Book Report #2: What can cocktails teach you about publishing?

For our anniversary last May, I backed The Aviary's Kickstarter campaign. That my husband likely won't receive this gift until after our next anniversary is evidence that good books take work. 

The wait has been made much easier by the best updates I've seen for any Kickstarter project, which are newly inspiring to me as I start working on my second draft. 

See, because I recently finished a first draft.

See, because I recently finished a first draft.

Some of the updates feature recipes, like the clarified banana infused O'Doyle Rules. Others riff on techniques, like how to make simple syrup. There are lengthy discussions of typography and photography. Project Update #3 is an in-depth analysis of book publishing, one which might leave you in despair if, say, you aren't the co-owner of world-famous restaurants or a pioneer of molecular gastronomy but were considering publishing a book anyway. I hope all of this stuff about making a book somehow makes it into the actual book. 

My favorite is Project Update #8, which chronicles the team's decisions over page guidelines. They had to decide what size the cookbook pages should be so that they could figure out how many pages there should be, a decision that ripples into paper type and cost. These are precisely the kinds of decisions I don't want to make about my own book. My modest dream is that one or two thousand copies of this book will be a dog-eared, milk-stained mess, so what the paper looks like is far less important to me than the words on it. 

So why are the Aviary's project updates so helpful to my own book writing process? They're a frequent reminder that every step in a book takes more time and deliberation than you'd expect, even when each step seems relatively straightforward. Page count is a great example. How many pages should a book be? The answer seems easy: the book should be as long as you need to make your point.

Except that's not really true. If you page through your own non-fiction hardcovers, you'll notice that many hover around the same page mark (288 is a sort of magic number), because of how books are printed. So when you're plotting out a book outline, you need to think toward that general number and use it to make decisions about what does and doesn't make it into the book. 

Another phase that seems straightforward but is actually quite messy is the book proposal. There are two basic ways to get your book published: get an agent who sells your book to a publisher or sell your book to a publisher. In either case, you have to write a book proposal, which provides an overview and outline of your book, sample chapters, and details about why YOU are the best possible person to write this book.

Okay, there's technically a third option--self-publishing--but even if you're going this route, you should really be writing a proposal anyway, as that will help you make important decisions about the audience and scope of your work.

This week I've been tackling the hardest three paragraphs to write: the overview to open my book proposal. Why should it be so hard to write three paragraphs? I've written seven here already and it only took one quick sit-down at the computer. These three paragraphs are different because they're supposed to capture the problem my book sets out to solve. I've written dozens of versions so far. Some start with stats on the number of babies who die in the U.S. each year before demonstrating that 99.4% of them are just fine. Some start with stats on how many parents are googling their parenting questions. I haven't been satisfied with these versions because they're not getting at the main meat of my book: the kinds of stories (stories that scare, stories that shame, stories that salve) that turn up when parents google their safety questions. 

So I'm working on a new version today. The idea should be familiar to regular snackdinner readers--I've written about the futility of late-night baby research before--but now the trick is to define the problem in half a page: 

9 mnth old wpn’t slep. 

A first-time parent is up at 3 AM with her infant who, as the app she’s been diligently updating tells her, has not slept for longer than four hours in three weeks. Google translates her bleary-eyed thumb-typing and helpfully supplies her with dozens of pages describing the nine-month sleep regression. 

Along with the wailing infant, mom now has two new problems. First, the internet “diagnosis” of sleep regression has pathologized her son’s behavior: now there’s really something wrong with him. Second, some of the articles she’s reading presume that she has caused that problem and shame her for her poor parenting choices. Those two problems will combine and lead to a third one: mom’s about to spend large sums of money on products guaranteed to solve her baby’s sleep problems. 

Google is viewed as an indispensable parenting tool, but all too often parents’ searches lead to stories that scare them, shame them, or offer to salve through the latest new product.

Parents, does this overview sound like you? Did you type a question like this that send you through rabbit holes of scary parenting articles? Did you wish for a resource that would help you avoid this kind of late-night Google-driven panic? Drop me a line and tell me what you think, and sign up for my newsletter to keep following the process.