Getting Published: Traditional Publisher
Maybe I was pretty harsh on self publishing companies. Maybe you’ve had a good experience and if so, write about it on the internet. Go to their website and give them a positive review. I’m sure there has to be some good companies out there. And, there are many such entities that promise to help you with all of the in-between steps and not necessarily take you for a hug sum of money. Again, do your research and read unbiased reviews of any company before you use it.
Now, what about:
Well, has this industry changed, or what?
When digital books took the world by storm, most publishing companies were caught with their printing presses down. I know. I was there in the midst of it trying to get published.
In 2012 I attended the International Christian Retail Show which featured all the upcoming books, music, and merchandise for Christian book stores and gift shops. Everyone was in a turmoil over the effect of Kindle and Apple Books (and the Nook) on publishing. Barnes and Nobles “brick and mortar” stores had closed nationwide in record numbers. And, by 2019 all Lifeway stores would close. The publishing world was turned upside down.
I recall one statistic quoted at the meeting that 75% of all book sales were now digital. That was in 2012! How was a brick and mortar book store to stay open?
Once upon a time, the process of getting published by a traditional publisher went something like this:
A new author has an idea for a book.
Author researches how to put together a really effective book proposal.
Author researches which publishers will consider new authors (Writer’s Digest Marketing Guide and Christian Writer’s Marketing Guide).
Author chooses ten publishers to send book proposals.
Author waits some more.
Rejection letters trickle in.
Author either persists and keeps trying or author goes back to day job which they should never abandon anyway!
Author has an agent.
Note that most reliable agents will not take you on as a client unless you have a “track record”. But, you cannot get a track record unless you are published. And, you cannot get published unless you have an agent. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? I was blessed to have two book taken immediately with the book proposal submitted as a new author. But, the next rounds of books took me ten years of trying before I finally got a reliable agent who got me a five book contract. Problem was, with the implosion of traditional publishing, the imprint I was writing for folded after my second of the five books.
Right now, traditional publishing contracts are almost impossible to come by unless you are a published author. My suggestion, is to go the route of self-publishing or independent publishing and get something out there.
My first published work was a collection of children’s plays. I looked carefully at the publisher’s guidelines and submitted my plays according to their guidelines and they extended me a contract. Easy peasy, right? Here’s the catch I didn’t see coming. They gave me two choices: $300 flat fee or a royalty as long as the play was published. The language in the contract seemed to indicate that I would never make back more than $300 so I took the first option. Also, the contract specified they would own the work unless they offered to sell the rights back to me.
I took the $300 and never looked back. Until, I noticed the play collection became one of their best selling collections for almost 20 years running! I should have taken the second option. And I cannot use the character in another children’s play until I can secure the rights.
My second published work came about because of two years of grueling, demoralizing depression. I worked through that depressive episode with counseling, family, and friends. During the process (detailed in our book, “Hope Again: A Lifetime Plan for Conquering Depression”) I was approached by my pastor, Mark Sutton. He admitted he suffered from depression also and suggested we write a book. At that time, I couldn’t find any good self help books from a Christian perspective for dealing with depression. Why? If you have enough faith, you’ll never be depressed! A lie from the pits of hell!
We put together a book proposal under my guidance since I had an impressive pile of rejection letters and had made many such attempts. Turns out Mark Sutton was going to Franklin, Tennessee to hold a marriage seminar. Our good friend, Len Goss, had come to Broaden & Holman Publishing as their chief acquisition editor and Mark called him up. I went with Mark once Len agreed to have lunch. We never imagined presenting the book to him. We were only wanting suggestions on how to improve the book proposal. Broadman & Holman were too big of a publisher to be interested in our book.
Making is short, when we sat down at the lunch table and Len asked why we were there, I showed him the book proposal printed out and enclosed in a transparent folder. He gave me the strangest look. I explained we wanted to ask his advice on the book proposal. He asked me what it was about. I said, depression. Mark and I suffer from depression and there are no good books on the subject in the Christian publishing realm.
