Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Big Publishing Industry Mystery - Wish Lists

Two men had travelled from Sydney to Brisbane on business, and prepared to meet their client. The appointment was set for 11am.

“You’ve got the contract?”

“Yep – safe and sound.”

“And a pen?”

“Well, I had one ...but it’s gone. Must have left it on the plane.”

“I don’t have one either. We better get one quick. Something decent or he’ll think we’re ...well, I don’t know, I dread to think. Which way shall we go?”

After a couple of enquiries of other wandering shoppers, the two arrived at The Pen Shoppe. Buying a suitable implement was easy – but there was something else of interest in the shop. Calligraphy. Lots of it, and it looked good.

“Are you the calligrapher?” one of them asked the proprietor.

“This is not all mine, but yes, I do a lot,” she said. “Is there something you want written out?”

“Not exactly. You see, we’re book packagers, and we’re in town to sign a contract with an author for a book on yachting – but we know that Allen and Unwin want to produce a book on ‘how to do calligraphy’. Can you write one for them?”

Barbara Nichol replied that she didn’t have time, but suggested they contact me ...and eventually my first book was published – ‘The Australian Manual of Calligraphy’, which was also published by HarperCollins/Unwin Hyman in the UK and NZ as ‘A Manual of Calligraphy’. Many thanks, Barbara – I’ll always be grateful!

This took place in 1986.

But how did they know what was on Allen and Unwin’s ‘wish list’? How many publishers have wish lists and how do writers find out what is on them? This is one of the industry’s big mysteries to me. If a publisher really wants a book on a subject, you’d think that they’d advertise the fact or chase appropriate authors or experts.

I was ‘chased’ for my next book – well, not exactly, but in 2008 I asked an editor, who I’d never met or heard of, for virtual friendship on and along with acceptance, they asked if I’d be interested in a project. I’ve no idea why they chose me – I’d only had the one major book published years before. They must have read something on the web that I’ve written. Apart from my Jacketflap page, maybe it was my Writing for Children website, or contributions to PIO industry newsletter Yes, building a web presence can be useful – occasionally unexpected people do read it.

For that one, for Hinkler Books, I wrote sections on Science and Survival in ‘101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up’. George Ivanoff and Sofija Stefanovic also wrote two sections each.

But then it happened again.

When it was time to mail my chapters and ideas for possible illustrations, I addressed the envelope in calligraphy. “Oh,” said the editor, “that was a nice surprise. We’ve been thinking about producing a book on calligraphy. Can you write one?” They had a wish list, too!

Trade book number three – ‘Practical Calligraphy’, which came out in 2010.

Then, just before it was released, and on my way to my aunt’s 90th birthday in the UK, I stopped off a and visited stands at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. A described in an earlier blog post, when asked what I was looking at, I replied that I was trying to discover if they had any books that might compete with my new one and if they had any gaps in their list that I may be able to fill. One Canadian publisher had a calligraphy book on display – so we chatted. I discovered that they had a wish list, and their calligraphy book was never intended to be such. What they had really wanted was a book on fancy border patterns. I could have provided that. I wonder if they still want one?

On to the London Book Fair, on the way home. There was one publisher who definitely had a wish list. He pleaded with me: “We want a book of easy recipes that children can cook. Can you write one? Do you know of anyone...?” (I considered it, but had soon received a contract for a book that would keep me busy, and offered the information to my local SCBWI Chapter members.) Note: Just because the market seems saturated with books on a particular topic, if a publisher does not have one on their list, don’t be afraid to send them a proposal – they may still want one of their own.

When I pitched the idea of a book on ‘Fun Lettering for Children’ to the Managing Director and the Publisher on the GMC Publications stand, they instantly came up with the idea of ‘Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking’. Did they have a card making/scrapbooking/calligraphy book already on their wish list? It was certainly easy to discover what I should put in a proposal.

This book went to press last week, so if there are any publishers reading this who have a wish list, I’m looking for a new project and can write on a wide range of subjects. Just let me know what you want and I’ll be delighted to send a proposal and help if I can.

Peter Taylor

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