Book Publishing A to Z Part 7 (Re-Air)
Is it your dream to land a traditional publishing deal? If so, this is the episode you’ve been waiting for! It’s time to dig into what to expect — and what you need to have prepared ahead of time.
In part 7 of the Book Publishing from A to Z series, Coach Tam breaks down all the basics you need to know about traditional publishing. You’ll learn pros and cons to help you decide if this is the path for you, and get valuable tips on how to make sure you have everything you need to land that book deal.
In this episode, you’ll also hear:
- Reasons people choose to go the traditional publishing route, as well as downsides to help you make the right decision according to your personal goals
- Key elements you need to land a book deal
- What a query letter and book proposal are, and what to include in each
- The main objective your book must help the publishing house achieve
It’s easy to be really passionate about the writing process and about wanting to share your story with the world and, at the same time, also be really lost to how the industry actually works. But if you don’t understand how the industry works before you publish, it can actually hurt your book’s success and impact.
If you missed the previous episodes in this series, you can check them out here!
Today, let’s pause, pivot a little, and really dig deep into the letter T — and more specifically, traditional publishing. However, within that category, we’ll also cover some of the elements you need to land a traditional publishing deal.
Before we get into traditional publishing, let’s review what we previously discussed about self-publishing.
Self-publishing means you are taking the helm — not only in writing, but in publishing. This could mean you do it all yourself (though it’s not necessarily recommended!), or it could mean you hire an editor, proofreader, cover designer, formatter, and any other people you need to put together a professional finished product.
When you self-publish, you have to assemble your own dream team to make it happen, and you’re responsible for interviewing and vetting those people — unless you work with a partner, like us at 265 Point, who has that dream team already assembled.
Certainly, there are talented freelancers out there who can be a great help, but there is a huge benefit to having a central point of contact to manage the process and make everything run smoothly. It takes a lot of stress out of self-publishing, because you only have to vet the person you partner with on the front end, instead of bringing the entire team together yourself.
Remember, whether you work with a partner or not, when you self-publish, you’re picking up the costs for all the components that are necessary to publish a quality book. But that also means you have 100% creative control. The book is exactly what you want it to be, and it says what you want it to say, how you want it to say it.
That said, keep in mind that the reader is the one who decides whether the book resonates with them. So really getting in tune with that persona and being able to speak to a direct target audience is very important.
But, if you’re keeping that reader in mind, then it is your book and you can do with it what you want. You have complete creative and marketing control, you retain 100% of the rights, and you get a larger share of the royalties. But that means you’ve got to push and orchestrate the whole publishing process.
Indie publishers are kind of a middle ground, not quite as big as the traditional publishing houses we’ll cover today. These publishers have assembled the resources in-house to publish books at a smaller scale.
They don’t work with as many authors, and advances and royalties may be a little different than they would be with traditional publishers, but indie publishers are still a viable option that can help remove some of the pressure of coordinating and managing the process of publishing a book.
A traditional publishing deal is what most people think of when they think of landing a book deal. This is when a big company like HarperCollins picks up your book, and it’s a big, celebratory moment in the author space when it happens.
But what does it really look like to pursue that publishing path? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of landing a traditional publishing deal.
There are many reasons a person might choose to go the traditional publishing path, including:
- Endorsement. A traditional publishing deal can feel like a stamp of approval, telling you that what you have to say actually mattered and resonated with people to the point that they were willing to invest in you. When a publishing company says yes to your deal, it means they believe in you. And in a subjective field like writing, that vote of encouragement can be huge for your self-confidence.
- Resources. If you’re traditionally published, you don’t have to assemble the dream team. Instead, you can rely on the publisher’s in-house resources. And if they’re a major publisher, they likely have a very high-quality team working on your book.
- Low investment. You don’t have to invest in upfront costs for things like editing and formatting, because the publishing house takes care of it for you.
- Differentiation. For the high achievers, a traditional publishing deal means differentiating yourself. It’s being set apart, sort of like being in an elite club. It can also simply be a goal to set for yourself to operate at a higher level so you can command the respect of a major publishing house.
So which path is best? Really, it depends on your goals for what you want to accomplish.
If you want to have creative control, get your book out quickly, and retain the rights to your book, self-publishing might be the better option for you. But if bragging rights, a stamp of approval, and having the cost picked up for you are more attractive, then traditional publishing may be the path you want to take.
Now, keep in mind that traditional publishing deals can fall through, especially if you are missing some very important pieces. But the biggest challenge of traditional publishing is that you have to commit to the long haul. It’s not an easy goal to accomplish. You have to be prayerful and persistent, and there will be setbacks along the journey. And there are some additional elements you need to pay attention to that add a bit of complexity to the process.
Key Elements for a Traditional Publishing Deal
If you’re trying to land a traditional publishing deal for a nonfiction book, you need four basic things:
- An author platform
- A query letter
- A book proposal
- A sellable story
Having a sellable story simply means doing everything you can to make sure your book is marketable, as we’ve covered in other parts of this series. But let’s break down those other three pieces.
