When Vakasha Brenman and I set out to write The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, all we knew was that we had a calling to share the truth of the unicorn’s story with readers.
Here are some things we didn’t know when we started out on this journey together:
- How long the project would take.
Vakasha recently passed away in May. In the 4+ years that I knew her, she must have joked about the first time I met her at least 200 times. In that now ignominious moment, I told her we’d be able to write the book in a month.
It took us a year and a half.
She never let me live that one down. And I love her for it. When a friend gets egg on their face, you got to rub that yolk on ’em good and long.
2. How to mesh our different work styles together.
I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. Truthfully, it used to be (and to a lesser extent still is) hard for me to ask for help from others. In the past, this has made cooperative work difficult for me.
Vakasha was my polar opposite professionally. As a documentary and stage producer, she thrived on that level of close collaboration.
The first few weeks of working together were awkward. Communication between us was a challenge. Then Vakasha sat me down and told me she couldn’t work like this. The early drafts were nowhere near where they needed to be and it was odd for both of us to work together in the same house, yet treat each other like strangers.
After that day, we worked out a new style. Vakasha and I each did our part on our own when appropriate, but both of us focused closely on bouncing ideas off each other and making much of the writing process a collective effort. It was a lot more fun to do things that way and it led Vakasha and I to becoming extremely close friends. It also led to what we believe to be the best book on unicorns ever written. Of course, you should judge for yourself by picking up a copy.
3. How to find a publisher for our book.
When Vakasha and I agreed to work together at the end of 2015, I had already been around the block more than once as a writer. I had published more than 50 short stories and poems in at least 20 different literary magazines at the time. But this was different. This was a full-length book. And it was in a totally new space for me, writing in the spiritual and esoteric genres. I had a lifelong interest in topics of a paranormal, supernatural, and mystical nature, but there had never been the right avenue to pair that fascination with my writing ability. That changed when I met Vakasha and she shared her idea for a book.
We worked diligently on The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn for around 18 months, but then came the difficult part: what next? How would we find the right publisher? Could we even find a publisher?
As a former publisher myself with Beautiful Losers Magazine and a few other literary ventures, I understood that there was a big difference between getting poetry and short fiction published in literary journals and finding the right publisher for a book. Most literary magazines that focus on short fiction and poetry are online-only passion projects. Also, the vast majority of litmags don’t make any money, nor is that their intent; they are purely labors of love.
Obviously, when it comes to publishing books, such an approach isn’t feasible. For one thing, printing books costs money. Even the most barebones publisher will be looking (at the very least) to recoup the cost of printing an initial run. Naturally, there are many other expenses that must be considered, and so a publisher will certainly factor in the projected sales potential of a book into their decision to publish it or not.
That’s not to say that the quality of a book doesn’t matter, or an author’s platform, or the timeliness of a topic, or so many other factors that weigh into a decision to publish. But it does mean that getting a book published is far more difficult than getting a poem or a piece of short fiction published. It just is. There’s no way around it.
My first instinct was to ask a family friend who is a New York Times-bestselling author to see if he could open up doors for us. The problem was that he had already fronted a screenplay of mine to his literary agent. That agent, unfortunately, judged that the script wasn’t marketable enough to sell or take me on. Persistence is key, so I tried again with my family friend, but it was to no avail.
With my best contact burned out, Vakasha and I were in a tough spot. We had worked so hard on this wonderful book, but now had to start either cold pitching agents to represent us or self-publish. While self-publishing is a good avenue for some authors and for some books, we didn’t feel it was the right fit for The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn. And when it came to cold pitching agents, I had already tried that with a to-date unreleased YA manuscript that Vakasha had co-written with her friend Tim Steffen, and struck out after pitching more than 30 agents. I thought her and Tim’s book was as spectacular as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, yet none of these agents were interested in the concept.
