"The Perfect Proposal" - heads-up for wanna-be writers

The one and only Tony Collins of Monarch Books (an imprint of Lion Hudson) has given his permission for me to post here two articles he has written to help writers find their way through to seeing their work published. Tony (if his face looks familiar to readers of this blog, the name 'Badger' may jog your memory) is an experienced and respected figure in the world of Christian publishing.  Back in the last century, at the end of  the 1980s, I first met him when he invited me to speak about my first novel at the Kingsway trade sales meeting - Monarch was in those days the imprint that Tony had developed at Kingsway publishing house, and my first novel was an unsolicited manuscript that a friend working at Kingsway put on Tony's desk.  He read it, loved it, and accepted it.  We first met in person at that trade sales meeting.

Over the years Tony has published (and edited) several books for me.  Five years ago this September we got married.  Though we have continued to work together professionally, my fiction is nowadays published by Crossway, a US publishing house whose books are distributed in the UK by IVP.

The only thing I don't like about being married to Tony is that is has necessitated a greater distance between us professionally, and I have never come across so fine an editor. 

This guest article by Tony was originally written for the magazine of The Association of Christian Writers.  Find them on Facebook here 

                          THE PERFECT PROPOSAL

I love books, and have been publishing them for over 30 years.  A particular joy is to discover new authors.

Yet I turn down most of the proposals I receive.  My equivalents at other publishing houses do the same. Why?

I received a submission when a rookie editor at Hodders.  The author, a kind lady, knew that Anglican ordinands need a healthy devotional life. Accordingly she had written a 300-page collection of thoughts and prayers for this highly specific readership. There were at most a thousand or so ordinands each year in Britain: not a bustling marketplace, yet this lady had spent years on her project. Every week I receive enthusiastic proposals which are equally heartbreaking.

Many readers will be impatient with the basics, but they are so often ignored that they bear repetition.  You are planning a Really Good Book.  Ask yourself:
  • What is your subject? (Where would you find it in a shop? If it is fiction, what is the genre?)
  • What is the function of your book?  (Is it designed to resource, to teach, to entertain, to encourage, to provoke? Is it necessary, restorative, corrective or fun? What is its point?)
  • Which readers do you have in mind? (Be specific: ‘adult Christian’ does not help much – ‘adult Christian leaders in evangelical and charismatic churches, particularly in tough urban settings’ is more useful).
  • Who are you? (Why should a reader pay attention to your words? Do you know your subject? What qualifications do you have?  What position do you hold? What networks do you belong to? Do you have a speaking profile?)
  • What are the main alternatives? (Indicate why yours differs. What is original about your book? How is it superior?)
  • Would your book fit our list?  (Which section? Have you approached the right publisher, the right imprint?)
  • How would you support the marketing of your book? (Budgets are always tight, and paid advertising is frequently ignored.   How could you help our marketing team to get your book into the public eye?)
  • Who could endorse your book? 

It is possible to tick all of the above, and still fail to catch the attention of a busy editor.  Publishing is quite an individual business, and editors vary.  
For myself, I am looking for energy, focus, courtesy and spiritual authenticity.

Energy – is the reader compelled to turn the page?  Is the writing spare, articulate, stimulating to read?  Are the ideas crisp?  

Focus – Has the author got a grip on both subject and readership?  What they are trying to achieve?  Could they write a mission statement for their book? If fiction, has the author done their research?

Courtesy – You, the author, are a guest in your reader’s brain.  Imagine yourself seated at your host’s supper table, and set out to entertain, to charm, to inform, to be agreeable.  Remember that your ‘host’ need not invite you back, nor finish your book, nor recommend you to friends.

Spiritual authenticity – this is the hardest quality to discern, but probably the most important.  I pray daily for the wisdom to spot true gold, and it is never easy, since I am as spiritually myopic as most. Whatever the genre, I am looking for that particular quality that tells me: here is a book by a man or woman who walks in the company of the Almighty.

There is one further constraint. Publishing, when it works, is a joy. But authors and publishers of Christian books must always be able to answer the question: would your book not be a greater tribute to the Creator if left as a tree?

Tony Collins is publisher of Monarch Books, an imprint of Lion Hudson plc, www.lionhudson.com.  Find Monarch on Facebook here.