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Germ Warfare: The Secret of the Publishing Industry

by Wendy Keller

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 well.

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.

Wendy Keller
Keller Media, Inc.
Literary Agency & Speakers Bureau
23852 West Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 701
Malibu, CA 90265 USA
310.857.6828 voice
310.857.6373 fax


Want to write a book? Go to Rita’s web site www.RitaEmmett.com and click on The Writer’s Room. Take a look at Rita's The Procrastinator's Guide To Authorship: Stop Putting Off Your Success. Find a free article about writing proposals in The Writer’s Room

Don’t procrastinate in going there now.

Rita Emmett, author of The Procrastinator’s Handbook and The Clutter-Busting Handbook, is a professional speaker who presents Keynotes and Seminars nationwide. She can be reached at 847-699-9950 and email is Rita@RitaEmmett.com

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