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More Publishing Expriences (long)

I have periodically made postings to the list regarding my experiences
in publishing. People have responded to them and since I?m in a very
different place than I was at last posting, I thought I?d fill in the
story. I teach bookmaking workshops in the schools and my interest in
getting published is to get that material to a broader audience. It?s
been a long and winding road, not to mention bumpy as hell. My last
posting was in August 1997 and was optimistic. After seriously
contemplating starting my own publishing company,  I had met with the
editors at Scholastic Professional Books (publishers of my first book,
Multicultural books to Make and Share) that June. They had already made
a verbal commitment to a book on what I call Museum Books, for American
History. They looked at lots of my sample books and said they?d also
like proposals on several subjects- Kindergarten Concepts, Books for
Multiplication reinforcement, and Medieval history. It sounded like we
had a relationship. I thought I was on track and could look ahead to a
few years of work. A year plus later, I can tell you that I was naive.
        I signed a contract for the American History book and sent in the
manuscript last April. The first copy never arrived because they had
moved and neglected to inform me of their new address. The second copy
did arrive. As far as I know, it is still waiting to be scheduled and
edited. I have my advance so it?s not great but okay.
        In June I sent a proposal for a book on Kindergarten Concepts- shapes,
opposites, beginning sounds, alphabet, etc. Because they seemed so
positive and because my experience with kindergarten was limited to one
favorite project, I spent a lot of time testing the projects. I visited
local kindergarten classes for a total of 16 times and came up with 12
projects. The teachers and the kids loved them and I knew they worked.
Scholastic kept the proposal over the summer and I only received an
answer when I pressed them in September. They said the projects were too
difficult for kindergarten. I suggested we change a few and shift the
focus to first grade but they still said no. Needless to say, I was not
a happy camper. In my heart, I knew they were not going to accept it. My
past experience with them was that if they liked something, they
responded quickly. Thinking of the other proposals they had requested, I
wrote the editor to ask if there was anything we could do to speed up
the proposal stage and she responded with a blow off- that?s the nature
of the business. So much for a relationship.
        I gave a lot of thought to where I went astray. First of all, my new
rule is to take anything that is said at a meeting with a grain of salt.
This is the second time I?ve been burnt by a meeting with a publisher.
Everyone looks at the work and oohs and aahs and gets ideas, but there
is no serious consideration. They have made no commitment; it?s a
brainstorming session in which they may throw out all the ideas at the
        Second of all is the whole proposal thing. How much work do you do at
the preliminary stage? In general, for nonfiction, you can write a query
which briefly describes your book (stressing the market). I felt that
their asking for the proposal replaced the query stage. Next is the
proposal, and finally, if you?re lucky is the book. I recommend a book
called Nonfiction Book Proposals Anyone Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon
(Blue Heron Publishing, 24450 Northwest Hansen Rd, Hillsboro, OR 97124).
I didn?t follow her guidelines, but I don?t think it would have helped.
There is a lot in it about describing the marketability of the book in
the proposal. I didn?t touch on that because I felt that their
requesting the proposal already meant they agreed there was a market. I
don?t think anything I said on that score would have made a difference.
They are very clear on their definition of their market.
        After a day of tears, I decided that I didn?t want to send them any
more proposals and that what I needed was an agent. I had had it with
trying to do it myself. I had in the past talked briefly to several
other publishers. Their unanimous response was, interesting stuff, but
too limited. We?d have to somehow adapt it. I had thoughts of trying to
do books to a general rather than education audience. I wanted someone
to help. I began to research how to go about finding one. In the midst
of that, a few things happened to change my direction yet again.
         I went to see a education professor to explain my predicament and get
her advice as to the direction I could take. If I chose to concentrate
on the education aspect of my work (which is really the main thing), she
said that what I needed to sell a publisher on is the whole body of my
work, that I am offering a unique way to deliver the subject matter to
the students. And, that it would not be easy.
        Shortly after, I was reading a newsletter from a group called SPAN,
which is the Small Publishers of North America. There was an article on
publishing booklets. It suddenly clicked. I could publish myself and
publish booklets rather than books. It wouldn?t be expensive to get
started, I could target my topics very specifically, and I could, over
time, publish the body of my work. I?ve got my first one done and will
be making a separate posting with particulars.
        There are several factors which made this suddenly seem like such a
good idea. The biggest part is the whole body of work idea. I?ve been
developing my program and my ideas since 1990. I have a lot of material
and am always thinking of new things. I want to get it out there.
Another part is that I am getting impatient. I love the teaching and
writing but don?t want it to be my primary focus forever. I started
teaching to support my art. I?m 47. In the next 10-15 years, I?d like to
be in a position to shift focus and make art the concentration. The
wheels of publishing grind slowly. If I tried to find an agent and then
place a manuscript, I?d probably spend a few years at least. If I can
get my own thing going, it can happen now.
        The idea of publishing something that starts on a small scale suits me
perfectly. I work by plunging ahead, analyzing the experience, and
making the adjustments required. The biggest stumbling block to
publishing books was the initial cost and pressure connected to it.
Starting with a $5,000 to $10,000 printing bill gets in the way of a
plunge-ahead attitude. The other as the complex process of getting books
into bookstores and dealing with wholesalers. I think I can make a go of
the booklets even if I never sell in bookstores.
        I think another part was letting go of a certain level of snobbery. I
think it is much more prestigious to be published than publish. In
reading the proposal book and questioning why my work should be
published, I concluded that I truly have a contribution to make. It?s
interesting. I am publishing to make money and yet, in some way, my
motivation is more altruistic. I just want to get this stuff into
teachers? hands. It seems wasteful to put all this effort into reaching
only the small number of teachers I can personally work with.
        My new publishing company is Seastreet Press. I?ll be publishing
booklets that are 5 1/2? x 8 1/2? and 32 pages long. Each one will have
5-7 projects in it. The first one is Festivals of Light: Making Books
for the Holiday Season. I wish I could have had it done sooner in the
year, but that?s the way it goes. I have 200 copies ready to ship. The
next few will use the kindergarten book material. I have a lot of
different ideas for marketing, but I want to concentrate on getting a
group of titles out as quickly as possible. I hope to put out one a
month. Feel free to contact me for more information and thanks again to
the List for being there.

in good spirit,

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Newburyport, MA

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