By Robin Van Auken
So you want to break into travel writing—maybe by penning your own book. If you’ve already written a manuscript, chances are you’re looking for agent representation. As an editor and literary consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to read more than a thousand book proposals. Most, I’m sad to report, were inadequate because the author didn’t follow a few, very simple guidelines. Here are three steps to help you along the road of getting published.
1: Identify Your Market
Before you complete your masterpiece of travel writing and send it off to publishers, make sure you’re able to distinguish it from other books on the same subject. Identify your audience and determine the marketability of the finished book—these are the most important questions agents and publishers will ask, and it will impress them that you’ve done your homework.
Before even inquiring, determine how many books on the same subject are currently available. Look at large booksellers online—not only will they provide a list of publications on the same topic, but they often will include a synopsis and the book’s audience as well. Your manuscript needs to stand out, not duplicate what’s already available.
Agents and publishers also want to know your ideas for publicity and promotion of your book, including how you intend to reach your target market, and any helpful contacts you may have. When you’re ready to go, draft a professional query letter and (short) synopsis, and edit your manuscript.
2: Send A Query about Getting Published
It’s common to assume—mistakenly—that agents and publishers will respond at their own expense. When sending your query letter, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so companies can acknowledge receipt of your proposal. If you’d like to have your material returned, be sure to send an envelope that is large enough and has enough postage for them to mail back to you.
Some companies accept e-mail submissions as well; be sure to check their website or call them directly to find their preferred query format. Because of the threat of viruses, however, they usually won’t open messages with documents attached—rather, many publishers prefer to read e-mail queries that include a short resume, a synopsis, and sample chapters that have been copied and pasted into the body text.
If you are submitting a book proposal by e-mail, advise the company in your cover letter of the type of word processing program and version of that program that you used. Converting your text to plain text format with no hard returns will make it easiest to read via email. And remember, it’s not a good idea to send complete manuscripts by e-mail unless they are requested.
3: Ready To Go? Let’s Break It Down!
Now that you have some background, use this question and answer list to submit a solid query to your potential publisher. Best of luck!
How Your Book Differs From Others:
- What is your book about?
- What prompted you to write it?
- Why is your book is needed by others?
- What are its unique features?
Identify Your Audience:
- Who is your target audience?
- What is your level of expertise in your subject area?
- How should your book be used?
- Why should your audience buy this book and share it with their friends?
Beat Your Competition To Market:
- Can you list three to four books that compete with yours?
- How do they compare to your book in length, spectrum, format, and visual appeal?
- Are there any that seem remotely comparable?
- What are the differences among your approaches?
- Have you gathered a local, regional, state and national media contact list?
- Have you built a website for your book—or contracted someone else who can?
- Do you have access to any authors who may provide a “blurb” for your book?
- Did you include a self addressed, stamped envelope with your query?
- Did you include enough postage for the return of your manuscript (if you want it back)?
- Does your preferred publisher accept email queries and proposals?
- Have you customized each query—rather than spamming hundreds of agents or publishers at a time?
- Did you include a short query, biography, synopsis, and first three chapters of your book?
- Did you make sure not to send any of the above as an attachment?
- If you are asked to send an attachment, did you specify the software used?
The Elements of Style
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
The Chicago Manual of Style
Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons to Help You Sell Your Work
Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book
On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft
Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers
Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction–and Get it Published
What other travel writing tips would you add? Post your advice below!