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Publishing experiences (long)

Dear Friends
        I hope this isn't going to far off our topic, but when I have written
postings about publishing, some people have contacted me so I think
there's an interest. I had been planning on starting my own publishing
company to publish books on making books for teachers. I have changed my
mind. I wanted to understand the process from my first book with
Scholastic in 1994 to my current situation of planning more books with
them- what I learned about publishing and myself in the intervening
years- and thought I'd share these thoughts with you. It's long and goes
into detail. If you're interested in publishing, you made find it

In 1994, I wrote Multicultural Books to Make and Share, an instructional
book for teachers,  which was published by Scholastic. In the summer of
1997, I have begun working on another book for them. Contrary to what
you’d expect, getting the first book published was effortless. It was
the second that gave me the trouble.
        I didn’t fully realize how charmed that first book was until I tried to
do a second. I was giving a workshop on Making Multicultural Books at a
teachers’ conference when I was approached by an editor from Scholastic
about doing a book on the subject. I said it sounded interesting and she
said she’d send me some material. In the meantime, I met with another
publisher about consulting on book projects for a reading series and
they were also very interested in my work. They were warm and
encouraging and Î liked them a lot.  When I heard from Scholastic, the
next step was to submit a proposal. Because I have a hard time working
on text and illustration separately, I came up with a basic design for
the book. I submitted a proposal with an outline and a sample chapter,
with illustrations and border designs, to both Scholastic and the other
publisher, telling each that I was submitting to the other. Multiple
submissions are okay, but you have to let them know that’s what you’re
        Almost immediately upon receiving the proposal, Scholastic called with
an offer of a contract, which included a $5,000. advance, a printing of
10,000 copies, and a quick turnaround time. I called the other publisher
to tell them. Their offer couldn’t compare in any department. I
reluctantly accepted Scholastic’s offer because I had so liked the
editor at the other publishing house. I’ll finish my story with them as
an illustration of things are not always what they seem. For the next
year or so, I would get periodic notes; we’re still working on the
series and we’ll call you soon. Then, one day, after my book was
published, I got a call saying we’re done and we want to negotiate a fee
for your work. Huh? I haven’t done anything yet. I had left some samples
for their reference. They had worked with kids to make them,
photographed the work, and written the directions. This is consulting?
The end result was that the material they used was in my book. While the
material is copyrighted in my name, the rights to the book are
controlled by Scholastic. All I could say was contact them for
permissions. I received no compensation. When I spoke to the legal
department at Scholastic, the advice was let it go. It’s a small world,
editors move around, companies buy each other, and you never know when
your paths will cross again. I followed her advice.
        I accepted the offer from Scholastic in January and met with them in
New York in February. We could have conducted the entire business by
mail and phone but I felt I wanted to meet them face to face. While
there, I met with my editor, the editor in chief, and the art director.
We discussed design, content, length, delivery date, and some business
issues. They wanted the book out as soon as possible and I agreed to
deliver the manuscript on June 15.
        I designed the book to have 16 projects. I had already developed about
half of them, and researched and developed the rest. I worked with 16
classes in my home town school system to test out the projects and
collect work for photographs for the book. As an extra, I organized an
exhibit of student work, over 360 pieces, at  the local library. I
finished the manuscript and delivered it on time. I wrote the text in
WordPerfect, which caused problems. They were set up to deal most easily
with Microsoft Word. I did the illustrations separately for which I was
paid separately.
        The actual publication of the book was a real non-event. Receiving a
package of the books on a Saturday morning in October 1994 was a thrill.
The excitement ended there. There is no glamor in professional book
publishing. In the beginning, bookstores couldn’t even get the books.
Their first market is teachers and they concentrate on direct mail. To
feed my ego, I had a book signing-celebration in my studio, which was a
disappointment. My conclusion was that the many teachers who loved
attending my workshops did not feel comfortable coming to my studio.
        In the following year, I did a lot of teaching, and did gain from the
status of being an author. I submitted a proposal to Scholastic for book
on Multicultural Holiday Books. They carefully considered the proposal,
and turned it down. Editorial comments were enclosed. There were too
many religious connections to the holidays and that raised
complications. Multicultural had peaked. I later submitted a less
crafted proposal based on a project I had done with my son’s class when
they were studying and writing fairy tales. This, too, was turned down.
I followed with a letter to my editor saying that I really wanted to
write; could we work together, could they give me a direction to pursue?
        When I received no response, I began to think that perhaps I could
publish myself. I felt that I had become so much more practical and
savvy since my first days in the arts that I could do it. I had
developed a following through my teaching and was encouraged by the
excellent response I always received. I set out to evaluate the
possibilities. I read books on publishing and took a few short and
worthwhile  classes at Cambridge Center for Adult Education. In June
1996, I attended two days of seminars in Chicago put on by the
Publishers Marketing Association. I came back inspired and ready to go.
I felt that I could do it and I had two tasks ahead. One was to set up
the business side of things. The other was to set up the creative side
