I receive more questions about getting books published that any other question. In the course of a year, I will receive personally over 200 inquiries on this topic. Our book publisher, B&H, receives thousands of inquiries each year; every other publisher does as well. It is an extremely crowded market where one among thousands ultimately becomes a commercially published book.

 

Is there any hope, then, for first-time authors to get their books published? I think there is. And though these six keys will not guarantee the publication of your book, they will provide you insights that the vast majority of would-be authors never consider. In other words, you will have an edge.

Key #1: Learn the world of publishing. I am surprised that very few prospective authors take the time to go online and study about this world they want to enter. Additionally, there are a plethora of books about publishing and style issues for both the Christian market and the general market. One of my favorite books is The Christian Writer’s Market Guide 2012 by Jerry Jenkins.

Key #2: Discern your best path to publish. The traditional path is to secure a commercial publisher who will edit your book, print your book, make your book available as an e-book, market your book, get your book in retail stores, and secure opportunities for you to speak about your book. Now authors have many more options. Many authors have self-published successfully. The advantage of self-publishing is that you make the decision to publish the book, and you have the potential to keep a lot more of the sales price for yourself. The disadvantage is that not all self-published books have the add-ons of editing, marketing, and retail placement as commercially published books. Still a number of self-publishing companies do offer more and more services a la carte, such as LifeWay’s self-publishing arm, CrossBooks. Also, more authors are selling their books as a download on their blog or other sites. Simply stated, you have many more options today than just going the traditional commercial publishing path.

Key #3: Find a niche. Your book must have some unique hook to it. While your biography may be interesting to a few family members, it’s unlikely that it will sell to the masses. And pastors who submit their sermon series are not likely to get published either. Take time to visit a bookstore to see what’s selling. Peruse the top books at Amazon.com in the various categories. Find a message that is unique but will have an appeal to 10,000 or more purchasers the first year of publication.

Key #4: Establish a platform. When I was a young author, the options for establishing a platform were few. You needed to be a speaker, but you were at the mercy of those who invited you. You could write in a magazine, but those options were limited too. Today, you can establish your own platform through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and self-published downloads. If you can demonstrate to a commercial publisher that thousands of people are tuned in to your voice through social media and other channels, you have a good chance of getting published. In fact, more publishers are actually perusing the blogosphere to discover new authors.

Key #5: Write a great book proposal. Publishers don’t want manuscripts to consider. Most want a well-written proposal with one or two sample chapters. The best guide I’ve seen to writing a proposal is available as a download by Michael Hyatt: Writing a Winning Book Proposal. He has written one download for fiction and one for non-fiction. The cost is well worth the invaluable advice he will give you.

Key #6: Accept rejection. Don’t get discouraged or dejected if your book proposal is rejected. I just completed my 25th book to be released in 2013. In 1988 when I submitted my first book proposal, I was declined 17 times before a publisher took a chance with me. Though the book was not a New York Times bestseller, it did well enough to give me the credibility to continue writing. Don’t give up. Be persistent.

My keys are obviously not exhaustive. What insights can you offer? What questions do have for me about book publishing?

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a great, concise blog for those trying to figure out the traditional publishing biz. Thank you for your honesty. Most authors I coach still don’t get “platform.”

  2. Thom Rainer says

    Mary -
    Thanks for the good word. Many authors perceive the key to a bestselling book is to secure a commercial publisher and then watch the publisher spend tons of money on marketing. But traditional marketing dollars. at best, provide initial exposure for a book. Ultimately the content of the book and the platform of the author are two of the biggest keys to a book’s success. I am so glad to hear you work with authors on the platform issue. You are on target.

  3. Jane Wilkinson says

    Thom -
    I self-published a book, but I can’t get any bookstores to carry the book, either secular or Christian. I did not anticipate this problem when I self-published. Any suggestions?

  4. Thom Rainer says

    Jane -
    I doubt I can be of much help to you. In bookstores, shelf space is valuable. The great majority of commercially-published books don’t get shelf space, and hardly any self-published books do. Most retailers work directly with publishers, not authors, on making decisions about which books to carry. Since you do not have a publisher representing you, it is difficult to get space in a brick-and-mortar store.
    The good news today is that your book’s selling power is not limited to placement in a retail store. Most authors have little trouble getting their books on Amazon and other Internet retailers. You also can sell your book directly from your own website or blog.
    If you have several speaking engagements a year, that is another opportunity to market your books. I know one author who sells an average of 15,000 books a year by carrying them in his van to his many speaking engagements. His path may not be normative, but it is effective.

  5. Robert G. Wilkerson says

    Key # 7: Ask for help. Ask someone in a position of influence and power to help you,some one like, the good man, Thom Rainer. How about it,Thom?

  6. Thom Rainer says

    Robert -
    My struggle is the number of requests where I am personally asked to help. That is why my typical response is to send the request to our book publisher, B&H.
    By the way, I wrote this particular blog so I could provide the tips to a wider audience that I typically give to someone asking for help. So, in some sense, I hope I am responding positively to requests like yours.
    Thanks for asking.

  7. Tom says

    I chose to give away my own ministry rather than try to make money off the ministry. My two manuscripts, plus many other free resources, are available for free download off my website at pdcpastort.com. The download numbers have been quite rewarding, but only eternity will reveal the impact.

  8. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I have published my outreach manual, “It’s 4 uMom” with Crossbooks publishers and it became available for purchase this past June.
    My book is listed with Amazon and with Crossbooks for purchasing on line.
    The manual is also listed in the LifeWay Christian bookstores computers around the country, but is not on the shelves in the stores.
    I have requested that my manual be placed on the shelves in the stores here in Jacksonville, Fl. where I live, but the manager of the store is not aware that he can request the book to be on shelves in the stores near me.
    The manual gives a lay out plan as to how a church can implement this type of soul-winning outreach ministry by building relationships with community moms.
    Thank you and I appreciate your assistance in this request.

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