The Black Hole of Publishing a Book

I spoke with a publisher recently about the possibility of them taking on a new author – me. It was both depressing and uplifting at the same time. I was informed that more research was needed; a clearer concept, the focus, the market, who cares?, and three very important questions need to be answered:

  1. Why this book?
  2. Why me? (As its author.)
  3. Why now?

I’m a rookie at this book publishing stuff. But not so much of one that I’m completely in the dark. I know an author needs an audience and they need to know who’s goin to buy the book. But I never thought about my book having nationwide appeal. The publisher I spoke with seemed sincere and when I asked questions, his answers were always clear and to the point, lengthy too, with good advice on how I might go about finding the right information.

My book idea cannot be revealed here just yet. It might even morph into a completely new one before I pursue it further. The publisher recommended that I take a walk, alone, out in the woods, or in the garden, and rethink the concept. I’ll have to ask myself some pretty tough questions, one is would I buy such a book myself? Of course I would,  but would a complete stranger?

The publisher didn’t reject my proposal, but he didn’t accept it either. And then there’s the non-traditional self-publishing and E-book  publishing options to consider.

I’m beginning to feel as if I’m being sucked into a black hole.

Publishing Black Hole

By TC Conner

Pro hobbyist photographer, drone enthusiast, musician, husband and father.

25 replies on “The Black Hole of Publishing a Book”


I know absolutely nothing about the world of publishing, therefore, maybe I should keep my ideas to myself. However, I’ve been a fan and faithful reader of your blog as well as reading in general. So, to that end I ask these three questions:

1. Why NOT this book?
2. Why NOT you? (as its author.)
3. Why NOT now?

Seems to me, the biggest challenge for said book once published is finding the proper audience, or rather the target audience finding said book. I think you can do this, TC.

Just because you don’t know much about publishing is certainly no reason not to voice your opinion. I value ALL input here, and yours is always insightful and helpful. Just like it is this time!

And for the record, I don’t know very much about publishing either; but I’m learning!

There’s definitely a bit of a black art to getting from concept to published in the book business. I’ve been fortunate to be approached by publishers for three books, two of which are in print and the third in the beginning stages of planning. At the same time a co-author and I have been turned down several times for another book. Somehow your goals for the book have to line up with what a publisher thinks will sell enough to be profitable.

I was given the advice many years ago as I was considering taking on my first book project that I couldn’t expect to make much, if anything, on the book itself. It takes way too much time to be reasonably compensated unless you’re a blockbuster author. But the benefits of having written or photographed a book are numerous.

Hang in there. It may take conversations with many publishers before you find the right fit. That’s not unusual and stories of manuscripts being shopped around to 20 publishers before finding a home are more common than you might think. Unless your book is very small-time or very limited audience I’d work the publisher route as hard as I could before dropping back to self-publishing. Widespread distribution and marketing are the big challenges in self-publishing.

Hi Mark and thanks for the great advice. You make me wonder how you were approached by those publishers; had they read something somewhere? And I think I have reasonable expectations about compensation for publishing a book. The last sentence in your second paragraph is a huge reason I’m pursuing this.

I’ve not spoken with any other publisher, yet. I’m meeting with a good friend who recommended the publisher I spoke to, so that we can brainstorm my book idea. I’ll bring up some of what you mentioned when we discuss things. He’s been in the business a lot longer than I have. (As I’m sure you have too.)

The first publisher approached me after licensing some of my work for other books, including a cover. I knew the acquisitions editor through the rock garden society and had been shot down with another book proposal. So there was already a relationship there. I still had to put together a full proposal, but the door was open.

The second publisher found me through my website and liked my work. They sent an e-mail inquiring whether I was interested in working with them. We talked and I decided it would be worthwhile. That book was a small, very fast project that was essentially complete four months after first contact. It’s a very local book.

Both are on my website at .

Self-publishing is not “dropping back” unless you’re giving up, and if you are, the book probably didn’t need to be out there anyway.

If you do it right, indie pubbing can have wide distribution. It’s more work, but it’s doable, and the profit per book is better. Plus, a lot of indie authors have been picked up by traditionals when they show a proven sales record.

No matter which way you go, you have to do your own marketing. Companies don’t have the funds these days to market new authors. Don’t bother publishing in any form if you’re not willing to market, unless it’s just for yourself and your circle of acquaintances.

