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.