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July 9, 2008

Writing a Book

Tom McLaughlin

Everybody wants to write a book, including me. A recent survey revealed that 87% of all Americans want to take pen in hand or fingers to keyboard. There are three reasons experts have cited; and they include a person having a message to share, ego and money.


The message group includes those who write political manuscripts, self help books and personal experiences. On today’s bestseller list, this would include Fleeced –-How America was duped by liberals, My Stroke of Insight, a story about brain damage, and What Happened: Inside the Bush White House.


Ego is another reason. Examples: Audition by Barbra Walters, (although I don’t understand who would read it); Marley and Me, a story of a guy and his Labrador; and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, an expose of a self-confessed drunk and lothario,


Money examples include most books in the fiction list. John Grisham and Nora Roberts have made an entire industry out of their best sellers, rolling out books about every three of four months.


For me it’s money. A few years ago I wrote a three-part essay on the History of Camp David. I began an exploratory campaign on whether I should expand it into a book. I knew I would not make enough to sell it just in Frederick County. I needed to go national.


Armed with photocopies of the magazine article, I flew to a writer’s conference in Las Vegas. I attended many sessions and talked with everyone, giving them copies and asking for feedback. There was a cross section of America present, and they all agreed it should be expanded into a book.


Buoyed, I presented my idea to two literary agents. They both agreed it was a fabulous project and to send them a proposal as soon as I could. I purchased a copy of “How to Write a Book Proposal” and worked on it for about a month. I sent it off and it has been about eight weeks and I have not had a reply. So much for their enthusiasm.


Once a literary agent accepts it, he submits the proposal to about 20 different publishers known as the first round. If he gets no response, it goes to the next 20 on his list, and so on. When accepted, he negotiates the contract for me. The standard is 10% for the first 5,000 sold, 12.5% for the next 5,000 and 15% for everything after that.


Things can get tricky. For example, for copies to give away to my friends, the usual discount is 30%. He can up that to 50% or greater. The percentages I receive can be tied to the price on the book cover. For example, if a book retails for $29.95, I would get the percentage from that price regardless if it sold at Wal Mart for $26.


I also asked for an advance. Although I have a lot of material not printed in the magazine because of space, I don’t have enough for a book. Therefore I need to visit each presidential library from Roosevelt to Clinton.


I need funds for airfare, hotels, restaurants and car rentals. I have no intention of putting a dime of my money into this.


The agent gets 15% of everything and I mean everything. From the advance, to the car rental, to the book sold in Katmandu.


I am not sitting around for my proposal to be accepted by an agent or a publisher. I am getting on with my life as if no publisher wants it. I am, however, using my research to write a fiction piece, my first. It is about the daughter of a president who goes to Camp David for trysts. Plenty of sex and love. Move over Nora Roberts!


Oh, by the way, most everyone was impressed that I write a column for The Tentacle. This shows tenacity and dedication to my writing.


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