of things- get a Mac and learn it, decide on the material and begin to
develop it. Of all the useful things I heard during 8 seminars, and
there were many,  the two lines that stuck in my head were, “Every
editorial decision is a marketing decision” and “We’re all liberal arts
people here, but you won’t make it if you don’t do the numbers.”
        During the following year, I bought a Mac and began to learn how to use
it. I decided on my first book and worked in schools to test the ideas
and collect work for photographing. I called the books “Museum Books”.
They opened to form four rooms, each with two walls and a floor.
        When I returned to the PMA Conference in Chicago the following year
(just this past May), I expected to put the finishing touches on my
plans. Instead, I left the first session thinking I was way over my
head. It’s interesting how differently one reacts to things from the
early planning to the I’m ready to do it stages. Besides being
overwhelmed by the magnitude of the computer and design challenges I had
set myself, as well as marketing, finding distributors, publicity, etc.,
I realized I was absolutely lousy at “doing the numbers.” I hate
bookkeeping and had been  lax about setting aside money to pay start-up
costs. If you can’t keep careful track of your money and your cash flow
in publishing, you’re pretty well doomed.
        When I met people at PMA and told them what I was doing and showed them
my first book, they would say “Why do you want to publish yourself? You
could find a publisher.” The PMA Publishing University is scheduled to
connect with BookExpo, formerly the American Booksellers Association
Show, and the major gathering of publishers in the US.  I had thought
the seminars were most important to me and couldn’t do both, but I
changed my plan and attended BookExpo for a brief but concentrated time.
I arrived first thing on opening day and saw all the educational
publishers. I introduced myself to several and showed them my published
book and my plans for other titles. Everyone’s response was the same:
great stuff, too limited. Books as a subject is too narrow.
        I returned home with a firm decision not to go into publishing myself.
I had made some contacts in Chicago, but decided my first approach
should be to Scholastic. After three years of grousing about their lack
of marketing, I still felt they were a good choice for me. Scholastic
has a good reputation with teachers. Most of the people who like my
workshops like their books. And I already had some kind of relationship
established. I sent them a detailed proposal for the book I had
considered publishing, and progressively less detailed proposals for two
more. Within a week, I received a call that they were interested.
        I was dealing with a new editor; the first one was no longer there. She
was interested in the project I was working on, what I was calling
“Museum Books”, but with a twist- on American History. I suggested we
meet  when I was in NJ visiting family and we did. She said we’d like to
see lots of your examples and I brought a big boxful. My editor, the
editor-in-chief, and two others looked through all my books. Seeing what
they were attracted to and how they approached it was fascinating. I
left the meeting with exactly what I had been asking for after my first
book, directions to pursue and a verbal agreement on several more
        While I rejoiced at my good fortune, I asked myself, why did it happen
now and not three years ago? My first reaction was, they’ve changed.
True, I am working with a new editor. But I have also changed. I have
three more years of teaching experience which have given me more
material and more understanding of both teachers and students. But the
important difference is that I’ve come to see the publisher’s side and
I’m more flexible. It’s true that no one gave me a chance to test my
flexibility three years ago, but I know I would have reacted
        The “Museum” book will be very different from the one I had envisioned.
It will be on one subject- American History. “Every editorial decision
is a marketing decision” explains it. Who is going to buy this book and
how are we going to find these people and convince them to buy it? The
decision to focus on American history as opposed to the form of the book
was just this kind of a decision. They have found that teachers are
always looking for projects to make teaching the subject more
interesting. Most teachers are going to buy the book to help them teach
Immigration or Explorers, not because they want to create an interesting
book structure.
        They also wanted the book to contain patterns. I had more trouble with
this. I don’t want kids to make books that look like they cut up mine
and reassembled it. I’ve worked with so many classes and I know what’s
possible. They were firm about wanting them. The book should work for
every teacher that buys it. Many have no confidence in their ability to
be creative. This book is not about boosting their creative confidence,
but about helping them teach American History. They said that they saw
this as something that teachers would develop over the years. The first
year, they would use the patterns and as they did it again and again,
they would use them less. They also said that the people who want to be
creative, teachers and students alike, will take it that step further.
We left it that they believed that I could come up with something that
would suit both their needs and mine, and I agreed.
        As they looked through my books, they looked for themes that would work
together. Again, they were all topic driven. The ones we arrived at were
Kindergarten Concepts (numbers, letters, opposites, sequence, colors),
Multiplication (a book of projects to help learn the multiplication
facts- teachers are always looking for a new way to help with that pesky
problem), and the Middle Ages, again not confined to books. They were
clearly not interested in teaching making books. The book form, although
it could certainly be transferable to other topics, had to be
specifically about a particular topic.
        It feels good to have several years work ahead. I do hope to eventually
expand beyond the world of professional books into the bigger world of
trade books. I know I’ll have to broaden my subject and always
understand the publisher’s side.

in good spirit,

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Newburyport, MA

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