Getting a book published is an admirable goal that so many of us have. It is easy to dream about becoming a best-selling author but the chances of doing so are very slim. Nevertheless to get your book accepted by a proper publisher is well worth achieving and well worth the work it takes to do so. Besides the personal satisfaction of being able to say you are a published author, getting published is a great boost to your credibility as a writer and it can open many other doors. For example, I got to be a guest speaker at Glastonbury Festival in 2004, talking about the herbs in my book that can be used in witchcraft. I sold some copies of my work too, of course!
Also, once you have had your first book accepted and put into print it is far easier to convince a publisher to take a second or third book. Unless, of course, your first book does so badly that no publisher would want to risk taking your work again.
I have been lucky because I have had two books published by Moon Books/John Hunt Publishing. My first book, which is entitled Herbs of the Northern Shaman, sold enough copies to pass the sales barrier for the company, which meant that it then got a lot more publicity and resulted in them seeing me as an author worth investing in. My second book Pagan Portals: Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets, was published earlier this year, and is already in stock at Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.
But what does it take to get a book published once you have written one? The answer is a lot of hard work and persistence. You are going to get disappointments, no matter how good your work is. Unless you are already famous, publishers are rightly wary of putting their money into backing a new author. Remember that even J.K. Rowling was rejected time and time again before she finally found a publisher willing to give her a chance with her Harry Potter books. You have to convince a publisher that what you are offering is going to sell and that there is a target audience for it waiting to buy and read your writings.
In my case, I think having an new angle has helped a lot. There are loads of books on herbs out there already but with both my books I have come up with something a bit different. In Herbs of the Northern Shaman I only wrote about herbs that grow somewhere in the northern hemisphere. The book is about plants that had some psychoactive property or that were mind-altering in some way. The herbs could have sedative, narcotic, stimulant, antidepressant, or entheogenic effects. Many of the herbs I wrote about have been used in witchcraft and others have been employed by tribal shamans.
First edition of Herbs of the Northern Shaman
This book actually is in its second edition because it was originally published in America by Loompanics Unlimited in 2000. The illustrations and photos were in black and white and the book was only in a limited print run. Nevertheless, it was very exciting for me to get a publishing contract and for the day to arrive when a box of copies of my book was delivered to my home. I even got a $1,000 advance too.
I had spent the last two years before this sending my work out to many British publishers, mostly in London, and that was how I found out by way of experience how difficult it is to get a publishing deal. I had a lot of standard letters saying “not really what we are looking for right now but best of luck.” But just when I was feeling very discouraged I was invited for an interview about my book proposal at Thorsons Books in London which was very encouraging. I think I made a good impression on Louise McNamara at Thorsons, and she gave me the impression she was keen on accepting my work, however, she told me that she had to get it also accepted by her colleagues at the company. Naively and optimistically, I came away from that interview thinking I had got a deal but a week or so later a letter arrived telling me Louise had tried to get my book taken on but unfortunately it was not accepted. Disappointing as this news was, it gave me the impetus to give up on the UK and to try overseas. That was why I started looking for publishers in the US. And I got an acceptance from Loompanics in a matter of weeks, not years.
Wonderful as this was, I didn’t realise then that getting published is only a lower rung on the ladder of success as an author. You still need the book to sell and this means it needs good marketing, publicity, reviews and distribution. I remember taking copies of my book into the city centre in Cardiff to see if I could get it stocked at some of the well-known bookstores, such as Waterstones. I was asked “Have you got an account with us?” to which I could only sadly answer, no. I was asked if I had been through to the “head office,” or if I had a distributor. I hadn’t. And so it was that I was to learn how important it is to have distribution in place. Loompanics were willing to send samples copies of my book to possible distributors I found, but seeing as I was a new author and seeing as the shipping costs for boxes of books to be sent from the US to the UK was very high, I failed to find a distributor.
Fortunately, this is not a problem with my new publisher because Moon Books are available on both sides of the Atlantic. The company has an office in Winchester in the UK and in Washington in the US.
My advice to any budding authors out there is to keep writing and keep looking for publishers. It is important to do your homework too. By that I mean you need to look for appropriate publishers for the genre your work is in. It is no use at all sending a proposal for a fictitious love story to a book publisher that publishes scientific books and non-fiction. When researching publishers make sure you find out what types of book they publish, and make sure you read their submissions details. Take note of what a publisher wants and do your best to fulfil their requirements, and good luck!