Title: This Business of Books
Author: Claudia Suzanne
Publisher: WC Publishing
Year: 2004, 4th Edition
When I first became interested in publishing in 2010, I picked up This Business of Books in an effort to learn more about all aspects of the industry. I wasn’t disappointed. At the time, much of the terminology and processes involved in getting a book from conception to shelf were new to me, and Suzanne’s clear, concise writing style really helped to illuminate an (at times) overwhelmingly complex system.
Five years later, a second read-through still offered great insights, even though I now have the terminology memorized. Though aspects of this book are obviously out-of-date (no mention of ePub or Mobi as ebook formats, for example), the breadth of knowledge Suzanne puts into her overview is invaluable.
What you can expect inside
Appropriately, Suzanne’s book is arranged chronologically, offering advice and tips for every stage of development for fiction and nonfiction, information sources (such as newsletters to stay “in-the-loop”), editing practices, how to avoid scams, and, perhaps most importantly, what to expect from each stage of the process, especially if you are an author.
1. A Touch of Reality
Suzanne starts her book off with the numbers, and the reality of the business: that it is a long, hard slog for all those involved, especially the author, regardless of what format, or what avenue he chooses to publish in.
2. Welcome to the 21st Century
“Time was, only those that had a “calling: sat down to tackle the arduous task of writing a book. Their reasons for setting pen to paper were varied and heartfelt: To communicate. To chronicle their times. To preserve their heritage. To share a story or advance an idea or prove a point. To touch other human beings. To have an impact on society. To leave their mark on the world. To make some money.”
This chapter focuses on the allure of self-publishing, where your book could be published “with the click of a mouse,” but might never perform well because of ignorance. Specifically, Suzanne writes about the “Wheat & Chaff,” and how an author who plans to self-publish needs to understand the ebb-and-flow of the trade market and the different types of authors (ghostwriters, for example), appreciate the difference between nonfiction and fiction skill sets, and how all the reading in the world can not adequately prepare someone to do, with the very apt analogy of a medical-drama fanatic still not knowing how to perform open heart surgery.
Write what you know. Know your audience. Theme. Category. Type. This chapter focuses on the early stages of a book, interestingly pointing out that genre, and audience, should be decided before pen is ever put to paper. I particularly appreciated the proper definition of “Write what you know,” which Suzanne admits has been repeated so many times the advice has become asinine. She also talks about books that are created on assignment, or when a publisher hires a Professional Book Writer to fill a slot in their catalogue.
Rather than spend a large chunk of her book talking about how a book can be written, Suzanne instead lays out a wonderful set of “laws” an author should aspire to when writing. I leave only the bullet points for you here:
• Know Your Craft
• Write to Communicate
• Write With Honesty
• Be Original
• Write With Courage
• Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
• Honor Commitments
• Respect Confidences
• Be Honest About Yourself
• Be Honest With Yourself
• Cultivate Literacy
Though I don’t write nonfiction, this section was still useful for me, as it offered new ideas for the planning stage of a novel. Suzanne writes about how to plan, expand, conduct interviews, and rewrite the initial draft.
“Fiction is significantly more intricate and frustrating than nonfiction. Perhaps the most difficult part of crafting a first novel involves coming to terms with two harsh realities: 1) a sequence of events is not a plot and 2) characters who do not expose themselves beyond their immediate actions within that plot are one-dimensional.”
There is a vast amount of information in this chapter pertaining to outlining, developing characters, and the first draft, but the sections that I really enjoyed pertained to the finer aspects of creative writing: action, dialogue, description, exposition, pacing, point of view, perspective, as well as the negative points of author intrusion, fact stuffing, adverbs (though sometimes they are okay to use!). Suzanne’s section, Show and Tell Simplified, will likely bring a lot of relief to people who have been struggling to get a concrete definition of the term.
I loved this chapter. Not only does Suzanne go into great detail into the types of editors and how their jobs differ, she makes salient points about how an author can or cannot self edit their manuscript. Most importantly, she talks about finding editors that are a right fit for your book, and don’t stringently hold onto academic grammar rules, disregarding author voice, pacing, or creative license. She gives a great workflow for editing checks (looking at text order and flow first, but typographical errors last, for example), shows how the passive voice is not ALWAYS a sin (many classic books have passive sentences as their opening lines), verb tenses as they relate to fiction, and how to look out for intrusive editing.
This chapter deals with submissions for both nonfiction and fiction books. I enjoyed the angle of showing the submissions process from the agent’s perspective, showing the sheer enormity of what they are dealing with.
“One well-known agency kept track in 1997 and found that at the end of the year, it had received 3,064 query letters. That’s over 255 letters every month, almost 60 letters per week. That’s a lot of mail over and above actual business. Yet, in a clear indication of this business’s reality, the agents only asked to see about a dozen of those manuscripts, less than one-half percent.”
This book was written in 2007, and at the time, the ballpark figure of circulating manuscripts to agents was around 6,000,000. I’m sure it’s grown quite a bit since then, even with the boom of self-publishing. Suzanne does a great job parsing down all of the elements of a strong submission, and author-agent etiquette.
This chapter was as wonderful as the rest, but painfully outdated (hence the .5 star reduction on the review). Suzanne goes over the stages of Acquisitions, Prepress, and Production, as well as digital book development (not yet at the stage at her writing to mention ePub or Kindle), the major publishers and their imprints (before the Random House/Penguin merger), royalties and advances, contract negotiations (an excellent section!), and self-publishing. She also mentions vanity/subsidy publishing, which, as ever, is to be avoided.
10. The Process
The Process is the final stages of book development: the proofread, book design, title and price selection, and various other elements that publishers must complete before sale. Her arguments for higher-but-not-too-high pricing, and the value of a good cover and interior design are spot-on. These things haven’t changed all that much in the last decade.
11. Going to Market
This chapter will likely be of more interest to small publishers or people who wish to go into publishing in the future (like me), but there are some good tidbits for indie authors as well, including how to increase your chances of getting carried at a library or book store, what to include in a press kit, and traditional techniques for publicizing a release. I also enjoyed the definitions of the different editions and printings of a book, and the binding options at a printing press.
This needs no explanation, but it’s a useful guide, all the same.
Links & Resources
I loved this. I used it to find about ten new daily newsletters for the publishing industry, so I can stay informed on changes as they happen. There are also resources for authors and publishers looking to join alliances or associations.
All in all, this remains one of my favorite books on the publishing industry, even though it needs an update. It is concise, running only 220 pages, and can be read in a day. During my first read, I highlighted several passages––in my second reading, I highlighted many more.
If you are an author or publisher, this book is worth the purchase. It is a fantastic resource.