Getting a Book Contract
An Interview with Steve Gillman

By Web Journalist Ana Ce

If you ask most writers, they will tell you it's tough out there--the publishing world is filled with rejection. However there are thousands of books published every year, so there are writers who can still get a book contract. How they do it?... Is it a mystery or a strategy?

Let's see what Steve Gillman, self-published author and now a writer under contract has to say about the subject.

You're under contract to write a book for Wiley & Sons Publishing – can you tell us about it?

A senior editor from Wiley found my website, liked what he saw, and contacted me about writing a book for them. They wanted to do a book on weird ways to make money, strange jobs, or something along those lines, and they thought I might be the writer for the job because I had my site and the Unusual Ways newsletter.

It wasn't a done deal at that point, though. Even though they approached me, they still wanted a formal proposal submitted. I learned a lot from the process, and in the end we signed a book contract.

How has the traditional publishing industry changed and what is the new model for this new century?

I have read that most publishers lose money on something like 80% of everything they publish. Add to that the fact that there is more competition than ever both from other books and from online content (including e-books), and you can see that traditional publishers might be facing tough times. To deal with these changes, they are looking more and more to sign authors who already have a built-in audience. They just don't want to risk as much on unknown writers.

Now, the big question: What should a writer do to get a contract?

Have a market, an audience. This isn't as difficult as you might think. In the past you needed to get published to get recognized and to have people who wanted to read whatever you wrote. You needed to be published to get published--a real dilemma. But now you can start online with nothing and develop a following. Build a website or a blog and write on the topics that you are most passionate or knowledgeable about. Have a mailing list too. That can be from an email newsletter, a free course you offer on your blog, or something of that nature. You'll want to have several thousand subscribers in preparation for getting published.

The proposal form that Wiley sent me asked about previous self-published works, so those help--especially if they sold more than a few hundred copies (I had published Secrets of Lucky People on my own, and then it ws picked up by a Japanese publisher as well). Since it can cost less than $600 to self-publish with an on-demand service now, it might be worth building your resume in this way. They also wanted to know about my speaking schedule. I had none, but clearly they are more likely to do a deal with you if you have speeches lined up where you can promote your book. In fact, I had to submit a marketing plan. Publishers expect authors to participate in and even lead the marketing efforts now.

There are many things you can do, but the basic idea is this: You need to be able to convince a publisher that you can sell enough books for them to at least break even. I don't know the publishing business well enough to say exactly what that means, but my guess is that they need to sell several thousand copies of a book to recoup their investment (including the royalty advance they hopefully pay you).

For example, let's say you have a blog about how to travel really cheap. You can create a weekly or monthly e-mail newsletter and start building your list. Once you have 3,000 or more subscribers (get about 8 signing up daily for a year and you're there), you'll have a sizable audience you can sell to. It will cost you only about $20 per month for an auto-responder service that will do the mailings for you. It will cost you nothing to create an e-book of travel tips that you can sell on your blog. Keep track of the sales. Distribute articles online to further establish your presence as an authority on the subject of cheap travel. A year or more later, when the time comes to submit a book proposal, you'll be an expert with proven sales of an e-book, and with a 3,000-subscriber mailing list that is growing at a rate more than 240 new sign ups monthly (meaning you'll have another 1,200 by the time the book comes out--something you'll point out in your proposal and marketing plan).

Being a previously self-published author, and now going the traditional route, could you list some advantages and disadvantages of both?

Control is the big advantage of self-publishing. You decide exactly what you want to write about, and how you want to sell your book. You can even pull it off the market if you wish, or rewrite and republish it for as little as $400. Authors often complain that their publisher has stopped promoting their book, yet they can't get the copyright back to try something else (rewriting, renaming, etc). You have much more control when you self-publish.

A disadvantage of self-publishing is that you are on your own. Your money is required, and your marketing skills alone will determine the fate of your book.

Wider exposure and credibility are the big advantages of traditional publishing. Wiley will get my book into bookstores more easily than I could have. I can more easily find a publisher in the future having been published by a big publishing house (and now Wiley will always look at my future proposals in nay case).

Disadvantages? Watch those contract terms. A non-compete clause could mean you can't ever write on you favorite subject, for example (put a time limit on anything of that sort). I mentioned loss of control. That starts even in the writing phase, since with any book contract the editor is likely to want some input as to the content. You'll have a deadline too. There is a way to largely avoid some of these problems though. It is to write the book first, and then submit it with your proposal. No deadline, and they can say yes or no to what you have already done (although they still can ask for some changes).

What future writing projects do you have planned?

I am undecided at the moment. It has been a great experience working with Wiley and Sons, and I have several books in mind, but I may focus on writing for our websites for a while. I will still consider self-publishing as an option for some future books, and I might even publish my next one as an e-book. One advantage to selling my e-book on my own is making $17 per copy on a $19.95 book versus $1.50 on a paper book at the same price that is through a traditional publisher. And I don't need a publisher or book contract to do that.

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Every Way to Make Money | Getting a Book Contract - An Interview with Steve Gillman