How to Get a Book Deal in 4 Steps + Why You Shouldn’t Bother

From Kindlepreneur:

Here are the 4 steps to take to get a traditional book deal:

  1. Ensure your book is fit for market
  2. Find an agent
  3. Submit to publishing companies
  4. Choose an offer

Let me be clear: Traditional book deals are a thing of the past. If you do not actively reach 25,000+ people regularly before a deal, no reputable publishing company or literary agent will take a risk on your book.

In 2022, don’t bother trying to get a book deal without an existing, sizable audience.

If you have a relative or friend who works for an agency, you have a much better chance of your book proposal falling in the right hands.

For the rest of us: Self-publishing is a legitimate way to earn a living as a writer. Publishing your own book may not come with the prestige of earning a book deal. However, publishing prestige is an outdated concept, and readers certainly don’t care. Many self-publishers make more money than their traditionally published counterparts.

If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re not a celebrity. If you don’t have a regular audience of 25,000 or more (and you don’t have close connections at a press or agency), just self-publish. My website and email list are great resources to walk you through the process step-by-step.

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What is a book deal?

A book deal is a contract between an author and a publisher. Sometimes called a traditional book deal, this is when the gatekeepers of the legacy publishing industry offer you an advance on book profits in return for several benefits.

How much do you get for a book deal? You can get an advance between $5,000 and $100,000 if you land a book deal. However, it is both difficult to get a book deal and unlikely that a first-time author will receive such a significant advance.

What are the benefits of a book deal?

  • A monetary advance before publishing the book
  • Bookstore placement
  • Professional editors, formatters, cover designers at no extra cost to you
  • The ability to say you landed a book deal

What are the disadvantages of a book deal?

  • Massive time investment for a slight chance at a traditional deal
  • Loss of control and ownership of your work and brand
  • Minimal financial upside (in the long run)

Let’s face facts: Traditional media is on its way out, including traditional book publishers. Readers don’t care if something was self-published or traditionally published (as long as it looks professional). Book contracts often require you to sign away your rights for an advance.

Self-publishing is more viable than ever — and more profitable, thanks to Amazon.

I recommend seeking a traditional book deal only if:

  • You are a celebrity of some sort.
  • You have more than 25,000 loyal followers on social media or listeners on your podcast. (Honestly, that’s a low number.)
  • You have a friend or relative who works at a publishing house.
  • You would be cripplingly ashamed to say you self-published (Self-publishing is far more respected these days, so this shouldn’t be an issue).

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing vs. Indie Publishing

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is the industry in which a publishing house publishes a book. This usually requires a literary agent as an in-between for the author and publishing house.

How hard is it to get a publishing deal? It is tough to get a traditional publishing deal. The chances of landing an agent, then a traditional publishing book deal, are about 1 in 1,000 — and even worse if you don’t have a massive online following.

Traditional publishers typically cover the cost of a professional editor, book cover artist, back cover blurb, ISBN number, printing costs, final proofreaders, and more. But they also take a sizable chunk out of your royalties.

They offer authors an advance, usually in the form of a five- or six-figure lump sum. This is not in addition to royalties. Instead, you won’t make any royalties until you would have made as much as your advance (called “earning out”). If you don’t earn out, you do not have to pay back the advance. It’s a risk the publisher takes by fronting cash before they’ve made a profit.

How much of a book price goes to the author? After a publisher has earned out their advance, about 5-15% of the book price is paid to the author in royalties. Not only will the publisher take a huge chunk, but you’ll also need to give your literary agent the standard 15% commission of what you make.

I know many writers want a book deal so they don’t have to market their own book. Unfortunately, traditional publishers provide little marketing support for their authors. They reserve most of their marketing budgets for their top bestsellers (a tiny fraction of books written).

Traditionally published authors still have to do their own marketing, including:

  • Social media
  • Blog posting
  • Video blogging
  • Book signings
  • Email newsletters
  • Promotional giveaways
  • Podcasts
  • Book reviews (including paid/sponsored)
  • Organizing a launch team
  • Establishing a solid track record by writing good books in the first place

You may have heard of the Big 5. They’re the biggest publishing houses in America, primarily housed in New York City. The Big 5 traditional publishers are:

  1. Hachette
  2. HarperCollins
  3. Macmillan
  4. Penguin Random House
  5. Simon & Schuster

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is when an author publishes their own book. This is a legitimate publishing route that many authors of all shapes and sizes have chosen.

Self-publishing can be more lucrative than traditional publishing.

Although you will not receive an advance on your self-published book, you keep a lot more of the profits. Amazon KDP might take 35-70% of self-published ebook profits, whereas traditional publishers and literary agents would take 80-95% of the royalties and retain printing rights.

But to be a real author, you have to go through a traditional publisher… right?

No! This is an outdated, offensive way of thinking. “Self-published” is not a dirty word. But if you like, you can say “independently published” or simply “published” to your friends.

Although Amazon does take a portion of your profits, they command 70% of the market share for selling eBooks. And Amazon gives little to no advantage to eBooks that are traditionally published.

You can always seek a book deal after you’ve successfully self-published. Make sure your first book is a great book that earns rave reviews. Your second book should do even better.

Once you’ve gained tens of thousands under your banner, perhaps it’s time to look into traditional book publishing for your new book. (I expect you will have fallen in love with self-publishing by this point.)

I know many writers don’t want to deal with marketing their book, but don’t be fooled. Traditional publishers hardly lift a finger to sell your book unless you’re an author superstar. When you traditionally publish, you still need to market your own book at signings and on social media.

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Indie Publishing

There’s a third option: indie publishing, sometimes called hybrid publishing or independent publishing. Different people mean different things when using these terms, but typically an indie publisher or hybrid publisher tries to combine the benefits of self-publishing and traditional marketing.

The main advantage of an indie publisher is that you usually don’t need an agent, but you can still tell your friends you landed a book deal.

They may offer small advances but still take a large chunk of the royalties. They may provide minimal design and formatting services but could ask for the copyright (a big no-no; never hand over the copyright for your book). They will still offer little to no marketing while expecting the author to market their own book.

Feel free to look into indie publishers with a critical eye. However, many of you reading this will benefit from simply self-publishing, utilizing professional freelancers along the way.

Pro tip: Avoid vanity presses. A vanity press is a type of publishing company that charges you upfront for publishing, usually resulting in a net loss for the author. Vanity presses prey on writers desperate to get their book published. Never pay upfront to distribute your book.

To be clear, self-publishers should pay for a professional editor and a book cover designer, at least, on top of other self-publishing costs. But never pay a publishing company. While we’re on the topic, never pay a literary agent to represent you. (Same as in real estate, acting, etc.)

Link to the rest at Kindlepreneur