So You Want to Write/Edit an Art Therapy Book

It’s not as hard as you think, but is that a good thing?

Posted Apr 07, 2017

"The First One" © 1990 cover | Cathy Malchiodi, PhD
Source: "The First One" © 1990 cover | Cathy Malchiodi, PhD

[Note: This is Part One of a series]

Each month I get several emails from professionals and graduate students who are considering writing a book about the practice of art therapy or a related topic. I guess I qualify as someone who can speak to this issue; I have almost 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. I am fortunate to be a writer whose royalties could provide me with enough income to live comfortably without other sources, something which is not the case for most authors, not by a long shot. I have also worked hard and for what are often long hours, learning to write clearly; I take a long time to produce each book I write or edit, sometimes many years. I have also been lucky to learn about writing and editing through mentorship of many fine and renowned editors at major publishing companies who critiqued my writing and held me to the highest standards of craftsmanship.

I am grateful for all the help I have had along the way as a writer and especially for the path I chose to take in the beginning years. The first book I decided to write, Breaking the Silence: Art Therapy with Children from Violent Homes, emerged after 10 years of work in the field of domestic violence. At that time, I was a very, very bad writer, but I knew I had a story to tell and resources to share that might help establish art therapy programs for children who were traumatized by abuse. I sent a proposal to two publishers, thinking that it would be a miracle if either even responded. To my surprise, one publisher responded almost immediately and with a contract to sign; no one at that company even asked to see any sample of my previous work [and I had none to provide]. The other publisher called me by phone [no email at that time, believe it or not] to say that my idea was good, but that she needed to see some sample chapters before offering a contract.

I could have easily gone with the first offer—to publish my yet-to-be-written book. In fact, many of my past and current colleagues have published books with that particular publisher. But to this writer who received Cs in college English courses and thus became a fine arts major, it did not feel quite right to sign that contract. So I took the more difficult fork in the road and eventually received a contract from the other publisher—and also a lot of “red pen” remarks and revisions throughout my manuscript. The contents were peer-reviewed, word for word, by experts in the field, followed by a lengthy process of copy editing and reference checking. By the time Breaking the Silence was published, I learned more than I ever could have learned in any college writing course and was challenged each step of the way to produce something of the highest quality. Since that first book, I have sought out publishers and editors who have similar high standards [more about that in the next installment of this series].

In brief, there are many publishers who will give you a book contract without ever reviewing your writing skills or previous publishing or editing record. If you have attended a national conference in the last few years, you may have met some of these editors at the exhibit hall, eager to snag some new book titles. Why? There are several reasons, but the core reason is quite simple; if the idea will sell at least a few books, some publishers think, “better that we grab this than our competitor.” Second, it is the editors’ job to sign new authors when at professional conferences to make their exhibit hall fees worthwhile. For you, a book contract offer can be a heady, ego-boosting experience; it’s a great feeling to be recruited on the spot to write a book about that hot topic presentation or workshop you may have just given at the conference. If it has happened to you, you know what that incredible high is like. It is one that you do not quickly forget and one that you can’t wait to share with colleagues.

Truth be told, you can still publish with the very accommodating company whose contract I chose not to sign decades ago. They publish numerous titles every year and are well-known to the professional and student audience. Their books sell relatively few copies, but they are professionally produced in hard cover and paperback. If you choose that particular path, the publication process will be fairly painless; you will not be edited for content and what you send to that company will not be challenged and will be published as submitted. There is little or no copy editing [be ready to do that part] and you will take care of getting your manuscript peer-reviewed for accuracy. There are other similar publishing companies that will provide an equally stress-free experience and do not care if you have had any editorial or writing experience before offering a contract. So, do you want to write an art therapy book? In brief, you really have no worries when it comes to getting publisher. Think about this the next time you see one of your colleagues burst onto social media with a book announcement.

Gratefully, there still are some rigorous publishers out there; in Part Two of this series, I will share what to look for in a quality publisher for your work who can offer editorial support, will challenge your writing, and can provide the marketing necessary to make your book a success. I will also share some tips I have learned about writing and making a solid and worthy contribution to the art therapy literature—and why that is important to the credibility of the field.

Until then be well,

Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D.

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Dr. David Crenshaw and I are happy about our newest book, What to do When Children Clam Up in Psychotherapy: Interventions to Facilitate Communication, with Guilford Publications. Get expert advice from experts in the field, including Rick Gaskill, Rise van Fleet, Martha Strauss, Bruce Perry, Stephen Porges, Amber Elizabeth Gray and more. See this link for more information.