It may sound strange to those gripped in a materialistic view of the world, and my spiritual beliefs are not a focus of this blog, but we felt that the unicorn was guiding our book, making sure that it would open up the right doors to get us to the finish line. We were right. It did, even in these difficult circumstances.
Vakasha remembered that her close friend Michael Mann had been a leading figure in the British publishing scene for decades. We searched through her Rolodex to find his number. When we finally found it, the number was no longer in service.
We were back to square one.
One thing I learned from my partnership, friendship, and mentorship with Vakasha is the importance of PERSISTENCE. The odds may be against you when you try to find a publisher, or do anything in life that seems challenging and in which most people fail; however, you need to give it your all and try. You may not always achieve your goal if you try, but you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t try.
And so we tried. Vakasha called a number of mutual friends. A week or two later, she received a call from Michael. One of these mutual friends had told Michael that Vakasha wished to speak with him.
In short measure, Vakasha shared our manuscript with Michael. He enjoyed it immensely, recommending it for publication to John Hunt Publishing.
From speaking with Michael, researching John Hunt Publishing, and seeing how they work with authors, we felt excited to work with them and hoped we’d be offered a contract. Sure enough, after multiple team members reviewed it, The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn was judged a good fit for publication.
Since then, it’s been a wonderful experience working with John Hunt Publishing. Their team members have helped us whenever we had a query about the publishing process, questions about negotiating art rights, and all the other aspects of publishing a book that were new to us. They’ve worked with suppliers in the UK and US and different industry catalogs to ensure our book has excellent placement. And they connected us to G L Davies, an amazing publicist who landed me an incredible number of bookings with wonderful radio and podcast hosts, including on the nationally-syndicated radio program Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. In fact, you can listen to my interview with Coast to Coast on Monday morning (September 7th) at 3:00 AM Eastern time / 12:00 AM Pacific time in the U.S.
It has been an amazing experience for me working with such a supportive publisher as John Hunt Publishing, but what about you? How do you find the right publisher for your book? What are the considerations you need to look for? Here’s a quick checklist:
- Do they publish books in your genre?
O-Books, one of John Hunt Publishing‘s imprints, specializes in books within the spiritual genre, especially when paired with personal development. Our book is a summary of the magical mythical unicorn across time periods, spiritual traditions, and cultures with a focus on how the unicorn can help you on your path. It’s a perfect match. If Vakasha or I had pitched O-Books on a book outside those parameters, it’s almost certain that they’d reject it. Many publishers specialize in certain genres. Make sure the publishers you’re targeting are a good fit in that respect.
2. How much input do you want from your publisher?
You wrote your book to the best of your ability. How comfortable are you with major changes to it at a publisher’s request? Find out if your publisher trusts their authors’ vision, like John Hunt Publishing does, or is likely to recommend numerous changes, some of which may not exactly be in line with what you wish to present to your readers.
3. How active are they in placement and publicity?
John Hunt Publishing has been fantastic for us in both respects. However, some publishers, because of limited financial resources or a more hands-off approach, take a far less active role. You may have to hire your own publicist or do the work yourself (look forward to a future post on that soon). As always, do your research before pitching a publisher or signing any contract.
4. Do you prefer a tech-forward experience or do you want a more traditional approach?
COVID-19 highlighted the dangers of a traditional, sit-down approach to publishing where authors are bogged down in countless meetings. John Hunt Publishing does a great job of keeping everything online, so that when you need support or team members need to touch base, it’s all done in a safe and easy way. This allows them to publish authors from around the globe, not just in their native UK. I think it’s great, but understand there are different ways of dealing with the business end for writers, so choose to pitch a publisher with a compatible approach.
These are a few factors to start with. Vakasha and I were fortunate in finding the perfect publisher for The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn. I wish you the best of luck in finding the ideal publisher for your book!
If you need a little help getting your manuscript into shape before pitching publishers, try our book review service. It’s far more affordable than hiring a developmental editor and will allow you to become aware of all the potential weaknesses in your book so that you can address these issues on your own. For more information, click here.