So You Want to Write a Book? Here’s 10 Things You Need to Know to Get Published

by Mack Collier

book publishing, writing a book

UPDATE: These are the steps I used to write and publish my book Think Like a Rock Star – How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans.

1 – Figure out what you want to write about.  This sounds very easy, but it’s not.  You need to figure out what book YOU were meant to write.  The book that no one else could write.  Four years ago I was approached by an editor to write a book on marketing on YouTube.  Remember this was 2008, and there were very few social media books at the time.  I was really excited at the prospect of having my own book for about 5 mins, till I realized that I wasn’t really interested in writing a book about marketing on YouTube.  And I also didn’t want to tour the country speaking on the topic.  I was pitched on a couple of other book ideas over the next couple of years, but I finally decided that Think Like a Rock Star was the only book I wanted to write.

2 – Figure out why your book is unique and fills a market need.  Once you figure out the topic of your book, you’re then going to realize that your book’s already been written several times.  You need to figure out what you bring to the table that hasn’t been discussed before. For me, there’s plenty of books on why companies should connect with brand advocates and evangelists.  The ‘Rockstar’ analogy helped me differentiate Think Like a Rock Star, but even that didn’t make the book completely unique, as there’s been a few other books written on what companies can learn about branding and marketing from the music industry.  I had to go deeper, and when I release the full outline of the book in a few weeks, you’ll see why Think Like a Rock Star is different.  But the point is, you’ll need to figure out what your ‘hook’ is.  What are you going to bring to the table that’s unique, but that will still have value for your readers?

3 – Find 3-5 books that you think are similar to your idea.  For each book, you need to explain what your book offers that the competing title misses.  And try your best to pick newer titles.  If you propose that your book idea will be competing against 5 books that were all written in the mid 1990s, that tells the publisher that your idea is dead, otherwise someone would have written about it in the past 15 years!

4 – You need to create an outline and table of contents for your book.  This is where it starts to get serious, and we find out if you really want to write a book, or if you are just toying with the idea.  This will be a lot of work, but you’ll have to show this to a potential publisher, plus it will make the writing process much easier once you have a gameplan to follow.  It will also be incredibly beneficial to you because it will force you to flesh out your idea into several chapters, which will help you better structure your book’s message.

5 – Write the first 1-3 chapters.  This is another good test to prepare you for the process.  If you can hand a publisher a solid proposal for the book that includes 1-3 solidly-written chapters, you’re making an excellent case for why your book needs to be published.  And writing those chapters will give you a great idea of how long it will take you to write the entire book.  For example, if it takes you 3 months to write the first chapter, that could be a big red flag.

6 – Create a proposal for the book.  Thankfully, you’ve already done a lot of this by simply completing the first 5 steps.  You’ll need to tell publishers who the market is for this book, why YOU are the person to write it, what it’s about, competing titles, etc.  You’ll also need to include the table of contents and any of the chapters you have written.  Also, you’ll need to explain to the publisher how you will market the book.  This is where you want to mention any speaking you will be doing on this topic over the next year, as well as your online profile, your following.

7 – Having a killer idea trumps your online presence every single time.  When I started talking to publishers about writing Think Like a Rock Star, I assumed that my ‘online footprint’ would be a big plus for me.  It wasn’t.  Most of the publishers I and my agent talked to had no idea who I was, in fact most of the rejection letters we got started ‘We think Mark has a great idea, but…’  If your idea is great and publishers think it will sell, that’s far more important than how many Twitter followers you have, so don’t think you need X number of followers/friends before you can talk to a publisher.

8 – Figure out if you need a literary agent, or want to go it alone.  I’ve been talking to publishers about Think Like a Rock Star since 2010.  For the first year, I didn’t have an agent, then I realized that I was spinning my wheels and needed to get one.  There’s only a few publishers whose editors are actively trying to connect with potential writers in this space.  If you can get a suitable deal with one of them, fine.  I could not, and decided to go with an agent.

There’s a couple of obvious differences in going with an agent.  First, you’ll have to pay an agent, typically a cut of any money you get from the book, including your advance, royalties, etc.  The huge immediate benefit is that you get access to several dozen publishers and these are publishers that the agent works with regularly.  The agent can also look over any contract you are offered, and help you with the terms.

9 – If you go with an agent, you will likely get a LOT more rejection letters.  This makes sense, if your proposal is going out to 30 publishers, expect to hear ‘No’ a lot.  For me, while a bit disappointing, this was also a big help.  Because most of the publishers would explain WHY they turned down the book.  Maybe they didn’t think the book covered something that it actually did, or maybe they didn’t understand the actual focus of your book.  As long as they explain WHY they are saying no, that gives you something to work with when you send it off to the next publisher.

10 – Don’t expect to get rich from writing a book.  You’ll likely get an advance of $5,000-$10,000 if a publisher accepts your book.  Remember this is an ADVANCE, which means you’ll have to pay this money back to the publisher.

