One question that I frequently hear from new authors is how do you get published by a mainstream publisher? Sure, anyone can get published these days through various print-on-demand and e-book publishing platforms, where you pay anything from nothing if you format your book properly to about $500 with many companies to set up and publish your book. You just have to write about 50 or more pages on something, put it in a Word document or PDF, and you are ready to go.
But the big divide in self-publishing comes between those books that sell well, say 10,000 or more copies — a very tiny percentage — and most of the rest which average around 150 copies. The other big divide is between the traditional or mainstream publishers and the vast majority of self-published books (or maybe more accurately self-printed books, since often the service printing your book becomes the publisher, since you use their ISBN number, rather than your own).
For many people the dream is how to bridge that divide? How do you find a mainstream publisher? It isn’t easy — and it’s become more competitive than ever, since agents and publishers are looking for authors with a platform — some way that these authors already stand out, such as by speaking, acquiring a large following in the social media, getting stories about them in the news, or being a regular guest on TV shows. But many new writers don’t have that kind of platform. So what do you do?
I’d like to suggest a series of steps to break through.
1) Write a good book that’s sufficiently new and different from what’s already on the market. Plus write it well — and if you aren’t a professional or naturally good writer, ask a professional to write and polish a proposal for you with a couple of chapters.
2) Build up a platform to show you can play an active and high-profile role in promoting your book. Look for speaking engagements, pitch yourself to the media as an expert on a topic so journalists and TV and radio show producers will ask you for your opinion on that topic — and keep a record of all your speaking engagements, quotes in the news, and TV/radio show appearances.
3) Before or while you are pitching your book to mainstream publishers and agents, self-publish your book (assuming it’s a good book as noted in #1), and use that book to build up a good track record for sales, and promote yourself for speaking engagements and to the media.
4) Send out a query letter about your book to multiple agents and publishers and only describe it briefly with some information about you and how you can help promote it. Keep your query to about 300-400 words with no attachments. You can send the proposal and some chapters later to those who want to learn more.
5) If you don’t immediately get a mainstream publisher or agent, use your self-published book to build your platform, and eventually you may do so well that you may find it more profitable to keep selling your book yourself. Or you may find a publisher interested in taking over your book — and you’ll get an even better deal, since you have shown there is a market for your book and you have built a great platform for yourself.