The first three that came to mind were “Scientific, Agnostic, and Moderate.”  That gave the acronym SAM.  Pretty bland!  In an early draft of my proposal, I wrote,

The book champions a scientific, agnostic, existential, objective, moderate outlook.

Now I was up to the acronym SAEOM, which was unwieldy and didn’t make any sense.  With a little thought, I realized that I was anagramatically close to AWESOME.  I just needed a W word and another E word.  Then it clicked …

Agnostic + Worldly + Existential +  Scientific + Objective + Moderate + Educated =

awesome

In our world of hype, the AWESOME voice easily gets lost.  Religion is considered to be righteous, and the irreligious are still lumped in with communists and fringe extremists.  News programs love to interview guests at the far left and far right to get opposing strong opinions.  Political parties force politicians into dramatically polarized teams.  Conspiracy theorists, religious fundamentalists, and bitter cynics dominate every online forum.  Nationalism is still a matter of pride, and globalism is viewed with suspicion despite all its clear benefits.

Beliefs, biases, opinions, allegiances, and emotions all have their place.  Yet if your goal is to truly understand the world we live in, you must try to rise above these distractions.  You can’t take sides or get married to preconceived notions.  You have to be agnostic, worldly, existential, scientific, objective, moderate, and educated.

In a series of follow-up posts, I will delve into each of these words and further define what it means to be AWESOME!

 

As far as I can tell, the image credit belongs to Yoyo Games.  If you own rights to the image and wish to correct this attribution or remove it from this page, please let me know! 

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Write first, publish later

After writing two chapters of TEOH, I took time off to study the publishing world.  The standard advice for a non-fiction book is to (1) get an agent, (2) submit a book proposal, including two completed chapters, to editors at publishing houses.  That was my intended path for quite a long time.  Eventually, I came to feel that this isn’t the right choice for me.  I am going to write first, publish later.

What is the point of submitting a book proposal to publishers before the book is finished?  For most writers, it is to find out whether the book is worth finishing.  If the proposal does not attract publishing interest, the writer will drop the book and try another one.  I don’t need that kind of approval.  I am committed to writing TEOH whether anybody ever publishes it or not!  It’s a personal life goal for me.

For some authors, a publishing contract provides an advance on royalties — a sizeable up-front payment.  This can help pay for research and travel.  If an author has a good relationship with the publisher, his advance can even buy him six months to a year of free time to focus on the book!  That wouldn’t apply to me, though.  I’m a non-famous, first-time writer.  I’d be lucky to get a publishing deal, let alone an advance.  I would expect my advance to be a nice round number like zero dollars and zero cents.

Chasing down agents — and then publishers — would be hard work.  I have no illusion that publishing is easy.  Rather than spend my time researching agents, calling, emailing, and arranging meetings, I’d rather be building up the book and online presence.

In fact, if I did get a publishing contract, it would instantly create time pressure.  The publisher would probably expect to see a completed draft in a year.  Without an advance, I wouldn’t have the time to devote to that.  I don’t like being hurried!  I would also be handing over artistic control while the work is still in progress.  I’d rather have the luxury of finishing the book on my own time and my own terms.  Then I can pitch it to publishers, with a completed manuscript on hand — and of course explore self-publishing options too.

With that decision made, it was very exciting to finally get back to writing.  “Chapter 9:  The Last Few Billion Years” is now in progress!  Here is my working outline of sections:

  • Oxygen and Eukaryotes (done)
  • Sexual Reproduction, or “The unsexiest lesson about sex that you’ve ever seen.” (in progress)
  • How Sexual Evolution Works
  • From Amoeba to Amphibians
  • Continents and Climate

I liked writing the first and last chapters first.  I’m thinking that I’d like to continue that pattern, writing from the outside in.  That means “Chapter 2:  The Last Few Centuries” would follow Chapter 9.

