I’d sent out my book proposal after working on it for over a year (planning the book, research for the book, writing the sample chapters, researching proposal writing, writing and rewriting the proposal). I’d sent it to just one publisher, my dream publisher. And there I was, my heart in my hands…
The reply came just days later from, my heroine, the publisher herself:
I love everything about your proposal but–and I don’t know if I mentioned this–I’m taking a sabbatical and I’m not sure of the schedule, or what I’ll be doing when I return. Everything is up in the air. May I have another week or so to think everything through?
Your itinerary idea is superb–we are just publishing The Little Bookroom Guide to Paris with Children, structured like a traditional guide. It’s very different than yours–yours is much more detailed about history and culture, in addition to the way it’s organized, and yours might be the perfect pendant to this one.
I’d like to keep thinking, if you can spare me the time.
Warm regards, Angela
P.S. Not only are your itineraries superb, but the writing and depth of knowledge!”
When she did get back to me, it turned out that my timing was impeccably bad (you may be beginning to notice that this is a reoccurring theme in my life). I would not be published with my dream publisher, she was contemplating getting out of the business.
I was faced with a very hard choice: was it worth going to so much work to be badly published by another company? (Maybe I was being harsh, or just snooty, but it seemed like the options I had left lacked aesthetic appeal –poor quality paper, awkward book sizes, black and white pictures- and they had been hard to find so I suspected they lacked distribution connections.)
This is probably the first time that I decided to really think about the kind of returns authors can expect. I may have already known that these days’ publishers expect authors to be very active in the sale aspect of the book. And, I may have already known that I’d only get 50 cents to a dollar for every $20 book sold. But, this time I was really thinking pragmatically about it and specifically about how many books would have to be sold for me to even make back the money it would cost me to do the research on the book.
I know for certain that it was at that point that I discovered that the future of printed guidebooks was looking dismal and that most major brands like Lonely Planet, Fodors, Frommers, and Rough Guide were going increasingly digital… and one of them had even been bought out by the BBC.
When I thought frankly about the tens of thousands of people I’d need to buy my book in order for me to not even make a living and the poor market conditions, the lack of shelf-appeal of my remaining publishing options, well…
I got depressed.
As they say in the film business, Midlife Crisis: take three! I was honing this midlife crisis thing like an art.