I’ll never forget. He picked up the folder and nodded. “I’ll take it.” He said. I dropped my fork. It was at that moment Mark sat down from his visit to the salad bar. He was shocked to learn that somehow, in the few minutes we had together, Len had already accepted the book! Why? Because a close family member of his had suffered from depression and had the same difficulty finding a book on the subject. Broadman & Holman published “Conquering Depression” in February, 2001. I thought another easy peasy publishing accomplishment. I was on fire!
Then, reality bit. I started shopping around “The 13th Demon” to various Christian publishers. They all told me the same thing, “Great book. Fascinating concept. Too edgy. We don’t know how to market this.” I should have paid more attention to the market. In 2000, right on the tail end of the “Left Behind” furor, Christian publishers didn’t know what to do with “Christian speculative fiction”. What is CSF? Christian supernatural tales, science fiction tales, and fantasy tales. Ted Dekker had just appeared on the horizon. Frank Peretti was a distant memory.
It would ten years before a publisher showed enough interest in my books and that was only after I had self published the first two books in the series and had obtained an agent.
It was my agent who shopped around my book series. At that time in 2009, the CSF movement had gained momentum thanks to Frank Peretti and Tosca Lee. It took about three months before I was offered a contract on the entire book series! I was ecstatic! My agent took the reigns of negotiating the contract and suggested we get a contract for only five books. That way if those books sold well, we could renegotiate a better contract for the remaining eight books in the “Chronicles of Jonathan Steel”. It wasn’t easy peasy this time. It took ten years of hard work to get my books published.
In the interim, another “miracle” occurred. Don’t count on anything like this happening to you with regularity. I still can’t believe what happened to this day.
In the summer of 2012, “Conquering Depression” had been out since 2001 and Mark and I had begged B&H Publishing (new name for Broadman & Holman) to let us update the book. So much had changed in the field of depression since 2001. And, the book and come out before 9/11 so much had changed with our society. Our agent was unsuccessful in convincing them to update the book and suggested we write an entirely new book. The International Christian Retail Show was in Orlando that July and Mark and his wife, Donna, had retired from Shreveport, Louisiana and now lived in the Orlando area. I suggested I come to visit them and we could brainstorm a new depression book. Then, the week after I would attend the ICRS where my publisher, Strang, would be featuring my upcoming book, “The 12th Demon” to booksellers.
Mark and I brainstormed for an entire day and came to the conclusion we wanted to update the book but keep the 30 day format and our tool, LifeFilters. Honestly, we couldn’t find a way to change the book to a totally different format from the past book. We were in trouble if we wanted to an entirely new book.
That was on Sunday and I went to the ICRS on Monday. I was a little miffed, to be honest, that B&H wouldn’t consider updating our book. When I just happened to chance upon a placard outside a meeting room in the huge Orlando Convention Center and noticed the B&H logo, I paused. I would go in and give home a piece of my mind! No, just move on. I started to walk away and turned back again. Yes, I would ask someone in that meeting room why they didn’t want to update our book! No, just go on to the exhibit hall. It was at this moment a small, still voice said “Just go in the room, Bruce”. I’ve learned to listen to these rare moments of clarity. With trepidation, I walked into the meeting room.
A greeter sat at a table and I told her I was a B&H author and I would like to, yes, I would like to have a bottle water. I had spied the bottles on a table in the back of the room. Any desire to be confrontational was gone. One young man in a three piece suit paced in the room. That was it. No one else was there. I girded my loins and went to the table and grabbed a bottled water.
The man introduced himself and asked why I was there. I spied a table for B&H’s self publishing venture and told him I was interested in it “for a friend”. It was at this moment that my entire world turned upside down. Here is the conversation as it happened:
The man looked down at my name badge and he was visibly shakened. “You’re Bruce Hennigan!”
I was equally startled and actually looked down at my badge. “Yes, I am.”
The man’s mouth fell open. “You’re Bruce Hennigan!”
