I get several emails a month from people asking me the details of my publishing deal for my book, 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life, which I’m all too happy to share. I think everyone should write a book that wants to. Really. And with the birth of self publishing this has become easier to do so, and the big question people ask me is “Should I try to get a traditional publishing deal, or should I self publish?” GREAT question!
First and foremost, I don’t pretend to know everything about publishing. I can only share with you what I’ve learned from my own journey over the last few years.
Backing up a bit, I did chronicle the entire journey here all the way back when I declared I wanted to write a book. You can watch videos (mostly videos because during that time I could not write a freaking blog post to save my life) about the fears and freak outs, and logistical stuff like the proposal, finding an agent, the rest of the journey. The month the book came out and the few months thereafter were crazy because of promotion, so this is the first post I’ve written since before then. I write this post as sort of a summary. But, I do encourage you to watch my sometimes comical and very dramatic videos.
Briefly, here are the pros cons of traditional publishing:
Distribution. If a publisher publishes your book, they are distributing it all over the country, sometimes internationally to book sellers. Within 2 ½ months of publication, my publisher (Adams Media) had distributed 8,000 copies of my book. Granted, some of those copies will be returned to them, but with self publishing I would not have had that option. This was in my eyes, the biggest advantage and was one of the main reasons I chose traditional publishing.
I didn’t have to do any work when it came time to designing the cover and inside of the book. Design is not my bag, and luckily the peeps at Adams worked with me to match my already developed branding. I’ve heard this sometimes is not the case with all publishers though. Also, some people consider this a pro in self publishing that the writer is in charge of everything and has all the control.
They did the work with two rounds of copy editing and I had an editor help me polish the book. Laura over at Adams fielded my tearful phone calls when I needed help with examples for a chapter and when I had to scrap 3 chapters and start from scratch. The editors there saved my ass.
I had a team behind me cheering me on. The team at Adams believed in the book, its message, and me. It’s invaluable to have that kind of support system rather than doing it alone. Again, I don’t know if this is the case with all publishers though.
I got a book advance. Granted, it wasn’t a 6-figure deal like I’d wanted, but it was the first time I had been PAID for writing. And it certainly helped!
Credibility. It’s tough to get a book deal these days, so there is an added element of credibility.
And now the sad trombone of cons:
The publisher owns the rights to my book. I won’t get into contract details, but this is standard. If you go self publishing, you own your book. You can reproduce, pull it apart for blog posts, do whatever you want with it. With traditional publishing, you're very limited.
The contract specified when I needed to have the final manuscript done. I signed the contract in January 2013. In order for publication in January 2014 (self help books sell best in the new year) I had to have my final manuscript complete by June 2013. Six months might sound like plenty of time, but I had a full time coaching practice, 2 little kids and a life. Six months was tight!
Aside from the book advance, I don’t make any money until I sell over 10,000 copies (I’m not 100% sure of this number, but I think so). And after that royalties aren’t much.
The biggest question to ask yourself in deciding if you want to self publish or go traditional publishing is your big goal for the book. Most of the people in my circles are coaches or want-to-be coaches, so I assume your intention is: publicity, credibility, and being seen as an expert in the field. That being said, personally, that was why I chose traditional publishing.
Now, onto HOW to get a book deal…
These days it’s all about your platform. Publishers want to know if you have enough circles of influence that your book will sell. You may have the best, most informative book on the planet, but if you don’t have a platform, agents and publishers will likely pass.
On the spectrum of platform size, mine wasn’t considered that big. People like Danielle LaPorte, Tim Ferris, and Gabrielle Bernstein are some examples of non-celebrities that have big platforms. To give you a general idea, when I wrote my proposal in 2012, I had just over 3,000 newsletter subscribers, about 15,000 total social media followers (Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest) and about 9,000 unique monthly website visitors. So again, since my platform wasn’t considered that big, my agent suggested we wait about 6 months while I worked specifically on my platform in order to get a great deal. In the end we decided not to do that and take a chance on what I had.
The whole process in a nutshell
If you’re writing self help, you’ll need to finish about half of your manuscript and have a clear sense of the remainder. You’ll need to complete a book proposal (you can learn more about that on this page, here is the resource I used, and here is the coach I hired to help me do it).
You’ll then want to hire an agent (not totally necessary, but the agent actually shops your book to publishers and helps you with your contract. I'm not actually sure how authors get book deals without agents unless a publisher has reached out to them first.). You’ll need to send them a query letter or email first. Here is the book I used to help me find an agent.
Once a literary agent takes you on, he or she will begin shopping your book to publishers. If a publisher is interested, you’ll receive an offer in the form of a contract and you and your agent take it from there.
So, there you have it. If you don’t have a platform yet, or are just starting out, it’s not impossible to get a book deal. But, I do encourage you to work on building it up if traditional publishing is something that you want.
If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would do it the same way. And for a future post, I’ll talk about book promotion, which is super easy and so very much fun (said no one ever.) No really, it wasn’t that bad, but I will say that in the entire process, writing the book was the easy part.
Good luck out there!