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by Patricia Fry

Guarantee Your Publishing Success

Do you want to write the next best selling novel? Maybe you dream of landing a contract with Random House or selling a million copies of your book. Perhaps you simply want to be widely read.

How can you guarantee this kind of publishing success? Let me start by revealing the sure path to failure. It isn’t a matter of holding your mouth wrong while engaged in writing. It has little to do with the distractions in your household or your choice of pen names. The sure way for an author fail is to Quit!

 • Quit writing that book of your dreams.

 • Stop pitching it to publishers.

 • Stop promoting your book.

Now, turn that message around and you’ll have some of the most well-known secrets to publishing success: Persistence, Perseverance and Patience. But wait, I have another P word to add. You must also be well-Prepared.

Study the Publishing Industry

The first step toward any measure of publishing success is to understand something about the publishing industry. It is imperative that you educate yourself. In order to succeed in this field, you really must understand your options and the consequences of your choices.

Think about it, you wouldn’t start an electronics business in your city without knowing something about electronics; the electronics field; your competition; the manufacturers, distributors, suppliers you’ll be working with and the needs and desires of your potential customers.

Well here’s a news flash, while writing may be a craft—a heart thing—publishing is a business and your book is a product.

How do you learn about the publishing industry? One of the reasons I wrote my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, is to help educate hopeful authors about the publishing industry and the business of publishing. [Author's Note: Right Way has been retired. See my most recent books in the left column of this page.]

But you can also learn volumes by joining and participating in local and online writers groups and publishing organizations such as Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN), Publishers Marketing Association (PMA), and SPAN. Join and participate by reading their newsletters, spending time at their Web sites and networking at meetings and in online discussion groups and forums. Attend writers’ conferences. Learn about those in your area through your local writers’ club or arts council. Search for nearby conferences at

Write a Book Proposal

The second most important thing you can do to enhance your chances for publishing success is to write a book proposal.

Book proposals aren’t just for nonfiction books anymore. Write a proposal even if your book is a novel, a book of poems, a young adult fantasy or a children’s book, for example. Of course, a book proposal for a novel or children’s book is not quite as detailed as one for a nonfiction book.

Why write a book proposal?

Because many traditional royalty publishers today require one. That’s a good reason, don’t you think? But what if you plan to pay a fee-based, POD “self-publishing” service to produce your book? Few of them actually care about seeing a book proposal. They’re going to produce the book for you no matter what. Maybe you will self-publish. It really doesn’t matter which publishing option you choose, you will still need a book proposal. You see, a book proposal is a business plan for your book. It will actually help you to produce a viable product.

I can’t tell you how many authors I meet every year who are promoting the wrong book to the wrong audience. And they wonder why they were rejected by so many publishers.

When should you write a book proposal?

Many authors wait until they fine-tune their book before writing the proposal. I say, they’re putting the cart before the horse. I recommend writing the book proposal before you even sit down to write the book.

I meet authors of fiction who say, “But the book is just screaming to be written—I don’t want to interrupt my creative flow.” And, do you now what? That’s okay—go ahead and get the story out while your emotions are all juiced up. But, before completing the final edit, sit down and write that book proposal.

Why is this so doggone important?

A well-developed, well-organized, well-written and complete book proposal will actually help you to write the book. All you have to do is follow your chapter outline. Also, after writing a book proposal, you might decide to change the focus of your book and this can be a good thing.

A student in one of my online book proposal classes, after writing her book proposal, changed the whole focus of her book. As a result, she landed a contract with Houghton Mifflin. If she hadn’t done the work necessary to develop a book proposal, she might still be trying to pitch the book she first envisioned—which, as it turns out, was the wrong book for the wrong audience.

Do you have a book at all?

How many books are there on your topic? Is there room for another diet or fitness book, for example? If there are numbers of books on your topic, how can you make yours different so it will stand out?

What happens if you just jammed on through and wrote your book without doing a comparative study of books similar to yours? You might just end up writing another run-of-the-mill diet or fitness book and get nowhere when it’s time to pitch it or promote it because you simply don’t have an audience.

If you had studied the diet book market before writing yours, for example, you might discover that, while there are numerous books on the subject, there are few or none focusing on dieting for the diabetic or how to maintain a healthy weight. Or how about one on how to keep from gaining weight after you quit smoking? Has anyone written a book telling how to romance your pounds away?

What if you discover that there are no books on your topic? Wow, this sounds like an opportunity, right? Maybe not. Further research might show that there are no books on that topic because there is no market for this book.

Will you succeed as a published author? You have a definite advantage over Gerald. He didn’t bother to study the publishing industry or write a book proposal. He paid to have his book published and found that he couldn’t sell it. I met Gerald in St. Louis at a writers’ conference. He attended my book promotion workshop and then he came to me later with some questions. He said, “I have this book and I need help promoting it. Bookstores won’t carry it. I can’t seem to sell it at all.”