Okay, something strange was happening. Hairs stood up on my neck. “Yes, I am.”
He smiled. “Oh, my gosh! We’ve been looking for you for months.”
I shook my head in confusion. “What?”
“We’ve been looking for you to update your book, “Conquering Depression.” He said excitedly.
I looked around the room. Was he talking to someone else? But, we were the only people in the room! “What did you say?”
He rubbed his hands. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with you for months. We have a new editiorial staff.” He walked to a nearby table and picked up his briefcase and pulled out a rumpled copy of “Conquering Depression”. “We met and decided we wanted you to update your book.” He help up the book.
At this moment, my legs were weak and I felt faint. “Can we sit down and start all over. I can’t believe this.”
I sat at a table and tried to gather my thoughts. “You want us to update the book?” I mumbled.
He sat down. “Yes.”
“You won’t believe this, but Mark Sutton and I got together just yesterday and came up with new material for an update.” I said.
“How much new material?”
“About 60% of the book will be new and updated material.” I said. “But, our agent wants us to write an entirely new book but we just couldn’t see it.”
He shook his head. “Oh, no! We want the 30 day format. And, the LifeFilters.”
I sat back. I could not believe this. “I am stunned. This has to be a God thing. I was just walking by and decided to drop in. And, our agent said he’s been talking to you guys for months and you refused to update the book. He told us that in May.”
The man, Matt, shook his head. “No one has talked to us. We decided back in March to get in touch with you. Look, I want you to meet our new editor, Dawn. Oh, here she is.”
A tall, willowy woman with warm, brown hair walked up to the table. I stood up and it was deja vo all over again.
“You’re Bruce Hennigan.” She said with an astonished look on her face.
“That’s what I’ve been told.” I smiled.
“We’ve been trying to get in touch with you.” She said excitedly.
“So I hear.”
Matt filled her in on our conversation. She raised an eyebrow. “Under no circumstance are you to change the format. I want to meet with you and Mark Sutton tomorrow.”
“Mark lives here in Orlando, and I’ll have him here.” I said.
She smiled and shook her head in astonishment. “This is a God thing, isn’t it?” Tears came to her eyes. “I love it when He does this to us.”
Mark thought I was punking him when I called him just moment’s later. The next day we met with Dawn and she was adamant that only the two of us should be authors on the book and we keep the same format and the LifeFilters. Our updated book was released in September 2014 with a new title, “Hope Again: A Thirty Day Plan for Conquering Depression.” It was like a dream come true.
But, and there is always a “but”, in the spring of 2019 I tried to order some author’s copies for a fall seminar at which I had been invited to speak. I was asked to bring copies of the depression book and there was an offer from the venue organizer to purchase a copy for every attendee! I contacted B&H author services to order books at my cost. I received a rather impersonal email that our book was no longer in print. NO LONGER IN PRINT! What? When did that happen. I hurriedly tried to contact the author representative and received a somewhat apologetic email that they had taken the book out of print some months before and never mentioned it to us! This is NOT professional, in my opinion and I let them know.
Did they have any books left? No! I cannot prove it, but I think once the last books were sold from the warehouse, they decided not to print any more books and took the book out of print. I was stunned! I was depressed! I contacted Mark and we decided that after 18 years of a good run, maybe it was time for the book to fade into the sunset.
Until I got THAT email! I’ll talk about that under my section on independent publishing. And, as if this tale wasn’t strange enough on December 22nd of this year I received, of all things, a royalty check from B&H on a book that had been out of print for two and half years! Go figure!
I have been very blessed to have several books through traditional publishing. Some of those books came about easily; others were years in the making; and one book was purely a God thing for which I can take NO credit. Traditional publishing is difficult and timely. After all the struggles, I went another route which I will share with my readers next time: Independent Publishing.
Posted on December 26, 2021, in Steel Chronicles and tagged book publishing, brick and mortar, Broadman & Holman, literary agent, traditional publishing. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Getting Published: Traditional Publisher.