So You Want to Get Published?

So You Want to Get Published?
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A Frustrated Marketer’s Challenge to Aspiring Authors!

Not a week goes by without someone coming to talk to me about the book they want to get published. It happens everywhere. I can certainly attest to the old saying that everyone has a book in them!

These conversations happen because of my successful collaboration with a previously unknown author, Lorna Byrne, who is now an international bestseller with two Sunday Times No. 1 bestsellers, and has been translated into 30 languages. The collaboration – her writing and public speaking; my representing, managing, publicizing, and whatever else it took – lasted 13 years. This was an unexpected and unsought career change! For years, I had a career in marketing with Unilever and other multinationals, and I was by then working as a consultant. I had no knowledge of publishing and no intention of dipping into that world. But it happened.

As a result, I have experience of working with many of the biggest and best publishers around the world and have seen how publishing works. I brought my global marketing experience and very keen business sense to what was, by comparison, a rather insular sector. This rather unique perspective is enhanced by my personal experience of living for the past twelve years with an author – the German writer Manolo Link.

Here are 7 questions I challenge people who want their book published to answer.

1. Why do you want to write a book?

If the answer is to make money, my advice is to buy a lottery ticket instead! Most authors make shockingly little. Here in Ireland – a country where writers have a treasured place in society – the literary world has been rocked by the news that one of the best-known and most successful up-and-coming authors, Donal Ryan, is returning to his job in the public service – to pay his mortgage!

If, on the other hand, you are writing a book because you love writing, because the topic is a burning passion you’ve had for years, or because you want to write a book to position yourself as an authority on a particular subject – then go for it!

2. Have you started writing? And, if so, have you got into a regular rhythm of production?

The number of people who tell me in hushed tones that they want to publish a book, and then admit that they haven’t yet written a single page, astounds me! How can they know that they want to write a book if they haven’t tried to write at least a few pages of it?

And having started, writers need to keep going, getting into a rhythm of production.

Not having time is no excuse! All kinds of authors – among them Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Anthony Trollope and T. S. Eliot – have fitted in writing alongside a full-time job. If you want to write, you need to decide to give it time – even if it means getting up earlier! You can draw inspiration from this miscellany of successful authors’ routines. (I was amused by Peter Shankman’s comment that he writes best on planes – and on one occasion booked a return flight from New York to Tokyo for the sole purpose of finishing a manuscript!)

3. Are you resilient enough to take rejection?

Successful authors vie with each other in telling stories of the number of rejections they encountered before their first book was published. Alex Haley is high up there with a reported 200 rejections for Roots (which eventually sold 8 million copies and was made into an award winning TV series not once, but twice!). Joseph Heller’s satirical novel Catch 22 allegedly got the number in its title from the 22nd publisher he approached – the one who said yes! Read more stories of literary rejection here and take heed of these words of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mocking Bird: “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

4. Are you willing to do what it takes to be a success?

So you’ve finished the book, and a publisher has said yes. Now you can just sit back and enjoy the ride! Right? Wrong!

Publishing is a business: it comes down to sales, and before people buy a book they need to be aware of it. Unless you are already a household name, you will be called upon to invest enormous time and energy into the graft of promoting your book. Publishers will provide some support, but in many cases disappointingly little. Within four weeks of publication, if your book isn’t yet a resounding success, their focus will move on to the next batch of new releases, leaving your book high and dry. An author needs to be willing to put an awful lot of hard work (and frequently money) into promoting their book.

5. Are you making use of the wonderful support literary festivals offer authors?

Literary and book festivals are an enormous gift to aspiring authors. Most offer workshops for writers, frequently by top authors, editors or publishers, for tiny money. Here are lists of forthcoming events in Ireland, the UK, and the USA.

Go, learn, connect!

6. Have you started building a fan base yet?

It is never too early to start building up a network for promoting your books. Do not wait until your book is about to be published. When deciding whether or not to publish you, publishers will look at how many readers you can bring!

According to marketing expert and bestselling author Seth Godin: “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you'll need later.”

I know it may not seem fair, that you are asked to be a writer, a marketer, and a salesperson combined. But who said life is fair? You need to demonstrate that you have something to say that people want to hear, you need to start building followers and you need to start now – options to consider include Facebook, Twitter and gathering subscribers to a blog or newsletter. Publicize Your Book: An Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book the Attention It Deserves, by Jacqueline Deval, is an excellent book on thinking strategically about how to start building your fan base.

7. Have you considered publishing independently?

The world of publishing has been transformed by the growth of Amazon and of e-books. Authors can now get their books out to a wide audience without the involvement of a publisher. Typically an author with a publisher will receive 5-10% of a book’s sales in royalties; on a self-publishing platform like Amazon they could receive 70% of sales revenue. Some authors are deciding that publishers don’t earn their keep or add sufficient value, and are choosing instead to self-publish.

Self-publishing is now surprisingly straightforward, fast and easy, so it’s well worth learning about platforms like Amazon’s CreateSpace. Nick Morgan, writing for Forbes, is excellent on the pro and cons of publishing independently.

Still want to publish?

I know all these questions make it sound as if publishing a book is really hard work (and it is), yet authors persevere – every week 20,000 books are published in the USA alone (source: Bowker 2009 data). There is something about writing and publishing a book that gets under people’s skin. Actress Elizabeth Taylor’s advice about how to succeed seems very apt: “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot before the other, and God damn it, you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.”

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