So you want to write an origami book? Perhaps you’ve created some models you want to publish. As you know there are many ways to share you work, say a video tutorial or a set of diagrams on a freely hosted web site. So why write a book? It’s like the difference between pop music singles and albums. Good albums have a coherence and unity that makes a lasting impression; they can develop themes and refer to themselves. Perhaps you were influenced by some great (and not so great) books and you’d like to contribute to the literature of origami books? Or you’d like to see your name in print, or you want to make some money?
All of these are valid reasons to write an origami book, but if you don’t want to publish yourself then you’ll need to show a potential publisher why your work deserves to be published. They’ll need answers to these four questions:
Does an audience exist that will buy your book?
Why should you write the book instead of someone else?
Are you capable of writing the book, or working with people who can help you?
What role will you play in marketing and publicising the book?
I will address these issues in three articles.
This first article discusses how to move from an idea for a book to submitting a proposal.
The second covers negotiating the contract and writing the book.
The final article looks at production, marketing, motivation and other considerations.
A warning from the start: I am neither a lawyer nor an accountant, so please seek independent advice on any issues raised in these articles.
First the good news
Apparently, many people dream of writing and publishing a novel. Fortunately, you are a non-fiction author: you do not need an agent and your work need not languish in slush piles. Your book proposal will make clear that an audience exists for your book and show why it will sell.
The audience and your book
Publishers need to know that people will buy your book so they will recoup their investment and make a profit. To convince publishers that your book will be profitable you can show that similar books exist, but yours is special in some way. If there are no books like yours then publishers will be wary of a small market. If your book is no different to the others, then more established titles may dominate the market.
The special features of your book will benefit readers in a way that other books don’t. For example, many origami books are aimed at beginners, but your book might have special features for beginners who might struggle with other books e.g. careful explanations of folding, or a sequence of a progressively harder models. Another classic tactic is to tag onto a popular annual event like Christmas or Halloween.
You could also hook onto a trend like colouring-in or mindfulness. Perhaps more difficult is to tie-in an intellectual property e.g. a popular film or television series. This can be hard as you may find it challenging to make good origami that ties in well, and securing permissions and rights is a specialist discipline.
Remember that your work needs to be suitable for a book. If it’s too short, then a magazine article or series would be better. If it’s too long, then think about tightening the focus.
Something else to bear in mind is the difference between the people who buy books and the readers. Sometimes they are the same, but often can be different e.g. a parent or relative buying a gift for a child. The features that will benefit your readers should be clear to the buyer.
Your qualifications for your book
Publishers find it helpful if authors are qualified to write a book so that potential buyers will be taking no risks with your book. You do not need formal qualifications, but they may help e.g. you are mathematics graduate writing about mathematical origami.
Publishers assess your profile and platform. This means that your audience has some awareness of you, your work, and why you are qualified to write the book. Nowadays some publishers use social media following to measure this, even if some authors buy followers to inflate their popularity. Testimonials from others may help if you don’t have a large following e.g. other origami authors and creators. Do you have a track record in related activities e.g. writing articles and teaching at conventions and events?
Your book and competitive titles
Ideally your book will be the first, the best and the only one of its kind in its field. However, it will need some similarity to other books so that publishers know that an audience exists. This means that you will need to research the competition, including forthcoming books. What’s good about them? What’s not so good? The large internet retailers make this easy, especially if you need to see some of the contents and reviews. Be aware that some reviews may be written by friends or associates of the author.
Your research will help you create a working title that expresses your book’s contents to its intended audience. It’s a working title because it may change later. Any research will also help you write the further reading chapter/section, if appropriate.
Writing the book
Are you capable of writing the book? Perhaps you already have some models created and just need to tidy up the instructions. If not, you will need to create the models or source them from others with appropriate permission.
Depending on the publisher, you may need to create the production-quality instructions yourself or pass draft instructions to their production team to create. They may be drawn diagrams or photo-diagrams. In either case you will need to write the words because publishers like text accompanying the diagrams (even if some experienced folders don’t think they are needed).
So far, we’ve assumed your book is of instructions for models. Less common are coffee table books of photos and research monographs. For the former you will need stunning photographs of spectacular origami. For the latter, your work needs to be specialised, but readily accessible to a motivated beginner in the field. Other types of books exist; perhaps you can think of something innovative?
Marketing and publicity
With thousands of books published each year, how will your book reach its intended audience? Your proposal will address this before you even start writing your book. Obvious methods are origami societies and mailing lists. Announcements and reviews may interest potential readers. Local media are often suggested but you will need a clear local angle for journalists.
A personal website with sample content will help potential readers evaluate your book. Aim for some content that is easy to share via social networks. Your publisher will send review copies to relevant journals and publications that you suggest.
So far, we’ve considered the elements needed in a proposal. You’ll also need an annotated table of contents to show the publisher that you have planned and organised your material in a logical sequence. Remember that you don’t need to have written the whole book in advance: some sample material will suffice.
The key to a successful proposal is to tailor it to the most suitable publisher. You can look at publishers of similar books or books that you admire. How will your book fit into their list of existing and forthcoming books? Will the planned length, format and price be suitable i.e. consistent with the rest of the publisher’s catalogue? Each publisher will have different requirements. Alternatively, you could find a publisher with few or no origami books and convince them that they would benefit from an origami title, ideally related to their current or planned titles.
You can either write to one publisher at a time or several in one go. The former is recommended as you can learn and adapt your proposal each time. However, a drawback is that some publishers are slow to respond, or don’t respond at all; some do not even indicate how long a reply might take. Needless to say, do not send originals. Keep copies of any material you submit – this is easy with computerised manuscripts.
This article has examined considerations for your book that you will need to refine. They feed into your book proposal and the next stage, writing your book, which we’ll look at in the next article.