Copywriter, marketing/book publishing consultant, and speaker Shel Horowitz's latest books are Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers and Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First. The owner http://frugalmarketing.com and several other websites, he assists authors and publishers with affordable, ethical,and effective marketing--and makes the word insist on knowing why *you're* special.
What do these books have in common: Eragon…The Celestine Prophecy…Joy of Cooking…South Beach Diet…Worms Eat My Garbage…The Read-Aloud Handbook?
Answer: they all started as self-published. Self-publishing first is a long and honorable tradition. Ben Franklin, Anaïs Nin, Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman are among the authors who first published themselves and then went to bigger houses (posthumously, in some cases).
Most authors dream about landing a big New York publisher, or at least a well-respected independent house—but with 560,626 books published in 2008 just in the United States, and only a few thousand of them coming from established royalty-paying commercial publishers, the odds are steep.
But it can be done, even if you're not a household name. Two of my own books have made the transition (one of them to two different publishers). In 2003, I self-published a book on business ethics as a success driver, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First <http://www.principledprofit.com>. First, I sold regional rights to foreign mainstream publishers in India and Mexico, and then later, I sold the U.S. rights: Principled Profit forms the basis for my eighth book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson), which John Wiley & Sons will publish in 2010. The newer book is a lot more comprehensive, but about 2/3 of it was in the original version.
Going back much farther, my first self-published book (and second book overall) was a skinny little paperback on low-cost marketing. That became the kernel of a much larger book, Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring, which Simon & Schuster published in 1993. I bought the book back in 1995, and then in 1998 sold the rights again, to Chelsea Green. Since a lot had changed in marketing, I once again created a whole new book but used most of the original. Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World was published in 2000.
So as an author, how can you up the chances that a big publisher will take you on? Here are three different strategies; if you can combine all three, publishers may even come after you:
Develop an Outstanding Marketing Platform
As much or more than the quality of your book, publishers want to know about the quality of your "marketing platform": the number of people you can reach and perhaps convince to buy your book. If you regularly hit the speaking circuit, host your own radio or television show, participate actively in social media networks and online communities of interest, have a popular blog and/or e-zine, get interviewed in the media frequently, and have developed relationships with influential people who can promote you to their large networks, your attractiveness to a publisher is infinitely higher than the solitary scribe in a garret.
My recent successful proposal to Wiley highlighted my connectedness and my own platform. It discussed the many top-tier magazines and newspapers that have quoted me over the years, the 55 books that cite me, the thousands of people I connect with directly through my own newsletters, my blog, and my participation in discussion groups and social media—and probably most important, the 5,130,000 readers I estimated I could reach through the contacts I've built up with various e-zine and newsletter publishers, bloggers, and other influencers. A full seven pages of the proposal were devoted to showing off my platform.
So if you think you want to sell to a big publisher in a few years, start developing these spheres of influence NOW.
Create a Product That's Recognized as Superior
Produce the best book on your subject, both in content and design. Win awards. Get endorsements, reviews, and course adoptions. Land a few bulk sales to catalogs, corporations or nonprofits. It's all about third-party credibility.
Sell a Lot of Copies
If you've sold 10,000 or more copies of a self-published books, publishers will think you're really HOT. If you haven't sold 1000 yet, the self-published work will actually hurt your chances. So don't go to other publishers until you can show convincingly that you've taken all the risk out of product development, and that you have a winner.
Shel turns unpublished writers into published authors, and also provides authors with affordable, effective, and ethical marketing strategic planning and copywriting. His most recent book is Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers, http://www.grassrootsmarketingforauthors.com. Reach him at 413-586-2388, or use the contact form at http://shelhorowitz.com/#contact