by Cory Hott January 9, 2024
How to Get a Book Deal
The dream of getting a literary agent and landing a traditional publishing book deal is an aspiration for many writers. Getting that coveted book deal from a major publisher like Penguin Random House or Simon and Schuster and seeing your book in stores seems like the pinnacle of success for some. But is this vision just a romantic fantasy that glosses over the gritty realities of traditional publishing?
In a recent interview with book publishing expert Dr. Angela Lauria, we got the inside scoop on what it really takes to score and succeed with a traditional book deal. Dr. Angela didn’t mince words, emphasizing upfront how difficult it is to get your foot in the door and warning prospective authors to be prepared for a drawn-out, demanding process.
Curious to learn more about Dr. Angela’s candor on the realities of the book publishing process? Read on to get the key insights from her interview on what it takes to get a traditional book deal, how long it takes to see a payday, whether publishers help with marketing, and most importantly, if traditional publishing is ultimately worth all the hype.
How to Get a Literary Agent
There are many resources to help find a literary agent and publishers, including New York Book Editors and Writer’s Digest. However, they will only reply if you write a short query letter that tells them that you have a good book idea and understand marketing. It’s recommended that anyone attempting to get a traditional book deal invests in a good query letter, which can be done by working with professionals or by going to websites like Query Shark.
What Do Literary Agents and Book Publishers Look for in an Author?
Right off the bat, Dr. Angela emphasized the average difficulty of getting a traditional publishing deal. Should you still pursue a traditional deal, there are a few requirements most agents have.
Author should be a good writer with a unique idea, around ten years of expertise, a commitment to market your book once it’s published, a large platform, ideally with 100,000 followers or more, and be decently skilled at the craft of writing. However, being a good writer is not enough. Publishers are also looking for someone who is mediagenic with an attractive and marketable idea.
Therefore, authors should have a look, a thing that can be marketed, and–this is arguably the most important part–must be able to market themselves and their book. It is the author’s job to sell the book, not the publishers. This is a common misconception. Publishers usually take 90 percent of the money, and the author, on average, gets to keep only 10 percent.
What’s Better: Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing?
The answer to this question is dependent on the author’s purpose in writing the book. If the author wants to be a serious artist and have a career as an author with a six-figure book contract, traditional publishing is the way to go.
However, if the author wants to tell a personal story or get leads for their business, self-publishing or indie publishing, respectively, may be a better option.
Self-publishing is easier but will not give the author the credibility, clout, and distribution that traditional publishing can provide. However, it is not an either/or situation. Authors can always self-publish first to get their content out there and build a steady platform, then try to get a book deal. Working with a book strategist can help an author develop a plan and proposal that will make their book more attractive to agents and publishers.
The odds of making $100,000 from a book are high, with 75 percent of Difference Press’s clients achieving this goal with a coaching book. However, the odds of getting a major book deal with a traditional publishing house like Penguin Random House and having a book as famous as Harry Potter are low.
Authors can increase their odds by identifying their goals and making a strategic plan. Each traditional publisher is unique in terms of what they pay and how they operate, so it is essential to research each publisher before submitting a proposal or query letter. Indie publishing houses, like Difference Press, can be a great supplement for authors not ready to dive directly into traditional publishing.
How Long Will a Traditional Book Deal Take?
Or, in other words, how long until the author sees their first paycheck?
There are two options for authors who want traditional publishing deals.
First, they should understand that it is a three-year plan to publish a book. This includes writing a book, publishing the book, marketing the book, and promoting the book. It’s not a quick, one-and-done deal. In fact, it usually takes much longer and requires more time and energy than most people realize.
The second option is to self-publish, which is easier to do now than ever before. Self-publishing can be a great option for authors who are unable to secure traditional book deals, as there is no gatekeeper. Important to note is that, in order to self-publish, the author has to be an excellent task manager. Meaning, you must hold yourself responsible for deadlines and managing the process (which includes writing the book; managing your team of editors, designers, formatters, and possibly even marketers, publicists, etcetera).
Literary agents and book publishers are looking for long-term relationships with authors, and they want to ensure that the author is committed to promoting their book for at least ten years. This can be a challenge for older authors who may face ageism in the industry. To overcome this, one strategy is to find a younger co-author who can provide equal billing and help promote the book for years to come.
How Much Will It Cost to Get a Traditional Book Deal?
Investing in a traditional book deal can be expensive, and writers should see it as a business investment. Dr. Angela gave a great example of her hairdresser, who invested around $200,000 in her music career while also working multiple jobs to fund it. She suggests that writers do the same by having a flexible job or running their own business to fund their writing career.
Does Traditional Publishing Include a Budget for Marketing?
While publishers do not provide a separate budget for marketing, the author’s advance is intended to be used for this purpose. Publishers spend money on business-to-business marketing costs such as display space in bookstores and Amazon co-op fees to get books placed higher in search results. Additionally, publishers attend trade shows where books can be picked up for reviews, and authors can also pay to submit their books for awards.
How Can You Make a Book Financially Profitable?
Most books do not make money from book sales alone, but rather from other things the author may sell. For example, Betsy Rapoport’s book Queen Bees and Wannabes sold many copies, but the book sales themselves did not make nearly as much money as the movie Mean Girls, which was based on the book.
Similarly, Tiago Forte, who Dr. Angela recently interviewed about his book deals with Simon and Schuster imprint Atria, talked about how he lost money on his book and book sales but made money with his $2,000 productivity course, Building a Second Brain. Thus, authors should think beyond book sales and consider other ways to monetize their book, such as optioning film rights or selling courses, coaching or consulting engagements, and speaking engagements.
The glitz and glamour of traditional publishing may seem alluring, but the reality is often far less idyllic. As Dr. Angela revealed, scoring a traditional book deal requires ample time, money, and marketing savvy from authors. Don’t expect publishers to handle promotion costs.
The book publishing process is lengthy, intense, and offers no guarantee of financial success from book sales alone. While traditional publishing opens doors, authors must weigh if its demands fit their goals. With realistic expectations, writers can decide if chasing a traditional deal is truly worth the effort or if self-publishing makes more sense for their needs. The choice comes down to each author’s purpose and willingness to hustle.
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