One of the most common questions I am asked by my clients is, ‘How do I get a book deal?’ or, ‘How can I get ‘traditional publishers’ to publish my book?’
Since I began my 90 Day Book program, I have helped a couple of authors to get global publishing deals with a traditional publishing house, which is pretty amazing since I’m an advocate of indie authors – the self-publishing model.
In this blog, however, I am not going to try to dissuade you from approaching traditional publishers; I am going to discuss when, why and how to win the interest of a traditional publisher. (From here on, I am calling them publishers, not traditional publishers)
What is a publisher?
Publishers are in the business of finding authors who will write a book for them, and then editing, designing, printing, marketing and distributing that book to bookshops for sale. Publishers make money by sharing the profits (money made after costs are deducted) from the book sales with authors.
Typically, publishers do not pay authors to write unless they can guarantee a large return royalty return, meaning lots of book sales, when they may pay ‘an advance’. Publishers look for books with a mass appeal, rather a niche interest, especially those with global markets because Australia has such as small population. That said, most publishers have a speciality: business, cooking, travel, fiction, Australian, etc.
Today, the publishing model is being disrupted. For first time authors, many publishers are demanding more from authors and providing less. I’ll explain a bit more about this later.
Why approach a publisher?
The most common reason authors want publishers, rather than indie- or self-publishing, is for ‘third-party endorsement’: the prestige of your manuscript being chosen from among the many submitted to them. I have arguments against the value of this in today’s market, but that is not what this blog is about – you do win prestige in the eyes of the market when a respected publisher takes on your book.
However, remember that it is only worth approaching a traditional editor if your book has mass appeal for the reasons outlined above: publishers cannot make money unless they sell a lot of your books.
What you get from the deal
In addition to the status of third-party endorsement, a publisher will assign a good editor and an experienced book designer to your book, and pay for printing and distribution. These services are worth many thousands of dollars, and so it’s a great deal for you. This means publishers share the risk – the upfront costs before any returns from sales – of publishing your book.
What you don’t get
Today, publishers often demand that you share the financial risk by insisting that you buy a minimum quantity of your own book at a reduced rate, from a couple of hundred to many thousands, in order to “seed the market” with free copies. In short, authors today pay some of the editing, design, and printing costs.
Publishers used to get help a lot with marketing and media promotion, but this has changed. Although authors have always had to work hard to promote their books, doing speaking gigs, radio and TV appearances, publishers used to help. Today, many authors have to employ their own publicists at a cost of several thousands of dollars.
How to approach a publisher
There are a couple of absolute clangers that mark you out as an amateur in the way you approach a publisher. While it’s fair enough that you aren’t an expert, you are negotiating a commercial deal, so you want to wise up to get the best one you can.
1. Don’t lob your whole manuscript to a publisher.
Approach them in the early stages of writing your book when you have a title, a chapter outline, and one or two chapters written. Why? Because you will get a faster response. Also, you are more likely to get a yes, or a maybe, rather than a flat no. That’s because they can have some influence over the direction of your manuscript. If you have written a book called, How to Halve Your Weekly Food Bill, they might make a small suggestion, such as How to Halve Your Weekly Food Bill in Six Easy Steps. They are providing a commercial insight that might improve your book sales. However, responding to that may radically alter your approach to writing the book.
2. Follow their submissions guidelines
Almost every publisher today provides resources to authors that guide their submissions. Annoyingly, they are all slightly, but not significantly, different. You are going to have a better chance of winning their attention if you show that you have done a bit of your own research, and discovered that they have a process you can follow.
3. The fortune is in the follow-up
The world’s best sales trainer, Rachel Bourke, founder of SalesSpace, has a favourite saying: “The fortune is in the follow-up”. Same goes if you want to win a publishing deal. Don’t sit around waiting for your rejection slip; get on the phone and use your winning ways to secure the deal. Start by saying you are calling to ensure they received your proposal. Ask the name of the person who is reviewing it (although it’s best to know this before you send it). Ask to speak to that person and see if they need further information, have any reservations, etc. Publishers look for energetic, confident authors who believe in the value of their work. Be that author.
PS: Want more? You may like: Adverbs don’t add to your authority: search and destroy