How To Get Your Book Published
Practically everyone, it seems, wants to write a book, but few of us ever get past the first chapter. If you have persevered and finished a manuscript, you are now faced with the daunting task of getting it published.
Look in a big bookstore and you’ll see how few locally published books are on the shelf. And the few that are in print are usually compilations of published articles by semi-famous columnists (take a bow Karim Raslan, Amir Muhammad et al).
Local publishers are not too keen on publishing unknown writers. This is not a case of discriminating against local writers but because publishing is a risky business.
Like any industry, publishers are here to make a profit. But the high overhead (paper and print costs, production, editing, warehousing) coupled with the fickle reading habits of the Malaysian public mean that few books really make a profit.
The only real exceptions are the educational school workbooks. Whereas sales of 10,000 copies for a work of fiction is considered good, printing 100,000 copies of an educational supplement is more the norm. (For example, the largest selling non-educational book in Malaysia is The Malay Dilemma, which has so far sold 100,000 copies in English and 50,000 copies in Malay.)
These figures, of course, pale in comparison to the one million copies that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King regularly sell. But, of course, their markets are not limited to this part of the world. No Malaysian author has yet to sell well abroad although there have been a few Singaporean authors who have found some success in the West. This could be the result of lax marketing, or simply a case of not finding the right champion. Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, had Penguin India’s, David Davida,r to push her case, all the way to a Booker Prize).
Still, there is hope. If, for example, you wrote a recipe book, you would be tapping into a very large pool of dedicated readers. Recipe and cooking books are regular best sellers, and according to one of the biggest publishers of this genre, Times Editions, they are timeless.
So, say you wanted to get a cookbook published. Perhaps it’s your way of honouring grandma’s old recipes, and saving them for posterity. Just what should you do?
The section below is a guide as to how the majority of Malaysian publishers work. Instead, you could self-publish your book, but it’s complicated and few of us have the money to do so.
Step 1: Get Your Manuscript Ready.
It should be complete, broken up into suitable chapters, with headings and an introduction. It should be printed out (or typed out, if you are still using a typewriter; written manuscripts are usually summarily dismissed).
The recipes must be complete (they will be checked, I assure you). If you can, follow the format used in most cookbooks by first listing the ingredients (metric measurements, please, and avoid words like “a handful” or “a couple”) followed by the instructions including garnishing. Include a few photographs (they DON’T have to be professionally taken – the publisher will schedule a photo shoot if they decide to take the project).
Step 2: Make several copies of your manuscript.
Step 3: Identify A Suitable Publisher.
This is quite simple, really. All you have to do is head to the bookstore and look for titles of other cookbooks and see who published them. . The name and address are always printed in the front of the book. Be sure to get the right phone number of the publisher. Call and find out who to send the manuscript to. It is always good practice to send your work to the attention of a specific person, instead of To Whom It May Concern.
Step 4: Get Your Package Ready.
You will need a covering letter, in which you explain the subject matter (e.g. Northern Malay Cooking), provide a synopsis of the book, and a breakdown of the chapters. You must include a comprehensive curriculum vitae as the publisher needs to know who you are. If you have made TV appearances, list them. If your recipes have appeared in the newspapers or magazines, list them and include the dates and photocopies, if you can. The more famous you can show yourself to be, the better. However, even if you are not a celebrity, you could include an interesting story of how you came by the recipes, for example. Add a human touch. Include, if you wish, a photo of yourself. If you have a glamour shot, use it; it might help the publisher decide if you have star potential.
Step 5: Send Your Manuscript To Several Publishers And Wait.
You have to be patient. Publishers can take several months before they get back to you. . It’s really out of your hands at this point.
Step 6: You Get A Response.
You will receive either a rejection letter along with your manuscript or a note or call from the editor telling you they are interested in your work. If it is the latter, you’ll be asked to come in to discuss the “project” with the editor or team of editors.
Step 7: The contract
You’ll probably be given the standard contract of 10% royalties on the listed or recommended retail price of every book sold, payable once a year. This may not seem like much, and unless your book sells by the bushel, it’s a pittance. Sadly, this is the standard rate given by practically all publishers, with the royalty percentage inching up if you are a celebrity or a proven published author.
Step 8: The Advance
You may be given some money in advance (later to be deducted from your royalty or one time payment), if you have been commissioned to do a project by the publisher. Say the publisher wants you to travel to a specific destination to do a photo shoot , they will have to pay your way there. Or, you may need some money to buy specific ingredients for a particular recipe. In these instances, you could work something out with the publisher.
Step 9: Be Cooperative
Always be nice to your editors and be willing to please. This only applies to first time authors; the more famous you are, the more you can ignore them. Agree to photo shoots and always be on time. Make seven different versions of the same dish until the photographer and stylist are satisfied. Always say yes. Later, go home and kill your plants.
Step 10: The Book Is Ready
The cover has been designed, the final drafts have been proofread, the colour separation has been done – the marketing department will be busy making calls to the media and retailers, arranging some promotions. Maybe it will bea book launch along with a cooking demonstration. Maybe it will even be a cooking workshop. You may have to set aside time for interviews or even television appearances. Smile and look competent because some nice advertising executive might decide you could be the best spokesperson for the latest brand of sambal paste. Get your own television spot (Makcik Meena’s Petai Hour). Hob nob with Chef Wan. And watch the money roll in.
Step 11: Reality
Reality sets in: the book has sold 349 copies and another 2,651 copies are lying in the warehouse. The publisher offers you the copies at RM3 a piece to get rid of the stock. Never mind , you’re a published author of a cookbook. All it needs is a new packaging (different format, perhaps), some spruced up pictures, and who knows? You could beat Betty Yew yet.