I asked him to tell me about his book and he said, “It’s scientific proof that there is no God.” Wow.

Setting my prejudices aside, I asked, “Gerald, who is your audience for this book?”

He said, “Well, everyone.”

I said, “Do you mean that you believe everyone would be interested in reading this book?”

He quickly responded, “Well, everyone should!” Yes, isn’t this how we all feel about our lovely prose?

I hope that I convinced Gerald that his audience was not the general public, but people just like him—scientists with the same philosophy, atheists, agnostics and people who were still on the fence about this issue. I told him that he would find his audience in the same places where he goes—the same lecture halls and Web sites. They read the same magazines and newsletters, belong to the same organizations.

Now, if Gerald had written a book proposal before he wrote this book, he may have realized that he was writing the wrong book for the wrong audience. He may have decided to sugar coat his message—imbed it in a fiction story, for example, or take a very different path with the material he wanted to share.

And so you can see that another important aspect of a book proposal is, it will reveal your target audience and tell you where to find them.

Build Promotion Into Your Book

A book proposal will tell you how to market to this audience. But, if you write the book proposal first, you can do a lot toward building promotion into your book—making it more salable.

For Nonfiction:

Involve a lot of people in your book. Your experts and other contributors and their friends and families will certainly want to purchase copies of the book if it mentions them or someone they know by name. Quote experts, list agencies in your resource list, include a bibliography, offer recommended books at the end of each chapter. List the names of everyone who helped you with any little detail of your book. In my Ojai Valley, An Illustrated History, I list over 100 people who contributed in some way to this five year project and most of them purchased several copies.

For Fiction:

Give your story dimensions that will compute into promotional opportunities. How? Connect a character to a popular resort, health agency or hobby, for example. Give a character diabetes. If it’s presented in a positive way, the American Diabetes Association might agree to become involved in the promotion of your book.

Maybe they’ll purchase 10,000 copies to use as a fund-raiser, recommend it in their newsletter or pay to publish the book.

Give a character a motorcycle, a horse, triplets or a brain injury. Come up with ideas, twists and turns that could, perhaps, give you more marketing options. Discuss a popular issue in your novel—autism, for example, or the new look everyone’s taking with regard to abortion after baby Amelia’s birth and survival, an avalanche, people surviving snow storms while mountain climbing…

Choose your setting carefully—always with promotion in mind. If you are using a real city, make sure it is one that hasn’t been over-used—a kind of happening place where the residents have a sense of community pride. Don’t you know that they’d be more apt to welcome you with open arms to promote your book in say Santa Barbara or Durango, Colorado than Coalinga or Taft, California (where little is happening) or even New York city (where everything is happening at once).

Your Platform

Your platform is your reach, your following, your ability to attract readers. Hillary Clinton has a platform for her memoir. She has quite a large following of admirers, supporters and curiosity seekers. Brittany Spears does, as well. These two women could probably successfully sell any book they write. Dr. Phil’s expertise is relationships. He has a solid platform for his books on this topic. And Rachel Ray’s platform revolves around her reputation in the kitchen.

Do you have a platform for your nonfiction book? If you are an accountant promoting a book on personal finance, your platform includes your experience and expertise in your field. If you produce a highly popular newsletter that goes out to thousands of people who are interested in budgeting and so forth, this is also part of your platform. If you haven’t developed a platform for your nonfiction or fiction book, you may want to do so before you publish it.

If your book is conducive to presentations or workshops, start presenting some NOW. This is an excellent way to start building your platform.

Whether you are a novelist or the author of nonfiction, there are three things that you can do now toward building your platform.

1: Hone your public speaking skills. Whether you will be promoting a nonfiction book or reading your novel before groups, be the best that you can be by learning and practicing good speaking habits. For speaking opportunities and constructive feedback, join a Toastmasters club near you.

2: Establish and keep adding to your mailing/emailing list. A mailing list is pure gold. Collect business cards everywhere you go. Log contact information for everyone you meet, particularly customers and those who attend your presentations and readings. Send notices to your list when your book is published, when you are scheduled to speak, etc.

3: Start NOW submitting your articles or stories to appropriate magazines, ezines, Web sites and newsletters. Get published and you will become known—you’ll start establishing a following. Nonfiction authors will also gain credibility in their field.

Tip: Keep a running list of every magazine, ezine, newsletter and Web site that uses articles or stories in your category, subject or genre. Note contact information and submission guidelines. Place this list in a binder or create a database. Submit often.

(For information about submission protocol, order A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles, by Patricia Fry

So now you know how to guarantee relative success as a published author. It all boils down to producing a more salable book and preparing yourself to appropriately and properly promote it.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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