Things I did long before I began to seek publishers: checked with the Human Research Review Committee to see if my project fell under their domain (it didn’t). Had various people read & comment on the drafts, so that I had material to edit, & eventually, a solid manuscript in hand. Since I felt “called by God” to document my journey as I lived it & then to get it “out there” for others to read, I had a draft in hand before I began to seek publishers. Most writers get a publisher interested before completing their project!
The process I used for choosing publishers:
First, I thought about my potential audience: probably Christians first & foremost; those interested in ecumenism; laypeople or maybe clergy but probably not scholars—so not an academic press. (Later I revised my audiences to include students & scholars, but still chose not to try academic presses.) This project is a combination of a layperson's spiritual memoir with an inclusion of the academic and religious literature as it applied to what I was learning.
Then I looked at one of the Writer’s Marketplace books & realized that there was one called Christian Writers' Market Guide. I borrowed the most recent edition from the public library & read it.
I read the advice & the publisher descriptions. Things I took note of: did they take unsolicited manscripts from individuals or did they only take submissions from agents? Did they take first-time authors? What were their specific areas of interest & genres? (My book fit into the “spiritual memoir” category, a.k.a. biography/autobiography.) Did they have a really narrow or specific focus (e.g., in my case, were they strictly denominational; did they do only “inspirational” items; were they evangelical; anti-gay)?
How many titles did they publish per year vs. how many submissions did they receive? How many copies did they typically print, & did they reprint? Or were they an e-book publisher? How long did the publication process take? Did they allow simultaneous submissions, & what was their response time? Did they do “subsidy” (vanity) publishing? Were they a “self-publishing” house? What length of book were they seeking? Who was their parent company? (Don’t submit to different imprints of the same publisher!)
I looked in WorldCat to see how many titles came up for the publishers I chose, how many libraries owned the titles, & what types of libraries bought the titles. I made sure that the publisher was really still in business by finding their website.
On the publisher’s websites, I took a look at their catalog titles to see if any were similar to my project. (I took note of these for the “competition” section of the proposal & for searching WorldCat.) Did the website have a section for submission suggestions? Did they want a query 1st, or a full proposal, or the manuscript? Did they accept an email, fax, or require items to be mailed? Who was the correct (acquisitions) editor? If I couldn’t find the name that went with the title, I called the publisher.
Initially, I chose 5 publishers for my 1st tier, then added one to make 6. My 2nd & 3rd choices varied as I got into the process--& I moved them around between the tiers. Currently there are 8 in my 2nd tier, arranged in order of preference, & 5 in the 3rd tier. In addition to using the Market Guide, as I came across interesting books in the libraries or in reviews, I looked up the publisher. I kept track of self-publishers, subsidy houses, & all others not appropriate—with the reason/s (e.g., only accepts manuscripts from agents, has gone out of business, does not accept unsolicited submissions, no autobiography or memoirs, too off-topic or narrow).
The next step, which I did out of order, is to read books about writing proposals! I sent my 1st proposal off before I did this, & I regret it. The other proposals are better since I read the books and revised the proposals accordingly!
As I developed the proposals, I had to write: a short and a longer description; Table of Contents with short descriptions; purpose, need, & contribution; description of the audiences; a list of potential reviewers/endorsers; marketing ideas (website, blogs, bookstores, speaking venues including conferences, churches, bookstores, radio & TV); my qualifications. As each publisher poses different questions & wants a slightly different format for the proposals, I learned a lot by doing several at once & by taking time to revise them as I learned, instead of sending each one out as soon as I thought it was done. Thinking about speaking venues gave me the idea to re-write the intro & conclusion of the book to create an article for a Quaker magazine, in response to a call for articles for a special topic issue. If it is accepted for publication, and if the book is accepted by a publisher, I’ll have to put a note on the verso: “Some of the material in this book has appeared, in different form, in the following publication….”
The books or sections about self-publishing are very helpful with the marketing portion. If all else fails & I don’t get a commercial publisher, I will go with a self-publishing option!