How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal By Self-Publishing

by Andrew Stawarz
by Andrew Stawarz / via Flickr

Here’s the brief answer to the title of this post:

Sell a lot of copies, strong five figures, if not six figures. Sell so many copies that traditional publishing is potentially less profitable for you than self-publishing.

Few people like the brief answer, so here’s the long answer.

By far, the No. 1 consulting request I receive is the author who has self-published and wants to switch to traditional publishing. Usually it’s because they’re disappointed with their sales or exposure; other times, that was their plan all along.

These authors ask me, in many different ways:

How can I get my book the exposure it deserves?

Back in ye olden days of self-publishing (before e-books), the message to authors was so much simpler: Don’t self-publish a book unless you intend to definitively say “no” to traditional publishing for that project. Yes, there was a stigma, and in some ways, it helped authors avoid a mistake or bad investment.

Today, with the overselling of self-publishing, too many authors either:

  1. Decide they won’t even try to traditionally publish, even if they have a viable commercial project, or
  2. Assume it’s best to self-publish first, and get an agent or publisher later.

The assumption of #2 is one of the worst in the community right now. As far as #1, some authors end up self-publishing for the instant gratification (we have a serious epidemic of impatience), or to avoid what’s increasingly seen as a long, exhausting, and dumb process of finding an agent or securing book contract (which, of course, offers less profit than self-publishing).

I support entrepreneurial authorship, and authors taking responsibility for their own career success. But I would like to see more authors intelligently and strategically use self-publishing as part of well thought out career goals, rather than as a steppingstone to traditional publishing. It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.

Before you self-publish, consider whether any of the following describe you. If you can say “yes” to at least a few of these statements, then you’re on a better path than most self-publishing authors I encounter.

[Read more…]


False Summits–and How to Get to the Top Anyway

harrybinghamToday’s guest is Harry Bingham, the (British) author of the Fiona Griffiths crime series, which has been critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. He also runs a couple of outfits, The Writers’ Workshop & Agent Hunter, that offer a variety of help and advice to new writers. Harry lives in Oxfordshire, England. He’s married and he and his wife are, this summer, expecting their second set of twins. They’re not terrified at all.

I’ve had over a dozen books published by some of the world’s biggest publishers. Some of those experiences have been wonderful, while others have been . . . not so great. I want to help other writers have the best possible experience of publication.

Connect with Harry on his blog and on Twitter.

False Summits–and How to Get to the Top Anyway

If you’ve ever hiked any distance in the mountains, you’ll know how elusive that final summit can feel. The loom of the mountain always shields your view, so your near horizon is filled with a crest which, as you approach, melts away into a new horizon, a new crest, another draining slog upwards. Never mind the actual ascent: that succession of false summits is wearying in itself. An inducement to despair.

If you know anything of what I’m talking about, you’ll also have a good sense of the life of an author. You want to write a novel? OK. That’s a tough gig, but you do what you have to do. You write away until you have a hundred thousand words of half-decent prose. Only then – whoops! – another summit looms. Gotta edit and correct and rewrite, till that half-decent prose becomes almost flawless.

Forewarned is forearmed. It’s important to realise that your job isn’t only about writing, and your job doesn’t finish once you get that book deal.

And then you have to get a literary agent. And then you have to get a publisher. And perhaps, just possibly, you win an advance large enough to mean you don’t also have to haul garbage, or wait tables, or (horrors!) do anything else which is, like, an actual job.

And that has to be it, right? Manuscript, check. Agent, check. Advance, check. Plus, in this fantasy of ours, a big publisher ready to blast you into the stratosphere. No more false summits, surely. This is, this has to be, the very top.

Grumbles in Paradise

Well, yes. In theory. Only it’s no secret that my own experiences with publishers have been somewhat mixed, and you don’t have to hang around with authors for long to realise that plenty of them feel likewise. Indeed, when Jane Friedman and I surveyed more than 800 authors to find out what they thought of the firms that published them, we got a true measure of what authors actually think. [Read more…]


The Evolution of an Author Website

When I started out as a serious writer, back in the mid-1990s, I didn’t even own a home computer. I wrote in longhand and word-processed after hours at work. Once I had my first publishing contract I acquired a home PC and got internet access, and a family member who worked in IT set up an author website for me. It was pretty simple, a basic template with a Celtic border framing each page of text. The pages were Author Bio, Books, Contact and News. There were links to several online forums run by readers. As the fan base grew, readers were invited to submit book reviews, art work and (sometimes) their own writing for display on the site.

