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
A senior editor from Wiley found my website UnusualWaysToMakeMoney.com,
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
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
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
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
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.