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Chapter 10 is now a real “chapter”

I posted chapters 10 and 1 early this year, and then took time off to study the publishing world.  I learned very quickly that my chapters were far too long.  The appropriate length for a large book is about 100,000 words, meaning that each chapter of this book should be around 10,000, say 8,000 – 12,000 words.  In my first draft, Chapter 10 was 20,000 words long.  Chapter 1, at 60,000 words, was almost long enough to be its own book!  At first, I toyed with the idea of pitching the print version of the book as a five-volume set.  I only had to contact two or three publishers to learn that they had no interest in such a project.  I understood that I’d have to condense each completed chapter to about 12,000 words or less.  Certainly the first and last will be two of the longest chapters in the completed book.

I am happy to announce that the 2nd draft of Chapter 10 is now finished and posted online.  It is now down to just under 12,000 words.  It’s been several months.  Writing has been unusually slow this year.  As I mentioned, I took off the first half of the year to study the writing / publishing industry and to set up this website.  Then my life was completely dominated by a move through the summer and fall.

It was a very interesting project to rewrite and shorten this material.  Cutting Chapter 10 in half forced me to be more broad and sparing in detail.  I felt it become less like a dissertation and more like a popular science book.  That has its pros and cons.  As a consumer item and a pitch to publishers, it will have to be easily readable.  Even as an educational tool, it is best to keep it simple.  As a lifelong goal, though, I would like TEOH to be a serious research project with original insights and thorough arguments (I consider it my honorary PhD dissertation at the School of Life).  For economy of words, I am being forced to reduce much of my analysis to surface conclusions.  I think that the hybrid solution is to continue with the single-volume version, and then eventually expand each chapter into its own short book.

The next step, then, is reducing Chapter 1 to legitimate chapter-size. This will be a hell of a challenge.  I need to slash that chapter down to 20% of its current size.  I will try to finish that this year.  Then I’ll be able to start early 2015 exactly where I should have been in early 2014!

 

 

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My first rejection letter!

rejection_image_typewriterI’m really beginning to feel like a professional now.  Not only have I begun to send out query letters to publishers, but I have even received my first response!  Surprise, surprise, it was a “polite decline.”  I won’t get in the habit of posting all of my rejection letters, but the first one has sentimental value.  This particular letter was, graciously, very cordial and constructive.  The editor wrote,

Dear Scot Fagerland, Thank you for your inquiry to our website regarding your work-in-progress, The Evolution of Human

While I share your sense of the need to think deep and incorporate an evolutionary perspective, my acquisitions responsibilities at Hot Button Press have shifted to a focus on environmental science and I am not able to consider new opportunities in evolutionary anthropology, etc. I encourage you to approach other publishers with your ambitious project but would also advise that you propose a single-volume synthesis, as I don’t expect many publishers would warm up to the idea of a multi-volume set.  I appreciate your interest in Hot Button Press.

Sincerely,

J. Edgar Anonymous
Senior Sponsoring Editor

Hot Button Press

A few thoughts:

The letter addressed one of my most important concerns, which is my volume of material.  The two chapters that I’ve written already are big enough for a book.  While I will probably keep all of my material here on the website, I have been wondering if I should try to rewrite each chapter 4 – 5 times more concisely so I can pack it all into one print book.  Apparently I should.  Wow, that will be some challenge.  If you thought that writing a world history was difficult, try doing it in 100,000 words or less!  Brahms had something similar to say about composing music:

It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is leaving the superfluous notes under the table.

This letter also brought home to me the real-world, pragmatic character of publishing.  We non-famous people tend to envision the whole world of publicity as a magic kingdom.  Just write something decent, take it to the pearly gates, and it will be exalted to the heavens.  But you know what, the publishing industry is nothing more than individual agents and editors with specific jobs.  One editor might have his hands full with books about apples.  Submit to him a book about oranges, and he just won’t care.  That’s not his job!  As a lawyer, I have to understand that.  My practice area is pretty narrow.  When people call me with questions about custody battles or wrongful termination, I generally advise them to try someone else.  Getting published isn’t just about writing something that your mom would be proud of.  It’s about getting lucky and finding an editor or agent who is actually looking for what you’re writing, when you’re writing it.  Don’t look for someone to do the job for you.  Do his job for him.