Hi Ms. L, it seems I always notice a negative riff between self-publishing and the more traditional methods. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s there nonetheless. Why are self-published books viewed in a different light? What makes books that are published traditionally any more or less readable? I plan on bringing this up with my author friend who’ll I’ll be meeting with soon. I’ve known him for some time and if you’ve read the Home section in the Post-Gazette, you may have seen Doug Oster’s gardening piece.

And yes indeed! I sure want to “do it right” no matter which publishing option is chosen.

(This is all part of what I wanted to talk to you about after the holidays.)

You are going to need an editor – because few people know what to cut from their good ideas and what to add that may be missing. You will need loads of fact checking and if it is a garden book some good photography, these are good reasons for not doing it yourself. If you use print on demand you can sell both print and eBook to Amazon, but the big book stores will only use the big book distributors – they can eat your lunch if your book does not sell. Next, most people write books not for book sales, but for speaking opportunities. Do you want to travel and speak to groups? Finally, the publisher may like your book but not print to many, if they don’t sell fast they may never print again and you can’t do much about peopel wanting an out of print book. It is a tough world but great fun if you get it going. Good luck.

Hi Brad, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving some good advice. And yes, I’m looking to enhance my speaking engagements. I’ve done a few and really want a book to offer the folks after I’m through speaking. I’m just breaking out so there’s other needs besides a book; a Power Point projector comes immediately to mind.

Non-fiction usually does great POD’ed if the subject matter is “in” — such as organic gardening or zen gardening and so on. Just be careful how you use POD because there are a plethora of options. 😉

I’m not sure how big the publisher is you talked to, but small press is an idea, also — easier to get into, but make sure you edit well yourself or have someone else do it. A lot of small press companies are known for not editing well enough.

Ms. LK, I’m not familiar with POD at all so I’d have to do plenty of research before I even attempted it. St. Lynn’s Press is a small publisher out of Pittsburgh. Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser host a Sunday morning radio program on KDKA, The Organic Gardeners, and they both have books published with St. Lynn’s. I’m talking things over with Doug just to get some inside info.

Thanks for the encouragement Ms. Anna. There’s a ton of stuff to do if you’re serious about it, and I am.

Print on demand Web sites is another option I hadn’t thought about Mr. BT. The online options seem to be quite numerous. I have my work cut out for me that’s for sure!

If I’m not mistaken, you could also publish magazines this way. I saw someone on Twitter talking about a gardening magazine that was published bimonthly this way, but didn’t really look into it.

So, maybe that’s another option. If you could break up the “book” into a mag type format then people could buy the chapters (in a magazine format) that they would be interested in.

Hmmm, magazines, there’s something else I hadn’t considered Mr. BT.

Don’t give up on the dream just yet, TC. Things are changing so quickly in the publishing world right now; I wouldn’t be concerned that one of the big publishing houses isn’t jumping at the chance to publish you. How about joining a writers’ group? The major ones and even some of the smaller groups can usually get you a good deal on a small order of books to start with, if you don’t want to consider an e-book. Besides, it’s kinda fun to go out and promote yourself at book stores, library events, etc. You might even try your alma mater if it has its own publishing house. I’m rooting for you and looking forward to your first venture. Fiction or nonfiction? Do you think it will be ready by next Christmas? Oh yeah. Set a realistic goal for yourself.

W2W, how can I give it up when it’s just started? ;~) And you’re absolutely correct in saying things are quickly changing. So fast I’m not even sure if the publisher I spoke with today realizes it yet. Of course, his business is one of those that could be most affected by the online publishing options so perhaps he’s well aware of the “impending doom” so to speak. I don’t know much about joining a writer’s group, I’m not sure if there’s one around here or not. Or maybe you mean an online writer’s group? And maybe I should check with Slippery Rock University’s English Department, they might be able to help. My book idea has to do with gardening, but there’s also something else brewing in the back of my mind that’s slowly but surely inching its way forward. Right now it’s nonfiction, but lately I’ve been considering fiction and whether or not I might find that stimulating.

Good luck with it whichever way you choose! I’m curious but understand why you aren’t going to hang your idea out for folks to see. If it’s garden related it should be interesting! Of course maybe you’ll be writing about music? Or both? Hmm…I am curious! 😉

Thanks Dave. It is garden related, at least the one I’m going to be working on now. But it might not be, it could morph into something entirely different. As you can see, talking to the publisher has caused a few rusty old cogs to start turning. And the clanking noise is getting louder I think. 🙂

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