New writers and students often ask me "So, how do you get a book published?" Well, the answer is: part luck, part connections, part platform, and part good writing; but I don't know in exactly what order.
The luck is in having the right idea, at the right time, and getting it to the right ear. When we got the idea for Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, LiteraryMama.com had won some awards and was suddenly getting national attention. Riding the wave, we sent in the book proposal. We waited. We fretted. We paced. But not for long. Fortunately, the publisher didn't have another anthology in our subject area coming up, and mother writing was catching new attention. We got the good news e-mail shortly after submitting.
Connections also can help. Publishers rarely take a chance on the unknown. The jobs that editors once did, agents now do. Agents find the talent, groom the writers, hone the book proposal, and edit work before editors even get involved. Agents recommend writers to editors, and editors listen. In our case, my co-editor, Andi Buchanan, had an agent who we used, and she pitched the project to the editor of Andi's previous book. Andi was a known, rather than an unknown, and the book sold easier because of it.
Your marketing platform also matters. Generally, publishers would rather not put tons of money into PR, so publishers rarely take a chance on someone who has no clear way to sell the books. These days, most authors sell their books themselves. Gone are the days when authors simply wrote. Now they must be marketing machines. Thus, having a built in way to promote books makes an author more attractive. We had Literarymama.com -- with an established, educated, book-buying, niche demographic. Through LiteraryMama.com, we could guarantee a certain amount of exposure without any investment on the publishers' part; hence, we became more attractive.
And, finally, good writing can win agents and influence editors. The only problem is that good writing doesn't necessarily convince a publisher's marketing department. They look for books that fit a particular market demographic, fall into a clear genre, and promise to make them money. If the writing is good, all the better. I've heard many tales from writers about editors who loved the book, while the marketing department said a resounding "no." One writer I know heard back from an editor who loved her work and wrote glowing compliments. "A timely, lovely book," she said. The marketing department said "Really, what genre IS it?" When the marketing folks couldn't figure out what shelf to put it on in Barnes and Nobles, they rejected it. The editor and the writer were both heartbroken. In our case, we had good writing and a clear market; therefore, the editors and the marketing department could agree. You, the writer, need to give them as many reasons to agree as possible.
What else can you do to get a book published?
- Research topics in your subject area -- find out what seems to be needed.
- Network and make connections with others in your field.
- Develop a platform from which you can sell books -- a speaking career, a website, a network of bloggers, a newsletter, a set of workshops, and more. Know your market and how to reach them.
- Improve your writing -- it can't hurt.