I’ve been asked a lot of questions about this, so I thought I’d put it out there once and for the record. First, I want to tell you that publishing is not an easy process, but it’s not an impossible one either. If you have a great idea, a fair amount of talent, and an enormous amount of hustle, you can make it happen too. Here’s how it worked for me. I hope this journey gives you ideas and inspiration to tackle your big ideas as well, whatever they may be.
Lesson #1: Fix Your Product
I’m a marketing girl at heart and this is a golden rule of the industry. In short, you can’t save a bad product. Period. You cannot hope to save it with good marketing, good salesmanship, a lot of money, or even a mountain of tenacity. Especially in our social-media driven world, if you have a bad book (or business idea, widget, whatever), it’s not going to get off the ground regardless of what you do.
For Effective Immediately, my co-author Skip Lineberg and I wrote the book we wanted to read as young professionals. It’s short, funny, direct, and full of practical advice readers could use as they transition from college to the workforce. We knew the idea was good, we just needed to…
Lesson #2: Find an Agent
Oh…the PILES of books I have on this subject. Stacks and stacks. I read anything with the word “agent” in the title and I became obsessed with finding free advice from anyone in the publishing industry who could lift the hood and show me how it worked. At the time, I would schedule my days around Rick Frishman’s teleseminars, and I asked so many questions on the calls that – eventually – he came to know my name. And that was the point.
When I was confident that Rick a.) knew who I was, and b.) knew I wasn’t a stalker – I sent him an email and requested a personal consultation about our project. In the interest of full disclosure, I did have to pay Rick for his time – and it wasn’t cheap!
At the end of our discussion though, he gave me the name of a nonfiction agent interested in career titles. Because I dropped Rick’s name in my solicitation (never underestimate the power of a referral!), she agreed to read our proposal. She liked it and signed us.
Sounds easy enough right? Well, here’s what happened in the interim:
- Our proposal took 6 months to write and was 40 pages long. (This also includes the time it took me to read a pile of books with the word “book proposal” in the title.) Tip: In our proposal, I made sure to place a heavy emphasis on research that demonstrated the market need for this book and very detailed plans on how we were going to promote it.
- Skip and I have always had a strong vision for the layout, so we commissioned a designer to create a mock-up of a few sample chapters.
- I traveled to New York multiple times attending author courses and the Book Expo America pre-show writer’s conference. Most of these events have a “speed networking with agents” component and I was determined that if I could just meet with the right people, my passion would sell them on the project. Incidentally, I did meet with my agent face-to-face prior to being signed and, after so many speed networking events, I had my elevator pitch d-o-w-n.
- Before we were finally accepted, our proposal had been turned down by dozens of other agents.
Lesson #3: Be Patient
Unless you’re Ivanka Trump, you’re probably not going to find a publisher immediately. But don’t get discouraged though. Some idiot rejected J.K. Rowling too.
To give you an idea of the process for a first-time, unknown author, Skip and I signed with our agent in June of 2005. She finally sold our book to Ten Speed Press (now a division of Random House) in September of 2008. The lesson here is that you need to have an agent who is as tenacious as you are and willing to birddog your book until it sells. I have stacks of faxes and emails documenting rejection after rejection from publishers (maybe 50 in total), and we had lots of close calls that fell through at the end for one reason or another. Through all the disappointment, our agent didn’t give up and neither did we. Instead, Skip and I focused on ways to…
Lesson #4: Build a Platform
A platform is a body of work that positions you as the expert in your field – and believe me when I tell you it’s the Holy Grail of publishing. The good news is that with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social sites, it’s easier to establish yourself than ever before. Skip and I are social media geeks, but we also made a point to write columns for regional business publications and speak to any college class or group that would have us. We never charged for our presentations because we were trading our time for the privilege of getting our name out in the right circles.
Now, despite the fact that we have a publisher to help market the book, the work has only just begun. If Phase One is writing and finding a home for your title, Phase Two is the promotions. So these days we spend a lot of time building our audience through blogging, connecting with meeting planners, speaking to students, creating more videos, etc. It’s a mountain of work, but the journey has been its own reward… and I hope to see you on the other side.
For behind-the-scenes photos of the above, please visit our Facebook page.
Emily Bennington is the author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. She hosts a popular blog for career newbies at www.professionalstudio365.com and can be found on Twitter @EmilyBennington or via email at ebennington[at]msn[dot]com.