The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 19 (2006-07)

So, You Want To Be A Writer …
By Linda S. Pieczynski

Getting published is not as difficult as many attorneys may imagine. I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of articles, brochures, and books published. Most would-be authors are unaware that there are a number of publishers who are looking for legal products for their companies. The secret is to have the desire and ability to write and a market that will buy the publication. This article will discuss how the process works and how a would-be author might land a book contract.

Do you like to write? You need to enjoy writing to put the time into producing a finished product. It took me four years to write Illinois Criminal Practice and Procedure (with time-out to give birth to my third daughter) and three years to write the second edition. You won’t see any compensation for years so you have to have a passion for writing.

Do you write well? You have to be able to write clearly and concisely with an ability to communicate your ideas and the subject matter in a straight forward fashion.

Are you well versed in the legal specialty you wish to write about? The key to being a successful legal author is to have sufficient knowledge of the subject matter so that you can literally fill a book with your knowledge. While most authors in the legal realm are law professors and attorneys from large law firms, many smaller practitioners have specialized knowledge in one area.

Is there an audience? Publishing companies only make a profit if the market is,large enough for your book. You need to make a list of who would be interested in purchasing your text. Don’t just think of the market for attorneys. While I hope that local government attorneys will buy the building code form book series I am writing, the actual target market audience consists of building, property maintenance, and fire code inspectors who need to know the legal aspects of their job.

Is there any competition for the kind of book you would like to write? Publishers want to have a product that is unique so that it will sell well. When I was doing the research on my criminal practice book, I found that while there were Illinois based publications that dealt with criminal procedure, they were not updated on a regular basis and they did not contain sample forms. Therefore, one of the selling points for the criminal practice book was that it would be updated yearly, and would contain forms and checklists not found in other publications. For the building code series, the publisher was surprised to find that there was no competition in the market. Don’t assume that someone else already has had the same idea you have for a book. With the Internet, it’s very easy to find out what already exists in the marketplace.

Do you have samples of your work that will assist the publishing company in making a decision as to whether to give you a contract? My criminal practice book grew out of a handbook for the DuPage County States Attorney’s Office that I had written during maternity leave after giving birth to my second daughter. This gave West Publishing something to review to see if my writing ability was up to their standards and to determine what a finished product might include once I expanded the content. With the building code series I had already created a number of sample forms I use in connection with municipal prosecution so Delmar Learning could see what the finished product would look like.

What do I need to do to attract the attention of a publisher? Most publishers will want an outline of the proposed book such as a table of contents along with at least one sample chapter. If you have been published in any venue, you should consider whether you should submit those writing samples, especially if the content is related to the subject matter of the proposed book. Therefore, it is always a good idea to take advantage of any chance to write for a legal magazine or other publications to establish your writing credentials. I wrote an article during the height of the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis for a national Catholic magazine on keeping children safe from sex offenders which ended up being turned into a brochure which is now being used in the mandated training of Catholic adults who interact with children. The more you get published, the better chance that people will consider you an authority on a subject.

Will I make any money from writing? It’s unusual to make enough money in royalties from publications so that you can quit your day job. The amount of hours spent writing a book is never compensated at your usual hourly rate, especially if the book is state specific. Publishing companies do not give advances to authors unless you are among the elite like, Scott Turow or John Grisham. Royalties are usually between 10-15% of the sales of the publication paid twice per year. The payment for pocket parts can be either a flat fee or a royalty. Legal books are now posted on electronic sites like Westlaw. This also results in royalties so it is important to make sure that a provision regarding electronic rights is included in any contract that a writer may sign with a publisher. There are a number of perks that go with being a published author. Some companies like West will supply you with any research material that you need at no cost, so an author is able to ask for any books or service that the company has that might be helpful in creating the new work, including the Illinois Compiled Statutes, the Illinois Digests and Westlaw. There is a certain amount of prestige attached to being a published author and it’s always a thrill to see your work quoted as a reference in an appellate court decision. It also impresses clients when they see your text on your bookshelf.

A word of caution. once you get the writing bug, it’s very difficult to stop. If you do write a book and it sells well, the publisher is going to want yearly updates depending upon the nature of the text. Also, a writer is always looking for his or her next project; it’s addictive. While our clients and cases come and go throughout our professional life, writing a book is a special way of sharing with others the knowledge we have spent our entire careers acquiring. There is great satisfaction in knowing that you can contribute to raising the competency and quality of the work of others.

Linda S. Pieczynski is in private practice in Hinsdale, Illinois and is the author of Illinois Criminal Practice and Procedure 2d, Thomson/West (2005); The Property Inspector’s Guide to Codes, Forms and Complaints, Delmar Learning (2006); The Building Code Official’s and Inspector’s Guide to Codes, Forms and Complaints, Delmar Learning, to be published in April, 2007 and The Fire Code Inspector’s Guide to Codes, Forms and Complaints to be published in late 2007.

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