The Publishing Process: 7 Steps to Selling Your Book Successfully

Many first-time authors invest enormous energy and time in writing their book before approaching a publisher to see if anyone is interested in buying it. This is the wrong way to go about getting published, and usually results in rejection of your manuscript. You stand a much better chance of selling your book if you follow the seven steps outlined here.

1. Doing Market Research

Traditional publishers are looking for books with marketing potential in the range of 10,000 to 100,000 sales. The publisher has to use sales revenue to pay their own staff as well as cover costs like printing, shipping, warehousing, and promotion, so at the end of the day the author may make about $2 per sale. In order to make this worth your while and your publisher’s while, you should get some numbers to measure your prospective book’s sales potential before you begin a writing project.

Where can you get these kinds of numbers? The best numbers to get are sales figures for competing books and related periodicals, which you can get from sources like Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank system, Bowker’s Books in Print, and Writer’s Market. You can also collect general information on the size of your target market using resources like U.S. Census Bureau Economic Statistics and the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.

2. Writing a Proposal Package

If the numbers look good, the next step is to set about writing a good proposal package you can take to agents and publishers.

The body of your proposal should include background information about your book’s market, your promotional and sales strategies, your competition, and your credentials. It should also include an outline of your book and detailed chapter summaries. These should be used as a basis for estimating the book’s page count and how long it will take you to write it, which you should also mention in your proposal.

The body of your proposal should be supported by a couple sample chapters. Writing some sample chapters will give your publisher a chance to evaluate your writing style before you go through the work of writing the whole book. You should include your first chapter as well as at least one other chapter, either your second chapter or your strongest chapter. You may also wish to include your introduction.

To complete your proposal package, compose a one-to-two-page query letter which can be sent on ahead of your proposal to introduce its contents. Your query should introduce yourself and your book idea, highlight the main reasons people would want to buy your book, provide your contact information, and extend an invitation for a follow-up action such as requesting the complete proposal (if you send the query letter on by itself) or contacting you after reading the proposal (if you send the proposal with it). You will customize your query letter when you send it out to specific agents and publishers, so regard it as a template with room for adding the recipient’s contact details.

3. Finding an Agent

When your proposal and its query letter are ready, you can go one of two routes. You can either contact agents to help you find a publisher, or contact publishers directly. Going through an agent generally increases your odds of success, though either approach can work.

You can find agents in directories of literary agents, which are typically available in the reference sections of libraries. The directories will list agent specialties. Try to find an agent who handles books similar to yours.

Agent directories will also often let you know if the agent prefers you to send just a query letter or a full proposal. When in doubt, just send a query letter with an offer to send the full proposal.

4. Finding a Publisher

An agent can help you identify and approach potential publishers. You can also research this on your own or help your agent research this by using publisher directories, such as Writer’s Market.

Look for publishers specializing in books similar to yours. Also note who the appropriate contact person is and what the preferred submission process is with respect to whether you send a query letter or full proposal. Following the publisher’s submission instructions and contacting the right person will greatly increase your odds of acceptance.

5. Negotiating a Contract

If a publisher is interested in your book, they will typically extend you a verbal contract first, followed up by a standard written contract. The contract will cover topics such as advance payment, royalties, and whether the book will be published in hardcover or paperback or both.

It is best to have your literary agent or another professional assist you with reviewing your contract terms before signing anything. However it’s also a good idea to educate yourself about publishing contract basics. A good resource is Richard Curtis’ How to Be Your Own Literary Agent.

6. Finishing Your Book

Your contract terms will specify when you promise to complete your manuscript. Make sure you agree to a realistic estimate that takes into account your personal habits, your writing speed, and the time you will need for supplementary tasks such as library research, interviews, and editing. To make sure you meet your deadline, the best practice is to establish a regular writing schedule and stick to it until your manuscript is complete.

7. Promoting Your Book

Your publisher has a limited budget to promote all the books they publish each year. A percentage of that budget will go to your book, but it will generally be relatively small, unless your book is perceived as having bestselling potential. You can boost your book sales by supporting your publisher’s promotional efforts.

There are many ways you can promote your book. These include networking, sending out review copies, publishing articles online and in print media, making public speaking appearances, doing interviews, and running seminars and webinars. You will find more ideas and detailed tips in our book Publishing for Publicity.