“It really was quite simple,”
says Art Riggs, author of The Deep Tissue Massage Manual.
“I already had a Xeroxed manual, about half as big as my
book, so I took it to North Atlantic Books. [The owner] saw
the manual and immediately said it looked like a good idea.”
Certainly not everyone will meet
with the same instant success that Riggs did, but with perseverance
and a little know-how, you, too, can become a published author.
So, how does one go about it?
The book proposal
Common sense might suggest
that the first thing you’ll need is a completed manuscript.
But this is not the case. The biggest misconception most people
have about selling a non-fiction book to a publisher is that you
have to present the finished product. In fact, 99 percent of agents
and publishers don’t want to see a manuscript at all, at
least not initially. What they are looking for, and what you’ll
need to put together, is a 30- to 50-page document known as a
A book proposal serves two purposes:
1) to present your idea for a book; and 2) to demonstrate that
there’s a market for it. The proposal contains a detailed
outline of your book, two sample chapters, and a thorough discussion
of who your audience is, why they’ll buy your book, and
what you’ll do to help promote it. You’ll also have
to present a biography that explains why you are qualified to
write on the topic.
The formula seems simple enough,
but the deal is in the details. Agents and publishing houses are
perpetually inundated with submissions, so you’ll need to
Should you self-publish?
Of course, you may be able
to forego writing a book proposal entirely if, as an increasing
number of authors are doing, you decide not to sell your book
to a publisher at all and publish it yourself. Each route has
positive and negative aspects.
Many of the advantages of self-publishing
boil down to controlsomething that even best-selling authors
have to sacrifice to the major publishing houses. As a do-it-yourselfer,
you need not omit or change one word of your manuscript to suit
the dictates of an editor. The title of the book is yours, and
yours alone. The cover and jacket design will be exactly as you
And the benefits don’t stop
with creative decisions. Your book can get into the marketplace
in a fraction of the time that it would take going through the
production, marketing and distribution schedules of a publishing
house. But perhaps most importantly, you’ve eliminated the
middleman and will pocket a greater share of the profits. Consider
the difference between making $6 for every soft-cover book sold,
versus the $1 you’re likely to get from a traditional publisher.
If only there weren’t significant
A self-publisher must be an entrepreneur.
Aside from the considerable up-front costs of getting a book printed,
distributed and marketed (among other things), he or she will
need massive resources of time and energy. And while a publisher
will pay you upfront for your work regardless of how well it ultimately
sells, a self-publisher has no guarantee that there will be a
return on the investment.
But if you believe that you have
the time, market savvy and financial resources to publish your
book on your own, the option certainly merits further research.
The potential rewards are great. Dan Poynter, author of The
Self Publishing Manual, asserts that if a publisher can't
sell four times as many books as you can, you are better off publishing
On the other side of the coin are
traditional publishers, who offer a strong backing that you won’t
have working on your own. For one thing, they pay for everything,
including, possibly, some upfront money to help you live while
you write your book. They can get your book into stores. And if
you’re one of the lucky few, they’ll help publicize
your book. Good marketing can’t be underestimated; indeed,
it could be the difference between success and failure.
“I've talked with several authors,
and they all feel that promotion is 90 percent of the success
of a book,” Riggs says. A publisher will have better resources
to accomplish this crucial step.
You also must decide whether you’re
going after a big publisher or a small one. You should only approach
the big publishers if you believe that there is an audience of
at least a million people who are interested in your topic.
Finding an agent
If you want to be published
by one of the larger houses, you’re going to need an agent.
While it’s true that agents earn a percentage of your profits
(usually 15 percent), they earn it for a reason: It’s virtually
impossible to work with a large publisher without one.
For one thing, agents will by nature
have more clout with editors than an unknown, unproven author.
In addition, you’re more likely to be taken seriously by
an editor who knows from the outset that an agent is taking you
seriously. Agents are also sure to have connections in the industry,
some of them very personal connections, which you do not. Finally,
because of the nature of their work, agents know books. They’ll
know which houses and editors are most likely to take interest
in your work. Plus, they’ll do all the contract negotiations
for you, and will almost definitely be able to get you a better
deal than you would on your own. That 15 percent may pay for itself.
If you think that your book idea
has the potential for success with a large publisher and you’d
like to seek representation, you should try to connect with an
agent through personal contacts, according to Mahesh Grossman,
author of Write a Book Without Lifting a Finger.
