Publishing a Book is Easier Than You'd Think

publishing-a-bookLayoffs and cutbacks have left a lot of us with more spare time on our hands than we ever expected, and as we glance over bestseller lists, so many can't help but think, "That's what I should do! I should write a book and get it published. Then my financial worries would be over!"

Although this is an extremely lofty goal, it's not as unrealistic as, say, writing a screenplay and selling it to a major studio, or becoming the next 'America's Got Talent' winner. Solving all your financial worries by writing a book might be a little tough; but, with all the options available to everyone online, getting published can be as easy as the click of a mouse.

Getting read, however, is a whole other story. When you do the math, self-publishing seems to be a no--brainer. You'll get up to 50 percent of book sales back from most hard copy self-publishers (after you've laid out publishing fees, most of which will be well under $5,000). And if you go with e-books, sites like offer you 80 percent of book sales, and publishing expenses can be free.

With profits like that, why even bother with a major publisher that only offers you 8-15 percent of book sales after your advance is recouped? And don't forget your agent's fees -- another 15%. Publishing's big boys won't even look at your manuscript unless it's submitted by an agent, who will also help you with other aspects of book publishing that you can't possibly do by yourself. Speaking from experience, there are three very lucrative and strategic advantages to going with an agent and major publisher: advance, publicity and distribution.

How much is it worth to you?

The advance is basically the investment the publisher makes in you. It can range from $10,000 to $10 million, more or less. It can go to pay your expenses while writing the book, and to cover writing costs such as photos, research, illustrations, etc. The publicity provided can be invaluable, since most news and talk shows, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc. regularly accept books from major publishers not just to review, but to feature the authors. Distribution involves getting your book directly into stores nationwide, which major publishers have a unique system for achieving, and most individuals are powerless to do.

But with Amazon flourishing and e-books taking over, you might wonder, "Who cares about getting your books in a brick and mortar store?" Having worked with Simon and Schuster, St. Martin's, Random House and Hachette, I have to tell you that there is nothing like the prestige of a major publisher, the savvy editing skills of a committed editor, and the monetary benefits of a sizable advance. I always say that 15percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing, which is all you're guaranteed when you self publish.

The biggest, and most important hurdle in getting through to a major publisher, however, is finding an agent to represent you. Publishers will send your manuscript back to you unopened unless you approach them via a reputable agent. Why? For legal reasons, of course -- writers often accuse publishers of stealing their ideas, even though the publisher might have been working on a similar book years ahead of when they received the accusing writer's proposal. Agents and publishers already have all the legal necessities worked out between them, and you will have signed a contract with your agent. The publishers also use agents as "slush" editors to weed out the myriad manuscripts they've been receiving ever since word processors made writing so easy.

From the agent's mouth

I interviewed my own agent, Eileen Cope of Trident Media Group, to get the skinny on agents these days. She gave very practical, concise advise.

"The biggest mistake people make," she says, "is not researching agents. Different agents represent different types of books." For example, she handles non-fiction narratives on pop culture, humor, business and popular science, along with literary historical fiction and short story collections. Don't even think of sending her romantic fiction or children's book ideas. It will be a waste of everyone's time and resources. "All you have to do is google agents for your genre. There are plenty of free agents directories online. It's easy, and it will save you needless rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected."

The proper way to submit a query to an agent, once you've found one who deals with your type of writing, is to send him or her a few paragraphs via e-mail. Make sure the query is in the body of the e-mail, and not in an attachment. "People are reluctant to open attachments from someone they don't know," says Cope.

Cope says the initial query is short, sweet and simple, and should include the following three parts:

1. Biographical information

One paragraph telling who you are and your experience with the subject matter. Your background is important, but also what makes you an authority on the subject and a good writer.

2. Your platform

Cope says the No. 1 reason books get rejected is because the author doesn't have a platform. Your platform is your public outreach, following or established audience. The good news about this, she says, is that, with social networking, it's easier than ever to create a following. If you have thousands of friends on Facebook, tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, or hundreds of thousands of hits on your blog, you have a valuable following.

3. Synopsis of the book

When you approach an agent for the first time with your idea, the synopsis should be no longer than two paragraphs. A professional can tell in two paragraphs whether your idea can sell, whether you've thought the whole book through, and if you're a decent writer or not. By the way, even if you're not a great writer, if your concept is good enough, a publisher will work around your lack of exceptional skills by finding someone to help you write it.

Another way to capture an agent's attention immediately is if the e-book you've self-published has a large number of downloads. That's an instant entree to most agents' rosters. They figure if you can sell many without the help of a major publisher, just think how well you'll do if you had one. "If an author has sold 5,000 downloads of an e-book, I want to see it!" says Cope. That book should be able to get a decent advance from a publisher that wants to put it out in on paper.

Each literary genre has its own set of rules, of course. A fiction writer, especially a first time writer, should have the entire book written before submitting a query to an agent, and a Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) always captures attention. Sample chapters and a strong outline will suffice for non-fiction, however. And children's books are best completely written, but links to illustrations should be submitted, not the illustrations themselves--and they don't have to be complete. But once again, everything must go to a pre-selected agent who deals with your specific genre.

