I’m finishing up the book proposal course I teach today, and it’s been great. These courses always have quite a few lurkers (which is fine!); this time the group is very active, and I’ve been watching books on crypotology, ecology, Title IX, Judaism, biomedicine, and the TVA and other topics emerge over the past two weeks, and having a blast. Might you or someone you know benefit for two intense weeks learning about and workshopping a proposal? I’m doing it again in July.
Speaking of book proposals, internally at Belt we’ve decided to become bigger hard-asses about them. In the early days, I set the bar low for proposals, because let’s face it: the genre can kill off excitement to write a book. But we’ve learned why it’s important to have a strong proposal—not the 60 page behemoths you need for many agents, but a good 4-5 pages—before offering a contract. It helps prevent the problem we’ve had over the past year or so of authors bailing on contracts they signed, as well as authors sending in manuscripts that need intense developmental editing. We love doing that work, but it’s very resource-heavy. The more we can iron out before sending folks off to draft, the better for them, and us. Now I get why Very Famous Bestselling Authors still have to write extensive proposals for presses they’ve worked with before (I was *shocked* when Susan Orlean tweeted about the months she spent working on her proposal for what become The Library Book. Now I get it!).
But, as many have asked in the course I’m currently teaching, what’s the best route to a book contract? Is it to go with an indie press that doesn’t require an agent (like us) and that 60 page tome, or a Big Five that does, and in return might offer you a bigger upfront payday? Meg Reid had the best possible answer in a tweet this week. Below is the thread (which screenshots some very nice words from Craig Calcaterra’s substack about working with Belt)
Meg puts it best. It does take a good publisher and some luck to get to that 1500 number, but above 4500 is extraordinarily rare. (And here’s the NYT article mentioned—the actual stat was 98% percent sell fewer than 5K). And Craig, in turn, was responding to this good piece which details the kinds of (not at all unusual) bad experiences that often come with that Big Five contract.
It’s all very confusing, no? Thankfully, the wonderful Nathan Shuherk of @schizophrenicreads has been doing a TikTok series based on the info in my book, So You Want To Publish A Book? It’s pure joy for me to watch and read the comments!
I’m taking the next two weeks off, but during that time I’ll be traveling to NYC so I can be at the Strand on June 2 for the NYC launch of Aaron Foley’s Boys Come First. Maybe I’ll see some of you there? If so, please say hi!
And finally: we’re having a 50% spring sale over at the Belt store—ends on Sunday.
See you all in mid-June when I’ll be back in the newsletter seat. I’ll have fresh installments of my series, “How did that famous writers got famous” for you!
Notes from a Small Press is the newsletter by Anne Trubek, the founder and owner of Belt Publishing. Subscribe to receive every post, and not just free ones like this. Oh and don’t forget to grab a SIGNED copy of So You Want to Publish a Book?, the book based on this newsletter that other people say good things about.