For many aspiring authors, the process of getting a book deal and going through the publishing process can appear daunting. Many would-be authors haven’t a clue where to begin.
Once you know the basics of how the publishing industry works, the myths, the realities, and what motivates agents and publishers, the process becomes way less intimidating.
Let’s start out with the 5 basic “steps” for navigating the traditional publishing process.
Step 1: Write a Book Proposal.
Unless you are writing a memoir or a novel, you don’t actually need to write a full manuscript before approaching agents and publishers. If you are writing a nonfiction book, the main thing you need before approaching agents and publishers is a really excellent book proposal.
Step 2: Find a Literary Agent.
This does not mean “Google literary agents and send your manuscript to everyone on the list.” It means taking the time to find the right agent for you. Ideally, someone who believes in you as an author, the prospects for your book, and your message. They have to be willing and eager to help you sell your book to a publisher.
Step 3: Your Agent Pitches to Publishers.
This is where your agent shines. They are going to pitch you and your book to various editors at publishing houses with the goal of getting multiple bids. Your agent will come back to you with the offers and will help you select whichever one is the best for you.
A little caveat here: a lot of people tend to assume that the best book deal is the one with the biggest advance, but this isn’t always the case. You want to look at the whole picture before choosing a publisher.
The advance matters, but look also at who the editor is, how well your editor “gets” you, the extent to which you feel they’ll be a great advocate for you and your content. Also consider how much the publisher intends to support your promotion efforts and what they’ll promise to do to help you in that regard.
Sometimes when people get a bid from a “Big 5” publisher (the largest and most prestigious houses), their instinct is to jump on that deal. Keep in mind, a “Big 5” house might not always be the best fit. You might get more attention, and even a bigger advance, from a smaller independent press.
Once you choose your publisher and sign the book deal, you’ll get the first payment on the “advance” (i.e. what the publisher has agreed to pay you for the rights to your book.)
Step 4: Write the Manuscript
Now that you have a contract, you must get to work to deliver the product to the publisher. It’s very important to turn it in on time, or even early if you can. You’ll also want to make sure the manuscript is of great quality and delivers on the promises you made in the book proposal in terms of tone, content, and all the deliverables—what you said the reader would get out of the book, and the like.
Having said that, you don’t have to write the book that follows exactly the outline that you put in the proposal. You can add and/or remove chapters, or move them around, because you’ll find that as you’re writing, you’ll get more insight on what the book actually needs to be. Just be sure to keep your editor in the loop, so you don’t stray too far off the vision for what they bought.
Step 5: Get Publisher Approval and Go to Press
Some editors like to get the manuscript chapter-by-chapter. Others want to get it all at once when it’s done. Either way, when you send in the manuscript, your editor will read it and give you feedback. Sometimes you’ll need to make edits. Sometimes they’ll love it as is. Right after you get approval on the full manuscript is when you get the second payment of your advance. Typically, they’ll pay out the third installment right before the book goes to press.
Once the manuscript is approved, your publisher will take the ball and do the layout, cover design, final edits, and proofreading.
During that time, you’ll be making sure you’ve secured all your endorsements and taking steps on your end to gear up for the book launch.
Now that you have the 5 steps to get your book published, I hope it’s a little less mysterious.
It’s also important to remember, when dealing with agents and publishers, that they are people who are motivated by passion projects and want to make sure to get a return on their investment. So, your role as an aspiring author who wants to sell a book concept is to ignite their passions and remove their doubts. For more information on how to do that, check out my article on Forbes.com.
Not sure how to write a book proposal? We might be able to help you. Go here for a complimentary consultation.