The Secrets of Publishing: Expert Advice for Getting Your Book on the Shelves
Books are the new blogs.
If you want to write a book and get it published, you are not alone.
Sarah Bryden-Brown, co-founder of Go Mighty, a popular site where people make Life Lists, recently explained, "Of all the goals on the site—and there are 21,000 so far—writing and publishing a book is in the top five. There are goals for flip books and cookbooks and self-help books and everything in between."
I’ve been in the book publishing industry for almost 23 years. Straight out of college, I sprinted to NYC, and my first in-house job was in book publicity at Viking Penguin (now the giant behemoth publisher Penguin Random House).
In two decades, my office has changed, and my authors (and bosses) have come and gone, but one thing has stayed the same: writers asking the question “How do I get my book published?” As a book publicist for bestsellers and first-timers, not only have I picked up a lot of secrets along the way, I’ve helped more than one writer land a big book deal.
Recently, I reached out to a powerful team of book experts and publishing insiders (including published authors, marketers, and publicity gurus) to give you (writers, bloggers, and journalists) a must-have, accurate, and actionable list to get your book published. Here’s a roundup of their absolute best advice.
1. Write, Write, and Write
My most sincere advice to anyone starting out is to develop a successful history of publication—if this means writing for local papers, for magazines, for alumni publications, whatever—in order to show both style and content, as well as to indicate that you can produce a body of work on deadline. Most folks in publishing are not as interested in an idea as they are in a finished body of work—the words on the page are what will matter, not the concept behind it.”
2. Tell Your Story
Write the best book you can write. Tell the most truthful, the most heartfelt, the most important story you can tell. Then, don't take no for an answer. By which I mean: If you can't find an agent or publisher, publish it yourself!”
3. Make a Favorites List
Who do you love? Who do you read? Put together the strongest proposal you can, and send it off to the agents who represent the authors you most admire—and don't give up! Just because it's not right for one agent doesn't mean it's not right for another. And don’t forget to research submission guidelines for each agent—they are not all alike, and you don't want to risk having your proposal ignored because it was not submitted the way a particular agent wants it packaged or presented.”
4. Do Your Homework
In order to get the attention of a traditional publisher (and, before that, a literary agent), your platform is at least as important as your writing skills. Of course, TV shows, radio shows, and owning a successful business are all platforms. But if you don't have those, for non-fiction, you should have some evidence that you are an expert in your subject area. For fiction, a track record (writing programs, awards, etc.) and literary connections are helpful. Writing quality is important, of course, but can you get quotes from established writers? Do you have PR contacts you can leverage? Do you have a successful blog?
Also, research, research, research. You should know your market, know your competition, know what books are out there that can be compared to yours. Everyone from your agent to the book publisher's reps who sell your book to the staff at the bookstores will need to know this information. Don't make them guess—it'll take time and energy away from them when they could be putting the book in the correct hands!”
5. Wallflowers Need Not Apply
Whether you have a book now or want to have a future book out there—it’s not the time to be shy. You will need to call on the support of all of your contacts, both before and when your book goes out into the world. Start early. Think of concrete ways colleagues and friends can help you. Begin thinking now about ways to mobilize support. Build wish lists of outlets (print, broadcast, and online) where you'd love to see your book covered as well as any organizations or associations where you might hope for promotion. If approaching each on your own seems daunting, or if you are unsure whether you'll have sufficient help provided to you by a publisher, consider hiring an outside publicity and marketing firm. Don’t wait for things to happen. Make things happen.”
6. Play the Lead, Not the Understudy
We’ve all heard the cliché “dress for success,” right? My advice is to live like an author—it’s a recipe for success made up of equal parts visualization, laws of attraction, and ‘if I write it, they will publish it.’ Write your bio, take some selfies, promote your achievements, and if you can afford it, hire a publicist. Treat yourself like the star author you want to be.
In my opinion, many writers and bloggers can make the leap to a signed book contract by publicizing their writing, brand, and platform long before they submit a book proposal. In fact, my two greatest success stories center around bloggers who hired me to publicize their blogs and writing. We made what they were doing news today, and that fact (along with some PR magic and a little luck) made the rest fell into place.”
See you on the bestsellers list!
Photo courtesy of Michael Blann / Digital Vision / Thinkstock.
Laura Rossi Totten is a blogger, proud mom of girl-boy twins, social media addict, and a PR expert. Before owning her own public relations agency, Laura worked in New York City at Random House, Viking Penguin and W.W. Norton. Laura’s blog My So-Called Sensory Life was named a “Top 25 Most Inspiring Families Blog” by Circle of Moms and a 2010 Babble Top 40 Nominated Mom Blog. Laura contributes to The Huffington Post, Moonfrye, and Circle of Moms and contributed to the book Make Mine A Double: Why Women Like Us Like To Drink (Or Not) (UPNE).More from this Author