There are no sure-fire guarantees, but published author Peter Moore tells you how to increase your chances of getting a book deal
So, you want a publisher to bring out your book. Sadly, you are not alone. Thousands of unsolicited manuscripts from aspiring authors land on the desks of publishers each year. The odds are certainly stacked against you, but the good news is that there are things you can do to make your manuscript stand out from the crowd.
There are two ways of going about getting a book deal. Submitting your idea directly to a publisher. Or securing the services of an agent.
Go direct to the publisher:
Be warned. This is becoming more and more difficult. Some publishers, like Random House, for example, no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. If they do, they will insist that it is presented to them a particular way. Most will have outlines of what they expect on their websites. Follow their instructions to the letter.
Even then, you should know that your manuscript will be placed in a pile with the other 3,640 manuscripts most publishers receive each year. It is called a slush pile and chances are it will sit there until the work experience kid is told to have a look through it. If they find something they like, they pass it up to the next person up on the food chain from them and so on. Harper Collins only gets through half of them on average every year, and publish only three or four.
Not very encouraging odds, are they?
Get an agent:
Publishers these days use agents as a filtering device, so if you have an agent you are already taken a lot more seriously. Agents also have personal contacts. They know which publishers are best suited for your work. And they can negotiate a much better deal for you than you could. They charge 10–15% commission for doing so, but in my experience they are worth every penny.
Your local writer’s centre will have a list of agents and will probably be able to direct you to someone appropriate. But be warned. Convincing an agent to represent you can be as difficult as getting a publisher.
There are things you can do to improve your odds of being taken seriously by both agents and publishers.
A professional proposal
Publishers and agents don’t have the time to read every manuscript sent to them. And frankly, if they aren’t hooked by the first chapter they won’t go any further. That’s why it’s a good idea to put together a proposal to make their life easier.
A good proposal is made up of three parts.
The first part is a marketing proposal and includes an overview of the book, a bit about yourself and who you see the book appealing to.
The second part is made up from 'chapter outlines', a paragraph or two about what will happen in each chapter.
The third part should include two or three sample chapters that give the agent or publisher a taste of your writing style.
Put it all together in a plastic folder, or spiral bind it. The more professional it looks the more professional you’ll appear. Also, it will help your proposal stand out from everything else in the slush pile. Use bright colours. They tend to attract the attention of the work experience kids.
Remember, a good proposal is the gift that keeps on giving. It will be used by all different departments during the life cycle of your book. Your agent will use it to sell to a Commissioning Editor. The Commissioning Editor will use it to convince the Financial Director to cough up the cash for an advance. Marketing and PR will use it to promote the book. Parts of it may even end up on your press release.
Make a name for yourself
When I was first trying to get published I kept being told I wasn’t famous enough. It seemed that in order to get a book deal back then you had to get trapped up on a mountain with a Mars Bar and have Newsnight do a story on you. Publishers, like all businesses, want to make sure they can get a return on their investment. They feel a lot more comfortable if someone else has taken a chance on you first.
But it’s the old Catch-22, isn’t it? You need to get published to have credibility, but you can’t get published before you have credibility.
There are a few ways you can get around this.
1. Write articles for newspapers and magazines.
2. Enter travel writing competitions in newspapers and magazines as well as ones organised by tourist boards (I won the South Korean Tourist Board travel writing competition before I was published).
3. Start your own blog or contribute on other travel websites. Not many of them pay but at least you get the chance to build up a portfolio of published work.
4. The experiences section on myWanderlust is a great way to showcase your work and receive constructive feedback from your peers.
I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, aren't I? But I can’t stress this enough. You could be lucky and get picked up on your first attempt. But chances are you’ll build up a healthy pile of rejection letters. But don’t despair. Sooner or later, you’ll get your break.
It was five years after I first tried to get published that my first book was accepted. When I was told I wasn’t famous enough, I went away and wrote a few articles and entered travel writing comps. Then, when the web was young, I used the 1mb that came with my dial-up account to create No Shitting in the Toilet, the web site. It became well-known, won a few awards and I approached publishers again. It wasn’t exactly the kind of book I wanted to publish (I wanted to go on grand journeys and write about them) but it got my foot in the door.
With the book came credibility and I got asked to write articles, appear on radio shows and such. Then I started writing the books I wanted to write.
There will be sacrifices. I used to own a house in Sydney, but I sold it to pursue this crazy dream. I could have been sitting on a gold mine now! I paid for my early trips myself, which put me in the good position I am today where I use the advance of a previous book to fund the next one. And it was tough on relationships. It’s only now that I’m in a healthy one!
But nothing beats the feeling of seeing your book on a book store shelf. Or better, still, spotting someone reading it on the tube. Then all the sacrifices, rejection letters and dark nights of the soul are suddenly worth it.
Peter Moore is Associate Web Editor at Wanderlust and author of six travel narratives including The Wrong Way Home, Swahili for the Broken-Hearted and Vroom with a View. You can find out more about Peter and his books by visiting www.petermoore.net.
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