Use Marketing to Become a Published Author
If you want to become a published author, you must be prepared to take a methodical approach to writing and self-promotion. Few are those who come out of school with a book contract or become famous for some life event and are offered book contracts. It is not enough to merely write about what you know or about what you enjoy. If you want to become a published author, you must learn how to identify market needs that are related to what you know and enjoy. Once you've built a following as a published author, you can venture more into writing for pleasure. For now, what you write must be framed within the context of this identified market.
“Even if you know your topic and your market well, as a newcomer you must be able to absolutely document this information for the publisher.”
It may help you to practice pitching your book ideas before you start researching and writing them. In fact, this is an excellent way to come up with book outlines. You need to remember that to become a published author you must not write to serve your own interests, but to serve the interests of an audience. You must write about a topic that balances broad appeal with a niche market. You should be starting to see why method and promotion are important.
Learn to think as a publisher. What is the primary purpose of a publisher? Publishers are in business to make a profit through the printing of materials. The more materials they can print and sell at peak value during a given time frame, the more money they can make. You must therefore come up with what they refer to as an "angle" on the street. You must either write about something with potential broad appeal that has not yet been written or come at a popular topic from a new point of view or method of presentation. The publisher will need a direct answer to the question, "How will this improve my bottom line?"
Know the Topic Thoroughly Before Approaching the Publisher
When you think you have your promotional angle and a general topic idea, you may think you're ready to pitch it to a publisher. Unless you're a recognized expert in the field, you're not really ready. The next phase is conducting thorough research. Even if you know your topic and your market well, as a newcomer you must be able to absolutely document this information for the publisher.
You need to know the topic thoroughly, have research backing up your knowledge of the topic, have research backing up the likelihood of market demand related to your topic, and, ideally, have some third-party statistics to reinforce your assertions of market demand. Knowing your topic thoroughly and researching further into it should be a great joy for you if you've chosen your topic well. If you're like most aspiring authors, however, the idea of doing market research may be a big turn off.
Your advantage in knowing this is that by doing thorough market research and providing it to potential publishers, you're separating yourself from most writers. If your idea is good and your data is good, there is a good chance you will become a published author. So gather marketing data, be specific with your data, and consider going as far as to write a small marketing plan, complete with executive summary.
The truth of the matter is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring authors submitting mostly similar ideas daily to most major publishers. If you simply submit a proposal without data to sell it, unless you happen to submit something very unique that the publisher just happens to be looking for that day, it's unlikely your manuscripts or proposals will even be partially read by a decision maker.
Selling Your Proposal to the Publisher
Now that you have a great idea and great information about how your book will sell, you have to come up with a way to sell your proposal, often referred to as a query, to the publisher. It should be noted that many publishers have an exact format they expect writers or their agents to follow when submitting their book proposals. This can be a modified executive summary for your marketing plan, if you've made one. Essentially, you'll need to provide a short thesis paragraph to grab attention. Follow that with a summary of your topic, including summarized versions of your angle and market research. Finally, don't forget to include a paragraph or two about you, which should talk very briefly about why you're qualified as a writer and to a greater extent about why you're the person to write about the chosen topic.
Don't Submit Your Idea to One Publisher And Wait Around Watching Daytime Television
You may be surprised how many careers of aspiring authors end at this point, having submitted their proposals to a publisher and then proceeding with little or nothing further. Others don't even do any research or write any proposals until they've already written their books, thinking someone will happen to buy whatever they wanted to write.
This is another opportunity for you to separate yourself. Continue studying your topic. Read any related books and research materials for the topic, being careful to jot them down in case you get new ideas that must be cited. Take in the approaches of others and think about how you can improve on them or how you can expand their presentations. Revise your outline accordingly. Eventually, if you haven't been inspired to begin writing yet, you'll find that you cannot help but to begin writing your book. You can always make revisions if the publisher comes back with a counter-proposal.
Even more importantly, you need to not stop at a single publisher. In fact, you should include literary agents as well, especially with your finished manuscripts. Some publishers prefer to work directly with authors, but even the bulk of these publishers tend to publish more manuscripts coming from literary agents than from authors. So keep hitting publishers with your book proposals and manuscripts, and when you finish at least the first draft of your manuscript, start in on the literary agents.
Ego is the Dreaded Enemy of that First Published Book
You again need to think as a publisher when the rejections and criticisms come pouring in, and you can pretty much bet on getting a lot of the former and should pray for the latter. Publishers are looking for specific things and quick-sell ideas. Whether you're able to submit directly to a publisher or you must go through an agent, the thought process will be the same for the recipient. If you had their jobs and were receiving hundreds of these a day, would yours stand out? Even great book ideas are usually missed many times before someone sees the light.
Criticisms from literary agents and book publishers should be seen as positives. You may not feel good when they tell you what they dislike, or even hate, about what you've sent, but the vast majority of the time you'll get rejected, unread. If an agent goes as far as to criticize you, it means she has taken an interest in you. Take to heart what is said. Be willing to consider these criticisms carefully, especially those that go as far as to indicate or imply a way to please the person sending them.
Finally, when you come across a literary agent or book publisher interested in your idea, be prepared for changes. You may think you've already written the masterpiece of a lifetime, but self-publishing may be the only way it'll ever go into print in its present form. Unless preserving your masterpiece is more important to you than aspiring to be an author published by a major publisher, you must be prepared to provide the publisher with whatever is asked for in whatever form it is asked. The same is true if a literary agent wants to help you become a published author, but demands changes first.
Remember that these are the people who are most able to help you become a published author. The vast majority of your favorite and most revered authors have already had to go through this at one time before they were able to write their own book deals.