Book Publishing Basics

Almost every week I encounter an aspiring writer who asks for tips on getting a book published. When that happens, I like to offer the following seven practical steps for starting the journey. Most of this information applies to writers who have never published before, so if you’re already a successful author, you may want to share this with the aspiring writers who ask, “How’d you do it?”

1. Write well!

Regardless of how many poorly written books get published every year, this is still rule #1. Agents, editors, and readers are always looking for well-written books. Anyone can type words on a page, but skillfully crafted messages and stories are a delight.

2. Attend a writers conference or two.

Writers conferences are an opportunity to make connections with writers, editors, and agents. While you’re there, take workshops to learn all you can to hone your writing craft (refer to tip #1).

Google writers conferences in your area or check out The Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Jerry Jenkins. The Shaw Guide also provides a detailed list of writers conferences. Know that there are hundreds of writers conferences across the world, each with a different audience, niche, and connections. Be sure that the conference you attend fits your requirements for price, distance, timing, and professional goals.

3. Write a book proposal.

This is like writing a business plan for your book, which may sound like tedious work, but it’s highly beneficial. A book proposal helps you articulate your book’s theme, purpose, audience, and competition (among other things), and it helps you create a marketing plan for when your book comes out.

A book proposal’s form may vary depending on the genre, and most agents have a template they prefer to use for their authors. But if you don’t have an agent, author Mary DeMuth offers downloadable tutorials on writing fiction and non-fiction book proposals. How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen is also a good resource.

4. Build your platform.

A platform refers to all of the activities you engage in that make people notice you and your work. It shows how visible you are to your target audience. Building your platform could include social media or blogging, speaking engagements, or teaching — anything that markets you as an author.

Platform by Michael Hyatt provides an informative, step-by-step guide to building your platform. Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz is another good resource.

5. Choose to self-publish or look for a traditional publisher.

This short ebook from literary agent Rachelle Gardner gives pros and cons of each option. Before you ever pay anyone to publish your book, know something about the company you choose. There are several different varieties of self-publishing, from eBooks to print books and many that do both. Each type of self-publishing requires different amounts of up-front cash and effort on the part of the author.

6. If you want traditional publishing, find an agent.

Editor Chuck Sambuchino releases a yearly Guide to Literary Agents. Listen to an interview between Michael Hyatt and Rachelle Gardner on new writers and finding an agent. The Christian Writers Market Guide features a list of literary agents that represent mainly Christian authors. Writers conferences are great places to meet agents in person, which can make a big difference in this relationship-oriented business. Most literary agencies post submission guidelines on their web sites, so be sure and follow those when submitting a query or a proposal.

7. Plan on a marathon, not a sprint! 

Bestselling authors don’t pop up overnight. Most of them worked on their writing and platform for many years before publishing their first book. So give yourself plenty of grace along your publishing path. Also, while you may have big dreams of becoming a bestselling author, God may have other plans. A publishing journey often brings tremendous personal and spiritual growth. “And … after you have suffered a little while, [God] himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). Smile! Though the road may be long and winding, God will accompany you on your journey.

Need more inspiration for the long haul? Check out my collection of quotes on writing and the writing life.

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About Alice Crider

I got started in in book publishing in 1998 at Cook Communications in Colorado Springs. In 2001, I went to work at Alive Communications Literary Agency for three years before joining the editorial team at WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House Publishing, Inc. I studied Communication at Regis University in Colorado and received life coach training through Christian Coaching Institute in 2008. I joined the agent team at WordServe Literary in September 2012, and my passion is to empower authors to realize their publishing dreams and live a life that thrills them.

9 thoughts on “Book Publishing Basics

  1. I really like what you say in #7. I have found it to be so true. Also, I’ve learned that our God is a God of surprises … you may lose out on one opportunity with one press only to be snapped up by a press that is an even better fit. It’s all about keeping the faith (which is, admittedly, harder than it sounds!).

  2. Fantastic tips! I have one thing to add to #2 – practice a short spiel that highlights the exciting or unique things about your book. When you’re meeting agents and editors, you’ll want to have that ready in case they ask what you’re working on. Get them interested in what you’re doing and then ask if you can send them a query letter or a part of your manuscript.

  3. It’s so encouraging to hear you say to plan on a marathon. Many days I think I should be making more progress than I am. I appreciate all of your helpful tips, but I think this may be the most encouraging.

  4. Thanks. I had not though about attending conferences or writing a proposal. I will need an agent, but a proposal may help focus my mind.

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