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Why Getting a Book Made is So Very, Very Difficult

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I am trying to get a book published.

There it is.

For years and years, my friends have been urging me to write a book, and I always shrugged it off. They were probably romanticizing what it means to be a writer in this day and age, and while I helped co-write a book at The Onion (along with lots of my colleagues there), I admit: There’s something appealing about imagining a book I wrote still standing on shelves long after I die. I think that’s what my friends are imagining too.

The problem with that is that, as you likely know, book stores are dying. The media is suffering. Publishing is groaning. Many outlets consider hanging in to be thriving, and there are reasons for that not completely caused by the economy. But the economy and those reasons are why it’s so very, very difficult to get a book made.

“But why don’t you just self-publish it?” I’ve been asked. I see that as as the last approach to explore after all other possibilities have been exhausted. Plus, that takes money, and I’ve thought about going the crowdfunding route, but as my book touches on that subject, I’m not sure it’d do more than get a spike of interest and only reach that select group of people in that one shot inital pressing. And I want this book to be something very ambitious — an app with supplemental, periodic updates as a companion piece to a physical book. (I suppose having a literary agent appeals to me, and from a career standpoint, is more of a stepping stone to somewhere else more than a successful Kickstarter is, but it’s also harder to accomplish.)

I’ve edited posts from people here and have spoken with friends who have had books published, and their books have ranged from slap-dash “hey let’s just repackage a bunch of existing content and call it a book” as inroads to exploiting affiliate-marketing dollars to, basically, thick self-published zines. I want to do a legit physical book of all original content, which almost nobody in my circles is doing anymore. 

So far, my efforts have gone like this: I send off the pitch my co-author and I have honed, which includes a competitive analysis, a fleshed-out table of contents and our bios. Two agents have expressed an interest in it, and then a week or two later will say, basically, “Hey, this is a great idea but unfortunately not a good fit for us. Good luck!” Then they disappear into the night, not responding to subsequent emails. It’s not incredibly helpful — sorta like when you’re dating someone and they say, “I need to work on my career, so I’m not dating anyone right now. It’s not that I don’t want to date you; I’m just not dating period.” Tell us the real reason you're passing and we can improve upon that in our next pitch!

I have been embarking on this in semi-secrecy since September, and co-writing it all along since then and I’ve decided to start writing about this to share what it’s like trying to get a book made. It’s one of those things I get asked about often that there is no silver-bullet answer to. But I hope you enjoy sharing this journey from me and can learn from it. More to come in future posts.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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