Getting a Book Contract is Hard Work (But You Can Do It)

I am a big fan of self-publishing. There’s never been a better time for writers to get their words out into the world without waiting for permission from gatekeepers. But what if you still dream about a traditional book deal with a Big Five publisher?

Chad Allen, former Editorial Director for Baker Books, has worked in the publishing industry for more than twenty years. He’s done a little bit of everything — from publishing assistant to indexer; from project editor to acquisitions.

In this episode of The Portfolio Life, publishing professional Chad Allen and I talk about killer book proposals and the fail-proof formula you need to get a book contract.

Listen to the interview

To listen to the show, click the player below (if viewing this in an email, click here).

So what does it take to get a traditional book deal? Here are a few tips from my interview with Chad…

1. Find a great concept

Think your ideas need to be original to be great? Nope. In fact, if your idea has never been talked about it’s probably because people aren’t interested.

So when you are looking to catch the attention of a publisher, aim for different over new. Don’t try to compete in an over-crowded market, but don’t try to enter a non-existent market that has no demand, either.

It isn’t about finding the newest and most original idea. It’s about filling the space you occupy differently from anyone else.

Take something you love, and do something interesting with it. “Creativity” is just the mashing up of ideas and concepts in a unique way – your way. (Tweet That)

2. Build your tribe

Think you need huge numbers of followers to get a book deal? Not exactly. But you do need a tribe.

When you’re building your tribe, you’re connecting to people who are interested in your message or who share the same vision. These are the people who will stick with you as you grow and who will review and recommend your book. These are your true fans.

But don’t let this scare you. It isn’t just about the numbers. It’s about relationships. You can use your blog, social media, and email list to engage with them long before your book hits their shelves. And a small, engaged list is better than huge numbers of people who don’t really care.

Yes, Chad admits that he looks at the numbers when evaluating potential projects, but he also knows there’s time to build. If you are just starting out, you can still catch the attention of a publisher. Include your plan and show how determined you are to grow.

3. Be a terrific writer

What do published authors do to stand out from the crowd? It’s not their impeccable grammar or flowery vocabulary. It’s how they create an amazing experience for their reader. In other words, you’ve got to be good.

Sounds a lot easier said than done, right? You can study your craft to become a better writer, but here’s the thing. There are no shortcuts or secret “get published quick” methods. It all comes down to hard work. You’ve got to be willing to put in the hours.

If you do the work, you will see results. It’s just that simple (and that hard). Good writing and a great attitude can still take you pretty far in this world.

The brass tacks

Hang in there. Keep going for it.

So, what if you don’t have an email list or a huge following on social media? Don’t worry, says Chad. 90 percent of your journey as a writer is going to be about tenacity and your determination to keep going. Hard work is the only thing standing in your way.

Who cares if your list isn’t massive or if someone, somewhere already wrote about your topic? If you create a breath-taking experience for your reader, you can still reach success.

This week, Chad and I have hosted an exclusive workshop just for my readers. Click here to grab your spot.

Do you have questions for Chad about how to get published? Now is your chance! Share it in the comments.

29 thoughts on “Getting a Book Contract is Hard Work (But You Can Do It)

  1. I’m doing all these things right, I guess. I finished my novel (fiction) this summer, it’s being edited now and the cover design is being created. I am self-publishing this fall. I guess I never considered going the traditional route because of the idea of having to try to break through to publishers that are inundated by writers/agents. That process seemed archaic and cumbersome to me especially considering that I simply wanted to get the book out there – not necessarily ‘become a published author.’ Anyway, I have a solid social media presence, a loyal fan base that is eagerly awaiting the release of my book, and I’m a solid writer and storyteller (professionally crafting resonant communications for 20 years in the commercial sector.) Maybe your blog post could be a new way to reach Chad? If you’re out there, Chad, and you’re paying attention – here’s a link to the overview of Minor King: And if you’re interested, you know how to find me. Best, jm

  2. I’m in the hanging in there stage. A couple of weeks ago, just as the details on my first book contract were about to finalized, the publishing house had to withdraw new contract offers due to economic difficulties. Talk about disappointing. So here I am, hanging in there once again. Chad’s encouragement to be tenacious comes at just the right time for me. Much appreciated!

  3. hi Jeff, all your emails that I receive are like Gold to me, I keep them all and when I read one by one , I feel like I can accomplish all the writing I want.. thank you so much

  4. Very helpful stuff, Jeff. I’m trying to build my platform and email list right now, and need to start guest posting. Thanks for the encouragement that’s it’s not all about the numbers (though it still seems to be very important).

    Appreciate your continued help – keep up the good work!

  5. Great post. I guess I’m still in the phase of trying to build my tribe. I feel my writing is improving as a result of all the practice. What I’m wondering is this, while the numbers are not the deciding factor, still, isn’t there a minimum we should have before we try approaching a traditional publisher, if we choose that route?

    1. Good question, Anne. I do think it’s in your best interests to have in place at least some sort of platform. These days, when I review a book proposal from someone who doesn’t have a blog or some sort of web presence, I tend to frown. These days it’s just such an accessible way to connect with your audience, if a person hasn’t done the minimum to reach that crowd, I don’t have much assurance that same person is going to give her all in a publishing partnership.

      1. I believe we addressed this “magic number” question in the interview. Right, Chad? I thought you said something like 10,000 email addresses was a no brainer. And even a few thousand was pretty good.

        1. 10,000 active email subscribers is impressive for sure, and yes a few thousand demonstrates you’ve done some solid work.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. The freedom and flexibility of self-publishing is nice, however, it’s tough to beat the quality and attention to detail placed into a traditionally published book.

    After working in the industry for about a decade now, it’s painfully difficult to miss the difference between a quick and cheap product from that which a team of experts crafted.

    Oh yeah, and a tribe helps too. 😉

    1. This is the main reason why i think traditional publishing DOES have a future. In the end I do think we add value–value that oftentimes readers demand.

  7. Thanks so much, Jeff, for inviting me onto your podcast. I wanted to mention to listeners here that I’ve created a resource kit specifically for Jeff Goins readers. It includes an infographic and video tutorial on how to come up with a great book concept. I hope it’s helpful. You can pick it up here:

  8. I’ve been (seriously) writing for over seven years now and would love to traditionally publish one of my works one day; however, I consider myselft in the “apprentice” stage as I’m still learning the craft and building my “tribe” and platform. I’m trying to learn patience as to allow myselft to improve my skills/craft as a writer (which is a challenge some days!) and not rush the process. I’m also open to the idea of self-publishing but we’ll see. Thank you for another wonderful post Jeff (and Chad, I really like how you think!)!

    1. Thanks, Carrie! I think the trick is to not wait. Either you’re building your platform or preparing to publish or getting on with it. So many people wait for the right moment, which never comes. You have to create that moment, which you do through hard work.

    2. Thanks, Carrie Ann! Self-identifying as an apprentice, it seems to me, is a strong position. It suggest you understand the hard work ahead and you are serious about becoming a master. It is a bold yet humble stance, which is just right, I think. Press on.

  9. Jeff, this single podcast moved me forward as nothing else has, to date. The questions you asked elicited answers which have eluded me for years and kept me spinning in place. Chad, your 3 clear steps pulled together months of intuitive and learned fragments so that in one afternoon–fighting a migraine!–I was able to develop a cohesive framework for my promising but languishing book. To you both, I can’t thank you enough.

  10. Thak you, Jeff and Chad!
    And, Jeff and Chad and all the rest of the fans: I’ve opened up a blog recently. Please try to suport me, as one fan to another, and visit there at least one, or tell a friend to vist.

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