Dry summer that it was, there was still something to celebrate come fall. The fields and orchards gave a smaller harvest, but a harvest nonetheless. And so, she gathered a basket of Indiana apples under withered leaves and cooked them slow.

She drove to my place with jars clattering on the floorboards and the smell of apple butter tempting her from the dish on the passenger seat. I wanted to learn to preserve jellies and jams and garden tomatoes, to learn the practices of the self-sufficient slow-food kitchen, but I needed someone with more experience to give me the confidence, to give me the tools, teach me the methods, and say “you can.”

Maybe you feel the same about writing. You have a taste for a good sentence or a hearty message, and you may know how to cook up your own savory story, but you don’t quite know what to do with it to make it last.

I hope this series has given you a little bit more confidence, and helps you realize that though the writing (and publishing) process can be daunting, with hard work and persistence, you can preserve your story in just the right container.

Just as I learned the canning process and felt empowered to try it on my own, I hope you will feel empowered to consider even the possibility of traditional publishing as you take a look at the process, this particular means of preserving your story.

How to Can Apple Butter…and Publish a Book:

1. Start by deciding what you want to preserve: What is your favorite kind of writing? What do you have a taste for? What comes most naturally to you? Start dreaming and developing your idea.

2. Perfect and prepare your recipe: Visit libraries and bookstores and sift through the shelves of the section where you’d like to someday see your book. Decide what you do and don’t like. Experiment with techniques learned from other writers. Draft your ideas, revise and edit until the content and telling of the story are shelf-worthy.

3. Decide what canning method is best suited to your recipe: Spend some time in self-reflection and seek unbiased counsel on whether you are ready to go through the traditional publishing process or whether you would find more success in the self-publishing route.

4. Warm jars and lids in hot water: Prepare your proposal and sample chapters with the help of a literary agent who knows the industry and knows how to develop an idea, package it and present it in a strong proposal.

5. Remove hot jar with tongs and pour ingredients through funnel: The agent sends a query letter to gauge interest (possibly to a few publishers at the same time). If the acquisitions editor requests more, the agent will then send the proposal and sample chapters.

6. Measure for proper space at the top: The editor may then reject the project, ask for changes or proceed to present the proposal at pub board to other editors, the publisher and the sales and marketing representatives. The team looks for a well-written proposal that addresses a sellable idea. They decide whether or not they’ll be able to secure wide enough distribution to booksellers. They look for an author with a strong platform who will do their part in marketing the book. But even if all of these things line up, a publisher may still reject a worthy idea if they’ve recently published a similar work on their list.

7. Remove bubbles and wipe the rim with a cloth: If the publisher makes an offer, the agent/lawyer will then scour the language of the contract to get the appropriate advance and royalties and negotiate finer points of the deal such as deadline for submitting the final manuscript, word count, and even such complicated issues as right of first refusal, the competing works clause, whether or not there will be an index and who will pay for it.

8. Using a lid lifter, retrieve lid and place on jar, then screw on clean band: It is vital that authors stick as closely as possible to editing/revision due dates as they are put in place to get the book published on schedule. The publisher may time the book’s release to coincide with big events, anniversaries, competition with similar books at other publishers or their own internal publishing load.

9. Using tongs, place jar into stock pot leaving 1 to 2 inches of water above jars: The publisher finishes up work in the production department with cover and interior design, print and binding. You will want to voice any opinions on cover style several weeks before this process begins in order to have the best chance at collaborating. But even if you speak up on time, you’ll want to remember that the publisher usually has the final say should you not be able to reach an agreement.

10. Bring water to full rolling boil, place lid on stock pot and set the timer: The marketing department will continue to work out plans for paid advertising, promotional displays and giveaways, and getting publicity for your work in print and other media outlets. Any efforts on the author’s part must be run through the publisher for the okay. The sales team will present your book in a seasonal presentation to booksellers. This allows the publisher to gauge how many books to print and what locations those books will be distributed to best reach your target audience.

11. Let your jar cool, then see how long it takes for someone to open it up: After one or two years in the publishing process, you’ll finally get to see your work on the shelf at a bookstore or online. If things go well, that spot on the shelf will empty and the store will be calling your publisher for another shipment. This is a time to celebrate with friends and family…and to attend your book release party!

To get all this started, you’ve got to take initiative. I chose to call up Amber from Whole Foods for Whole Families to come and share her expertise and to guide a group of friends as we tried out the canning process for ourselves.

When it comes to your writing career, you may want to talk with a friend who has been published, or find an agent who will represent your work, or pick up an invaluable resource like Jeff Hermann’s Guide to give you the contacts you need to submit your work on your own.

If the traditional publishing route isn’t the one for you, I hope you’ll still go back through this series and soak in some motivation and inspiration for preserving your work in other ways. Because even if the harvest is small, there is a harvest to celebrate nonetheless.

{Have you ever gone through the publishing process or celebrated with a friend who has? What was your experience? Are you new to this? What other questions do you have about the process?}

This is Day 31 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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