Oh my, this is THE question, isn’t it: what’s the secret to getting published? What’s that magic formula that will bring publishers to your door, asking you to write a book so they can publish it? Or what can you send to a publisher so that they’ll say, “Yes” to publishing your book right away? Well, I’ve got an answer for you, but I need to set up the context a little bit, first.
What are publishers looking for?
Let’s get right to exactly what publishers are looking for. All publishers, big and small, want to sell books. The only way they make money is by selling copies of books. For a first-time author, many publishers will do a first print run of 2,500 copies to test the market waters. So, the very first question on their mind is, “Can this author sell 2,500 copies?” Here are some minimum benchmarks that publishers want to see (these are my interpretations, so it’s possible that other agents/publishers may disagree with me, here):
- An email list of 5,000
- A social media following of 5,000 (This could be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, anything, but you need to have one platform that has at least 5,000, not a combination of all of the above.)
- Connections to an existing network of the book’s niche audience
- Potential to get interviews or speaking gigs with at least a few hundred in the audience
If a publisher sees that you have these kinds of numbers, they’ll feel confident that you can sell the 2,500 copies of the first print run, which makes you getting published much more likely.
If you have these sorts of numbers, how do you approach a publisher?
If you have these sorts of numbers in your email list and social media following, you can approach a publisher with your book idea. Recognize, though, that you’ll have to reach out to the publisher and maybe several (or dozens of) publishers. There’s a pretty straightforward path:
- Find an agent who represents your niche.
- Write a proposal for the book you want to write (or are already writing).
- The agent will “shop” that proposal to publishers until he gets a “yes” from a publishing house. This can take anywhere from six months to six years.
(Side note: we’re actually going to talk more in-depth about this in next week’s article, so if you’re not subscribed to the newsletter, make sure to join the Paper Raven Books newsletter right here, and I’ll let you know as soon as I publish that article on how to approach a publisher!)
When does a publisher start seeking you out?
Wouldn’t getting published be so much easier if the publisher sought you out? That magical moment happens when you have numbers that are higher in each of those categories. Publishers have acquisitions editors, who are specialists in particular niches. So, one publishing house might have an acquisitions editor who specializes in biography and creative nonfiction, another acquisitions editor who specializes in history, religion, spirituality, and philosophy, another who specializes in hard sciences, education, and politics. You get the idea. Each publishing house will divide up the genres, depending on how many acquisitions editors they can staff.
But the job of that acquisitions editor is to know their specialty niches really well. They attend conferences, read blogs, peruse magazines, and generally try to “sniff out” the next big author or topic. They want to find someone who will sell, not just 2,500 copies, but 10,000, 15,000, or 20,000 copies of a book. Here are some minimum benchmarks acquisitions editors are looking for:
- A social media following of at least 25,000
- Keynote presentations at conferences attended by at least 1,000 people
- YouTube videos that have tens of thousands of views
- Blog posts that consistently go viral within a niche
- (This is a new one) Amazon books that sell consistently well within a category
When an acquisitions editor starts to see your name popping up in a niche, she’ll start to keep tabs on you, maybe even go to a conference to see one of your presentations. She might follow you on social media to see how you’re interacting with your followers. She’ll become a detective until she feels like she’s gathered enough information to feel confident asking the managing editor to approach you to write a book for the publishing house.
And that’s when you get the call or email from a publishing house, asking you to write a book for them.
There’s an alternative to the traditional “getting published” path.
There’s another way that we’re now seeing authors approach this whole publication path. They self-publish their first book (or two), build up their audience, email list, social media following, interview/speaking circuit, and then approach a traditional publisher.
Let me paint this scenario for you: You have a small audience now. Maybe a couple hundred blog readers, email subscribers, or social media followers. You’re starting to get to know people in your niche, but you’re definitely new to this networking thing. But you know you’re growing. You just need to grow faster.
Write and publish your own book. Put a list-building freebie in the front of the book. Launch the book to your existing blog, list, and followers. Ask them to share. Bring more people into your world. Get on a few smaller podcasts. Pitch to speak at a few local conferences. Build up your audience on your own.
Once you hit that 5,000 on your list and social media, you’ll have several advantages that publishers will absolutely love to see.
- You’ll have a book that has sold well and has great reviews from readers.
- You’ll have the recordings of a few interviews and presentations.
- You’ll have testimonials from people who have heard you speak.
And, from your end, you’ll have already been generating income! You’ll have some income from book sales, and you’ll have increased revenue from clients, customers, and speaking gigs.
It’s a win-win for both of you.
How do you know what’s the next best step for you?
I’ve put together a PDF for you that’ll walk you through how to analyze your own platform and what you should consider before deciding on your path for getting published. In this worksheet, I walk you through what metrics to look at, what goals you currently have, and what the next best step is for you.
Grab the PDF worksheet right here:
Or grab the PDF worksheet right here.