So You Wanna Write A Book
Do you self-publish? Many authors opt to self-publish or go to independent publishers. If your goal is to have a product to sell or to see your name emblazoned on the cover of a book, this may be the path for you. However, it takes a Herculean effort to market and distribute a book. That’s why I’ve always opted to work with an established, well-known publishing house — without an agent. I write the text; leave the printing, marketing, and shipping to the publisher; and collect royalty checks. How good is that?
My road to success was paved with lots of bumps and pot holes, yet I believed in myself and refused to take no for an answer. For inspiration, I tacked on my bulletin board an article that appeared in Time magazine. It told of John Grisham’s struggle to get his first book published. A Time To Kill — which became one of Grisham’s hot sellers and a hit movie — was rejected by 25 publishers. Here’s what worked for me and colleagues I’ve coached. Perhaps it will work for you.
Know what the competition is doing
Before you even think about submitting your book idea to a publisher, learn all you can about other books in that genre. Check bookstores, libraries, and online booksellers. Nearly everything has been written, so be prepared to tell the publisher how yours is different or better. Prepare a market analysis in grid form and include Title, Author, Publisher, Strengths, Weaknesses. (Of course, the weaknesses of each book become the strengths of yours.)
Caution: Never say there’s no competition or there’s never been a book like this. That shows you either haven’t done your homework or there’s a good reason there’s nothing out there like it.
Prepare a plan of attack
Get a copy of the latest (annual) Writer’s Market, and make a list of all the publishers you want to target. Also, check out bookstores, libraries, and online booksellers for others that aren’t listed in the publication. Then you’re ready to put your proposal package together. Here’s what to include:
Query letter: Address your letter to an editor, not just the publishing house. You find names of editors in the Writer’s Market as well as sample query letters. As an option, call the publishing company and inquire. Include in the letter your target audience; why you’re qualified to write the book; how your book will make the world a better place; and any other books, articles, or publications you’ve authored or co-authored. Present your thoughts clearly and concisely. And make sure to use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Just one typo will stand out like a tarantula on a piece of angel food cake.
Market analysis: Following the query letter in your package, include the market analysis discussed earlier.
Annotated outline or synopsis: For non-fiction, prepare a table of contents in which you briefly describe each chapter. Limit the description to one or two sentences. For fiction, include a one-page synopsis.
Sample chapter: Submit a sample chapter so the editor can get a feel for your tone and writing style. This doesn’t need to be the first chapter, just one that represents your best efforts. (It was an annotated outline and sample chapter that got me my first contract.)
Postcard: Include a postcard to make it easy for each publisher to close the loop, even if it is with a rejection. (If an editor is interested, he or she may send a letter or call instead.) Put your name and address on the front of the postcard and the following on the back:
[ ] Yes, I’m interested in reading your manuscript with a view
towards publishing it.
[ ] No thanks. Your idea doesn’t fit into our current marketing
Name of Publisher
It’s not necessary to have a completed manuscript ready to send. If your proposal is accepted and you’re offered a contract, you’ll be given ample time to complete the manuscript.
Get yourself psyched
To get myself mentally psyched, ten times a day I’d put my pen to paper and write: “Sheryl is a successful author.” I also prepared a sign that said “Sheryl is a successful author” and placed it near my computer, where I could see it easily.
Create a motivation chain
Unless you’re extremely lucky or your idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you must anticipate rejections. But don’t let that stop you from forging ahead. Here’s how I kept myself motivated the first time I tried to get published: I divided the list of target publishers into increments of five. Before I sent my proposal package to the first five, I prepared the next five with postage and all. All I needed to do was put the date on the query letter. As each rejection came in, I sent out another package and prepared one more. Therefore, I always had five in the hopper.
I kept this up for two years. I wasn’t sure if I was motivated or just plain foolish because I could have wallpapered the entire Taj Mahal with my rejection letters. Yet I believed in myself and always had a proposal package ready to replace each rejection. I also stared at the article about John Grisham so often that the words started to fade.
After two long years, I got a call from an editor at Arco Publishing. She reviewed my proposal and liked my writing style. Although she wasn’t interested in publishing the topic I was pitching, she was in the market for a writer for topic in my field. I’m proud that 20 years later that first book is now in its 4th edition.
Since my first book for Arco, I’ve written 20 books for many of the leading publishing houses. Several have been translated into different languages. Titles include Business Writing for Dummies, Technical Writing for Dummies, Loony Laws & Silly Statutes, Strategic Business Letters & E-mail, 135 Tips for Writing Successful Business Documents, and more.
The lesson learned is this: Believe in yourself and don’t take no for an answer!