What It Takes To Get Published

How do I get published?” is a question I’m often asked as a publishing coach. People have an idea for a book, and dream on being on a talk show like Oprah”s. So, how do you take those first steps toward the dream?

The first step is to have a great idea. This may not be as obvious as it seems. Your book has to be a combination of several key ingredients:

1. It has to have great appeal to a certain audience (not everyone, but certain specific kinds of people). A book on fitness in general is not as publishable as a book on fitness for working moms. The more general audience books are for the well-established names in a field, not for new authors. (This tip alone could make you more publishable.)

2. Your approach to your topic has to be fresh in some way. “What makes your book unique?” is a key question.

The second step is to understand publishing today and how it works.

Publishing has been undergoing a massive sea change, especially in the past three years. These days it’s very difficult to take the traditional publishing path, in which you get a publisher to take on all the costs of publishing and pay you a royalty (percentage of sales–usually 7.5% of what they get after they give the bookstores their 55% discount). Publishers just don’t want to take the financial risk of publishing an author unless the author can practically guarantee they can sell a lot of books, because the author already has a large following (called an author “platform”).

So nowadays, you not only have to have a great idea, you have to demonstrate you already have a following. You have to demonstrate that a lot of people already know you and read you.

That’s why I tell new authors to start a blog, and start “testing” their ideas on a blog. If you have a large following of blog readers, this can impress a traditional publisher.

Of course, you can always go the “New Era publishing” route, and that’s to partner with a publisher that offers publishing services. Be careful, though; it’s not always obvious who the legitimate “partnership publishers” are and who are the “subsidy” or vanity publishers that will publish anyone and do nothing to help you market your book. I did an interview with Terry Whalin on publishing in general and this new model in particular that can help you figure out what is what.

There’s also a book called The Fine Print of Publishing by Mark Levine that goes over publishing contracts of 45 of these “publishing services” companies. Though it’s not exhaustive, it does point you to many of the better-known companies and shows what to look for an avoid.

Publishing is a complicated bag today. On the one hand, it’s easier than ever to publish a book–if you have some capital and some good guidance. On the other, it’s more difficult than ever to go the “traditional publisher” or royalty publisher route because publishers are cutting back and very risk aversive.

But if publishing a book is your dream, take heart! It can be done, now more than ever. Clarify that great idea, and do a little research on the publishing scene. As Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never, NEVER give up!


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