I’ve been asked a lot of questions about this, so I thought I’d put it out there once and for the record. First, I want to tell everyone publishing is not an easy process, but it’s not an impossible one either. If you have a great idea, a fair amount of talent, and an enormous amount of tenacity, you can make it happen.
Here’s how it worked for me. I hope this journey gives you ideas and inspiration to tackle your big ideas too, whatever they may be.
Lesson #1: Fix Your Product
I’m a marketing girl at heart and this is a golden rule of the industry. In short, you can’t save a bad product. Period. Not with good marketing, good salesmanship, a lot of money, or even a mountain of tenacity. Especially in our social-media driven world, if you have a bad book (or business idea, widget, whatever), it’s not going to get off the ground regardless of what you do.
For Effective Immediately, my co-author Skip Lineberg and I wrote the book we wanted to read as young professionals. We knew the content was good, we just needed to…
Lesson #2: Find an Agent
Oh…the mountain of books I have on this subject. Stacks and stacks. I read everything that had the word “agent” in the title and I became obsessed with finding free teleseminars/webinars with ANYONE from the publishing industry who could tell me how it worked.
In fact, I would schedule my days around Rick Frishman’s teleseminars (this was a few years ago) and I asked so many questions that – eventually – he came to know my name. And that was the point.
When I was confident that Rick a.) knew who I was, and b.) knew I wasn’t a dilettante – I sent him an email and requested a personal consultation about our project. In the interest of full disclosure, I did have to pay Rick for his time – and it wasn’t cheap!
At the end of the call though, he recommended me to Linda Konner, a nonfiction agent interested in career titles. Because she knew Rick (never underestimate the power of a referral!), she agreed to read our proposal. She liked it and signed us.
Sounds easy enough right? Here’s what happened in the interim:
- Our proposal took 6 months to write and was 40 pages long. (This also includes the time it took me to read a mountain of books with the word “book proposal” in the title.) Tip: In the proposal, I made sure to place a heavy emphasis on research that demonstrated the market need for our book and very detailed plans on how we were going to promote it.
- Skip and I have always had a strong vision for the layout, so we commissioned a designer to create a mock-up of a few sample chapters.
- I traveled to New York multiple times attending author courses and the BEA pre-show writer’s conference. Most of these events have a “speed networking with agents” component and I was determined that if I could just meet with the right people, my passion would sell them on this project. Incidentally, I did meet with Linda face-to-face prior to being signed – and after so many speed networking events, I had my elevator pitch d-o-w-n.
- Prior to being accepted by Linda, our proposal had been turned down by about 45 other agents.
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Lesson #3: Be Patient
Unless you’re Ivanka Trump, you’re probably not going to get accepted by a publisher immediately. No worries though. Some idiot rejected J.K. Rowling too.
To give you an idea of the process for a first-time, unknown author, Linda accepted Skip and I as clients in June of 2005. She finally sold our book to Ten Speed Press (now a division of Random House) in September of 2008.
The key is you need to have an agent who is as tenacious as you are and willing to bird-dog your book until it sells. I have a stack of faxes and emails from Linda documenting rejection after rejection (maybe 50 in total) and we had lots of close calls that fell through at the end for one reason or another.
However, Linda didn’t give up and neither did we. Instead, Skip and I focused on ways to…
Lesson #4: Build a Platform
A platform is a body of work that positions you as the expert in your field – and believe me when I tell you it’s the Holy Grail of publishing. The good news is with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social sites, it’s easier to grow a community of followers than ever before. Skip and I are social media geeks, but we also made a point to write columns for regional business publications and speak to any college class or group that would have us. We never charged for any of our presentations because we were trading our time for the privilege of getting our name out in the market.
And, despite the fact we now have a publisher to help market the book, the work has only just begun. If Phase One is writing and finding a publishing home for your title, Phase Two is actually selling it. So now we have to maintain a blog, find readers, connect with meeting planners, start speaking more frequently, creating videos, etc. I’ll continue to post updates on how it’s all going but, in the meantime, I’ll leave you with the Goethe quote I’ve kept on my desk since day one of chasing this dream. If you’re chasing one too, remember to “Be bold – and mighty forces will come to your aid.”
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Emily Bennington is the author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. She hosts a popular blog for career newbies at www.professionalstudio365.com and can be found on Twitter @EmilyBennington.
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