Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


"Books are Widgets" - How to Get Published!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005, 3:30 pm

Pamela Redmond Satran, author and contributing editor at Parenting magazine, gave us the real deal on publishing fiction and non-fiction. She talked a bit about publishing magazine articles as well. Her straight-talking, realistic approach was really appreciated, at least by me!

Many aspiring authors think first and foremost about their voice, their vision, their craft. Pamela was quick to point out that publishing is a business, and a successful book makes money. An author’s response to this harsh reality might be something like “That’s not right – books are not Widgets!” But, Pamela said, “books are widgets,” at least to agents and publishers.

So how do you get a book published in such an industry? Pamela admitting that publishing “has gotten harder and harder” and, to make it, an author needs to “be smarter and smarter.” It’s tough these days to figure out exactly which niche needs to be filled at any particular moment. French Women Don’t Get Fat, for instance, is an example of a book that Pamela would not have predicted to be such a success. It had a lot of strikes against it – it’s a diet book, but there is no prescribed diet; it’s not written by an expert in nutrition; she knew from working at Glamour that American women don’t care much about what French women do. But it just worked.

One way to find out what kinds of books are getting published at the moment is to read Publisher’s Lunch, which provides a daily list of closed book deals. A free version is available.

So how do you get started?

First, you should ask yourself why you want to get published. This can really affect the focus of your efforts. For instance, if you are set on making your living being an author, you essentially need a business plan for yourself, and you need to promote yourself early and consistently.

You might think that the key to getting published is having that one great idea for a book that no one else has thought of before, but that really isn’t the case. The chance that an idea is completely original is slim-to-none anyway. A good proposal is what will attract an agent.


To publish non-fiction, you need to approach an agent with a proposal (and it is nearly impossible to get published without an agent). Your proposal should be written in the style in which you intend to write your book and should contain an introduction and a sample chapter. You should include an outline or plan for the entire book and explain why you are especially suited to write it. And a great title is key.

Pamela pointed out that agents and publishers love to hear evidence, even anecdotal evidence, of what readers want to read. As librarians, we are certainly tuned-in to what kinds of books are popular with readers and why they like them, so share this information.


In the fiction world, you really need to write the whole book. A proposal used to be enough, but this not the case anymore. This, of course, makes writing fiction a riskier business, since you have to invest so much time in the project without knowing if it will ever get past an agent. You can take classes on writing fiction, but according to Pamela, they are only helpful some of the time. They can often just cause you to delay the actual work. Books are also helpful sometimes. She recommends Write Away by Elizabeth George, with the caveat that it’s a bit weak on plot construction. You can supplement Write Away with Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which is great for learning about plot. Pamela pointed out that some of the books on writing that sell very well are not actually very useful. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird will lead you astray, and the master of plot, Stephen King, “flakes out on plot” in On Writing.

Get an Agent

Your proposal must be polished when you present it to an agent. Hiring an independent editor might be worth the cost. There are several web sites and books that list agents. One way to find the right agent for you is to look at the acknowledgments in books you admire.


Pamela didn’t have much time left to talk about publishing articles in magazines, but she did say that you can usually find the name of a senior editor or articles editor in the masthead of the magzine you wish to write for. Send a 1-page proposal that lays out your story. Again, the proposal should be written in the tone you intend to use in the article. Let the editor know about how long the article will be (in words), and send clips for local publications or newsletters if you have them.

Free Books!

Best of all, Pamela gave every audience member an advance copy of her new book, Younger.


  • At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I attended Pam Redmond Satran's program and thought it was PHENOMENAL! Hope she returns next year. (And I already finished my advance copy of YOUNGER -- LOVED IT!)


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