How I Got My Book Published

  • Follow your dreams ... maybe

    As you may know, now is not the best of times for the publishing industry. Despite this, if your inner novelist yearns to be free it's not entirely impossible to get an agent and bang out a hit book. Someone has to occupy Oprah’s couch, or at least Barnes & Noble’s gleaming shelves: Why not you? I managed to do it about a year ago when I got Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz published. My book, however, isn’t exactly a New York Times bestseller yet, so MainStreet got some tips from novelist David Rosen, author of I Just Want My Pants Back (published by Random House’s Broadway imprint, and now being adapted for TV with the help of Bourne Identity producer and Swingers director Doug Liman). We also got some pointers from Alanna Ramirez, an agent at the prominent Trident Media Group in New York (the literary agency that represents Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Deepak Chopra and many other well-known names), and Celia Johnson, an editor at Hachette Book Group. Between the four of us, we should be able to get you started on the path to a literary life. Photo Credit: ipalatin
    Take your time … if you can
  • Take your time … if you can

    A hit book is rarely created overnight — sure, we’ve all heard the writer’s tale about On the Road getting hammered out in three weeks by a manic Jack Kerouac — but a book of fiction takes time to develop and fine-tune. “I wrote I Just Want My Pants Back pretty quickly, or very slowly, depending on how you look at it. From when I sat down and wrote the first sentence to when I had finished the draft I sent in to my agent, it took about nine months. However, I'd been puttering around, starting and stopping various novel ideas for maybe five years before I began Pants, and a lot of that material made its way into the book,” Rosen told us. Nine months isn’t a totally unreasonable amount of time, but it is substantial… the same gestation period as a human baby. I, on the other hand, wrote the first draft of my book in about six weeks, which was followed by another six months of editing. The difference between our experiences has to do with the fact that Rosen wrote a piece of fiction, which almost always needs to be entirely written before it is sold, whereas I wrote a piece of nonfiction, which can be pitched and sold as a proposal before it’s completed. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    The agent problem
  • The agent problem

    Most of the large American publishing houses will not accept “unsolicited” material from writers; this means you need a literary agent before any acquisition editor’s eyes skim over a single word of your masterpiece. Without an agent, your odds of being taken seriously are slim to none. Sure, you could take the self-publishing route. If your self-published book sold 100,000 copies, someone at the publisher might respond to your e-mails. Maybe. Hachette's Celia Johnson agrees: “Agents know which editors are handling what type of books and chances are that an author doesn’t have that type of information. Also, many publishing houses only accept solicited material from agents.” But getting an agent can be a challenge as well. They are, on the whole, a notoriously mercurial group of professionals and they don’t want to waste even a moment’s time on something that isn’t “marketable.” Since agents work on commission (typically 15% of a book’s domestic royalties and 20% of international royalties), they only want properties they feel can be sold to a publisher for a reasonable sum. So how do you appear marketable, commercially lucrative and in-demand? How do you get their attention? Read on. Photo Credit: Getty Images
  • Network

    One of the most appealing aspects of the writer’s life is that you don’t need to spend your time currying favor with others, shaking hands, quietly passing out business cards — except you do. Networking, at least until you get a book deal, is the key to attracting an agent’s attention. Once you have an agent’s attention (assuming they love your work and sign you), they will work tirelessly to get an editor’s attention. Your editor will work hard to get the publishing house to support your work — in turn, the publisher’s marketing and publicity team will work to get the public to notice your work. These are the ideal outcomes anyway. Just remember that it can be a long process. We asked Rosen how an unpublished author could go about getting a good agent. “Not to be coy, but the best way to get an agent is to know an agent. By that I mean, it's far better to approach an agent with your 300-page tome that you've at least spoken to, than it is to send it out cold to a list of agents you found online. So go to readings, network, ask friends of friends if anyone knows an agent to whom they can introduce you. This of course works best if you live in New York, the home of publishing. If not, a cyber introduction on the social networking site of your choice is still better than nothing. Agents are busy -- they are more likely to take your work seriously if they already like you, or at least are fairly certain you are not a stalker.” So there you go: Network like hell, but don’t act stalker-ish. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Be persistent
  • Be persistent

