Maybe your magnum opus is complete after years of creative toiling and revision and you finally feel it’s ready for the world to see. Perhaps you’re just toying with the idea of being a published author and don’t have much prepared besides a rough outline. Whatever stage of the writing process you’re at, it’s never too early or too late to start looking for your book deal. Here are some steps if you’re ready to get started.
The more that you can prove you have a following and will be able to sell books, the easier it will be to land a sweet book deal and the more leverage you’ll have in the negotiation process.
- Build a portfolio of previous publications, such as guest posts on blogs or in magazines. The more high profile your previous publications are, the better you will look to prospective publishers.
- Establish an active social media presence. You don’t have to be fully engaged on all of them, but pick at least one or two platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest or Reddit and start building a following for yourself. In the eyes of a publisher, each of those people who care enough to follow you could translate into book sales down the road.
- Acquire some achievements related to the topic of your book. If you’re looking to write a BBQ cookbook, enter your famous baby back ribs in a local cooking competition and use that first place trophy as further social proof.
- Get endorsements or form partnerships with people who already have credibility. Your name by itself might not mean much to a prospective publisher, but maybe you have a family friend with a bit of clout who can put their name behind your work.
- Post your work online. Contrary to the opinions of some writers, this won’t ruin your chances of being published. In fact, 50 Shades of Grey started off as a Twilight fan fiction before it went on to sell over 125 million copies and secure multiple movie deals.
A note on that last point: Don’t worry too much about people taking your ideas. Your work is already protected under copyright law as soon as you write it, and the overall ideas behind your work can’t be copywritten anyway. You’ll have to take the risk and share your fantastic idea with the world to ever have a chance of getting it published.
Hire an Agent
If you’re brand new on the publishing scene, and especially if you are aiming to have your work picked up by one of the Big 5 publishing houses like Penguin or HarperCollins, hiring an agent will be pretty much a requirement to be successful.
You can start your search for a publisher by checking the acknowledgments section in the works of some of your favourite authors. This is an excellent way to identify an agency that has a track record of successfully publishing books in your niche.
If you’re still struggling to find an agent you like, there are free online resources like AgentQuery.com which have hundreds of agents listed. For a modest monthly fee, you can also try premium services like WritersMarket.com and follow their guide on getting published.
Put Together Your Query Package
Whether you’re planning to hire an agent or approach publishers yourself, you will need a professional package of materials to pitch your book idea.
A query letter – Just like when you apply for a job and provide a cover letter, your query letter will give a brief overview of you and your work, and why the publishers should give you a book deal. Keep it short and sweet. The people evaluating your book query are regularly flooded with thousands of submissions, and a 10-second glance at your query letter may be your only opportunity to catch their attention, so make it count.
A synopsis or proposal – If you’re writing a work of fiction, you’ll want to include a very brief summary of your book from start to finish. This should be a couple of pages at most. If your work is nonfiction, you should include a proposal or outline of what your book will be about, including chapter titles and a brief description for each.
Sample chapters – If you’ve already written some or all of your book, you can include a few sample chapters for the publishing agent in case they are interested in your book proposal. You should always start from the beginning of your book, even if you think the middle or end of your book represents the best of your writing.
Read the Contract
If you’re lucky enough to have your proposal accepted and offered a book deal, don’t get so excited that you sign your life away!
As a brand new author, chances are you won’t have much room for negotiations of your contract anyway, but it’s still important to read the details of any contracts or paperwork before you sign. Especially if there is a large sum of money involved, it might be worth running any contracts by a lawyer before you accept.
Prepare Yourself for Rejection
The process of acquiring a book deal for yourself can be a long and emotionally exhausting process. When those rejection letters start coming back, just remember all of these best-sellers that got rejected the first time as well. You’ll get there eventually, but be prepared to put in a lot of hard work.