How Book Projects Happen: Lust, Violence, Religion

18 Feb

Lately it’s been up to our editorial/marketing interns to produce a steady flow of blog posts, but I thought that I’d like to start getting back into the mix of things here as well. In particular, we have some interesting new projects in the works and, given that each came to us via a different scenario, I’ll be talking about the acquistion of each in a series of upcoming posts.  First up is Brad Turner’s Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco project that will be one of our high-profile releases this coming fall.

For us, LVR represents a departure from our normal list of books as it doesn’t neatly fall into the textbook, career guide, or technology forecast category. But, even so, it still looked like a winner to us: potential local/regional sales over the long haul (3-5 years minimum) seem likely, unlike textbooks which typically have a 2-3 year life cycle at the most before a new edition needs to be produced; the in-depth, well researched topics in the book have not been covered to same degree in other Waco history books on the market such as Roger Conger’s A Pictorial History of Waco or Patricia Ward Wallace’s Waco: A Sesquicentennial History; and, thanks to Brad’s efforts, tons of “new” photos documenting Waco’s history that were previously unpublished have been included.

Brad and I met for the first time just about a year ago. One of his several gigs is as an adjunct instructor at McLennan Community College where my wife is a history instructor. For several months she’d mentioned off and on that there was a guy over there who had an idea for a history book about Waco and was looking for a publisher. We’re always on the lookout for new projects that seem promising (that is, will sell enough copies to make money) so he and I had lunch one day at On the Border to talk about it in more detail. (It’s something of a running joke in the office that I always like meeting at OTB for business lunches because the grilled fajita chicken tacos on the heart smart menu have fewer than 600 calories.)

After meeting with Brad that day, it was hard, to be honest, to get a read on if the project was really viable or not. Don’t get me wrong: the subject matter and the theory behind the approach to it were sound, but talking about a book project and actually finishing a book manuscript are two entirely different propositions. I think just about any publisher would tell you that some projects that look like a slam dunk success from the get go wind up cratering completely at some point along the way. And some projects that look pretty unlikely on paper to ever get anywhere at all turn out coming in on schedule and under budget. The hows and whys of that happening are always somewhat mysterious so, as a publisher, initiating book projects is kind of like buying lottery tickets: a few are winners, a lot are losers, and some just make enough money to buy the next lottery ticket.

That being said, Brad did (and still does!) exhibit some key characteristics that we’ve come to expect from the kind of writers who complete the books they start: real passion for the subject, the writing abilities to get the job done, and the drive to make it all the way to the end. (I think these folks tend to also be categorized as Type A personalities.) Whether it’s Brad with LVR or Nick Cram and biomed books or Tom Dutton and his hand tools manual or Terry Cooper with the RV Take-Home Technician Series, all of these guys are cut from the same cloth.

So, the quickest way, as the saying goes, to separate the wheat from the chaff is to set up firm milestones for manuscript development and, in Brad’s case, he came through with flying colors: writing new essays, drastically rewriting existing essays, wrangling additional contributors, and researching and procuring permissions for photos to be included. This was a project that could have easily gotten hung up procedurally at several key points along the way but Brad was determined to get it done . . . and did!

Finally, though, it goes without saying that nobody puts together a book alone. This was a big project that has taken a lot of help from a lot of people in a lot of areas—editing, layout & design, marketing, sales—to complete. With that in mind, over the next few months we’ll be talking to (and profiling) these folks on this blog so that readers can see some of very specific contributions that were made in order to turn out the book in its final form.

Mark

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One Response to “How Book Projects Happen: Lust, Violence, Religion”

  1. Stephen Tiano February 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    So that’s how LVR hatched.

    Well, I have to agree with you that all the different steps in the book-making process have to be spot on to produce a real sparkler. Starting with the writing and Brad’s bringing together the different authors, down to photos he was able to include, LVR did have a gratifyingly unique air to it. (I can personally vouch for the writing part, because I make it a habit not to read a book as I do its layout; but I could not keep myself from reading this one.)

    Even though I was part of the process, I can’t wait to read the rest of the story behind the making of LVR.

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