5 Facts About Publishing That Could Change Your Writing Career
According to a survey conducted by The New York Times, 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them. But most haven’t written it. So what’s stopping them?
I hear people tell me all the time they want to write a book. But wanting and doing aren’t the same, are they? It’s time to shed the myths about book publishing and start facing the facts. If you’re one of those eight in 10 people dreaming of writing a book, this might change everything for you.
What if everything you’ve heard was wrong?
We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales and urban legends about what it takes to get a book contract or hit the best sellers list. We’ve been subjected to silly little formulas and hype about how to go from “writer” status to author.
And we’ve all been duped.
I’m not here to tell you everything you know about publishing is wrong. But I can tell you for five years I believed a lot off lies that kept my writing career from taking off. Here’s what I believed:
- “I can do this on my own.”
- “All it takes is a good message.”
- “Once I land the contract, the publisher will do all the work.”
- “Media attention = best seller.”
- “Once I’m published, I’m all set.”
Turns out, none of those were true. And for the longest time, I resisted acknowledging this, because I was scared of doing the work. But when I finally succumbed to the truth, it set me free.
Maybe it will for you, too.
Fact #1: You need an agent
If you want to publish a book through a traditional publisher, you’re going to need a literary agent.
Sure, you can start pitching your proposal or manuscript on your own, but the fact is authors with agents tend to be taken more seriously and get higher advances.
It’s in your best interest to hire an agent. You don’t pay this person until you actually get signed (much like how a real estate agent works), so it’s to your advantage to get one.
It’s always a win-win. He or she doesn’t make any money until you do.
Fact #2: Everyone needs a platform (yes, even fiction writers)
In the case of nonfiction work, your platform is often a blog or some kind of content delivery platform, like a radio show or podcast. It can even be your speaking schedule.
For potential novelists and the like, it’s your body of work. Which could mean a blog, but more often it’s something you’ve already published. Like a short story in a literary journal or magazine. Or a previously self-published book. It could even be your newsletter list.
A platform is a way of proving you have what it takes to sell books. In either case (nonfiction or fiction), the point is you can’t succeed without people knowing who you are — and a platform accomplishes this.
(Side note: Can you get a book contract without a platform? Absolutely. Is it a lot harder than someone who has one? Definitely.)
Fact #3: The publisher won’t do all the work
A friend who’s been in publishing for decades told me this when I got my first book deal:
Assume that the publisher won’t do any of the work to promote your book, that it will all be up to you. And if for some reason, they do something to help you, then it’s an added bonus. But never expect it.
Publishing is venture capitalism.
This means that the publisher puts up all the money, taking the financial risks. And you are the investment. You need to come up with all the bright ideas and clever ways to get your idea or story to spread. They’re just the bank.
From what I’ve seen, publishers love it when authors think like this. It takes the pressure off of them to think like an ad agency and instead do what they do best: create great products.
But make no mistake: the only one who determines your book’s success is you.
Fact #4: Publicity doesn’t sell books
Getting on The Today Show won’t sell a million copies of your book. Neither will a ton of ads.
Think about it: When was the last time you bought something just because someone on TV talked about it? If you’re like me, the answer is never.
Granted, those things can help spread the word, but ultimately what sells books is word-of-mouth. Friends telling friends. That’s it. Nothing special or mystical about it.
So whatever cute ideas you have about getting your writing in front of a lot of people, try not to veer too far away from this basic strategy:
- Ask permission.
- Build trust.
- Be generous.
If you are a first-time author (or about to be), the best thing you can do for your book is get a lot of people to talk about it. Even if it means giving it away for free. This is how Paulo Coelho became an international best-selling author. It can work.
Fact #5: Publishing one book won’t make you rich
There’s a popular misconception that once you publish a book, you are now a full-time author and a pretty big deal.
This belief hails back to the early days of Stephen King and Michael Crichton when publishing was a different animal. Those guys wrote their first manuscripts and got six-figure advances… for their first book!
It doesn’t work like that anymore. There’s too much supply, too much competition. These days, you have to write a few books before you can even call your writing a “career.”
Even then it can be difficult, because most royalty rates aren’t that great (8–20%). That’s why it usually takes years to make any kind of meager salary through writing books.
The alternative, of course, is to not try making money off your books. Instead, consider them a business card — an introduction to a premium product or service you offer.
This could be a course or seminar, even be something like a membership website or a video series. For a lot of authors, it’s their speaking platforms. The book spreads the idea and builds an audience; it’s up to you to make money off it.
What other facts about publishing would you add to this list? Share in the comments.