Have an idea for a great book? Don’t know where to start? We reached out to Beth Frankl, Executive Editor at Shambhala Publications, an independent, family-owned company on what advice she had for getting your book published. Since 1969, Shambhala has published titles on everything from meditation and a wide range of spiritual traditions, as well as health, wellness, yoga, and martial arts.
Someone has an idea for a book. Now what?
First, congratulate yourself! Appreciate that your yoga practice has inspired you to explore and create. Start looking online and in stores for books that are comparable to yours, particularly those that have been published in the past five years. These “comps” may share the same theme or explore a similar concept through a different lens. Become familiar with them and their differences and similarities to your project. For example, if you want to write a book that explores the Yoga Sutras, consider the comps and identify what makes your view distinctive and compelling. Comps play a vital role in how publishers will conceive of your book editorially, design-wise, and from a marketing and publicity standpoint. Even if you plan to self-publish or use a hybrid publishing platform, it’s super important that you have a good sense of the comps on the market.
Next, start crafting an “elevator pitch” for your book. This one concise sentence needs to communicate what the book is and why it is distinctive and needed. This is essential for publishers, and it will also help keep you focused as you write.
When you approach a publisher, you usually need to present a proposal, a table of contents, and some sample material. Submission guidelines are generally available on the publishing house’s website.
Do people need extensive previous writing experience to get a book published?
They do not. However, it’s important to honestly assess your own strengths and challenges as a writer. Writing a book is tough—and even if you regularly write blog posts, academic papers, or other types of content, those skills don’t always translate into an acceptable book manuscript.
Writing a book also requires a lot of organization, a detailed plan (creating an annotated table of contents, I think, is crucial), and an ability to stay focused on that plan. If organization is not your area of strength, or if you have a more improvisational nature, it’s important to consider ways to ground your book writing process.
Skillful freelance editorial professionals are, to my mind, worth their weight in gold. For many authors, hiring an editor to work with you on your proposal and manuscript can make a huge difference in the quality of the material. Sadly, most publishers don’t provide that level of editorial support anymore—it’s just not cost-effective for them. I very often recommend that aspiring authors hire someone to at least cast a critical eye over their work.
How does Shambhala select from all the submissions/pitch proposals? What are you looking for?
We receive a huge number of proposals—and we really do consider them all. We’re a small publisher, and we’re very careful and intentional about what we take on. Shambhala specializes in books that are rooted in wisdom traditions, systems, and practices that encourage deep inner transformation and enlightened living. Our authors need to be established, recognized teachers of, experts in, or longtime practitioners of the tradition they are writing on.
We want authors that have a platform, and that it is as robust as possible. A website, blog or newsletter, a regular teaching schedule, connections to institutions and organizations, an active social media presence—these all lay the groundwork for our marketing and publicity campaigns. If you don’t have at least some of these in place, you’ll want to start putting energy towards building your platform before you approach a publisher. There are a number of good books on the market on how to do that.
In terms of our yoga list, we’re looking for fresh insights into the classic teachings and practices that make them particularly relevant and compelling for a contemporary audience. Which essentially means the sky’s the limit!
I will say that people often come to us with their yoga memoir, and sadly, that’s the type of project that we almost always have to reject. It’s very tough to publish a memoir successfully. That’s not to say that an author shouldn’t offer their personal experience and insights from their practice; in fact, they absolutely should. But if a book is primarily a memoir, it’s not usually a good fit for us.
What makes Shambhala Publications unique?
For more than 50 years, we’ve had an unwavering commitment to publishing books that are timeless and truly beneficial. Because we are a small staff of book lovers and in most cases also practitioners of the traditions that we publish, I feel that we’re unusually invested in the books we produce. You could say that for many of us, our work is an extension of our practice.
Years ago, when we’d discuss a project in our editorial committee meetings, we’d debate if the project was worth cutting down a tree for. That’s a pretty high bar! Our books have to stand the test of time and be true to the tradition that they represent; nothing ersatz or faddish for us. And our books have to be beautiful objects. Our production team works very hard to create books that are aesthetically designed.
Learn more: shambhala.com