I meet many smart business people who have dreams of becoming the next Malcolm Gladwell or Steve Covey. Figures vary, but here’s a safe number: there are thousands of business books published each year, only a tiny percentage of which will sell more than a thousand copies. Behind these waves of published titles are oceans of proposals and ideas that their owners hope to convert to a book contract and five-star reviews.
Yes, as a former publisher and book editor, I’ve seen these books and proposals come and go. And I understand the desire to be heard. So, if you’re one of those who wants to get a business book published, here are 6 questions to ask yourself.
1.Does your book solve a business problem? Publishers sort business books into categories that roughly encompass different functions in a company: management, leadership, communications, marketing, sales, product development and design, operations, entrepreneurship, and innovation. If yours doesn’t fit into one of those categories, it’ll be harder for you to sell your book and find an audience. As Todd Sattersten and Jack Covert of 800CEORead, noted in their book The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, business books are created and sold to solve problems.
2. Do you have the time and commitment to write a manuscript? This may be obvious, but it is the question you must answer. Whether you plan to write the book alone, or have the resources to hire a ghost writer or editor, the journey to writing a proposal, getting a publisher, and translating your vision into 50, 60, or 70 thousand words will be harder and more time consuming than you expect. You need more than nights and weekends, particularly if you want to have a family, friends, or a significant other when the process is completed. You will be writing to meet the standards and expectations of your editor and publisher, who must approve of the manuscript for it be ultimately published.
3. What books have sold in your subject area, and how well did they do? A few hours of research will uncover a lot of critical facts. Is your expert area over-published, ill-timed, or out of favor? For example, you could have a breakout concept on buying, fixing, and “flipping” houses for profit, but no publisher will touch the proposal until the real estate economy improves. You may have a great treatment for a book on social media marketing; however, major publishers have flooded the market with dozens of these books. Study Amazon, read publishers’ websites, go to your local bookstores, talk to bookstore managers: learn your shelf.
4. Do you have the resources and time to build up a following for your book? Every publisher will want to see your book’s platform–the combination of media and marketing channels over which you have provable access. These are channels that will translate into awareness of the book among key communities, interest in the book, and conversion into purchases. What is your social media profile? Can you deliver large numbers of Twitter follower or readers of your blog? Will your company support your book with client speeches, seminars, and purchases? Do you have a speaking platform? Do you have the credentials and experience to gain the attention of experienced business journalists?
5. What is your “elevator pitch” for this book? One publisher I admire related to me how the nature of online reading and browsing has transformed book marketing from the classic pitching of features and benefits to a memorable killer sentence or two. As you present your proposal to agents, publishers, retailers, consumers, and the media, your title, subtitle, and short pitch need to stick. For more on pitching and positioning books, and a well-packed trunk of everything you need to understand the book industry, I always recommend The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry.
6. Can you devote time (and money) to hawking the book once it’s published? Books face intense competition (attention is a precious resource) for the dollars of your potential readers. You need to sell your book based on a complete business plan: this will include social media, online marketing, speaking, client appearances, press releases, signings, networking, and much more. You should have a budget, and your website should be launched months ahead of publication. Be ready to work with your publisher to drive interest and demand for at least six months after publication. I will discuss successful book marketing in greater depth in future posts.
Have you tried to sell a book of yours to a major publisher? What tips would you add to this list?
Herb Schaffner is president of Schaffner Media Partners, a consultancy specializing in business, finance, and public affairs publishing expertise, and is found on Facebook. He has been a publisher and editor-in-chief at McGraw-Hill, and a senior editor at HarperCollins. Follow him on Twitter (when it’s not distracting).