    Don’t let rejection get to you. Agents reject people for a living; it’s their job to be a first line of defense between unmarketable work and the profit-hungry publishing conglomerates. When an agent sends out a rejection letter, it’s not personal, so don’t take it that way. Don’t fire off an angry e-mail accusing the agent of a “lack of vision.” Don’t leave the agent messages saying, “When this book makes it on Oprah and sells a million copies, you’re gonna be sorry!” Burning a bridge like that provides no benefit to you. In fact, it accomplishes just the opposite. Keep attending conferences, networking and sending off your work. Publishing shorter length works in literary magazines is another way to build an audience and eventually get an agent’s attention. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Target agents who are new
  • Target agents who are new

    Older and more established literary agents already have a strong stable of writers; chances are they aren’t hungry for new talent, or they're too busy working with their existing clients. Submit to agents who are actively seeking new clients. The member profiles section on Publishers Marketplace is a great place to start: Agents from a wide range of reputable literary agencies post info about themselves here, including recent works they have sold, genres they represent and whether they are actively seeking new clients. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Learn more about an agency’s tastes
  • Learn more about an agency’s tastes

    Certain agencies are known for representing certain genres, such as romance novels or sci-fi. Pick an agency that focuses on your genre. Check out Writer’s Market at your local bookstore or library, or check it out online — it’s a thick, telephone-book-sized directory of literary agencies. It includes their contact information, instructions for submitting pitches and manuscripts and also includes a list of recent books sold by that agency. Photo Credit:
    Build an online following
  • Build an online following

    One backdoor approach to attracting an agent’s attention is to build an online following, whether it be a large Twitter presence or a popular blog read by many people. Numerous “blog to book” deals have been inked in the past couple years, and to some extent this trend is bound to continue. Publishers want writers with a built-in audience. If you aren’t ready to sit down and write that novel, maybe start with a personal blog chock-full of hilarious insights, intriguing stories and fun narratives. Photo Credit:
    Keep your goal in sight
  • Keep your goal in sight

    Sure, it’s a tough industry, and most people who set out to be successful novelists do not get there. But if you can’t see yourself doing anything else, well, go for it — you need only one agent and one book deal to get the ball rolling. The payoff could be worth it: a lifetime of royalty checks, movie or television rights and worldwide acclaim. Or, at least, encouraging words from your parents. We asked Rosen if his success with the book was worth all of the trouble, and all of the waiting for things to happen. “Times are tough for publishing right now, but there is no better job, for me at least, than to be able to think of stories and have them pay for my food and vintage shirts. The hard part is you have to be motivated. I'm a person for whom structure is a good thing, so believe it or not I do miss the 9 to 5 at times, especially times when I'm stuck on an idea and feel like I'm unproductive, a fraud, just wasting time at home ... But then, inevitably, a really good Oprah will come on and I'll remember that bottom line, freedom is a good thing. As long as I'm productive tomorrow,” he said. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    A few words from an agent
  • A few words from an agent

    Wondering what tips a literary agent has for breaking into the business? We asked Alanna Ramirez at Trident for the best way to get her attention. “The best way to get my attention: Spell my name correctly. Write a query that pitches the idea in a few well-crafted sentences. Don’t forget to tell me if you’ve won awards, or have been published in literary magazines, or anything else notable about yourself and your writing. Tell me if you completed an MFA program or if you’re a journalist. Provide links to work you’ve done that will impress me. If you have a Web site, include the link. Think about what sets you and your novel or nonfiction book apart from the rest of the pack.” Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Do you need to be well-known?
  • Do you need to be well-known?

    It sounds like popularity does have its benefits. “Are you a popular blogger? Do you have millions of hits on your Web site? The other piece of this is the actual writing. It’s not enough that you lived a crazy nomadic existence with your alcoholic parents who moved you to 20 states before you were five years old. If the writing isn’t good, we’ll have a tough time getting a book deal,” according to Ramirez. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    The genius factor
  • The genius factor

    The good news is that if you have serious raw talent, the industry won’t ignore you simply because you don’t have more friends on MySpace than Miley Cyrus. If self-promotion truly isn’t your thing, then focus on getting good writing out there — regularly and everywhere. “Agents and editors like to see that you are active in the writing community in every way possible,” says Ramirez. “As a first-time novelist, you’ll have no track record so we need to look at other factors. Of course, if the next Great American Novel came across my desk and the author had never published anything before, I would still take on the project if the writing really blew me away.” Photo Credit: Getty Images
Show Comments