Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How To Get A Book Deal

Recently I helped a new friend make contact with a publisher with the aim of gently 'pushing' her towards a book deal. I suspect I was overly enthusiastic ("THIS WOMAN HAS A GREAT BOOK IN HER!' was the effusive opening line to my publisher), but she'd lived an incredible life. She'd been CEO of Condé Nast magazines in both Australia and Russia for decades, then head of YSL in Paris, then helped start Monocle magazine in London with Tyler Brule. (I wanted her to write her memoir just so I could read about working with Yves.)

But even those of us who haven't lived such extraordinary lives can still secure publishing contracts. Amanda Brooks from recently announced she'd signed a second book deal after working hard on a concept and then flying to New York for a week to find/meet with publishers. Roseline Lohr of This is Glamorous is working on her first book. And Anna Spiro of Absolutely Beautiful Things has just put the final touches on her much-awaited new publication. 

The book market may be gasping for air at the moment, after being squeezed tight by various factors (slow sales/few bookshops/Amazon et al), but good books will always sell. 

If you're considering writing your first book, here are a few little tips to get you started.

[All images, bare the two Kate Spade pages, are 'roughs' and design inspiration from and for my new New York book, which is currently in production.]

1. Have a really great idea. This may seem obvious but it's more important than people think.  Spend a lot of time researching the market to ensure your idea hasn't been done before. If it has been done before, then ensure your book will have enough of a point of difference to be distinctive in the over-crowded publishing market.

Try and be as creative as possible in your idea. Think of unusual titles, unique content (see below) and even quirky marketing strategies to help it gain traction when it comes time to do publicity.

Some authors believe that books stop when they write 'END'. But if you can show you understand the entire industry, rather than just your small part of it, you'll appear to be more of a professional than just someone who wants his/her name on a cover.

2. Once you've researched the market, prepare a comprehensive proposal for your intended publishers. 

Include your bio, your career/writing experience and whether you have a platform (whether you've published / had success before, or whether you have a following in any field or genre), your analysis of the intended readership and why they'd buy your book, even ideas for format and price. (Although this will be the publisher's decision, your ideas will help them visualise it.)

Also include any competitors. This may seem strange but it will show you have researched the market and know what's out there. Explain why your book stands apart from these competitors (if they exist), and why it will sell.

In essence, try and pinpoint what makes your book so covetable that readers will buy it. Is the subject matter 'fashionable' at the moment? (I know this seems superficial but, like fashion, publishing has its trends.) Is it a perennially popular topic? Essentially what publishers want to hear is that your book is highly commercial and/or financially viable.* (*Throw those words around a lot.)

3. Tell a great story. All good books are based on a good story or 'hook', even illustrated art and design books. What's your book about? Distill it down to a succinct and riveting 50-word synopsis (think of what you'd like to see on the back cover), and you'll have the essence of it right there. Refine that synopsis and put it right at the start of your proposal. IN BIG BOLD FONT. Publishers are busy. They don't have time to read. (Haven't you heard the joke that nobody working in the publishing industry actually reads anything?) If they like the synopsis, they'll keep reading. (Well... a few lines anyway.)

4. Provide visuals. This is key. We now live in the Instagram age, where people prefer pictures images over words. If you can SHOW what your book's about, you'll have more chance of getting an editor's interest. (See point 5 below for how to do this.)

5. Submit a proper mock-up, if you can. I usually spend a week or more compiling a comprehensive dummy on InDesign, complete with high-res pix, complete chapters (I usually write at least 5 chapters), a full contents list, and even ideas for end papers and covers. 

(If you don't have InDesign, consider buying this professional publishing program, as it will really help you to 'see' your book and plan it out before you pitch it. If you happen to know a teacher or a student, ask them to purchase an academic version, which is much cheaper. If you don't want to spend a few hundred dollars, consider asking a graphic designer to create a mock-up for you.)

6. Think about the content. Write a full Contents List to include with your proposal, including any headers. Fashion designer Collette Dinnigan's latest book had the loveliest chapter headers, such as 'Know Your DNA'; 'How The Magic Happens'; 'The Journey of a Dress', and 'How To Stage A Show In Paris'. Whoever came up with those needs to be commended: they were enthralling.

7. Tell the publisher who the target market is, and why they'd buy the book. I know I'm repeating this, but it's imperative – for you as well as the publisher. You need to know who you're writing before you even begin writing. And the publisher needs to know who they're selling to. 

7. Treat your book as a job. Tell the publisher when you could most likely complete it – and then try to stick to this deadline after you've signed the contract. Even if you have pressing issues; even if your life is falling apart and your health is such that you're in no position to be under such stress, STILL FINISH THE BOOK ON TIME – OR NEAR TO IT. Publishers have deadlines too – they need to meet printers' schedules and publishing dates – and the slightest delay can hurt the book's release.

8. Always try and be nice. I know this is tough sometimes, especially when the advance figure isn't what you thought, the design isn't quite what you expected, the proof-reader's somehow missed a lot of serious typos and grammatical errors, or the publisher hasn't put your name anywhere on the page proofs – particularly on the title page and cover where it's clearly meant to go. (Uh-hem; I'm not saying any of this has happened to me.) There are times when you can get cross but it's usually when you have a few bestsellers under your belt and you have the experience to argue. Until then, it's best to try and be tactful. And grateful.

9. Work hard at publicity. I'm terrible at this. TERRIBLE. I hate publicity because I believe a book should speak for itself and an author should remain behind the scenes. Fortunately, I've had strong sales without having to do too much of a publicity dance,  but newbie authors do need to get out there and get their names known.

10. And when all is said and done, be proud of your achievements. After 20 books, I'm still quietly thrilled when I see one of my titles at Rizzoli bookstore in New York, or even – as I did yesterday – on the front page of The Australian newspaper, our national broadsheet. Writing a book is hard work, but in the end, the rewards far outweigh the pain.

Good luck! I wish you all the best in your publishing endeavours! And please email me if you have any questions. I'll happily try and answer them.


  1. Hi Janelle
    This is so nice and generous of you to share your valuable tips for getting a book published. I'll look forward to reading your newest, and your friend's!

  2. Great tips & tricks mate, but what I REALLY want to know is how to secure a 20 episode reality TV show deal. If that bogan Noelene can do it with that shocker Sylvannia Waters, then MOTH, me, all the kids & their retinue of 'interesting' mates should have it in the bag!
    M xx

  3. Great tips & tricks mate, but what I REALLY want to know is how to secure a 20 episode reality TV show deal. If that bogan Noelene can do it with that shocker Sylvannia Waters, then MOTH, me, all the kids & their retinue of 'interesting' mates should have it in the bag!
    M xx


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