How I Got Published
Stop dreaming, start doing. Meanwhile, think about how you’re going to release that baby into the world.
I wanted to get my book published. This was before the advent of self-publishing, so I was going at it the old-fashioned way.
I was a journalist in college. After graduating, I worked in financial services and consumer lending in a Fortune 250 company, and then a big bank for 7 years.
I wanted to share my experiences of that whole wacky and ridiculous subprime era, and help people with their personal finances at the same time, despite having mostly written about entertainment, pop culture, film and music.
There was a book publishing seminar in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by Robyn Freedman Spizman, co-author of the 3-book “Author 101” series, which remains to this day a solid resource for publishing, and marketing, a book.
Ms. Spizman said to look at the “Acknowledgements” section in your favorite book, to see whom the author thanked. Authors always thank their agents, and it was a great way to find out who exactly was in charge of these authors’ destinies.
So, I picked up a book I was reading by Jim Cramer, looked inside, and sure enough, he’d thanked Jeff Herman, an independent but well-known literary agent. I sent in a query letter (a one-page summary of a book project) to Jeff’s website. Within two weeks he asked for an extended proposal. I sent that. Two weeks later, I received a polite “no thank you.”
Soon after, I started business school in Atlanta. I ended up actually working on Jim Cramer’s show, “Mad Money,” but I didn’t tell him that I had used his book to try to get a foothold into the publishing world.
I relocated and worked across the pond in London. I shelved my book project (no pun intended). But this book kept niggling me, reminding me that it deserved to live.
Once I got back to New York I emailed a published business school professor, and asked her how she got published. She kindly referred me to her own book agent.
I re-purposed my query letter and emailed her agent. He forwarded it to a publisher. The publishing editor was interested, and requested a proposal. I sent that over with a sample first chapter.
He promptly dismembered it. I meekly responded that I would revise it according to his specs and re-submit.
One year went by.
After my life stabilized from job changes and a particularly noxious breakup, I dusted the proposal off and decided once and for all to finish it.
I restructured it, submitted it, and I’d actually waited so long that the original publishing editor’s successor received it. She liked it, pitched it, and within one month I had a book publishing deal.
This wasn’t some splashy deal with a huge advance. This was a deal giving the publisher control over pricing, and as I would eventually learn, a whole lot more...
Unless you’re a celebrity, you can forget about huge advances.
I asked a friend who was also a published author for advice on this seemingly paltry sum and he said as a first-time author I had better “just sign the fucking thing.” So I did.
My total book advance was $1500. The last $500 I negotiated for. So, it was $500 at signing, $500 after submission of the complete project by deadline, and $500 upon publication.
I wrote my book (65,000 words) in 6 months. It was non-fiction, so I included a lot of interviews, research and artwork. I went through two edit rounds. I found the book editing process (which was outsourced to an Indian company) professional and efficient.
I lost the fight over my book cover, even though I submitted 4 alternate designs of my own. The book was published 6 months later. I personally financed and managed all the marketing activities, including a book release party, as well as the book’s website, which is still up-and-running and produces a quarterly newsletter.
Some book publishers perform royalty audits only once per year. Regardless of whether you sell 500 or 500,000 books, understand that as a published author you may only receive royalty payments once per year, so don’t bet your living expenses on them.
I’m coming up on one year since my book was published. And, I’m working on a new book project. This time, I’m self-publishing.
My experience tells me that if you’ve got the same goal, you should exhaust every possible avenue or contact in your network to get published, and keep at it. And you should still learn the ins and outs of self-publishing. The resources are out there—I recommend James Altucher’s “Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing” and this blog post from Tim Ferriss.
I’ve left out a huge part of the process, which is writing a solid, good book that intends to help and teach people, and/or tells a great story. You can see right through books that have been poorly edited or not edited at all, or written by those who just want to be famous. I skip these, and advise doing the same.
So, get to writing every single day. Visualize it. Now go do it.