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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

So, You Wrote a Book - Now What?

I thought that this week I would talk a little bit about the journey I’ve been on now for about a year and a half. I started writing the book that is about to come out in print form toward the end of 2021. I actually finished the first copy of the manuscript right around the first of the year in 2022, and still have the original manuscript on my computer.

First, I have to tell you how the book originally came together. I think it was in late November of 2021 that my wife – bless her soul – said to me something like “You talk about composites so much, maybe you should write a book.” And the idea of actually writing the book came to me in a flash.

As I thought about what I would write and how the book should be structured, and in what manner to write it, what came to me was to take a piece of 11x17 paper, draw a big ellipse on it, and write a very short blurb about what the book was to be about. What I wanted was a book written much in the style of how Mark Miodownik wrote “Stuff Matters”. In essence, I wanted a first person, story telling style that would introduce composites and all the science, chemistry, engineering, and fabrication technology described in a manner that even someone not skilled in the art could understand it.

Then out from the ellipse, I put lines and wrote a three or four word subject for each chapter that I wanted in the book, because I wanted the book to be a complete treatise on composites, starting with history, then a description of the periodic table and why it’s important to composites, and then on to the rest of the book. What I came up with after several edits is shown below.

Hopefully everyone can read my handwriting, but what you see here is the structure of the book. I kept this on an easel next to me as I was writing this thing, and I added to it as I thought of more things I would like to add until it became what you see here, and also became a book.

I started writing the book in the late November / early December timeframe and did the bulk of the writing over the two week hiatus – what is called the “end of year shutdown” that happens in pretty much every aerospace company. Northrop has the same thing, so I spent 10 days, working from the time I got out of bed until I went back to bed, writing the book. I finished the last bit of it in the second week in January of 2022, and had a complete manuscript.

It of course needed some editing and massaging until I was happy with it. And, at the time I didn’t know much about the publishing business, so I did a lot of research into publishers of non-fiction books, and put together a list of all of them, what they publish, and what their process is. By the end of March, I had pretty much finished all of the research I did, and had a proposal put together for publishers.

I need to talk about this piece of the overall puzzle a little bit. Some publishers are closed off to new submissions, but most of the non-fiction publishers have a process that they want all of their authors to go through. The most common process is to put together what they call a “proposal”. What this consists of is an overall outline of the manuscript that you intend to write, along with a few sample chapters – usually the first two or three. Also included in the proposal is some idea of when the full manuscript will be ready, and most importantly what your target audience is and why you think you can sell your book.

Anyway, I had the proposal pretty much in hand, along with the required marketing plan (more of a how are you going to get your book sold) and of course already had the manuscript in hand, so I put the first three chapters of the book, along with the table of contents and a title page, into the proposal. On Friday, April 29, 2022 I sent it out to 5 publishers to start with: Taylor and Francis (I thought they would be my first choice), TCK Publishing, Workman Publishing, McFarland Books, and OneWorld Publishing.

I did not expect to hear back from any of them for several weeks, but on Monday, May 2, I heard back from Taylor and Francis. They are a largely academic publisher and they mostly publish textbooks and books for professionals – like engineers. They wanted to publish the book, but they don’t have a traditional book contract like most publishers, so I started a dialog with them.

Then, on the same day, I got an answer back from TCK publishing which was a turn down letter, which is what I was expecting to get, but not quite so quickly.

Then, on that Friday, May 6, I got a message back from McFarland that they wanted to offer me a contract. And that is the beginning of this story about what happens once you get your book accepted and get a contract for publishing it.

First, though, I really did not expect it to happen that fast. I had done enough research into getting your book published that I was expecting it to take at least 6 months to land a book contract. And I landed one in a week. I guess you have to write a good book that a publisher might be interested in. And, doing the legwork to decide where to send your proposal is key to this. I had done research on 30+ publishers of non-fiction books. I kept a spreadsheet of the name of the publisher, their website link, what they were interested in, their process, who to contact (editors), a column of my impressions from reading through their process and what they were looking for in a book, and then rated each of them on my chances – good, maybe, and no.

