12 Steps to Getting Your Book Published
Awesome advice from an author, editor, and literary agent.
Writing and Selling Your Words
According to Statista, in 2018 there were 45,200 working writers and authors in the US. Only 21 percent of full-time published writers earned a hundred percent of their income from their book sales.
Some writers are first time writers. Others are published authors.
Writing and selling your words and publishers paying for them is a business.
Whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned writer, it’s always a good idea to keep current and learn about the publishing world and the business of writing.
Many of us devour everything we read about how to write, be a better writer, get published, and turn our words and work into money.
Attending writing workshops and conferences is another way to learn more. Attending a free talk hosted by a local writers’ group is even better.
In this piece, I share 12 steps to getting published that I learned from an expert in the writing and publishing industry during a talk hosted by the writers’ group I belong to.
Awesome Advice from A Literary Agent
A former literary agent, author Anne Dubuisson shared a wealth of information about the business of writing, the publishing world, and how to navigate our way to getting published. Anne is also a writing coach, editor, and publishing consultant.
Although I’m a published author, I am always looking for ways to enhance my knowledge about the business of writing, the publishing world, and how to get my foot in the door.
Here are some steps and tips from Anne that every writer, published and unpublished, needs to know and should take. I also share my experience as a writer.
1. First Have a Full Manuscript
Do not query or seek an agent without having a finished manuscript.
My memoir is not finished. I have written over 50, 000 words but it needs a lot of work. Anne’s advice was a wake up call.
Unless you’re famous, have your full memoir manuscript completed before sending it out. The same goes for fiction.
For other non-fiction work, you need to write a proposal.
Before I wrote my first non-fiction/academic book proposal, I followed the template the publisher provided in the Author Submission tab on its website.
2. Love the Book You Want to Write
My first book, English for Pharmacy Writing and Oral Communication with mp3 files, was inspired by the English language needs of my students pursuing careers as future pharmacists.
I loved writing every chapter and word in that book.
I also love the memoir I’m still drafting and revising.
3. Join Writing Groups
Paulo Coelho writes, “Writing is the most solitary activity in the world.”
Don’t write alone all the time.
Search, find, and join a local writers’ group.
I enjoy learning from other writers as well as sharing our knowledge and successes.
I attend critique sessions once a month to receive encouraging feedback and helpful suggestions on my memoir chapters. I provide the same to fellow writers. I enjoy reading their work.
Had I not been a member of this writers’ group, I would have missed Anne’s talk and tips.
But not all writer’s groups are the same. I came across another writers’ group. I attended a meeting but learned it was not a good fit for me. And that’s OK.
4. Read A Lot
If you expect people to read your book, read other people’s books.
I’m constantly reading — fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, nonsense, etc.
Sometimes I run into writers who are not readers.
Read in the genre that you hope to write. If you want to write fiction, read a lot of fiction.
I have written paid reviews of non-fiction books. I read and review memoirs written by elite ultra runners and endurance athletes for my website blog.
Reading memoirs helps me to become familiar with what publishers are looking for in this genre.
Consider writing book reviews. It will get you reading and writing. I have posted reviews on Goodreads. It’s a good social website to post book reviews.
5. Educate Yourself About the Publishing Industry
I couldn’t agree more.
While preparing to write my first book proposal, I devoured everything I found online about the publishing industry and publishers that would be a good fit for my pharmacy writing and oral communication book.
Educate yourself about how to write a book proposal. Different publishers have different requirements and templates.
I educated myself about book contracts. In fact, when I was offered the book contract, I asked a lot of questions.
The senior acquisitions editor told me I was asking questions that usually come out of a lawyer’s mouth. My response — I did my research!
I wrote a HuffPost piece about how I wrote a winning book proposal and landed a book contract to help educate writers working on a book proposal.
6. Publisher’s Marketplace
Anne recommends the Publisher’s Market to educate yourself about the publishing world.
This online resource will help you stay up to date with what’s going on in the publishing world.
