What could be more awe-inspiring than the birth of a new life? From the time I knew my daughter was expecting her third child until a few days ago— all during the nine-month gestation period— we prayed and dreamed and worked and waited and prepared and planned.
Cladach’s publisher, Catherine, with newborn grandchild.
There were many details, many concerns, many uncertainties during those nine months. Complications arose. We waited, prayed, hoped. We had to be patient with the process and trust in God’s timing and ability to overcome the obstacles.
This is the third time I have been present at the birth of a baby and there is nothing to compare to the expectancy, intensity, and thrill. One can almost hear the flutter of angel wings and the tinkle of heavenly bells ringing as the Creator gives breath to this new life. . . .
But birthing a book can come close. We dream and conceive, we learn to be patient through the gestation period as we write and wait, write and listen, write and pray, write and then rewrite, edit and polish.
Writers submit queries and proposals and manuscripts, then wait and wait some more.
Publishers agree, then prepare to attend the birth and catch the baby, wrap it in a bright cover and hold it up in presentation to the world.
We — both author and publisher — will feel as proud as new parents and full of wonder at the creation of this new thing. We’ll have high hopes for this book baby, that it will thrive, that others will love and celebrate it with us, and that it will develop a growing circle of influence to make the world a better place; that it will help God’s kingdom come, his will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
As I said in the previous post this is my most difficult publisher hat to wear:
I receive queries and proposals daily, both through email and snail mail. This publisher’s hat may seem glamorous, and I admit to a certain curiosity and gambler’s hope that in the slush pile I may discover the “next bestseller”—but, alas, I must say “No, thank you” to the vast majority of author queries.
So, you may ask: what makes me say “Yes” to an author’s book proposal?
First of all, the first sentence of the query letter must “grab” me with this writer’s giftedness, creativity, and unique slant on the subject. I barely have time to read unsolicited queries, so if you start out with the impersonal, boring, and obvious, I probably won’t even finish reading it. For instance, please don’t start (as many do) with, “Dear Editor, I’m writing to you in hopes that you will publish my book …” I already know that! Dive right into the gist of your passion, message, and/or quest—as any good nonfiction book or novel does. For instance, here are the first sentences of a query letter that recently grabbed my attention:
This story does not begin on the day Spring-baby Westbay throws a rock at Amen: a simple-looking donkey who knew Adam and Noah, Abraham and Moses, Jesus Christ, the Apostle John, Saint Francis of Assisi. Nor does the story begin when Spring-baby’s father jilts her by dying far away from home and rebuke. The story begins in the beginning – when death itself comes into the world and initiates its nefarious plot against Spring-baby’s dad amongst countless others.
Gadly Plain (a novel of 59,000 words told from an omniscient point of view) follows the struggle of a twelve year old girl as she grapples with one of life’s most mind-wrenching questions: Is death really the end? …
Not surprisingly, I kept reading this one to the end, then asked for sample chapters, then just had to read the entire novel, then offered J. Michael Dew a contract. And voilà! the first literary novel in Cladach’s fiction line was born:
Okay, there were a few other steps to the acquisition process. The manuscript was sent to a few readers whose input I value, and their responses were positive. I then had several phone conversations with the author. We negotiated a royalty contract. But the process started with those first few sentences hooking my interest.
I must add, though, that I have received some amazingly-written queries/proposals that caused me to ask for the manuscript with great expectancy only to be disappointed that the writing of the book did not match the quality of the professionally-prepared proposal. At writers conferences and from freelance editors and book doctors you can get help writing a proposal that will blow off the publisher’s socks and whet their appetite with tasty tidbits, making them want to express mail a contract offer to you. But the manuscript that follows had better offer real meat to chew on, flavor in every bite, and new taste twists presented on the plate in a memorable way.
As a small publisher, we learn to wear many hats. And we don’t just decide in the morning what hat to wear that day; we may change hats hourly or … any minute now.
What sort of hats do we wear most days? The hats below may seem to be in random order, but often our days are like that.
Our main task, besides producing great books, is to create demand for those books. We believe in each Cladach book’s author, message, artfulness, and ability to touch hearts and minds. So we must continually look for ways to convince potential readers that these books will give them enjoyment as well as strength, encouragement, and inspiration.
Manuscripts, drafts, proofs, on the screen or printed out, all need editing. Either Cathy or Christina—or an editor or proofreader hired for the job—goes through the copy with a fine-tooth comb, digging, refining, clarifying, cleaning up, and polishing.
