If you’ve ever thought about writing books for a living, you’ll get lots of useful, practical advice from Interview #5 of our 6 Week Home Business Interview Series. Linda D. Delgado is the noted author of several books, including the popular Islamic Rose children’s book series, founder of the Islamic Writers Alliance and the founder/owner of the Islamic publishing house, Muslim Writers Publishing. She kindly took time from her busy schedule to share invaluable information about making a living as a published author of Islamic books, and explain what publishing a book actually entails.
Writing and publishing books for a living involves many of the same business elements and processes as any other self-employment venture as Linda explains in the interview:
How did you get started writing books?
Prior to my retirement and conversion to Islam I had an extensive background in technical writing such as manuals, directives, and such. Once I retired and a second career as a teacher was not possible I looked for something else to do. My health was poor but my mind and fingers were unaffected as was my imagination. My granddaughter suggested I write stories about our family experience with getting to know two Saudi Arabian police officers who were our guests in our home during the year they were in the USA. The book series just expanded and grew, incorporating factual people and situations and fiction characters and situations. To gain name recognition I began to write non-fiction articles, poetry, short stories, and created a comic strip based on my book characters that teaches Islamic fiqh.
Have you always wanted to write books?
Response: No, but I have always loved books and began reading at an early age. In fact for many years I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up just so I would be around books all the time. It was my granddaughter who urged me to write fiction books for the youth reading level: chapter books. With no training and knowing nothing about writing fiction I just dove right in and began writing. I was fortunate to meet a published author. We became best friends and writing buddies. She was the one who taught me the technical aspects of writing a fiction book.
What was the inspiration for your Islamic Rose book series?
I wanted to write stories that promoted peace, appreciation for diversity, and respect for the fact that people are different from each other but all should be treated without discrimination or bias because of race, culture, national origin, or how they looked. My granddaughter urged me to write about her and her friends and I decided I would write stories that showed kids how Islam is relevant in these modern times. How they could use Islamic teachings when dealing with the challenges they might face in school, with family, and with themselves. I labeled my work as Islamic fiction and have promoted it as such since I first published my Islamic Rose Books series in 2003. I also hoped that Muslim kids would learn something about the values and religious beliefs of non-Muslim people (Christians) and that the non-Muslim kids reading the series would learn things about Islamic teachings. Learning about the differences and those things that we share with no-Muslims, in my opinion, helps promote understanding.
Have you written books in genres other than Islamic fiction?
I wrote and published two non-fiction books. A cookbook titled, Halal Food, Fun, and Laughter and a ‘how-to’ type book titled, A Muslim’s Guide to Publishing and Marketing. In 2009 I began writing an adult Islamic fiction series. I have published two books so far in this series with a third manuscript in progress. Prior to this I concentrated on primarily youth reading level Islamic fiction.
Did you query publishers to publish your first book, or go for self-publishing right away?
I spent a year sending queries to large Muslim publishers that I researched and knew they published fiction. I noticed, however, that almost all the books were color illustrated books for young readers and not fiction books for the youth or even teen reading levels. I received three offers for publishing but each one was an insult. One demanded I give up my copyright with an offer of less than $100 for each book. Another didn’t offer me any payment but said I should be pleased to get payment in paradise. The third offered me a small amount but said it would be several years before the books were published and demanded rights to any future books I might r write for the series.
I did not know about self-publishing back then. A friend told me about using a subsidy publishing service. I would pay a business to design a cover and interior layout and then distribute and manage my books once published. The cost of the books was high and the amount I received in royalty was very small. I also was charged almost full price to buy author copies to sell. . It was then I learned that most bookstores would not sell books that were subsidy published…and as the subsidy publishers were mainstream businesses, I would have no access to Muslim retailers.
I learned soon enough that most Muslim retailers were not interested in buying and selling Islamic fiction books for older children. They were only interested in the color picture type books for K through 3rd grade reading levels. It was at this time I discovered that most Muslim publishers and book retailers did not want to publish and sell Islamic fiction or any book that was fiction for older readers. I was shocked having grown up reading fiction for so many years. I couldn’t imagine an entire book industry that did not publish fiction! It was at this point I time that I began more earnestly to promote Islamic fiction books to everyone.
By 2005 I decided that I would become a publisher of Islamic fiction for older reading levels as there weren’t a huge number of Islamic fiction books for youth, teens, and adults. It took me a year of research and study to learn about the mainstream and Muslim book publishing industries and marketing before I created my own Muslim publishing business.
