Huffpost Books
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Laura Rossi Totten Headshot

6 Insider Secrets to Getting Published

Posted: Updated:
Print

Books are the new blogs.

If you want to write a book and get it published, you are not alone.

Sarah Bryden-Brown, co-founder of Go Mighty (a popular site where people make Life Lists), recently explained, "Our Go Mighty members are doers and they love to list goals and write stories... Of all the goals on the site, and there are 21,000 so far, writing/publishing a book is in the Top Five. There are goals for flip books and cook books and self-help and everything in between."

I've been in the book publishing industry for almost 23 years -- straight out of college, I sprinted to NYC and my first in-house job was in book publicity at Viking Penguin (now the giant behemoth publisher Penguin Random House).

In two-plus decades, my office has changed and my authors (and bosses) have come and gone but one thing has stayed the same: aspiring authors asking the question "How do I get my book published?" As a book publicist for bestsellers and first-timers, not only have I picked up a lot of secrets along the way, I've helped more than one writer land a big book deal with a big NYC publisher.

Recently, I reached out to a powerful team of book experts and publishing insiders (published authors, marketers, publicity gurus) and interviewed each to give you (writers, bloggers, and journalists) a must-have, accurate, and actionable list to get closer to getting your book published.

7 Steps To Publication

1) WRITE, WRITE, AND WRITE
Gina Barreca is a best-selling author, humorist and professor. Her book They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted earned her praise from Dave Barry to People magazine and she's appeared on the Today Show, Oprah, and NPR. Gina is a published author, editor, blogger and columnist. "My most sincere advice to anyone starting out is to develop a successful history of publication -- if this means writing for local papers, for magazines, for alumni publications, whatever -- in order to show both style and content, as well as indicating that you can produce a body of work on deadline. Most folks in publishing are not as interested in an idea as they are in a finished body of work -- the words on the page are what will matter, not the concept behind it.

2) TELL YOUR STORY.
The publishing landscape changes weekly but what never changes is a good story. Laura Zigman is a novelist (Animal Husbandry) and the PR/Editorial Lead for Happier, Inc. and her advice is pure genius because it's something only fiction writers know:

"Write the best book you can write. Tell the most truthful, the most heartfelt, the most important story you can tell. Then, don't take no for an answer. By which I mean: If you can't find an agent or publisher, publish it yourself!"

3) MAKE A FAVORITES LIST.
Gretchen Koss is co-founder of Tandem Literary Publicity & Marketing. The agency experience of the founders totals more than 40 combined years in book publishing. As President and Director of Publicity, Gretchen (who spent half of her career working in-house in NYC) shared some smart and savvy advice: "Who do you love? Who do you read? Put together the strongest proposal you can and send it off to the agents who represent the authors you most admire -- and don't give up! Just because it's not right for one agent doesn't mean it's not right for another. (And don't forget to research submission guidelines for each agent because they are not all alike and you don't want to risk having your proposal ignored because it was not submitted the way a particular agent wants it packaged or presented.)"

4) DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
Teachers and profs know practice makes perfect. You may want to forget those all-nighters try to remember advance-planning works. Create the narrative around your book today and be able to talk about it -- anywhere, anytime, any place. Deals happen everywhere -- on iPhones, in elevators, at conferences. Be prepared.

Writer and former publishing house pro, Valerie Peterson is the author of four cookbooks, has written for publications ranging from The New York Times to Brides and is the Book Publishing Expert for About.com. I love her 4 tips.

*Know the answer to the question "Who is going to buy this book?" "Everybody" is not an answer and will just prove how naive you are. If your book is fiction, what other successful books can you compare it to? If it's non-fiction, who is your audience? Be as targeted as possible -- and know that potential audience intimately (see #3).

*In order to get the attention of a traditional publisher (and, before that, a literary agent), your platform is at least as important as your writing skill. Of course, TV shows, radio shows, and owning a successful business are all platforms. But if you don't have those, for non-fiction, you should have some evidence that you are an expert in your subject area (whether by profession or having lived through an experience) -- and part of that also means you need to be keyed into where the potential book buyers are (see #1). Are you connected to your audience on Twitter? Do you belong to associations? Etc.

*For fiction, a track record (writing programs, awards, etc.) and literary connections are helpful when crafting a platform. Writing quality is important, of course, but can you get quotes from established writers? Do you have PR contacts you can leverage? Do you have a successful blog or blogging group? Again, how are you connected to readers and how many can you bring to your book when it's published?

*Research, research, research. You should know your market, know your competition, know what books are out there that can be compared to yours. Everyone from your agent to the book publisher's reps who sell your book to the staff at the bookstores will need to know this information. Don't make them guess -- it'll take time and energy away from them when they could be putting the book in the correct hands!

5) WALLFLOWERS NEED NOT APPLY.
I love the energy, chutzpah, and no b.s. business advice savvy marketer Meghan Walker shared with me during our interview. Meg's the other half of Tandem Literary and as President of Marketing leads the promotional efforts (including online) for all her authors (traditionally published, e-books and self-published). She sees the world through the eyes of a marketer and that's a priceless perspective because the publishing business is always trying to figure out a way to profit. "Whether you have a book now or want to have a future book out there -- it's not the time to be shy. You will need to call on the support of all of your contacts -- before and then when your book goes out into the world. Start early. Think of concrete ways colleagues and friends can help you. Begin thinking NOW about ways to mobilize support. Build wish lists of outlets (print, broadcast and online) where you'd love to see your book covered as well as any organizations/associations where you might hope for promotion. If approaching each on your own seems daunting and/or you are unsure whether you'll have sufficient help provided to you by a publisher, consider hiring an outside publicity and marketing firm. Don't wait for things to happen. Make things happen."

6) PLAY THE LEAD, NOT THE UNDERSTUDY.
We've all heard the cliché "Dress for success" right? My advice is to live like an author -- it's a recipe for success made up of equal parts visualization, laws of attraction, and "if I write it, they will publish it." Sprinkle in a storyline (write your bio, take some selfies, promote your achievements) and if you can afford it, hire a publicist. Treat yourself like the star author you want to be. In my opinion, many writers and bloggers can make the leap to a signed book contract by publicizing their writing, brand, and platform long before they submit a book proposal. In fact, my two greatest success stories center around bloggers that hired me to publicize their blogs and writing. We made what they were doing news today and that fact (along with some pr magic and a little luck) and the rest fell into place.

See you on the best sellers list!

# # #

A condensed version of this blog post appeared on The Daily Muse.