Please forward this to any budding author in your life.
It’s the last week of December, so our inbox is filling up with queries – people who want to write a book and would like us to publish it. We don’t accept unsolicited queries (it’s right here on our “About Us” page where it has been for years). But that doesn’t stop the mighty digital flow of “Dear Sir or Madams….”.
On the one hand, I’m happy that woodworkers still want to write and publish books. Heck, the fact that anyone thinks books should exist is encouraging.
But here’s the deal. If you are a first-time author, a query letter is like telling all your friends about your hot Canadian girlfriend from band camp last summer. There’s a huge chance that you are simply full of deluded crap.
I wrote my first novel, “Fish Eye,” in the 1990s. I got to the end, realized it was a piece of garbage and burned it. I would be embarrassed – even as a desiccated corpse – if it ever saw ink. I wrote my second book (on workbenches) starting in 2006. I wrote it, paid people to copy edit it, laid it out in InDesign and had it press-ready before I told anyone it existed.
It was accepted by F+W Media about 15 minutes after I submitted it (and is now published by Penguin/Random House). Book editors are stressed and over-worked. If you have an article, series or book that is both 1) compelling and 2) ready to go, then you are probably going to receive good news.
Note that I am not talking about fiction writing here. That world is one Inscrutable 8-Ball, and I have no good advice for you.
In the world of non-fiction and technical writing, however, queries are worse than garbage. They are promises of garbage. Mere whiffs of garbage.
And so I implore you: Just write your damn book. I mean COMPLETELY write it: photos, captions, bibliography, forward, afterword, colophon (it’s not about colons), table of contents and author bio. You don’t need me or some other publishing imprint to validate you.
Yes, this is a test. Most authors who decide to write a book will never finish it. I know this; you know this. By writing the book, you are ahead of about 90 percent of the potential authors out there who are pitching their next book idea to someone in the next bathroom stall.
And when you are rejected by every publisher?
Publish the book yourself. There are dozens of places that will print your book “on demand,” where you can order one copy or 40 (heck, the Cincinnati Public Library will even do it). We use Lulu for some in-house skunkworks projects. The quality gets better every year (though still nothing like a casebound, Smyth-sewn book). Give away digital versions of the book for free to people on the internet. Try to build an audience for your next book. Do that, and you will have a track record that other publishers might notice.
But if you do all that, then you might not care when publishers come calling. You might have started your own publishing imprint.
— Christopher Schwarz