career descriptions

how to find a publisher

Step 1
We knew we had a great idea!
It all started over a casual phone conversation.  We live four hours apart, but talk almost every day.  During one of our many phone conversations, the concept for Firestarters was conceived.  We knew instantly that we had a great idea for a book.  First, we knew that young women needed a book that opened their minds to the multitude of career opportunities available to them.  We also knew that our book would address the universal question, “What should I do with my life?” as well as inspire young women to achieve.  And to complete the perfect formula for success, we were passionate about the subject.  We both wished we’d had a book like this when we were in high school, college and even after college!  During our careers, we had both run across interesting jobs that we might have pursued if we had known about them during college.  And quite honestly, we were both still searching for the perfect fulfilling career.  Writing Firestarters was going to help others, but also give us personal fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment.

Step 2
Investigating the Competition and Starting to gather information for the book
We immediately started investigating the competition.  By surfing the internet and visiting bookstores, we were excited to learn that there were no books like our idea for Firestarters.  However, we did note the publishers of books geared to the same audience and started a spreadsheet of their names and addresses.  This would be one of the first lists we used to send our query letters.

We also started work on our book.  We sent letters to women in jobs we thought were interesting and asked if they would allow us to interview them for our book.  One of the first responses we got was from Molly Rogers.  At the time, Molly was a costume designer for Sex and the City.  We both had read an article about her in the UNC-Chapel Hill alumni update magazine.  Neither of us knew Molly, but we thought her job sounded cool.  We sent her a letter requesting an interview, not expecting to hear from someone so busy.  About a week later, Dale received a message on her answering machine from Molly!  Molly said that she’d received our letter and thought our book was a great idea and she was available for an interview any time.  That phone call just confirmed what we knew, our book was needed, and it was going to happen.  It also added an edge of excitement that made us want to continue our project.

Step 3
The Query Letter
We borrowed a book from a friend called The Writer’s and Illustrator’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishers and Agents.  After reading their advice about query letters and finding more information on the internet, we started devising our own query letter.  Our query letter would be rewritten and tweaked many, many times before we found a publisher.  

Dale also attended a local, free seminar about how to publish a book given by Bruce Gamble, author of Black Sheep One, The Black Sheep and Darkest Hour.  After meeting Bruce at the seminar, we contacted him and he agreed to mentor us through the unknown waters of finding a publisher.  He volunteered to read our query letter and helped us fine tune it.

We found the following important in a successful query letter:

  • If possible, we addressed the letter to a real person in submissions – Usually if we called the publishing company, they’d give us the name of someone to submit our query.  This helped our letter not get lost in the shuffle.
  • An engaging first paragraph to grab the  reader’s attention
  • Proof that the book is needed
  • An interesting and concise overview of the  book
  • Information about competition
  • Concise information about ourselves  proving that we have the capability to be authors
  • An interesting statement that wraps up the  letter and creatively ties it together
  • And of course, no grammatical errors!!

Click here to see a copy of one of our many query letters.

In the mean time, we continued to interview women about their careers and started writing their job profiles.  We also got together for a brainstorming weekend to write the introduction and to enjoy each other’s company over a glass (or two) of wine.

Step 4
Finding the Publishers to Submit our Idea
With a polished query letter in hand, it was time to start sending them out.  We acquired a copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents. While we could have found most of his information on the internet, Jeff Herman’s guide was packed full of publishers in one concise book.  We started going through the book and sending letters to all of the publishers who had an interest in young-adult, non-fiction books.  We also sent query letters to the list of publishers we made when investigating our competition.  We did receive two “nibbles” from this list, but after talking with the publisher, they decided to pass on our idea.  In this first phase of query letter submissions, we sent about 35 letters to different publishers.

Unfortunately, all of these initial query letters were rejected.  Believe it or not, these rejection letters didn’t deter us, they just drove us that much harder.  We still knew in our hearts that we had a great idea, and we were still passionate and excited about it.

We also toyed with the idea of getting an agent instead of going directly to the publisher.  We heard differing arguments for using or not using an agent.  Since we were working as a writing team, we felt that if we could go directly to the publisher we’d earn more money than if we had to split that profit three ways.  Since we didn’t hear back from any of the ten query letters we sent to agents, we didn’t have to worry about making that decision.

Step 5
Continuing to Write the Book
While we knew we would eventually get a publisher, we decided to take a break from sending out query letters and to focus on writing the book.  We continued to interview more women, and we also thought up creative tips and found relevant quotes to add in between the profiles.  

Step 6
Taking a New Direction on Publishers
With about one third of the book finished, we decided it was time to try again for a publisher.  A light switch turned on . . . we needed to market our book idea to publishers who specialized in our subject, careers.  With this new direction in mind, we scoured the internet and found career-book publishers.  One of them happened to be Jist Publishing.  Lori Cates-Hand, an editor at Jist, received our query letter and immediately identified with the subject. Within a couple of weeks, Jist extended us a contract and the book process began!

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