Building a Book from Your Columns or Articles
by Mary Emma Allen
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Your columns and articles don't have to be the end result of your
work. Instead, they could be the beginning -- of a book. I've
published two such books: When We Become the Parent to Our
Parents, a collection of articles on Alzheimer's disease that
appeared in newspapers and Christian magazines, and Tales of
Adventure and Discovery, an anthology of previously published
children's stories and poems. I also write or have written columns
on cooking, gardening, and writing for online publications.
These, too, are possibilities for future books.
You can do the same, with poetry, essays, short stories, and
nonfiction. By starting out with previously published work, you
lend credibility to your book. Also, you save time, as you don't
have to develop completely new material.
A Writer's Checklist
Look through your current and past writing, and ask yourself:
- Does it lend itself to a book on a particular topic, or are
your writings about too many different topics?
- Is there a market for your articles/columns in book form? Do
you have a readership who would be interested in your book? Can
you interest readers of special-interest groups on the Internet?
- Do you speak to groups whose members would be interested in
your book? Is there a niche market for the book?
- Can you schedule book-signings? Do you have contact with book
store CRCs who will be interested in having you give a talk and
do a signing? If not, start getting acquainted with them now and
setting the stage for future signings.
- If the book lends itself to self-publishing, can you afford it?
If not, perhaps the publisher of the newspaper in which the
columns appeared would be willing to help finance or promote it.
(Be sure, however, that the copyright stays in your name.) Or,
perhaps you should consider e-publishing, which is much less
expensive than print publishing.
Organizing Your Book
When organizing your book or deciding how to structure the
columns, essays, poems, or recipes, you have various choices.
It's more than a hit and miss situation. You want to plan your
book so that there's some sense of order or flow.
- Chronological. This might be in the order that you've written
the columns/articles. Or it might mean in the sequence that the
events happened, even though you may not have written them in
that order. When organizing "When We Become the Parent to Our Parents", I
placed the essays in the book pretty much in the order that they
happened in our lives. I started with the recognition of my
mother's Alzheimer's, accepting it, coping with it, and then
placing Mother in a nursing home and adjusting to this situation.
- Seasonal. If your material has a seasonal aspect to it (poems
that take place throughout the year), you may want to organize
them monthly or seasonally. A book I'm compiling consists of
essays and columns I've written about raising my daughter. I'm
planning to begin this one with January, because that was her
birth month, and continue it throughout the year.
- Regional. When I compile a book of my history columns about
New Hampshire, I think it will be logical to have them organized
so that they reflect the different regions of the state. Or, I
could organize them chronologically. This will be a decision to
make when I have all the material in front of me.
- Subject Area. If your material concerns different topics that
are held together by a specific theme, you may want to arrange
them according to subject.
- Rounding Out. As you compile your book, you may find you don't
have quite enough to items. With my Alzheimer's book, I decided
I needed two articles to make it flow smoothly and complete the
transition from the first stages to nursing home stage.
Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing, or E-Publishing?
Sometimes your work will attract a
traditional publisher. In other cases, your topic may be too
narrow in scope, or too regional, for larger publishers to
Besides looking at well-known publishers, research smaller
regional and literary publishers. Check out the types of books
these smaller publishers produce and see if yours fits their
Another alternative is to self-publish the
material. If you teach workshops, give talks, or are involved
with groups, these can be excellent outlets for your books.
You may also decide to e-publish, either by
publishing the book electronically yourself, or finding an
e-publisher who handles your type of book. Many self-publishers
print or electronic) go on to become small publishers themselves.
Do you need illustrations? Can you do them yourself or do you
need to find an illustrator? Most larger publishers will use
their own illustrators, but if you are using a smaller press, or
doing it yourself, you may need to find your own. If you are
self-publishing, you may be able to find public-domain clip art
(including electronic clip art).
Will you have an Introduction, Preface, or Acknowledgements?
How about an index? Do you plan to index the book yourself, or
do you need to hire an indexer?
Do you need additional information for the reader?
I found two appendices would help make When We Become the Parent
to Our Parents more credible and give readers places to go for
Producing a book of your writings can be exciting. It can also
contribute to your credibility as a writer, and open still more
doors in your writing career.
Copyright © 2000 Mary Emma Allen
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Mary Emma Allen is a children's writer and teacher. She is a graduate from the Institute of Children's Literature and has had more than 200 stories published in magazines and anthologies. A number of her stories and poems, along with her illustrations, appear in her book, Tales of Adventure & Discovery. Visit Mary Emma's web site: http://maryemmallen.blogspot.com/.
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