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Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in My Crazy Freelance Life, Writing | 8 comments

From Blogger to Book Author: How do you do that?

This is all so new to me!

I honestly have no idea. Not yet anyway.

I’ve been working on a series of natural history and science essays with the intent of having them published as a book. Several were conceived and drafted during a one-on-one writing mentorship program I took at The Humber School for Writers with the talented Isabel Huggan.

Most have been read and critiqued more than once by my capable and discerning writing group—ten writers with more than fifteen published books among them. They take writing seriously and do not let me get away with fluffy sentences, vague connections, or impenetrable jargon.   I am particularly encouraged by the fact that while most of them are novelists, they usually start their critiques with:

“I never read non-fiction, but what you have written is fascinating…”


There is so much to learn! (CDC)

In any case, while the essay collection is still in process (in which it has become clear that the collection is really two separate books, neither complete), I am ready to take the next step and figure out how to get this book published. On that topic, I confess to knowing next to nothing.

What I do know could be counted on one hand of a 4-toed hedgehog:

1. Unlike fiction, non-fiction books are not submitted to publishers as finished manuscripts.

2. The proposal is everything.

3. Within the proposal, the “author credentials” and “how I plan to promote this book” sections are everything

4. That’s it with one hedgehog finger to spare.

Editors get all prickly if you don’t follow submission guidelines! (Nat. Zoo)

Getting that proposal in front of the right editor, and more importantly, having it stick, well that part’s a mystery to me (and to a lot of people, I gather). But I have learned a few basics about what goes into a book proposal and it’s clear that writing one is not a trivial task.

That’ll be my fall project.

So first steps first —

I dug out my copy of “Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction–and Get It Published” and am re-reading it. Published in 2002, I wonder if it is a bit out of date. I’ll have to see what else is out there.

I bought the current edition of Writer’s Market. I do this about every three or four years and I’m always disappointed. (Yes, like a bird into glass. I know.)  There is no simple way to use this book but to go through it page by page for hundreds of pages. I’ve tried their online database but as of 2010, it was still trapped in the 1990’s.  It serves up a slow and clunky user interface and imprecise search function.  Must find an alternative.

I’m listening! (Wikipedia)

With that, the process begins.

Got advice? Drop it here. I am all ears.


  1. Hi Kimberly,

    The Toronto branch of the Editors’ Association of Canada has some upcoming seminars that could help you out:

    Saturday October 27th: How to Write a Non-fiction Book in 60 Days – (This one is run by Paul Lima. Earlybird rates end in 2 days)

    Saturday November 24th: Book Proposals – (this one explicitly uses non-profit book proposals as case studies)

    You might also consider buying this book, all about developmental editing for non-fiction books:

    Good luck!

  2. Kim:
    Yeah, I tried that online version of Writers’ Market back in the 90s — and found it clunky then, even by 90s standards. Which were themselves clunky.

    No easy way. But another very good post.

  3. Christina, those are great resources! I may sign up for the Book Proposal workshop. That looks perfect. Will also order that book. Thanks much!

    Bill, It’s too bad it’s so bad. They seem to have a corner on the market listings. Still, it seems there must be at least one up-to-speed competing company out there. That’ll be part of my research.

  4. No problem, Kim. What with ordering that other book I recommended (King of Infinite Space), you’d better be careful. I could make you empty out your entire wallet buying books!

  5. Heh.. I sure don’t need any help emptying my wallet on books. I should qualify for a Platinum Preferred Customer Card at Chapters. 🙂

  6. Hi Kimberly,

    Great to hear this news! Good luck with the collection; I’ll add a few thoughts of my own.

    Essay collections are a tough sell. There’s no way around saying that I’m afraid. As I was sending my manuscript around it’s what I heard over and over from agents, publishers, editors and writers. (I was told by a well-known writer and again by an editor never to mention the E-word in my proposal!). However, and this is where the news gets better, there are ways to address that. If you have a strong thematic link that connects your pieces if will go a long way if you can focus on that, especially in your proposal. The other thing I would suggest is to try and get some of these essays published before submitting a proposal (you may already be doing this) as it shows that there is a market and audience for the work you’re doing. There are plenty of excellent journals and magazines out there that might show an interest. It wasn’t until a friend suggested I write a proposal that I took up the idea, and it was well worth it. It general, publishers will take the work much more seriously if you’ve written one. Be warned though, the book might be easier to write. I’m sure I could add a few more thoughts but I’ll leave it at that for the moment. Let me know if I can help in any way, including with possible publishers.

    Best wishes,

  7. Julian,

    Have you been talking to my writing group?? I believe it was Bill Swan (above) who pretty much used the same words you did: “If you have a strong thematic link that connects your pieces if will go a long way if you can focus on that, especially in your proposal.”

    Yes. I do need to tighten up that link. ‘Tis a bit flimsy at the moment.

    I did wonder about having some of the pieces published ahead of time. Wasn’t sure if that worked for or against compiling them in a collection. I could start submitting them and see how that goes.

    Thanks very much for your input Julian. I appreciate it. I will probably be back in touch.

  8. Nice synchronicity! Glad to be able to help. Previously published pieces are definitely a plus. One other thing I should mention is that point number one isn’t completely true. While it’s common that non-fiction books are presented through proposal before being completed, there are certainly some publishers and agents who won’t look at a book unless it’s finished. They’re in the minority, but it might be something to be aware of in relation to your own book and whether you would like to complete it first or not. If your manuscript is close to being ready, there’s certainly no harm, and sometimes a lot of benefit, in being able to say, “I can submit my completed manuscript immediately upon request.” Do drop me a line if you want to talk anything over at any time.

    Cheers, and happy writing!


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