So, McFarland turned around a contract in just a few days, and we went through a series of back and forth emails about what they wanted to see in a manuscript, what figures my daughter, Candace Hignett, had drawn to get her permission to use them in the book, some idea of what sort of numbering scheme they prefer, those sort of overall formatting and permissions things.

So, the next step is me going back through the manuscript, removing figure numbers, putting captions for each figure in a separate file that traced to what they call an “Image” number, put all of the figures into one directory on my computer to upload to their site, and in general completely reformatted the manuscript. For figures in the manuscript what they had be do was use a line like “Image 025 goes here”.

I signed the contract on May 9, 2022. Then, when I got all of this done, I uploaded the manuscript, all of the images, the captions, etc. to a secure FTP site that they set up for me to provide everything to them.

Then I worked on getting all of the chemical formula images done (I used Chem Doodle – great software by the way), got permissions to use all of the rest of the images that are in the book, and on July 3, 2022 I uploaded the finished manuscript, all of the images, the footnotes (they call them notes), all of the captions that go with the images, and all of the permissions that I got to be able to use the images. My manuscript was complete. On July 8, I got a message from McFarland that they considered my manuscript to be complete.

Then McFarland suggested some cover art, which I did not like at all, so I set my daughter Candace (degreed graphic artist) to coming up with some ideas for the cover. The image at the top of this post is the cover art that she came up with. Hers is actually just very slightly different, but only a graphic artist would be able to tell them apart, so for all intents and purposes the cover was drawn by Candace.

Then over the course of the next month or so we went back and forth over what the title of the book should be. My original title, as I said previously, was “They Call it String and Glue”, but McFarland did not like that as a title. So, they proposed several that I didn’t like either. Then we finally settled on the title of the book today, “The String and Glue of our World”.

Then came the details of the remainder of the book. They wanted a Foreword to be added to the book, and they thought that it should be written by someone other than myself, the author. So, I got my Major Prof for my Ph.D., Professor Michael Santare of U of Delaware, to write one for me, and that is the one that is in the book.

On September 21, 2022, my manuscript was “complete” according to McFarland. I think you might be getting the drift of why I’m writing this post. From the time I started writing the book until the day my publisher said it was complete and would go to editing was about 9 months. This takes a long time. It’s a bit easier if you already have the manuscript done and you’re not a first time author, but the first time is a lot of work and quite a bit of it is stuff you did not expect to have to do.

The next time I heard anything at all was in January of this year. McFarland had put out their “Spring Catalog” which has upcoming books in it that are available for pre-sale. I believe I wrote a post about that when I saw it there. It also goes on the Amazon website as well as the Barnes and Nobles website as a pre-sale link as well.

At that point, McFarland asked me for what they call “blurbs” that I had collected from reviewers of the book. I really did not have any, but I did contact quite a few of the people that had reviewed the book for me, and asked for blurbs. I didn’t get much back from anyone. I also provided McFarland with names of some of the heavyweights in composites that I had sent review copies of the manuscript to. Mostly these are folks that I have known for several years since I’ve been in this business for as long as I have. I don’t know how many actually reviewed the book, because I asked them to send their reviews to McFarland.

From that time until I received the proofs a week ago, there was just a smattering of correspondence with McFarland. In March they asked me a few questions that had come up during editing which I answered right away.

So, from submitting a proposal for a book to getting it out in print takes between a year and a year and a half.

And that’s what this ride has been like for me. I imagine that it is very similar for every first time author, as long as the book is a good book and the author has put in the time to do research on publishers that publish books in their field. It ain’t easy that’s for sure. And it takes far longer than you think it should.

That’s it for this week. My apologies for the length of this thing, but I thought that I needed to share this journey with people so that anyone that is thinking of writing a book would know up front what they are up against. Hopefully it can also serve as a guide to anyone contemplating going through this.

And, finally, if you are interested, please this link to pre-order the book:

Or, if you want until the book is out in print in a week or two, I will have a link on my website where you can buy a signed copy from me. It will be the same as the retail price of the book - $29.95, but I will add California sales tax and book rate shipping to it so the total will be a bit more. But you will have a copy signed by the author.

See y’all next week.


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