Once we upload book data to places like Bowker, Ingram, Amazon.com, BN.com, Baker & Taylor, and the Library of Congress, that information disseminates all over the internet and in book data retrieval systems worldwide. It is important that the data be accurate and up-to-date, and checked and updated regularly.
ACQUISITIONS EDITOR The publisher receives queries and proposals daily, both through email and snail mail. She tries to answer them in a timely fashion, but sometimes queries “fall between the cracks” of slush piles, old emails, and busy days. This is probably the hardest job because it’s hard to say “No,” which has to be said to the vast majority of queries and proposals. If an author and their query does pique our interest, we usually ask for a full proposal and 1-3 sample chapters. Prospective authors find us online and in lists of publishers, including the annual editions of Christian Writers Market Guide. We also meet writers and find manuscripts to publish at writers conferences. The publisher enjoys meeting and talking with writers (but that doesn’t make saying “No” any easier. We have, however, said “Yes” to several good writers and their books, at writers conferences). And then, still in my acquisitions hat, there are contract offers and negotiations and agreements. Then onward and upward together with a new book in view!
As book sales trickle in—and occasionally a bulky order knocks on our door, so to speak—the plus side of Larry’s spreadsheet increases and we try to forecast expenses and how many books to print, the best use of advertising/publicity budgets, what percent royalties and advances to offer authors, what retail prices to put on books, etc., etc. Profits aren’t real impressively high, but Cladach stays in the black, and we often remind ourselves that we are doing this as ministry—though it has to be done in a businesslike way in order to continue.
Larry may call or visit a store to check sales, restock consignment shelves, or we may let stores know about a new title and that they can order through the two major book wholesalers. We receive direct orders from individuals, authors, stores, libraries, and nonprofits in the U.S., U.K., and beyond. Larry processes the orders with accounting software and keeps meticulous and conscientious records and produces reports, as he is the one who usually wears this hat.
The buck stops here. Decisions have to be made, staff meetings and communications directed. Fortunately, we really enjoy creatively brainstorming together.
I guess you could say that’s what I’m doing right now in writing and developing this material. Cathy and Christina (and our authors) develop content for editorial and marketing purposes, to be shared as book descriptions, back cover copy, web content, bios, blog posts, other social media posts, letters, newsletters, press releases, etc.
So we’ve written an article or post, we’ve developed and produced a paperback book, we’ve published a web page. Now we can convert the paperback file into an ebook file, the post into tweets, the graphics and description into a video trailer, the web page content into an ad or an email. Get the idea? Gotta be creative and keep thinking “outside the box.”
All the Cladach staff have worn this hat at one time or another. But Larry has expertly taken on the job and wears this hat almost daily. Our warehouse/shipping department is lined with cartons of books and is all set up with packing supplies and a handy table for sorting, labeling, packing, etc. Then trips are made to the Post Office and to FedEx, which are handily close by. This hat is fun to wear. We love sending out books! Go, team Cladach!
Here’s another job that’s fun but can eat up time and requires a constant, steep learning curve. Very satisfying to the artistic side and creative urges felt by this publisher. We use top of the line software to design book pages and covers. Many of our book covers have been designed in-house, but we have contracted with graphic designers and artists for a number of our designs and cover—as well as interior—art. Besides the books themselves, there are web pages, promo pieces like postcards and sell sheets, and other design output required in the course of our publishing days. We keep this hat handy, usually near the computer.
PRINT BUYER The book cover is designed and tweaked, the text edited and proofed, the pages formatted, the book data disseminated, the forthcoming title announced. The book must then be printed! This involves organizing and sending out specs, studying and comparing print quotes, comparing choices of papers, finishes, bindings, etc. Decisions, decisions, often feeling like guesses, about how many books are expected to sell and how quickly, how active the author will be in promoting their book, how wide a market can we reach, should we print a larger quantity and pay much less per copy and have a lot of stock on hand and use up our cash, or print a small quantity and preserve cash flow, though we pay much more per copy, or should we go with print-on-demand? Once we’ve decided on the printer, and we’ve used several reliable book printers/manufacturers, the biggest decision is “how many books to print?”.
This has become an important hat to wear at least a while each day. Social media is where readers are hanging out and we can connect and get acquainted and talk about some of our favorite things: life-changing ideas and experiences; the daily life of faith, work, family, and wonder; our Creator and Lord who initiates every good thing; the creativity He inspires; new and talented authors; and … books! You may connect with us here on this blog, on Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and? Who knows what’s next. One thing for sure, we’ll find a hat for it!
