World Book Day took place on March 7th and aims to encourage reading in schools, nurseries, libraries and workplaces. With the global celebration growing in popularity it’s no surprise that UK book sales are also on the up. More books are being sold, so does that mean there’s a chance that more budding authors could see their name in print?
Linda Watson-Brown has written over twenty bestsellers and says that traditional publishing — which is what I’ll be talking about today, not self-publishing — is not for the faint-hearted. “Very few people actually get the opportunity to see their book published in this way,” says Linda.
Sara Tasker, author of Hashtag Authentic: Finding Creativity and Building a Community on Instagram and Beyond, admits that the project for her is more about PR than financial gain. On her latest podcast episode, she refers to it as a “weighty and very glamorous business card.”
Having had my first book published last year, I tend to agree. Having a book adds value to your personal brand in a way that goes further than any arbitrary amount scribbled on a yearly royalty cheque, but it’s a lot of work. With that said, here’s how to crack the publishing world in 2019.
Write the book
If you’re writing a novel then you’ll need to make sure that you have the complete manuscript before you start approaching agents or publishers. This might seem like a lot of hassle to go through without knowing if anyone actually wants your book, but it’s essential if you’ve never been published before. Someone like Paula Hawkins can get a deal based off a great idea because she has a proven track record, but that’s not you just yet.
The good news is that freelancers who have a background in writing are primed and ready to get stuck in. I spoke to Holly Bourne, author of Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? who says:
“Journalists are some of the most hardworking people I know and you need an insane work ethic to complete the marathon of writing a novel.”
There you have it. There’s no quick fix or way around the fact that before you can pitch your first novel, you need to write the damn thing.
Write a proposal
A proposal for a novel is normally comprised of a synopsis, three sample chapters, author bio and an accompanying cover letter. Simples. A non-fiction proposal, on the other hand, can be submitted without the final manuscript but requires a bit more groundwork and market research. You need to explain why your book matters and why you’re the best person to write it.
Kasim Mohammed, a junior editor at Trigger Publishing, has some helpful advice for anyone embarking on the process:
“Be concise. Some of the more-respected agents read five hundred submissions in a month. So cut down on your words until you’re saying only what needs to be said.”
However, this doesn’t mean simplifying your content.
“You still need to show them that you’re a writer, so your words need to shine,” says Kasim. “Be concise, but don’t let that interrupt your voice.”
Jane Friedman has a more detailed guide on her website.
Approaching a publisher
There is no single guaranteed route to getting a book deal. I got signed by approaching a publisher directly, but it’s thought that around 80% of books sold by traditional publishing houses are acquired via an agent. In fact, some publishers will only accept submissions through an agent, so having one will certainly increase your chances of getting your work in front of the right people. You can find the names of agents to approach in the acknowledgement pages of books, on Twitter, LinkedIn and on websites such as AgentQuery.com.
Sara Tasker recently said that she met with several agents but never really connected with any of them: “None of them felt like the right fit.” In the end, she accepted an offer directly from a publisher and is now an Amazon bestseller, proving that not everyone needs an agent to become a successful author.
Send the proposal
Research agents and publishers to find the most suitable avenues to pursue and make sure you read any submission guidelines, which are normally available online. When you’re ready to submit your idea, Kasim from Trigger Publishing suggests sending your proposal to more than one place:
“Most agencies expect writers to send their work out to multiple agents. You don’t have to mention this in your cover letter to them, but if you do get interest from one place, it’s customary to let the other places know of that.”
Then? Be patient and prepare yourself for rejections. The market is only so big and there are already a great number of books being published. A lot of it comes down to luck and timing.
Kasim adds: “Don’t keep pestering people after they’ve rejected you. It’s a small industry and that’s a very good way to get your name out there in a way you don’t want it to.”
Holly Bourne says that the nineteen rejections she received for her first novel were an important part of her finding the right people to work with. She finally signed with Usborne who published Soulmates as their lead title:
“Their belief in me, and voice was huge from the beginning and that enthusiasm has been huge in helping me reach the success I achieve today. So I learnt it only takes one yes, one person to believe in you. Focus on that – not all the no’s”
Build an audience
One thing that can’t go unmentioned is the importance of having an author platform. Not every successful writer has one before they start, but the number of influencers selling books these days is proof that audience numbers matter.
Publishing is a business dependent on the number of units sold, so having a strong following will give you leverage when it comes to getting a deal. It might be the thing that persuades a publisher to take a chance on you. Some non-fiction publishers will only take on titles that are likely to sell at least 10,000 copies, and this requires having an engaged audience full of people who are prepared to purchase.
Don’t wait on a publishing contract before you grow your platform, start trying to build an audience now. You could be waiting years for that elusive book deal so you might as well use your time wisely.