From Oni: As an avid reader of this blog, you should know how much we advocate getting clients to come to you instead of having to pitch them. The same approach can be used when trying to get a book deal. Writers in Charge contributor Karol, recently got a book deal and explains how he did it in this article. Enjoy!
The funny thing is that this is not just a purely speculative post giving general advice on how to work with publishing companies … I really did get a book deal, and I want to tell you all about it.
First of all, I’m now a part of PACKT publishing, and the new author of WordPress 3 Complete – their main WordPress book.
The things I want to explain here include: the what, the how, the how to do the same.
Mind that this is a two-part series. There’s quite a bit to share and I think splitting the content in half will make it much easier to digest.
How does getting a book deal happen
As you can probably imagine, getting a book deal doesn’t involve sending your resume to the publishing company and hoping for the best.
Actually, there are two main paths. You either send a complete draft through an agent (most common for fiction writing), or have the publishing company reach out to you (more common for non-fiction or technical writing).
Even though I do understand that contacting a publishing company directly with a finished draft can work in some circumstances, I advise most freelancers to go for the second path. I just don’t believe in the concept of writing a novel and then experiencing serious difficulties pitching it to a number of publishing companies. It’s a lot like recording a CD and pitching it to recording labels…
There are many advantages in a situation where a publishing company contacts you. For instance, you don’t have to convince anyone that you are right for the job, as they already know. On the other hand, I do realize that there’s one quite serious issue to face… How do you get them to contact you?
You won’t like my answer, but you actually don’t have to do anything else other than what we’re already teaching here at Writers in Charge – which is getting freelance work, delivering it with dedication, and growing your career along the way … in other words, being in charge.
In non-fiction writing, there are basically two kinds of projects: topic-driven and author-driven.
For instance, my WordPress book is entirely topic-driven. People are interested in WordPress, not in me – the author.
On the other hand, if I were to write a book like “7 Habits of Highly Productive People” it would be a lot more author-driven.
In the end, if you don’t have a truly visible position in a certain niche, I strongly advise against taking author-driven projects. In most cases, you won’t be able to get any worthwhile sales. When the project is topic-driven, on the other hand, then it kind of sells itself.
As I said, the crucial element is getting noticed by the scouts working for publishing companies. In most cases this can be achieved organically. If you do a lot of freelance writing and get your articles published on popular sites or magazines then people just start to pay attention to you.
However, there are still some things to keep in mind, like these two:
- Always get proper attribution. In today’s day and age, proper attribution is your name in the byline, tied to a social media account (preferably LinkedIn or Google+).
- Try not to do ghost writing work unless it pays really well.
Usually, I turn down any project that doesn’t allow me to put my name on the article in a visible way … unless it pays well as a ghost writing deal. I advise you to do the same.
The work process itself
Honestly, I’m not that far away in the creation process of my book. As of now, I have two chapters approved and I’ve just finished writing the third one. But from what I can see, here are the interesting facts about working with a publishing company:
There are people for everything
Publishing companies employ a big number of people who work on multiple projects at the same time. There are editors, managers, financial department guys, lawyers, and so on.
In essence, a situation where you send an email to one person and then get a response from someone else is not uncommon. Yet it doesn’t seem like a mess at all. On the contrary, it seems like a perfectly aligned structure with everything working just like it’s supposed to.
There are templates for everything
The fact that there is a chapter layout template isn’t that surprising, right? But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are also templates for schedules, contracts, outlines, short book descriptions, author information sheets, processing images, processing code, submission, and lots of other elements.
All those templates are actually quite helpful and make your work much easier. You literally never find yourself in a situation where you honestly don’t know how you’re supposed to do some specific task.
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of all kinds of systems and methodologies, so this degree of organization is really impressive to me.
Creating the schedule
Publishing companies have their deadlines, that’s obvious. But they are also very flexible when it comes to planning them. For example, at first they ask YOU to prepare a schedule, instead of forcing you to work according to theirs.
This is actually a win-win practice. Because you get to estimate the time it’ll take to write the contents of the book, and they can be certain that the presented schedule is doable.
Essentially, this puts you in charge of your project. And that is exactly the situation you want to be in as a writer.
Once deadlines are set, they are set. There’s no room for changing anything after the work has started and the contracts have been signed. In the end, every delay on your part means (to some extent) money loss on their part.
(To be honest, I don’t really know what happens if you miss a deadline. Fortunately, I’ve managed to meet my deadlines so far.)
… still to come in part 2
There are a lot of things still left to discuss here. That includes the main question: How do you make money from a book deal? But also: How does the contracting work? What’s the editing process like? How long does it take to get a book published? And most importantly: Is writing for a publishing house actually difficult?
All that and more in part 2 coming in the next few weeks. But for now, tell me what you think about the idea of getting a book deal. Is it something you’re aiming at as a freelance writer, or do you prefer to stick to standard projects involving a handful of stand-alone articles?