A reader named Scott recently wrote me with the following question:
How do you get published? I am working on a book proposal, but publishers don’t take unsolicited manuscripts or proposals and agents don’t seem to want unpublished writers. The book is nonfiction, about living and working in Russia for the last two years. I think I have a unique perspective to offer because I am in the Russian branch of a company and I am the only non-Russian in the office. My Russian is not perfect, so this causes some funny situations. Also, I moved myself here at my own expense with my Russian wife and have lived for two years without a single American friend.
I think I have seen a side of Russia that most foreigners never see because I basically live like a Russian. I also brought my car here from the states and have had a few interesting road trips to places like the Ukraine that most outsiders would never see either. I also am a fanatical photographer and I have thousands of publishable images to go along with the stories. Advice?
This is what I told Scott:
1) The best route for publishing your book is finding an agent who is interested in helping you develop the project. More on that in a moment.
2) Right now, you should do some market research on books similar to your own. Which books have been published about Russia in the last 10 or so years — and specifically, which of these books have been about travel and expat life? Research these books a bit, and find out who is publishing them (sometimes it is not American publishers, but smaller outfits in the UK or even Russia). Find out about the authors, and how they might have gone about getting published. Try and find out which agents, if any, represented these writers.
3) If your humor voice is indeed very funny, that might be your best asset. Check out J. Maarten Troost‘s recent expat memoirs about the South Pacific. Different location, but effective use of humorous voice. Check and see which agent is representing him, or other travel humorists. But again, you really must have a truly funny humor voice, and that is not very common.
4) Try and pitch parts of your book, as-is or rewritten to be self-contained, to publications of all sorts — expat rags in Russia, online travel magazines, newspapers, magazines. This is a long and slow process, but it could win you some publication credits and give you an indication of how people respond to your writing.
5) If you don’t have a lot of writing and publication credits or experience, you might take your manuscript to some writing classes and workshops. I teach one myself every July at the Paris American Academy.
6) Based on the research above, start looking for agents. Click here to read some tips from my own agent, Sarah Jane Freymann.
7) I’m not sure that the photographs are going to help you much. They can’t hurt, I suppose, but I doubt they’ll be a selling point.
8) In general, your book will be a tough sell unless your stories are intriguing, your prose is sparkling, and your humor side-splitting. That’s just the reality of things for a book with as specific of a subject matter as yours.
9) Good luck!