This valuable resource is used by authors, publishers, agents, and rights professionals.
7. The Query Letter
I have read so much about how to write query letters.
Even though I’ve had success with query letters, I still lack confidence every time I write one.
Hearing Anne take us through the process of writing a query letter, and what to include, boosted my confidence.
Your query letter should consist of 400–450 words in 5 paragraphs.
In paragraph 1, mention that you have written a book. Mention that you saw that the agent you are querying represents a particular author whose work you read and like.
In paragraph 2, if you are a published writer, mention that. Mention what the book is about. If your book is non-fiction, mention that “this is a book that will blah, blah, blah.” Do this in 4–5 lines.
In paragraph 3, mention the relevance of your book to the market today. Include comparable books but not best sellers. Mention how your book fits in with the rest of the market.
In paragraph 4, write about who you are — your publications, where you’ve been quoted, etc. Do this in 3–4 lines.
In paragraph 5, thank the agent.
While it seems simple, a query letter requires thought and preparation but is very doable.
8. Agents are Gatekeepers
I’d like to think of literary agents as advocates for authors. And if they have worked at publishing houses, that’s an added bonus because they understand the publisher’s point of view.
Anne emphasizes that you really need to go through an agent. I have heard this advice many times.
Literary agents will know how to best set you up with a publisher.
However, even if you find an agent who wants to represent you, that agent may not be the best fit for you.
But an agent who is not a good fit for you just might recommend an agent who is.
Anne points to the Publisher’s Marketplace as a good place to find an agent. Here you will become acquainted with their bios, genres, and specialities. You’ll find their leading clients, recent sales, forthcoming books, and submission requirements.
She also recommends visiting agent websites to see what they are looking for and their submission requirements.
Also, it’s OK to send out multiple submissions; at least to 30 agents.
Writers conferences are good settings to network and, hopefully, find an agent that might be the right fit for you.
9. Contracts and Red flags
Once you have a potential literary agent, keep an eye out for red flags.
Anne advices the following.
Make sure they read your entire manuscript.
Make sure you own the copyright.
Make sure there is termination language in the contract if the publisher does not print the book.
Understand the difference between net royalties with small publishers and retail royalties with big publishers.
If you chose a hybrid publication where you contribute to the cost of the book, make sure your contract has a bankruptcy clause.
Keep in mind that some agents also serve as editors and will charge for this service. If they are going to do the editing, they need to make this clear to you.
You might want to hire someone who knows publishing contracts.
A good resource is The Authors Guild. Their legal team will review contracts at no charge.
As for commission, an agent should take no more than 15% of your earnings.
I have read about other red flags.
Stay away from agents who will charge you to send your manuscript to a publisher but don’t. Stay away from agents who charge reading fees and coaching fees.
A genuine and ethical literary agent makes money from commission.
Writers don’t pay agents.
10. Don’t Be Discouraged If You Don’t Have a Top Publisher
Having worked in publishing, Anne offers encouraging words about small publishers.
Even with a top publisher, authors still have to do a lot of the work.
Unless the publisher promotes you, authors have the responsibility of promoting their book and pushing book sales.
A big publisher may not necessarily translate into sales and success.
Going with a small publisher might be better. A small press that publishes 10 titles a year will have more resources and time to devote to the author.
Don’t feel that you’ve lost the opportunity to get published if you don’t have a big time publisher. Small publishers often do a better job promoting their authors.
11. Non-fiction Writers with a Built-in Audience
If you’re a non-fiction writer and have a built-in audience, you have an automatic place to help you get published.
I hope so.
Having a platform helps and is expected. Having a presence on social media is a good idea.
I have a website and am active on social media. I was a HuffPost contributor, at the invitation of Arianna Huffington. Unfortunately, HuffPost did away with contributors last year.
I am a Thrive Global contributor, and a Medium writer.
Somewhere in all of that, I have planted the seeds of a built-in audience that continues to grow.
