(Excerpt from my new book “Write a Book!”. Get the whole book for free (this week only!) at Amazon.com.)

There are several ways to find publishers.

  • You can look for publishers. The best way to do this is with The Writer’s Market, by Robert Brewer, which is updated yearly. It lists thousands of publishers and what they want to publish. You should also look at Books in Print. Both of these books are in most libraries.
  • If you’ve written books for a publisher, he likes working with you, and he notices an opportunity in a new market, he’ll ask you write a book.
  • If your books have done well, another publisher may ask you to write for them. Several publishers have asked me for books.
  • You can also ask someone who’s been published to refer you to her publisher. This puts you in touch through trusted connections. A friend wanted to publish her book and I referred her to a major publisher, who published her book. So this really happens (don’t send your book proposals to me!)

Here’s another way. In the mid-2000s, I wanted the my next book to be available in bookstores, so I went to the large bookstores (Borders and Barnes & Nobles), found the section for computer books, and wrote down the names of the publishers. These publishers were big enough to be able to place books in large bookstores. I then went to each publisher’s website and looked at their catalog to see if they had a book on my topic. Of 20-30 publishers, six didn’t have a book on SEO. So I wrote to them. Two offered to publish the book.

Why Is It Useful to Have a Book Publisher?

There are several advantages to working with a large publisher.

First, writers benefit from the publisher’s brand recognition. To be published by a large publisher is a strong professional credential. In a specialist topic, only a handful of authors are published by the major publishers.

Because two of my books were published by McGraw-Hill, I was introduced to Tsinghua University, which is the MIT of China. I met with them in Beijing and their university press published the book in China. It would be very difficult to do this as a self-published author.

Your Book Proposal

It’s called a book proposal, a publishing proposal, submission, or a query letter. It tells the publisher what your book is about. Why should they publish your book? Why are you qualified to write it? How can you help to sell it?

Follow these steps to write a good book proposal:

  • Understand the market. Go to Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, and other major bookstores and look at the existing books on your topic. What do they cover? What do they miss? When were they written? Has the market changed so there is opportunity for an updated book?
  • Buy the books, read them, and take notes. Write a one-page summary of each book. Discuss strengths and weaknesses of each book and how you will do it better or offer a different perspective. Include the book’s title, author, publisher, year, and sales price. Publishers use to understand the opportunity. They also see how you write.
  • Describe the size of your audience. Are there 10,000, 100,000, or 10,000,000 potential readers? Offer demographic data about the size of the audience.
  • Describe your experience in writing. What have you written? Do you have project management experience? The publisher wants to know if you can meet deadlines.
  • Show how you can help with marketing. Tell them how many contacts you have in your email list, LinkedIn contact list, Facebook, and so on. If you can participate in speaking events, say so. Will your company be willing to buy copies of the book?

Most publishers have submissions guidelines and forms on their website. You fill out the form and submit your proposal. They generally reply within a week.

I was lucky with my first few computer books because the market was growing and there were few writers. As I got experience, I learned what publishers wanted so I wrote better proposals for a book in the mid-90s. I researched the market and then sent a proposal to ten publishers. Every day, I waited by the mailbox for the replies. The first two arrived and these were rejections. No problem: eight hadn’t yet replied. The next day, another rejection. A few days later, three more letters arrived. My wife, who was skeptical of the whole thing, watched me open them and said, “So three more rejections?” I said, “No, three accepted” and dropped them in her lap.

What If You’re Rejected?

Rejection doesn’t have to do with you. Perhaps the publishers don’t think there is a market for your topic. If you feel there is a market, look into self publishing at Amazon. You might also take their advice and look into writing something else.

Delivering Your Manuscript to a Traditional Publisher

Many people think they have to finish the manuscript before they can look for a publisher. So they work for several years on the manuscript and then send it to a publisher.

However, most manuscripts are rejected. Either there are plenty of similar books, the publisher already has a book on the same topic, or the publisher doesn’t think there is a market for it.

So don’t write a manuscript. Write a proposal. If that’s accepted, you can start writing. If it’s rejected, you can try another topic.

Changes to Your Proposal

There’s another reason that you don’t send finished manuscripts. Often, publishers know the market better than you and they’ll want to make changes. If you deliver a completed manuscript, you’re presenting a “take it or leave it” situation.

A proposal should be an opening for a conversation. How about we change this? Add that? The publishers have a sense of what bookstores are selling and they look for writers who can deliver that.

For example, you wrote a proposal for a book about opening a café in southern France with your cat. But the publisher knows ten books like that came out last year and nobody wants to hear about French café cats anymore. But… there’s a hot new area: would you write about opening a coffee house in Sichuan with your dog? So you change everything and you have a book that sells.

Multiple Submissions?

It used to be (very long ago) that you sent the manuscript to a publisher and you had to wait for him to accept or reject it before you contacted the next one. Publishers would reject authors simply if they knew the author was talking to other publishers.

Things have changed. Today, it’s normal for authors to submit their proposals to several publishers simultaneously. Some even hold auctions and let publishers bid against each other.

If it’s a good proposal, you’ll get a reply within a week or two.

Get the Whole Book for Free

Want the rest of the book? Get my book for free (this week only!) at Amazon.com.