What are some of the most important aspects of the publishing process that writers need to know?
a. Writers need to research any publisher they intend to query with a publishing request.
b. I cannot speak for other publishers, but for me, a writer needs to demonstrate that he/she can follow directions. This is critically important when following manuscript submissions.
c. A writer should have his or her manuscript professionally book edited. Having a friend or e English teacher do editing and/or review is not the same as having a professional book editor work on the manuscript. Writers need to keep in mind that there are thousands of writers seeking publishing each year and for their book to stand out from others, a good story is usually not enough if the manuscript is filled with typos, spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors…and is not formatted as specified by the publisher.
d. Publishing is done is stages. In other words one step is done to get to the next step. Once a book is published and released for sale the now published author’s work has really begun. Many new authors think the publisher will manage all the book promotion tasks but that is far from reality.
e. Mainstream publishers generally expect an author to have a literary agent and the author usually works with this agent to get the promotional campaign started months before the book is published. Some authors have a publicist that helps with or manages the promotional tasks for the book and author. In the Muslim book industry I have found that a published author is totally on his or her own once the book is published. It is up to the author to reach out and do the contacts in the markets the book targets and do the work such as lining up book signing events, attending events where books can be viewed and sold like large Muslim conferences etc.
f. The publisher has the last say so regarding book cover design and interior layout. Most authors are not aware that a publisher might even change the title of the book if it seems necessary to the publisher.
g. Writers, when agreeing to a contract, need to not give up their copyright ownership. Publishing licensing should be specified in years and allow for the author to regain control of his/her work. I recommend authors have a lawyer look over the contract before signing it.
Do you primarily publish fiction, or both fiction and non-fiction?
The main focus of my publishing is Islamic fiction for youth, teens, and adults. Target markets are primarily Muslim although some of the books I have published can be successfully marketed and promoted to mainstream readers.
You’re not only a writer; you’re also a publisher, founder of Muslim Writers Publishing. Can you explain from a publisher’s point of view what you look for in a writer?
I am looking for a writer who is creative while still being realistic and pays attention to details. I look for a writer who has the ability to follow directions. This is critically important when the writer begins working with the editor. I also look for someone who is enthusiastic about Islamic fiction and has the ability to put together a comprehensive marketing plan. I evaluate a writer’s marketing plan prior to determining whether I will publish his/her manuscript or not. It is a waste of time, resources, and money to publish a really good book when I know beforehand that the author has little interest in promoting and doing marketing work to help sell the book. I don’t have time to give to individual authors to manage and promote their book. My job, once the book is published and released, is to ensure the book is distributed and available in purchasing locations (bookstores and other locations) and I then manage the distribution, sales, and fulfillment.
Is there really a demand for Islamic fiction?
Ten years ago I would have said no. Six years ago I would have said there is ‘some’ demand. Today I can say that there is a lot of demand for Islamic fiction from parents, home schooling parents, Islamic schools, and fiction readers. The challenges we are facing is finding publishers willing to publish IF for older youth, teens, and adults. In the last couple of years Muslim online retail stores have begun using the word “fiction” on their web sites. Ten years ago I couldn’t find even one. I have noticed that a couple of the large Muslim publishers are now willing to publish IF and fiction books from chapter books to fiction books for teens and adults. We lag so far behind mainstream fiction publishing that it will take years more before we have a sufficient number of titles in the many fiction genres available. But we are making positive gains. I get so many requests for publishing IF manuscripts and I have to turn them down for lack of funds and time. There is only me in my business. If I had the money I could easily produce a dozen books annually, but alas publishing is not cheap so the number of books I publish is limited to my own available funds.
Do you have any tips for newbie writers who dream of someday writing and publishing a book?
Writing a manuscript and going after publishing is no different from learning a skill and then going after a job that fits that skill.
Prepare yourself. Learn about the Muslim and mainstream publishing industries. Learn about digital printing and digital publishing. A writer can seek traditional publishing, subsidy (paying a fee) publishing, self-publishing of paper books (hard cover or paperback) or learn about the newest trend in publishing which is ebook publishing. There are many ways or methods to publish ebooks and there are a dozen or so ebook formats used for various ereaders. The ebook segment of the publishing industry is evolving and changing (rapidly) as technology advances. So…
Join writers’ egroups and forums. Buy books about publishing and marketing and study what you read.
Many individuals go to a university or college and study so they can become a professional in their choice of vocation/work. A writer has the same responsibilities… to study, practice, learn about the industries he/she wants to be a part of and become successful within.
Finally, save money. Going to college or university costs money. Going to a trade school to become an electrician or computer tech costs money. Becoming a successful writer costs money, especially once your book is published and ready for you to promote the book and yourself.