My father, G.H. Cummings, preaching on the radio as a young man
The preacher and his family. I’m the older sister there.
G.H. Cummings in 2009
My dad and me in a “selfie” shortly before his passing.
Practically being raised on a church pew helped set me on a literary path. We sang with gusto the gospel song, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” During my growing-up years as my father’s daughter, watching him and my mother minister in many churches, I learned:
The potency and potential of words in a book.
In those days in church we were people of two books: the Bible and the hymnal. Every church service began and ended with opening that wondrous, heavy book, often holding it so the person next to you could share it. The hymnal united us as we joined our voices in lilting melodies and straightforward harmonies accompanied by my mother’s lively piano playing, often eliciting “amens” of blessing. All the symbols to help us make music together resided on the pages of that book, all the words to elicit such response, blended in heart-stirring, mind-engaging, and soul-satisfying rhythm, sense and rhyme.
In every meeting the Bible was also opened—and revered. The congregation stoond for “the reading of the Word.” With a reverent, sonorous, unctuous voice, the preacher read a passage from the Bible, then exhorted from its inexhaustible storehouse of truth, wisdom, and life application. I saw evangelists hold their big, black, leather Bibles aloft in one large hand while exclaiming something like, “The Word of God is alive! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing enough to reveal your sin.” And I quaked. But I also learned, quite young, that real comfort could be experienced from those pages. No mere words on paper. But alive! Jumping off the page and into the mind and heart of the reader or the listener. Quickening!
The joy of writing, printing, and disseminating words on paper.
I watched my preacher father as he typed the church bulletin—and perhaps a newsletter—during the week on his old black typewriter (I loved the clicking of the keys and the how the little hammers hit the paper, resulting in words appearing and forming themselves into sentences that said something and that people would read and use to plan their week). On Saturday Daddy would crank out maybe two-hundred copies with his mimeograph machine. I can still smell the ink and hear the sheets of paper swoosh round the rollers and shoot out onto the pile of materials ready to be folded and stacked, then handed out and read—to inform and influence—to be published!
The importance of getting the word out.
Twice a year our churches held extended revival services with an itinerant evangelist, and, in preparation, Daddy would mimeograph a flyer about the upcoming week of meetings. I remember a few times when he paid my sister and me 5¢ each per city block to take the flyers door-to-door and invite people to the services (though “city block” doesn’t quite describe neighborhoods in these rural towns surrounded by farms). My sister and I learned the importance of overcoming our trepidation, knocking on doors, and getting out the word (much like the publicity side of book publishing).
The value of reading and sharing books.
We had few toys and TV (which we got when I was about 11) was our only “tech” entertainment. But always there were books. Books lined the shelves in my father’s study. He took my sister and me to the public library regularly, encouraging us to browse and check out books that interested us. My sister read every horse book she could find, especially those by Walter Farley. I read all the Louisa May Alcott books. And when we brought books home from school or library, our mother often read them, too, and we all enjoyed discussing together the stories. In fact, my sister and I always told each other the stories we read. As a result, I felt I’d read the Black Stallion books even though I never did. And she knew the characters and plots in Little Women and Under the Lilacs even though she didn’t read them. She didn’t have to. That ability to vicariously experience the stories really helped, because there were so many more books to discover! (A side note: When I was a girl I’d hear people argue their point in conversation by saying, “I know it’s true. I read it in a book!” Whether people were readers or not, I observed that most had a sort of reverential awe of books.)
The importance of knowing your readers, your audience, your market.
My father made it a practice to call on his flock in their homes regularly and also to be there whenever trouble hit a family. He would stop by their businesses, farms, and work places for a friendly chat. When he stood in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, he knew those people. He knew their families, their joys and sorrows, the challenges they faced. He also knew their interests, their hobbies, what made them laugh or cry.
How to recruit, train, and encourage workers.
The work and mission of the church needed people of all abilities and ages (and still does). I saw discernment in operation, encouragement expressed, and responsibilities entrusted. Organizing, scheduling, holding meetings were necessary. But loving God and loving people mattered most. Whether or not I heard that expressed in so many words, I definitely “caught” the mindset. As a publisher I want to see sales and increase distribution. I want well-edited and designed books, I want engaged authors, reliable print providers, and enthusiastic book reviewers. I want customers to buy our books. But most of all I want to experience God’s presence in all we do. I want to always remember that, as a Christian publisher, what we publish truly is “glad tidings.”