When publishers, editors, and agents talk about author platforms, they mean you’ve got to be able to prove that your book is marketable — in other words, you’ve already convinced other people to believe in you. And one of the ways to measure that is by your social media following, email list, blog subscribers, and/or how many people are in the Facebook group you run.
See, those are all things that indicate that you have been able to capture people’s attention and get them to follow you. Why is that important? Because, remember, the publishing house is putting everything on the line for you. They have assembled the dream team; they’re paying that team and all the printing costs, as well as any communications costs like press releases. And they only want to do all that if they have a pretty good certainty that they’ll get their money back.
Publishing is a business. And think of it this way: even Christian traditional publishers are held accountable for being good stewards of their resources. That means they need to be able to get back a return on their investment. So not only do they want to make back what they put into the project — they want to make more.
Remember, this isn’t about whether people believe that what you have to say is important. It’s simply a matter of whether working on your book fits within their business model. So if traditional publishing is not responsive for you, you can still get your message out — it just means you’ll need to be responsible for taking ownership of that process and going the self-publishing route.
Think of a query letter as a cover letter. When you apply for a job, your cover letter opens the door, differentiates you in a positive way, demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in the job, and gives the employer a preview of what they could get if they continue on to look at your resume or call you for an interview.
A query letter accomplishes much the same thing in the traditional publishing space. So some of the same high-level things that you would do within a cover letter, you also want to do within a query letter.
Just like with a cover letter, make sure you customize the query letter to the person you’re sending it to, and that you give an overview of your experience in this field. The query letter should also include your bio, platform, and credentials, because you want to position your book as something that should be investigated and sought out.
Your query letter should also give the publisher, editor, or agent an idea of what your book is about. This includes the books’:
- Word count
- Genre and category
- Target audience
Try to think like a marketer. What makes your book attractive? What makes it similar to but different from other books in the space?
Remember, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of books already written in the space in which you want to operate. Just like a job applicant may be up against hundreds of other people for that one job, you’ve got to differentiate yourself from that competition. And the query letter is one way that you do that.
In our interview example, the book proposal is like your resume. It takes your query letter another step and really positions you and your book as something to be sought after, from a business standpoint.
You can also think of it as a business plan. If you’ve ever written a business plan before, you know that it challenges you to think through your business and make sure that you have a well-thought-out and well-planned business idea.
A book proposal has pretty much the same objective. The editor, agent, or publisher wants to know that you’ve thought through all the pieces of the puzzle and that you are committed to and willing to work for this publishing journey. That you’re in it for the long haul.
Realistically, it could take years to complete the traditional publishing process and get your book out to the market. So it makes sense that they are looking for someone with a long-term mindset who is willing to go through the process of flashing out all the details — thinking through the market, competitors, and the angle through which to market the book so it will be successful.
Landing a traditional publishing deal is all about convincing that agent, editor, or publisher that this could work and they should take a chance on you. Because here’s the thing: there will still need to be some conversation and negotiation to actually get that book deal. But if you can’t spark that thought — if the lightbulb doesn’t come on — then the chances of you getting to the next step are very small.
Yes, your manuscript needs to be good. Make no mistake about it. But you also need the marketing piece to make your book stand out and be attractive to the editor, agent, or publisher. Then you’ve also got to have that platform — because if you, as the author of the book, can’t convince people to follow you or subscribe to your list, then why should they believe they can?
Books don’t sell themselves. Authors sell books. That’s true whether we’re talking about self-publishing, indie publishing, or traditional publishing.
The traditional publishing house is looking for a partner in the marketing process. And the best way for them to get an idea of how this joint venture will work is to be able to preview what you are currently doing.
Are you bringing your A game to the table to attract a following, and demonstrate that you’ll be able to continue growing that following? Only if you’re able to do that will they trust that the books they publish will sell, the advance they give you will be met, and there could be an overflow.
Essentially, you want to communicate that you are a good investment. But also remember that if it doesn’t work with one publishing house, that doesn’t mean it won’t work with the next. Keep pushing forward, believing that God will help you meet the expectations you need to if that’s the right path for you.
Finally, always remember that self-publishing is still an option. You don’t have to depend on someone else to open the door for you — you can open your own door.
Want more tips and insights while you wait for part 8 next week? Join us in the Christian Authors Network Facebook group!
My name is Tamara “Coach Tam” Jackson and I am a published author, Facebook© Certified Digital Marketer, host of the Top 100 Publishing Secrets podcast, and founder of The Christian Authors Network (C.A.N.) Facebook© community. I specialize in helping mission-driven authors, coaches, and entrepreneurs increase their exposure, impact, and income through strategic self-publishing and digital media appearances. Just say yes and we will work together to attract a tribe of loyal followers that 1) “get you”, 2) love what you do, and 3) are happy to invest in your book, business, cause, or movement. Plus, we will accomplish all of this without fake, salesy, sleazy, or manipulative tactics. Yes you CAN write, publish, and profit in a way that honors God; join the community today at https://christianauthors.net/fbgroup.
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