Quick Advice for Getting Your Book Published

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Recently, I was speaking with a consultant who is writing her first book.  Since I found myself rambling and ranting, I knew I had some bloggable material.  Below, I present some of what I learned on the editor’s side of the wall:

  • First of all, don’t worry about marketing strategy unless you’re sure that you can channel 100% of your creative energy into the book itself.  All else follows from the richness you put into the book or whatever portion you’ll submit with proposals.  I think you’ll produce something more timeless by following your energy rather than trends.  (Coming soon: Notes on Gerald Weinberg‘s “Energy Principle,” from Weinberg On Writing.)
  • See who publishes the books you admire – identify ways you’d like your book to be similar or different; study the publishers’ other books; then contact those publishers with your proposal.
  • Try to target editors by name and mention their recent work.  (Check the front matter and acknowledgments, articles from the industry or about the book, and publisher newsletters and/or press releases.)
  • Follow the publisher’s proposal instructions strictly (and watch out for mentioning the wrong publisher in copies of your proposal – this happens!).  Avoid calling editors – they’re too busy (as a broad generalization 🙂
  • Try to contact the authors you admire and tell them about your manuscript.  Comment on their work, but only if you can offer something that’s informed and authentic.  Authors are experts in their work – they have canine-quality olfaction when it comes to sniffing out phonies.
  • Study the way authors  promote themselves.  Look at the best and/or most popular authors in your field and other fields.  Add some techniques and channels to your own (planned) marketing platform.  For example, right now, I am enthralled with studying the way Gary Vaynerchuk – wine expert and motivational social media genius – uses Twitter, Ustream, Facebook, Tumblr, events, and other channels to promote his October 2009 release, Crush It!
  • Don’t forget to search for small presses with well-regarded, well-produced books:  These publishers may be easier to approach and sign with, and they may devote more attention to your project.  Study the membership of small press organizations, especially IBPA.  Watch for award-winners inside the small press world.
  • In your book proposal, emphasize competitive analysis (why you’re different, but also why you’re similar to authors/books that have succeeded recently – especially in terms of the target publisher’s books), trends (try to estimate your audience size and/or topic popularity and how these dimensions are growing), and marketing (try to list ways that you can promote the book – writing articles, blogging, speaking, teaching, etc.).  You want to make it easy for someone inside the company to pitch your book.
  • Only consider self-publishing if you’re sure that no one will publish and market it for you – and if you’re sure that you have an established process for fulfilling orders, stocking the book, and promoting it.  Working with an established “vanity” press may be better than simply printing the book and hoping for the best – a lot depends on your own abilities as an extroverted salesperson or social media mogul. 

I will continue with a number of these points soon – especially the virtue of working with a small press.  (That’s the world I came from – where editors generally interface with authors directly, rather than through agents.)

What would you add?  If you’re writing your first book or one of many published, let us know your strategy for approaching (or eschewing) publishers.  How would you tailor this list to target agents instead of editors?

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