Writing a successful book is like germ warfare. You have
to combine the elements necessary to create the desired effect
and then make sure the result is carried to enough people to
make them crazy about your book. Success results from following
a proven strategy that all writers have used to get published
There’s one system for success, and only one. Everyone who
has ever been published has followed this system. You are welcome
to decide to invent your own system, but you’ll still be shopping
at Barnes&Noble while everyone else is selling there.
There are Five Steps to Success as an author. But you don’t
have to take my word for it. I’ve been an agent since the Dawn
of Time, sold more than 300 books for clients, given variations
of what I teach in this article 500+ times to thousands of writers
all over the country, and used what I teach myself to create
21 published books of my own under four pseudonyms. My 16th
book has been so successful I’ve been on more than 253 radio
shows, 21 print hits like the New York Times, Dallas Morning
News, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Playboy, Maxim and so on.
I’ve been on 49 national TV shows including Dateline NBC, CBS
The Early Show, Crosstalk, Fox, ABC, MSNBC, Politically Incorrect
and others. Frankly, I know what I’m talking about.
The first step you must commit to is Understand Your Market.
This is the most critical step in success. Skipping it will
mean failure. Period. Luckily, this is not difficult. It simply
means that if you hope anyone besides you will read what you
write, you must begin by thinking it through based on a true
assessment of your future readers’ needs. That is how you build
the germ of an idea into a book.
The renowned book editor Roy Carlisle describes publishing
like this: When something happens in news today, it gets put
into the papers. When the public has had collective time to
mull it over, and it is still of interest, it shows up in “interim
media” - Time, Newsweek, and television news stories that reflect
more effort and thought. At this point, the news people are
bringing in analysts, consultants and other experts. Finally,
after society has collectively processed the ideas, they occur
in book form, the highest written expression of a cogent thought.
No matter what your subject matter, think about any overlaps
between it and what is currently sticking in the collective
mind of Americans. A book can take two years from idea to shelf,
so look for ideas that mean something to you, that catch your
fancy, and that are showing up in longer lead articles in magazines
you read. Discover what people are thinking about now.
To achieve a true understanding of your marketplace, you
must also read similar books. Find out what your book’s
competitors have already written. Take impeccable notes to determine
how your intended book will be New, Different, Better or offer
something More than all those others out there.
Take a month to devise a list of questions and ask everyone
you can find if the subject, is interesting to them, what they
think about your take on it, and what comments they have. When
I was writing my most successful book published under my own
name, The Cult of the Born Again Virgin: How Single Women
Can Reclaim Their Sexual Power I interviewed nearly 100
women about their views on choosing celibacy until a relationship
meant something to them. Like all authors, I did it with an
open mind, not trying to sell my viewpoint, but instead asking
them if they’d ever considered waiting to be sexual and what
benefits they received from that decision if they made it. The
book changed 100 times, once for each interview, and its success
since then is largely attributed to the “experts” I spoke to
– the women who would buy and read my book later.
Once you’ve done your “field testing” by knowing which books
really compete with you and why yours is better, and you’ve
talked to enough potential buyers and experts to know that you
aren’t writing something off the planet, the next thing to do
is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing, that is, except spend
a day, a week, a month or two just letting the ideas percolate
in your head. Let them mature, come to full awareness, mellow
out. Your book will begin to rise from the mists in your brain.
Don’t jump right into writing it until it’s matured and ready.
This brings you to the Second Step in becoming a successful
author: Create Excellent Material. Write what you have
learned in the best light possible, brightly, clearly, concisely.
Writing is an art form, not something you pick up because English
happens to be your native language. If you don’t know how to
write, find someone who will train you. If you don’t know about
proper tone, style and format, get a book on it or come to a
live event. My agency is one of many excellent places where
you can learn both in one concise seminar weekend if you are
writing nonfiction. There are other resources. Your objective
is to do whatever it takes to express your clear message in
the best possible form so the greatest number of people can
benefit from it.
You can already start to see the Third Step. In fact, if
you’ve had the dedication to get this far, you already clearly
know what it is. It is: Be willing to put time into your
book. Much as it would be nice, it’s highly unlikely any
publisher is going to come tapping on your door asking you if
you have a book. Even if they did, would you be ready to express
your concept live and also on paper? Chances are no, so find
your weaknesses and shore them up! Right away! Your job as the
author of the book and promoter of the ideas in it is to promote.
This requires time.
The Fourth Step and the Fifth Step are close
companions. The Fourth Step is to Have Realistic Expectations
and the fifth is to Understand the Process of Publishing.
These are both critical and easily handled. By “realistic expectations”
we mean that you will be wise enough to know that there are
probably some things you don’t know about how this Neanderthal
industry functions, and how to work the system. Any literary
agent will be glad to enlighten you live, but in this article,
let me share a few tips: Believing you will be on Oprah after
your book comes out is wonderful. It reflects the Power of Positive
Thinking, and I commend you. I even hope you do get on Oprah
and the NYT best-seller list. Even more, I hope that if you
do, I am your agent when it happens. But it is not common for
every one of the 65,000 books we publish in this business every
year to show up on her show. (It just seems like it!)
In short, don’t mention you will be on Oprah when you are
writing your book’s marketing plan, unless you can guarantee
it. And by having realistic expectations, you will also know
that it is you who must write AND implement that marketing plan
on behalf of your published book because you have been forewarned
that publishers only print and distribute books and do not market
them except on the rarest of occasions. Those were the good
old days. They are gone.
These are but two examples of having realistic expectations.
But both of them can be critical to your success. All five of
these steps show you how to work the system to your advantage.
In our seminars on proposal writing, I always elaborate on these
points so that authors understand two things: What they are
up against and How to beat the odds to get published well.
Once you have completed these steps, your next task is to
find a highly qualified literary agent who has sold and is currently
selling books like yours. Make sure you like and trust this
person immensely, because you are giving your baby to them!
The agent can illuminate for you all the other details of publishing
and can show you how to work them to your greatest advantage.
Publishing is an industry unlike no other. Many of the inner
workings are the same today as they were in Ben Franklin’s day.
Others have caught up to the rest of the world. The Internet
and conglomeratization have created a new set of rules for authors
to play by, and made the stakes much higher. There’s enormous
room to profit in this industry, as witnessed by some of our
own NSA members’ successes. Learn to look for the opportunities
and read the writing boldly scrawled across the walls of America
and you will discover the secrets of highly successful authorship.
Keller Media, Inc.
Literary Agency & Speakers Bureau
23852 West Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 701
Malibu, CA 90265 USA