My readership outgrew that first website within five years or so. Not only did it get too time-consuming for me to handle the updates myself, but the program that supported the site became outmoded. The technology was developing fast and readers wanted more features. So I employed a professional web designer to create a new site, working in consultation with me. I pay her a monthly fee to maintain and update the site for me – a decision I have never regretted.

So what did we want, back in 2006? A quicker response. A way of displaying fan art more effectively. Features such as a rotating display of book covers. Video clips and audio samples. But what about the overall design? (Remember, at this point, tablets and smartphones were not widely in use – most people were still accessing the internet via laptop.)

I thought I knew what I wanted. Whether it was a good idea at the time, I’m still not sure.

[Read more…]


Navy Commander Rick Campbell Makes Waves by Penning Military Thrillers

Rick CampbellUnboxeders, I hope you’ll join me today in welcoming retired Navy Commander Rick Campbell to Writer Unboxed for a brief interview about his writing.

For more than twenty-five years, as we slept on pillow-topped queen-sized mattresses, he claimed a rack aboard one of four nuclear submarines, working to keep us safe. On his last submarine, he was one of the two men whose permission was required to launch the submarine’s nuclear warhead-tipped missiles.

He finished his career with tours in the Pentagon and in the Washington Navy Yard. Upon retirement from the Navy, Rick tried his hand at writing and was offered an initial two-book deal from Macmillan / St. Martin’s Press. (Since expanded to another two-book deal.)

His first novel, The Trident Deception, was hailed by Booklist as “The best submarine novel since Tom Clancy’s classic – The Hunt for Red October”.

Rick’s second novel, Empire Rising, is due out Feb. 24th and critical praise has been equally profuse. Publishers Weekly said of it: “Another riveting military action thriller by Rick Campbell. A MUST READ for fans of this genre.” And Booklist? “The story rockets around the globe and the pages cannot turn fast enough. Readers who miss Clancy will devour Campbell.”

Here’s the blurb for Empire Rising as described by Barnes & Noble:

Very much in the spirit of Jack Ryan, Campbell has crafted a tightly plotted and horrifyingly believable story in which China, desperate for access to oil in a near-future where supplies are running low, declares war and reveals itself to be much better prepared than anyone expected. After a military disaster that sends the United States reeling and leaves the Chinese free to act, a trio of well-written characters work to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Combining thrilling espionage-style adventures, detailed naval battles, and incredible SEAL Team missions, Campbell has created what might be the perfect military thriller.

Rick lives with his wife and three children in the greater Washington, D.C. area. You can find him at his website and on his Facebook page.

Jan: Welcome, Rick!  To begin with, shall we establish the interview ground rules? Given your background as a college wrestler and your impressive military career, if my questioning gets out of line, do I need to be concerned for my safety or ability to travel?

Rick: Only if you’re flying over the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.  :)

The Trident Deception and Empire Rising are the first military thrillers I’ve read, and I was immediately struck by the balancing acts you’re require to perform. To begin with, civilian-readers such as myself require ongoing education about technical details, military history, and jargon so that the narrative makes sense, and so that we might appreciate the challenges facing your characters. At the same time, you don’t want readers choking on information. How do you ensure you hit the sweet spot between information and overload?

Rick: You’ve identified a critical issue I struggle with. [Read more…]


What Your Writer’s Resume Says About Your Chances for Recognition

career-path-300x240Lately, a new mantra has caught on: “There’s no better time to be a writer.” Not only has self-publishing helped open the doors to so many aspiring authors, but the online world has created more opportunities than ever before to build a platform, network and self-promote.

From a schmoozing and promotion perspective, anything seems possible.  We can have conversations with Jodi Picoult on Twitter, send Facebook messages to Paulo Coehlo and mingle with top agents and editors right here on Writer Unboxed.

All of which is wonderfully democratic and very much in the spirit of the camaraderie and connectedness that defines our times. But it has also created a whole new realm for potential missteps and frustration.

Along with the sense that anything’s possible has come – for lack of a better term – a sense of entitlement. With the perceived level playing field the digital age has created, the notion that having written and published a book, any book, means we’re eligible to be considered by any and all gatekeepers to widespread recognition, from Oprah to the The New York Times.

Although we long for this to be true, and perhaps it should be, it simply isn’t. Take a look, for example, at this painfully eye-opening article by Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles called, “No, I Do Not Want to Read Your Self-Published Book.” (Ouch!)

What is true, at least for the most part, is that while most books sent in to the venerable gatekeepers of recognition will indeed wind up in the shredder [Read more…]