Anne suggests that if you’re writing a memoir, you should try to publish part of it in magazines. I had never considered that. I will give it a try.
Some writers will go the self-publishing route.
The self-publish industry continues to grow. According to Bowker, a new record was set in 2017 when over 1 million books were self-published.
Despite the number of self-published authors, Anne reminds us that self-publishing without a niche is a hard road.
In 1990, while waiting to give birth to my son, I self-published Communicating Effectively With Hispanic Patients: The Complete Guide to Key Vocabulary Words and Essential and Functional Phrases in Spanish for Direct Patient Contact. It consists of an 86-page soft-cover book and 4 cassette tapes in a book album.
It was a lot of work, especially promoting it, but very gratifying creating it.
Nurses, doctors, and hospitals that purchased it loved it. But I still have a boxful.
Hmm…maybe I should update the book and upgrade the cassette tapes to mp3 files. Just a thought!
My Take Away
While I’m not new to the publishing, today’s publishing industry is different from the one I found quick success during at a very different time.
After taking out books from the library (library? what’s that?) on how to write a query, my first query letter must have been quite impressive.
My first non-fiction article was published in a nursing magazine in 1993. I was paid $150 dollars! Other query letters and paid articles followed.
Fourteen years ago, I wrote my first non-fiction/academic book proposal that landed me a book contract with a major publishing conglomerate, and with no agent (no agent is needed in the academic publishing world). Peer reviewers gave my proposal glowing reviews.
I asked for an advance and got it.
I got the first half of my advance at the start of my book and the second half when I finished the book.
Two years later, my book was published. I had excellent and very supportive editors and publisher.
Royalties continue to trickle in twice a year.
And no, I have not gotten rich but I am pretty proud of a book that met a need and found a niche.
There’s a lot to know and learn about publishing today.
Today online writing websites, platforms, social media, and the world of self-publishing are saturated with writers. Everyone has a story or two to tell.
And of course, writing is a business for both writers and publishers.
Anne’s presentation on the business of writing and how to get published left me re-energized. Her presentation inspired me to write this piece.
It not only led me to reflect on my writing and publication successes, but also to keep chipping away at my memoir.
I continue to write a few pieces as a freelance contributor to books. I write on Medium while I work on my memoir.
I started my ultra running memoir in 2011 after I finished my first 100 mile ultramarathon. But then life throw me a couple of curve balls.
I almost lost my life to a life-threatening surgical error and my husband was diagnosed stage 4 cancer.
Surviving, overcoming adversity, and remaining resilient have reshaped my memoir. But I’m still running ultra marathons.
A couple of years ago I dusted it off and worked on the first draft during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. It’s not too late to join for free. It’s a great motivator to get you to write.
In a previous Medium piece, I write that finishing my memoir manuscript is much harder than writing my first book.
Anne’s advice reminds me that I really need to finish my memoir manuscript. Like running an ultramarathon, I will finish my memoir, slow and steady.
I have set another goal — to have an agent by July 2020.
I have an agent in mind to submit my full memoir manuscript when it’s ready.
This agent represented a member of the writers’ group I belong to.
Like me, this agent also runs ultramarathons, a theme in my memoir, and common ground.
I have found other agents in the acknowledgements page of the ulta runner and endurance athlete memoirs I have read and reviewed. I will also consider them.
Love the Book You’re Writing
How about you? What’s your goal? What’s your work in progress? Have you finished your book? Have you found an agent? Have you been signed by a publishing house? Have you received a contract? Has your book been published?
I hope Anne’s awesome advice and my experience with the publishing world will propel you to write, to educate yourself about the publishing world, to grow your platform, to finish that book, to write that query letter, and to find the right agent when you are ready.
And remember, love the book you’re writing!
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) is a published author working on her memoir and an ultrarunner training for her 27th ultramarathon — Across the Years 48 hour ultra. Her book English for Pharmacy Writing and Oral Communication is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Find her portfolio on her website — Writing Life.