3 Myths About Getting Your Book Published

The book industry has typically been an insular and confusing one; and even with self-publishing and digital technologies opening new doors, traditional publishing still takes place behind a veil. Naturally, as a result, misinformation abounds.

Let’s take a look at a few common myths that may be holding you back in your quest to find the right publisher for your book.

Myth #1: You’ve got to convince publishers that they’ve never, ever seen a book like yours.

Many authors think that the number-one job of their book proposals is to convince agents and publishers that they’re writing something totally unlike anything on the market. I can’t tell you how many proposals I’ve read that say the equivalent of this: “There is no book anything at all like mine ANYWHERE.”

These authors assume that publishers think a book that isn’t completely new won’t sell. The world already has a book about fill-in-the-blank . . . so why do we need another one?

Well, just like this is not the case in other areas of life, it’s not entirely true in book publishing. Think about clothes. There isn’t just one manufacturer of red women’s blouses; there are many. Many of them look the same, but often they have key points of variation—long sleeves, short sleeves, buttons, no buttons, collar, no collar, cotton, silk, and so on—and they all have their uses and customers.

Publishers actually do want to know that there is a market for a book like yours (people buy red blouses) but that your book is unique enough to draw customers (your blouse has incredibly beautiful glass buttons that can’t be found elsewhere). Rather than trying to convince them that books like yours don’t exist at all, point out both a) how your project is similar to what people have shown they are willing to buy and also b) that little something (or, ideally, that big something) that will draw readers your way. Do you offer a unique perspective? Is your book written specifically for a neglected audience? Do you examine new research on a topic? Figure out what sets you apart and highlight that. For tips on how to do this, take a look at “9 Great Ways to Make Your Book Proposal Stand Out.”

Myth #2: You have to write the whole book.

Well, *eventually* you do. But not right away. (We’ll talk ghostwriters another day.)

If you’re working on a nonfiction project (except memoir or autobiography), you can approach publishers long before that. A book proposal and a couple of sample chapters are generally what agents and publishers expect to see, and they are used to making their decisions based on just those pieces of writing. They don’t need to read the whole thing—so don’t sweat trying to write all eight chapters of your book. Instead, focus on crafting a great proposal and a couple of stellar sample chapters. You can focus on the rest after you’ve signed your contract.

For fiction and memoir/autobiography, there’s too much room for authors to jump the shark at any given point in the book, so agents and editors will want to see the entire thing before they commit. Darn.

Myth #3: Okay, AFTER you get the book deal, your job is to write the book.

Well, it is . . . and then some.

The myth is that writing the book is your primary or sole responsibility as the writer—cue video of you typing “THE END,” sending the manuscript to your editor, and watching the money roll in.

But, in reality, the days when writing the book was your *only* job are over. You have to write the book, of course, but you’ll also be expected to help out with marketing the book to the public, which can be a significant undertaking. So, it would be more accurate to say this: it’s just ONE of your jobs. Eek.

Many of today’s successful authors, spend a ton of time on marketing activities outside of actually writing books. In the past, this might have amounted to traveling the country doing book readings and public radio interviews. But these days, blogging, tweeting, Facebook posting, writing articles, sending e-mail newsletters, speaking, teaching, and generating unique content to offer readers are all potential parts of an author’s job.

Before signing a contract you’ll want to get a sense of what your publisher expects from you. Also, be honest with yourself about how much you’re willing to do to help your book succeed. And you’ll want to start seeding the ground by building a community of followers before your book is published so your book can hit the ground running. Check out Sell Your Book Like Wildfire for some great tips on how to start doing that.

With a clearer understanding of what's going on behind the scenes and what's expected of you, you'll be primed for publishing success.


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