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I Could Write a Book About My Book Ordeal!

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Celebrity entertainers and politicians have no problem getting their memoirs published. So a book partly about celebrity entertainers and politicians should have had no problem getting published, right?

Wrong.

Here's the story, which I hope contains helpful tips and warnings for would-be authors.

Back in 2009, I decided to write a memoir about my 25 years covering newspaper syndication for Editor & Publisher magazine. In the partly humorous book, I would include many anecdotes about the cartoonists and columnists I met and wrote about.

Mindful that newspaper notables may not be as famous as some other notables, I would also include my close encounters with mega-celebrities such as Arianna Huffington, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Bill Gates, Coretta Scott King, Bill O'Reilly, and Martha Stewart -- all of whom wrote or write newspaper columns but are best known for other work.

And, unlike many celebrity memoirs, my memoir would not be ghostwritten or co-authored!

So I started writing in June 2009. After spending my journalism career doing stories and columns mostly under 1,000 words, a book was a rather intimidating prospect. But given that I was no longer in my 50-hour-per-week E&P job, I had some time. And luckily I'm a pack rat who saved thousands of magazines, letters, and other memory-sparking stuff from my E&P days.

I banged out and revised about 10,000 words in two months, came up with the title of Comic (and Column) Confessional, and then -- having heard that nonfiction books don't need to be finished before trying to sell them -- sought out an agent. I chose about 100 agents from a reference book in my local library (one of my favorite places!), studied the websites of those agents, composed a query letter, and emailed 10 agents I thought might be the most appropriate for my work.

Two of the agents asked for a book proposal. A what?! Oops -- I needed a book proposal! So I did online research to see what that involved, and created a 60-page proposal that included a description of my book and myself, various ways to publicize the memoir, a sample chapter and summaries of all the other chapters, etc.

None of the first 10 agents ultimately wanted the book, but I received some valuable feedback. Perhaps the most important advice was that Comic (and Column) Confessional needed to be more than a collection of anecdotes and a chronicle of media changes since the 1980s. It also required a narrative arc or arcs.

So although I was reluctant to do a "tell all" blabbing about my personal life, I thought I better include things like how the E&P job helped me lose some of my shyness and how a malpractice disaster involving one of my daughters affected me and my marriage. (Also, the cats I've lived with got some well-deserved cameos!)

Now it was time to email those other 90 or so agents in one fell swoop. About half said no and most of the others didn't bother replying.

But an agent just getting her start in literary representation expressed interest, and I liked her when we spoke on the phone. Unfortunately, the contract her agency offered was not good for authors. Soon after, another non-New York agent was willing to take me on, and she offered a very fair agreement that I signed in the fall of 2009.

Meanwhile, I continued the fun/agonizing process of writing Comic (and Column) Confessional -- and finished an 118,000-word draft in April 2009. (That was before I did several rewrites and made many cuts that sliced the manuscript to 86,000 words by early 2012.)

Unfortunately, the agent couldn't sell my book, and we parted ways at the end of 2010. I was very disappointed but not shocked. I knew that getting published was very difficult (especially in these awful economic times), that I wasn't well-known outside my field, and that not enough of the famous people I discussed in the book were very famous people outside of the newspaper world.

Then I tried the university press route starting in the spring of 2011. I queried several dozen presses, and a major one in the Northeast seemed most interested. This press asked me not to seek any other publishers while it considered my book, and also asked me to send two printouts of the manuscript and other material. The ink, paper, and mailing costs were steep; couldn't they have allowed me to use email in this digital age?!

After sending the material, I waited several months without hearing a peep (apparently the press was going through a change in one of its top editor spots). Then, a first outside reader for the press had mostly positive things to say about my book, and suggested several revisions/additions -- which I made. The acquisitions editor liked my book, too, after which I would now just have to wait for a second outside reader's opinion.

But then the press changed the rules in the middle of the game and told me it was no longer publishing memoirs! So that was six months wasted, and I felt stupid that I hadn't tried to place the book elsewhere during that time. Obviously, exclusivity is great for slow-moving university presses but rotten for the authors they don't sign.

After feeling furious at that press for weeks, I recovered enough by late 2011 to start directly pitching smaller publishers -- and found Xenos Press, which is scheduled to release Comic (and Column) Confessional next month. If the smaller-publisher approach hadn't worked, self-publishing would have been my next step.

That's a condensed version of my book-writing/publisher-seeking odyssey! Any comments? And what has been your experience -- or the experiences of writers you know -- in the authorial quest?

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Dave Astor's new book Comic (and Column) Confessional is scheduled to be published next month by Xenos Press.

The partly humorous memoir is about Dave's 25 years at Editor & Publisher magazine covering, interviewing, and meeting notables such as Arianna Huffington, Heloise, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Coretta Scott King, Martha Stewart, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"); and notable cartoonists such as Gary Larson ("The Far Side"), Lynn Johnston ("For Better or For Worse"), Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"), Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Stan Lee ("Spider-Man"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury"), Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County"), Scott Adams ("Dilbert"), Jim Davis ("Garfield"), Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates"/"Steve Canyon"), and Herblock. The book also chronicles changes in the media, discusses personal stuff, and more.

The book will soon be available for online purchase. If you'd like information about ordering a signed copy, contact Dave at dastor@earthlink.net