I'll be honest. When I set out to do this interview, I expected Cope to discourage would-be authors since the publishing industry in such flux because of e-books; but instead, I found her optimistic. "A good story well written, or useful advice, is always in demand," she says. "You just have to know how to package it."

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March 21 2011 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Culp

Jeffery B. Allen's comments were precise. The detailed steps that he offered in his comments were listed in a set of notes I have been following. To what extent are agents interested in historical-biographical content?

October 12 2010 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wrote a book about 7 years ago and I was offered a publishing contract from Publish America. This was a year and a half ago. They offered an advance of $1.00. Yes ONE DOLLAR!!! I have not siged the contract yet and I am wondering if anyone has had any experience with them? I was told that it was classified as "Adult Drama." I have been out of work for a few years due to an auto accident and my settlement is now gone and I need to find a way to live and support myself. I also have had a few poems pupposedly copyrighted and published by I could say I have 2 books with all of the poetry. Can anyone help me find a reputable agent or publisher? I would really appreciate it, as I am now in the process of being forced out of where I live and could possibly end up homeless.


You may contact me at

October 01 2010 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nice job - very helpful information, thanks!

September 30 2010 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

am currently writing my first novel. Self publishing does not appeal to me, however, I respect those who have taken that route. It seems as though today's publishers want authors who are already known, such as celebrities, talk show hosts, politicians, etc. It's really tough out there! But when my book is finished, I am going to do exactly what Jeffrey B. Allen said!!! Thanks Jeffrey! I just hope I have the money to hire a good editor...I have also heard of writers using college students to edit their work. I will do whatever it takes, though. This is my life's dream (to be a successful published author) and the key factor is to never give up. BTW, I loved this article! Very informative. Good luck to all those who share my passion, and to all those who have posted here! Hope your dreams come true too.

September 29 2010 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sunday's comment
Cooper Howe

I found this article intriguing. I have thought of self publication as a potential method of getting a publisher's attention (look at Christopher Paolini). However, I still find the concept undesireable....for me at least. I am working on getting my first novel pubished and represented by an agent and I am well aware that it is difficult for new unkown authors to get an agent with all of them focausing on their current clients, but nevertheless I am still going to persue that course. In my opinion, to feel completely satisfyied with my accomplishment of becoming a published author (my life's ambition mark you) I must be wanted by an agency/publisher. True the fact of self publication is easier on the author, but I feel that in order to fulfill my highest potential as a writer, I must take the agent-publisher route. I thought this article was good and wish all of those out there the best of luck in entering with me into this field.

September 29 2010 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeffrey B. Allen

I am a published author. I am traditionally published but by a small press and one with a unique model. But here is my model. Many authors are too quick to want to see their book cover on a book seller's site or on store shelves. They do not take the time to make sure that what they have written, although unique and brilliant in plot, theme and story, is properly edited.
If it takes a year from the time you finished the story to get it right - take the year. Get two editors that you don't know, have to pay and make sure you trust their work and have them work with you on semantics, content, character development, plot and structure. Once you think it is the best it can be, it is time to send the query. The article above is fantastic because it tells you that unless that query is exactly what an agent is looking for, you will get a rejection. You should expect it. After a year of rejection should you keep trying. I say no, but you should try.

The model that is emerging is this. Do everything you can to make your work perfect, exciting, easy to read, and free from errors and then go to a cooperative publisher where you will pay something to have your book printed. Many do a very good job, but it will be POD. Barnes and Noble frowns on POD - but I submit that they will soon be in the publishing business just like Amazon and they will be using the POD technology.
Once your book is scheduled to be released hire a very top flight publicist and go for it.
Just be very careful picking the publicist. Once you find one who will put their honest weight behind your book, take the leap.
If you think you can market your book on your own through social networks and online advertising you are wrong.

Remember what Hemingway said: "It is good to be lucky but it is better to be exact. Then when luck comes your way you are ready."

Jeffrey B. Allen
Author of Gone Away Into the Land
Currently on a National Media Tour

September 29 2010 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jeffrey B. Allen's comment

The article as well as Jeffrey Allen's comment were enlightening and encouraging. Thank you so much Jeffrey for your input, even though it was based on personal experience, it provided a real-life example written with the dedication of a committed mentor.

I will keep this information close by and refer to it often.

September 29 2010 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

thank you for posting this

September 29 2010 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you for writing and posting this email article. I have several childrens stories that I have written over the years, but have never submitted them for fear of all the red-tape it seems one needs to go through to get it past that point.

September 29 2010 at 9:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Brenda's comment
david robinson

Be extremely careful when picking a self-publisher. I can't stress this enough. Steer clear of Authorhouse and all of their other self-publishing houses. You'll have to check closely. Because the other companies they own will not admit to it. Check out the websites dealing with self-publishing fraud. Pissed off consumer and numerous others. Type in the name of who you plan to deal with and check out the complaints lodged against them.

September 29 2010 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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