EDIT: I should have been more clear here, your advance is against the money you will make from royalties on the book.  So if your publisher gives you a $5,000 advance, you have to pay that back first from your royalties.  Which means you won’t get any royalty payments until you’ve covered your $5,000 advance.  If you never sell enough to cover your advance, then you don’t get any royalty payments.  But either way, you keep the $5,000 advance.  Thanks to Andrew and Don for the clarifications.

So in closing, if you are serious about writing a book and getting a publisher’s attention, absolutely kill the first 6 steps.  If you can hand a publisher a well-organized and written proposal detailing what the book is, who will buy it, and with 1-3 well-written chapters, you’re in great shape.

UPDATE: Before you email me asking how you can get your book idea published or leave a comment here asking the same, read this post.  This is the best advice I can give you on how to get a book deal.

NOTHER UPDATE: I continue to get many touching and heartfelt emails from people that have read this post and want to write a book,  typically based on their life.  Let me be perfectly clear: I am not an agent, I am not a publisher.  So I am not the person to be emailing about your book idea because all the help I can give you is in this post.  I’d love to help you more, but I simply cannot.

Laura Sherman March 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Thank you for creating this very helpful collection of tips for someone looking to get their first book published. I get a ton of emails asking me about this each week and will direct them here.

I would like to add that some of your readers might consider self-publishing. It’s an acceptable option these days. And in the end they will be a published author!

steve maze March 6, 2014 at 12:49 pm

i have been working, on something i am not a writer and i don’t want to get anything published just trying to write a small book on domestic violence i have a lot done but don’t know how to go about it my daughter and grandchildren were murdered by my son in law and i started up a fund to build up an old playground for the kids in my area we put a lot of things into it but it didn’t take long for some kids to tear it back up we fixed things up again and again things were destroyed so i decided to drop that project so i decided to write some things about my daughter and my grand children life also made a cd of them what i want to do is put a packet together telling my daughters story and what happened and go to women shelters and talk to them about domestic violence and hand them this booklet with the cd and showing them how they can help themselves from this happening to them i was a single father to my two girls because my ex was a violence person then i lost my daughter and two grandkids to this terrible act if you can help me in any way on how i can write what i have because i am not good at this i hate to type thanks for your time

Kristen April 29, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Without sharing too much. I would be very interested in speaking with you and share what I am working on. I’m so sorry to hear about your families loss and the loss with the playground

Ashlee Bowens April 1, 2014 at 4:47 pm

My name is Ashlee , I always wanted to write all my life. I seen you said to start a blog first. How do you go by doing that?

Carlos Lopez April 3, 2014 at 2:15 am

Gonna write a book about, got my own ideas but don’t want to put it out there like that yet. What I need to know is? How many chapters to write a successful book, also I probably got the money to start off. I got the brains to make a book happen what I need is the tools. The knowledge like I said ain’t trying to put my ideas out there like that yet. If anyone is out there that can loan me a hand I’ll be willing to cut you or your team in it, and will change the game of book writing for our next generation of writers. Like I’m saying it takes two or more to tangel. I feel like its meant for me to write a book but there’s no I in team.

Geoff Hughes April 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Great blog, Mack. Some excellent advice on getting published. What are your thoughts on self-publishing with eBooks as a way to get on publishers radar?

Bismarck. April 4, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I really like your advises, you gave me the courage to start to write my book, it is going to be about knowing my father when I was 68 years old and it was that my brother found me after so
years of looking for me.


jane reynolds April 10, 2014 at 2:57 am

i am 60 years old and would like to write a horse book about all the
horses i have owned or schooled in my time and the experiances i have had with them fun times dark times and what they taught me through out my time with them…. i have never writen anything in my life like this…..

Barbara Goldman April 16, 2014 at 5:37 am

I want to write a book about drugs and families that are affected by it and I need help all I have is their stories and mine and I want to put it together but I need help.

bob April 21, 2014 at 10:18 am

thank you for very helpful collection of tips , but I have already finished my book , I need some information about how and what the best way to publish
it . ( the book is about why and how some people have to escape from their country to save their life ) .

Chelle April 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Thank you for this article. great tips and advice. I’m writing a book about being a teenage mother at the age of 16, and what it was like going thru high school at that time. Earning a 4 year scholarship to a major univ. Getting married to my high school sweetheart ( and father of our son) years later. and the trials and tribulations that occurred in our childhood and up bringing and over time as a family into our careers.
Feel free to email me

Carol April 25, 2014 at 7:00 am

I’ve been advise so May times by councilors and friends that I should put pen to paper and writh MY STORY of my traumatic childhood and me coping over the years, I just not sure where to start and wanted advise on how I could do this, thanks

Nicole April 29, 2014 at 8:34 am

Title:In a world of her own

Arshad May 10, 2014 at 11:55 am

I am currently thinking of my how to go about my book. I don’t have enough ideas in my head. Can u help me out? My book is gonna be similar to the skullduggery pleasant series. Fantasy and adventure.

Caroline Jackson May 18, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Thank you for your advice. I have waited almost twenty years to write the story of surviving my son’s suicide. Every word is true and I have no idea how to get it published. It is simply a mother’s story of survival.

Karen Mcardle May 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Thanks . I have been toying for years how i was going to do this. Thankfully i have done about 7/8 of your list of todo for writting a book :-)

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