“Your best bet is to try to
meet an agent in person, or meet someone who can recommend you
to one," he says. "You can do this by attending writers'
conferences [or] meetings of the National Speakers Association."
If you’re unable to get a referral,
you can submit your proposal to an agent and wait the six or so
weeks it will take for a response. “If you work with the
small one-person agencies it’s likely that your proposal
will be read by the agent himself,” says Grossman.
You can also find the right agent
by looking at the acknowledgments section of books on the shelf
where yours is likely to be placed. Make a list of the agents
who were thanked, then subscribe to www.writersmarket.com (for
just $3 a month) and search for their contact information. Writer’s
Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, is
published annually and is another resource for aspiring authors.
So why not go with an agent?
The single most important consideration when it comes to books
about massage is that they serve a niche audience. That being
the case, you may need to find a smaller publisher. Some examples
of small publishing houses that may be interested in massage and
related topics include Rodale Press, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins;
Inner Traditions International; New Harbinger Publications; and
Paradigm Publications. And since smaller publishers offer smaller
advances, many agents don’t have the incentive to work with
them at all. So it may be the best option (if not the only
option), to submit your proposal directly. The advantage of these
small publishers is they may give your book much more attention
than you would get at a big publisher like St. Martin’s,
which publishes 1,200 books a year instead of the 50 or fewer
book published by the smaller houses.
Once you’ve figured out
whether you want to self-publish or sell your book to a publisher,
large house or small, agent or no agent, your main concern is
getting the book and/or proposal finished. Unfortunately, books
don’t write themselves. In fact, any published author will
tell you that while getting published can be easy under favorable
circumstances, actually writing the book can be one of
life’s most difficult undertakings. And if you’ve
got a book inside you but dislike writing, are in a hurry to be
published, or simply aren’t as skilled a wordsmith as you’d
like to be, hiring a collaborator to do some or most of the work
might be the perfect solution. And you won’t be alone: According
to sources in the publishing industry, one or more ghostwriters
write 43 percent of commercially published books at least partially.
Defined simply, a ghostwriter is
someone who takes your ideas and turns them into a readable book.
He or she can be an asset that runs anywhere from “helpful”
to “essential,” depending on your circumstances. Besides
beautifying, tidying up, and producing some or all of the text
of your manuscript, a ghostwriter can accomplish myriad tasks.
He or she can help you come up with a great title, do research
and footwork that you are too busy to accomplish on your own,
write query letters, network with agents and publishers, and provide
much-needed insight and expertise into both writing and the publishing
industry. And the best ghostwriters can make your book sound just
When it comes to hiring a ghostwriter,
you’re first going to have to ask yourself two questions:
“How much do I want to spend?” and “How good
do I want my ghostwriter to be?” Your answer to the first,
of course, will be intimately connected to your answer to the
second. Choices range from unpublished novices to best-selling
authors, with fees from six figures all the way down to those
willing to work for a mere $3,000 and the experience.
For most books about massage and
health, you will probably need to work with someone less expensive.
By their nature, books of this type tend to serve a niche audience
and therefore won’t sell as many copies as books that appeal
to a broader audience. By working with someone expensive, you
risk deeply cutting into, or even negating, your profit from the
book. Instead, the money you pay for a ghostwriter should be proportionate
to the money you expect to earn from the finished product. The
best of these writers will come in the form of editors at small
magazines, and free-lance writers. You might even be able to find
willing talent at the local college newspaper, or in writing groups.
Odds are that you’ll be able to get these people to write
a book proposal for you for free, in exchange for future royalties.
A book builds
When it comes to getting published,
there is a dizzying array of options and considerations, and a
lot of time and effort will go into the process. But when the
dust settles, the benefits will be apparent. You may find yourself
in a much better position to write or be quoted on health topics.
And having authored a book can give you added credibility with
“But the real value in a book,”
according to Grossman, “is what it does for you in terms
of building your business. It helps you get on radio, television
and newspapers. If you want to build your practice, give seminars,
or sell more high-priced workbooks and tapes and videos, the book
is a front-end product that gets people to know who you are and
gives you credibility. You get separated from the crowd who doesn’t
have a book. When people know that you’re an author, they
think you’re an expert.”