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How I Entered the Book Market

Jul 1, 2008
In this article, I would like to recall how I got my manuscript through to the publisher's desk.

First, of course, I had to write a saleable book, a book that could attract a broad readership. Many of the historical events described in my book, RETURN TO THE MIDDLE KINGDOM: One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China, have been recorded in numerous books and articles. Reading them helped me form the big picture, and through the family history my late husband, Jack, recounted to me, I found each of the Chens' place in this big picture. My task was to let the readers see them as real people, real human beings, warts and all, whom the readers can identify with. This also applies to the supporting characters in this story, including historical figures such as Chiang Kaishek and Zhou Enlai. Some of them I knew, some of them I got to know through talks with my family and friends who had known them and some of them were described to me by Jack. Throughout the book, I present revealing anecdotes about these supporting characters, so they could spring to life and become three-dimensional.

By blending biography with history in this way, I believed I could make the characters and places come alive, and dramatize the facts, so the book would read like an intriguing history fused with an extraordinary three-generation family saga.

Second, it is important to work with a literary agent who sees something in what I intend to write. My agent, Regina Ryan, is based in New York, a fact I consider important. New York is the center of publishing world. She was the one to guide my manuscript to a publisher whom she thought most suitable for my book. It was not plain-sailing. My manuscript nearly got drowned in a storm when the first publisher who accepted it suddenly went out of business. I could not possibly salvage it since I knew next to nothing about the publishing world. It was Regina who finally negotiated my manuscript out of the first publisher and found a new, good home for it.

At some stage I needed to work with an editor. Again Regina knew which editor might like my type of book and put me in touch with Michael Denneny. Michael started by helping me write the book proposal. A good book proposal is key to a publisher's door. During the process of writing the book proposal, I discovered Regina had found me an editor with whom, for the most part, I could see eye to eye. Michael helped me articulate my intention and coached me with understanding, imagination and skill.

As soon as the manuscript reached its final destination, Regina advised me to buy a few how-to books about publicity. Publicity is essential to making the book sell, and I take it very seriously. I decide to do my best bit, although my publisher is really pushing for my book. Nowadays, internet campaign is king, and I use it to spread the information about the new book as far and as wide as I can.
About the Author
Yuan-tsung was born in China, and immigrated to USA in 1972. Her first book, THE DRAGON'S VILLAGE, (was published by Pantheon, and) its Penguin paperback sells an average of 3,000 copies per year since 1981. Her latest book (nonfiction), RETURN TO THE MIDDLE KINGDOM, is now available through the Union Square Press of Sterling Publishing. Visit Yuan-tsung Chen.
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