The Myth of "How To Get A Book Publisher!"

Posted on October 22, 2010

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Five years ago (or 100, depending on quantum physics and the state of my mind), my two friends and I wrote a book about life over 50.  After enough publishers (insert hiss, boo, bad, a lot of other negatives here) told us the book was great but there was no market for 1. a book about women over 50 or 2. a book written by three people, we went the print-on-demand route.  We sold thousands of books and got a cheesy award from iUniverse which proclaimed us superstars in the world of print-on-demand. 

Last year, our second book came out.  Again, we went the print-on-demand route.  We came really, really close on a couple of occasions to getting a real publisher.  But we decided that we’d better stop waiting for a publisher or we’d be holding book signings in the nursing home. Our second book is doing as well as the first. Both books have won national awards.  In addition, the new one was #4 on More.com’s list of “Top Ten Books to Read This Spring.” We spoke at the 2010 AARP Convention in Orlando.  None of this is magical at all.  And none of it has gotten us any national recognition.  Unless you are already well-known (in a nefarious way, even better) or unless you just won the Billion-to-One-Lottery in which some complete unknown falls into literary stardom, that’s the reality of having written a book.

People always ask me how we sell so many books and I say “One book at a time.” Forgive the cliché, but that’s how we do it.  We do our Dog and Pony Show for any women (and men) who will listen to us and to any media outlets who are willing to cover print-on-demand books.  Hell, I’d talk to a group of dogs if they would sit and listen and promise not to bite me or try to lick my crotch and if they had unexpired VISA cards. 

It’s really hard work.  Because there are three of us, there is always one person available if one or two of us are having emotional breakdowns because 1. We feel like horses following the ever-unobtainable carrot 2. We don’t make any money doing this 3. Some illiterate twit celeb has just published a book with 100 million advance sales before it ever hits the stores.  It will be at this point that we’ll get an email from someone who tells us how she loved the book or how the book changed her life (Yes, we actually do get emails like that), and we’ll stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

If you are an aspiring writer and you want to get published, here’s what I think: There is no magic way to do it.  The publishing industry has way more reasons to not publish you as you have reasons to get published.  If you want to spend money on courses and books that scream, “How to Get A Book Publisher!” by all means, go ahead.  But that most probably won’t get you published.  But let’s say you do get published (I think the actual chances of getting published are one in whatever number of individual sheets of toilet paper exist on the planet at any given moment).  Know that your publisher won’t put a lot of energy into marketing your book.  That’s another reality.

Write because you are passionate about writing.  Then, whether you do get published or whether you self-publish, put more energy that you ever thought you had into trying to reach people.  If you can sit in a bookstore at a table for three hours and only one person shows up, and, if you can throw your heart and soul into reaching that one person, you might have what it takes.  The next event might have 100 people.  That’s just how it goes. One book at a time.

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