There’s no one way to sign on the dotted line.
Hi there. My name is Chaunie and I’m a published author.
I say that to you, not to sound like a conceited jerk, but to remind myself that I actually, once upon a time, really did get a book deal. You see, I tend to discount my published book for a lot of reasons, such as because it was a small publisher, the book was categorized as a religious one, and because it was based on a time in my life that I have outgrown, it didn’t really “count.” We writers, and maybe human beings in general, tend to do that a lot, don’t we? Discount our accomplishments and downplay our achievements to the point where we just want to hide them away and wave them off?
But regardless of how small it was, or how I feel about the book’s subject matter now, the fact of the matter is that I, Chaunie Brusie, landed a book deal through a traditional publisher and saw my life-long dream of becoming a “real” writer come true. It was incredibly exciting and something I am proud of. I’ll never forget the day my books came in the mail and my kids helped me open the box; having them see me accomplish a goal after working countless early mornings and weekends on it really was one of my top life moments.
Having joined the club of People Who Got Book Deals, I now have also joined the club of People Who Get Asked About How to Get Book Deals. And before we go any further, let me just assure you, I know I am but a lowly author on the ladder of successful authors. I am definitely no Gemma Hartley writing a mega-viral article and having publishers falling over themselves to sign her as an author.
However, no matter how “big” an author you are, publishing a book through a traditional book publisher still comes down to doing the pretty basic work: putting yourself out there as a writer, building up your platform, writing the book proposal (warning: it’s almost harder than writing the book itself), and then, ahem, landing the book deal.
But how exactly does one land a book deal? Well, there are a few different ways and honestly, no “one” way. First, you’ll want to start with a book idea—a given, surely, but just in case, I want to be thorough. Secondly, for nonfiction work, you’re probably going to want to build up your “author” platform. You’ll probably hear that term ad nauseum in the process of trying to become an author, so you should definitely get used to it now. Next, you have to write the book proposal. Nonfiction books are fun because you can sell your book idea before you actually write the book, unlike a work of fiction, which requires you to write the whole dang thing first and then sell it. (Who determines these rules anyway? Well, actually, the publisher does.)
After you have your idea, and your platform, and your book proposal, and your burning desire to become an author ready to go, there are a few ways you can approach getting a book deal from a traditional publisher:
1. Approach the publisher yourself.
This is not an advisable strategy unless:
• you have already worked with said publisher,
• met them at a conference where they specifically specify that they are open to submissions,
• they are a very small publishing company,
• they specifically welcome authors to directly query them.
Then go for it.
2. Query literary agents.
The most common route to getting a book deal is to query literary agents who will then pitch your book to a publisher. They make money by finding and selling good books to publishers, you get a book deal. It’s a win-win. And in fact, many publishers will not even accept emails or submissions of any kind unless it comes from a literary agent, so for certain publishers, you have to work with an agent first. Of course, as one can imagine, literary agents are literally inundated with queries from aspiring authors, so this isn’t exactly an easy or guaranteed road to publication.
3) Go through a third-party.
In some situations, you can go through a third-party to pitch your book. Many writing conferences, for instance, will have opportunities for you to schedule meetings with agents or editors. Query then in a group session, or connect in other ways. When I was trying to get my book published, I attended a writing conference that offered a platform to upload your book proposal ahead of time, so agents could peruse the attendees’ proposals, then contact you if they thought your book might be a fit. The platform was free, so I took advantage of it prior to attending the conference and dutifully uploaded my proposal. I thought that surely, nothing would come of it and of course, my inbox remained empty. On a whim, I just happened to check my spam folder a few days before the conference and I was absolutely shocked when I saw that an actual agent—a real, live, actual agent—had emailed me to set up a meeting to discuss my book during the conference. We met in a Starbucks, I had my pants on backwards the entire time, a fact which I didn’t discover until after the day was over (in my defense, they were maternity pants and I was very pregnant at the time), and I left that day with a lot of high hopes.
My hopes were realized when our meeting did turn into a later book deal and my name officially appeared on a real book. I even got to see the book at our local bookstore and in Barnes and Nobles, never mind the fact that I had to call and request them to carry it. The point is, book deals, even in unorthodox ways can happen, so keep writing and don’t give up hope!
Oh, and don’t forget to check that your pants are on the right way when meeting with any literary agents. #protip #yourewelcome
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.