It is a tantalizing fantasy to write a “Why Not?” response to a rejection letter.  When I read this one, I thought, “Oh yeah?  I looked you up on GoodReads, and your last three books were about evolutionary anthropology!”  Needless to say, that approach will get me nowhere fast.  I have to take each rejection at face value, learn from it what I can, and make the next query all the more appropriate and focused.

rejection-letter_snoopy2

Finally, in my studies of the publishing industry, I have discovered that there is a whole small but inspirational niche of Rejection Letter literature.  All artists have been rejected at some time or another.  We love to read those rejections and laugh at how foolish the agencies were.  “See, they’re wrong!”  Apparently, we all like to be reminded that value is subjective.  It helps us feel a connection with our favorite artists.  We begin to believe that rejections like this one are just a necessary first step in our great career:

rejection_madonna

 

 

 

 

 

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The Paradox of Self-Publication

After writing a couple chapters of TEOH, I am using early 2014 to set up this website and study the world of publishers, promotion, and self-publication.  Chapter 1 of my book discusses the fast-changing pace of lifestyle and technology in the 21st century.  I have found that the publishing world is caught up in sea changes too.  I started writing TEOH in 2009.  The blogosphere was already well-established but still fairly new and growing quickly.  It also happened to be right at the beginning of the e-book revolution.  The Kindle was launched in 2007, the Nook in 2009 and the iPad in 2010.  The growth of E-book sales has been so dramatic in this decade that some experts are wondering which quarter it will be now when e-book sales overtake the market share of print books.  What does all this mean for a small-time writer?

lost_in_crowdThe obvious advantage to 21st-century authorship is that I am now able to post a blog like this and instantly put my work online for worldwide access.  The disadvantage is that every aspiring writer in the world has the same opportunity!  The result is a flood of drivel.  Lost in the sea of self-published content, I am still just as invisible as ever.  A Google search will bury my blog behind 10 or 100 pages of results, many of which are on completely unrelated subjects.  I’ve heard it said that public attention is becoming the world’s scarcest resource.  This is the paradox of self-publication.  Where this leaves us is that big publishers are still necessary gatekeepers.  Those publishers may be becoming more and more electronic and online, but they are still the few visible channels in this hyper-competitive market.

The transformation to self-publishing parallels the music industry.  Everyone under the sun is able to post their songs and videos online.  I recently heard of the site Forgotify.  It is a gathering place for the 4,000,000 songs uploaded to to Spotify that have never been played once!  The web is becoming a junk drawer for creative projects.

E-book sales are largely driven by commercial fiction anyway.  A non-fiction book like TEOH, especially with numerous references and pictures, is not the kind of work that drives e-book sales.  I’m sure that someday I will consider a conversion to formal e-book standards and a listing with Amazon or Apple.  But, as a published work, TEOH is a better candidate for print.  Meanwhile, of course, I will always have my own online presence here.

From what I’ve read so far, the conventional wisdom is that it takes a few months to attract any attention at all online, and a good year or two to get decent viewership numbers.  That’s a year or two of dedicated web management.  It doesn’t happen by itself.  Pundits recommend having an online presence for at least a year before approaching publishers.  You have to prove that you have the potential to sell well.  That presents a nice chicken-and-egg dilemma, doesn’t it?  You have to be published to get attention from readers, but you have to establish viewership before publishers will do business with you!  It seems hopeless without saving up and marketing out of my own pocket.

With this in mind, I’m glad that I was already dedicated to TEOH as a lifetime project for my own edification and enjoyment!  If I were counting on income or public recognition, I would have given up long ago.  Publication is a possibility worth pursuing, though.  It would add a whole new dimension to this book.  I’ve seen plenty of published books that had very little to say.  If they can do it, so can I!

I’ll use this page of my blog to comment on the world of publishing and my progress toward that goal.  I already have a little secret, a networking lead to a successful author in my field.  Stay tuned!  😛

 

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