Hunting For Non-listed Publishers Helped Me Land A Traditional Publishing Contract! By Barb Adams

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The day finally arrived. My polished non-fiction book proposal needed a royalty publisher. There was more than one direction my proposed manuscript could go, and I wanted to secure a publisher before completing the book so I could adapt to that publisher’s style.

Somewhere I’d heard the idea of hunting through specialty bookstores and book catalogues for newer or unlisted publishers. The idea was to search for titles that didn’t compete, but were similar enough in topic that your own title would complement their list.

But I didn’t start out looking for a publisher that way. You might say I went around the barn.

The local food/local small farm trend was on the horizon. “Practical” information on how to build raised beds or make compost was already widely available not only via other books but from almost every US citizen’s regional agriculture and gardening cooperative extensions. I wanted to publish something a little different.

I had stories and quotes from various mini eco farmers and wanted to offer a light, inspirational book on this emerging trend to share the emerging voices involved and show the endless possibilities of the small local farm movement. As a part time microfarmer myself, I was familiar with this home business and I knew everyone’s small farm was very different from mainstream farming. Each one had to be original and find its own local or niche shared-interest market because they were not simply supplying an already established mainstream market.

So the hunt for a publisher began. I started submitting the traditional way through postal mail with a stamped return envelope to a few publishers found in the Writers’ Market. Some never responded. I got one interested editor from a large established publisher who kept my proposal but eventually stopped communicating.

Then I went back to the Writers’ Market and found a potential agent. A lovely lady across the country from where I lived, she quickly took the project on. She advised me to demand my proposal back from the editor who had kept it for so long, which I did. To that editor’s credit, she returned it right away and said she was “sorry to give it up,” but she didn’t make it sound like a contract with that publisher would have happened anytime soon.

My new agent was able to get the proposal through the door to other large publishers of how-to books. One had published gardening books in the past but was eliminating that topic and had never done agriculture. Another publisher’s editor said his company also wasn’t into gardening or agriculture books, but that he wanted a copy of mine when it was published because he wanted to start a small acreage blueberry farm!

As time went on, it felt my agent had exhausted the possibilities she knew of and while responses were somewhat encouraging regarding the book’s topic itself, there was still no contract. I had to come up with a new plan, and my agent and I amicably went separate ways.

On my own again, I recalled that idea of hunting through specialty booksellers — ones that either had catalogues of books for gardeners and farmers that you don’t often find in bookstores, or even going to farming and gardening centers themselves to see what books they were selling and who was publishing those books.

Eventually I found a book listed in a farming magazine I especially liked on succeeding with farmers’ markets. I purchased the book and went through it thoroughly. My book would be a complement to it, and it seemed our audiences would overlap in a positive way. So I contacted the publisher from the address given in the book, and asked if I could send my proposal. He said yes. I discovered that the owner of New World Publishing (there is now more than one publisher with this name) was operating a small niche book publishing business on eco-farming and that he was either the author or co-author of the other books he sold. He sold books online, through some retail outlets including bookstores, and also went to farming gatherings around the country as a vendor. And, he was interested in publishing mine.

A fair royalty contract was agreed on, and eventually Micro Eco-Farming: Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage in Partnership With the Earth (MEF) was published. This title was featured by the National Gardening Association and became his bestseller during its various peaks. It found its fans and target audience and I was eventually flown all expenses paid to speak at a large eco-gardening and small farming gathering regarding MEF. Members of the audience came up afterwards to say their only reason for coming to the gathering was to meet the author of MEF, one of their favorite books. Appreciative letters came to me from its readers and, of course, the quarterly royalty checks had begun.

The “eat local” trend eventually took the country by storm and, after a decade, my publisher and I talk of an updated second edition. I also received another contract from this publisher for a more narrowly focused eco-farming topic on how farmers and rural communities can increase personal or town revenue with agritourism — such as allowing paid farm tours for local citizens or holding harvest festivals to attract out of town guests as potential revenue sources. This second book, The New Agritourism: Hosting Community & Tourists on Your Farm, sells to a smaller targeted audience and received some very kind reviews from those in the industry. And, it began adding to my royalty revenue as well.

With both books still in print and still on the market, I now have several options to choose from as far as the next step in the eco-farming writing arena. But I’m sure glad I went hunting in bookstores and catalogues for lesser known and unlisted publishers. Niche topics change form, but niches never disappear. What starts out as a marginal topic sometimes eventually expands into a mainstream trend, but then other new niches — both online and offline (or both) — will always appear within the gaps, and so will the publishers seeking them out.

Barb Adams is formally educated in journalism/creative writing and film and has been a member of various professional writers’ organizations. Under the name Barbara Berst Adams, she is author of the books Micro Eco-Farming and The New Agritourism: Hosting Community & Tourists on Your Farm. She writes for the Center for Micro Eco-Farming, and, for the last 15 years, has been a regular feature writer and photographer for several national magazines.

She has also taught fiction writing to various groups, including those with award-winning royalty published novelists and established professional journalists. Under the name K.B. Adams, she and her husband — both of whom love fiction as well as non-fiction — have published BUILD 100 WORLDS: 100 Fantasy Fiction Writing Ideas, Inspirations and Story Starters (From enchanted lands to lost alternate histories to astounding future realms).