Apparently, it is virtually impossible to get a publisher. I'm glad I didn't know before I tried, or I might have been put off. As it is, I got two offers on my parenting book for dads, Commando Dad. This is how.
1. I wrote the book. Well, the first version of it any way. After four years of thinking about it, talking about it and getting my friends to agree it was a good idea, I was no nearer to actually writing it. People were now starting to ask me whatever happened about the book. I found it hard to say nothing, because I never did anything with it - far harder than I would have found it to say that I had given it my best shot, but no publisher was interested. So for 10 Saturday mornings in a row, I sat down with my wife and wrote a chapter. We promised to send what we'd written to our cousin Annie every week, a promise that kept us honest. I found that having a pile of papers that I could point to and say 'this is my book' had a miraculous effect on galvanising me into action. I had a book. It was real.
2. I wrote a book synopsis. In fact, the synopsis was so good that it actually made me change the book. Trying to make it as appealing as possible to publishers, (by answering questions such as who would buy it, how it was different from what was already out there etc.) made me look at my book more critically. I included three chapters of the book in the synopsis.
3. I didn't bother with an agent. Oh, I know you are supposed to, because that's the way of doing things. But when the penny dropped that I was supposed to go through the Writer's & Artist's Yearbook and send out a lot of manuscripts to a lot of agents, the majority of whom, by the simple law of averages would reject it I decided not to. I didn't want to feel that I was a failure before I had even begun. And stamps are expensive.
4. I did my research on publishers. The problem with agents was that we didn't know a Morris Minor from a Bentley, and so I thought by far the best bet was to target suitable publishers and ring them to find out the agents they cared about. Then I would just target those. I had already researched publishers - on and offline - that had released books specifically for dads, written by dads. I had a list of 8. I called up 4, and two of those asked to see the manuscript. The two that reviewed the manuscript made offers. In less than a week.
5. I spoke to the publishers about their vision for the book. The first time you speak to a publisher it is an exciting and amazing experience but I had watched too many documentaries about famous bands signing to labels to get carried away in the moment. Act in haste, repent at leisure. As my criteria for Commando Dad had always been 'would I pick up this book?' and 'would this book have been useful to me as a stay-at-home dad?' I prepared a set of questions to find out if their vision for the book was the same as mine. I asked them what they thought it would look like, and who they would imagine buying it. I also asked them to send over a draft contract, which is very, very telling.
In the end I chose the publisher that seemed to have a similar vision for Commando Dad, and was amenable to listening to the opinion of a complete novice like me. The book's not out until May next year, just in time to make a great present for Father's Day - so I have yet to see how it will sell, but I can honestly say that together we produced the exact book that I have been seeing in my mind's eye for years.
This of course is the short version - each of these bullet points could make a long and probably boring blog all of their own, and we haven't even got into the 'what to do with a contract' territory, but the main points are here. I am happy to elaborate if anyone wants me to.