How to Get Published

Many people wonder what it takes to get published. Is it harder to get a business book published today—than say, ten or twenty years ago? That’s a tough question. On one hand, a business author needs a bigger platform than ever to make a book successful.

Platform is a word used ad nauseum in the business book industry to denote an author’s ability to make a book a hit.  Someone who gives zillions of speeches and has email lists of millions of clents has a great platform to sell his or her book. So do the Malcolm Gladwells (The Tipping Point, Blink) and the Michael Lewis’ (Liars Poker, Moneyball) of the world. Editors would gladly offer millions for the next book by one of these authors, even without a proposal. 

But I think publishers are getting too caught up on the platform and not enough on the quality of the idea. It’s a bit like the movie industry where sequels run rampant because the studios don’t want to take risks so they take the path of least resistance and go with proven brands (Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark—even with a near 66-year-old Harrison Ford, see indianajones.com).

Those of us fortunate enough to be in the publishing field, work—and live—in an industry that surrounds us with new and compelling concepts.  It is not an overstatement to say that we are in the idea business, the extent of which continues to surprise me to this day.  

The quality of an idea can, and often does, rule the day. In other words, you don’t need to be Jim Cramer and have a stock-picking TV program to write a credible book on investing. And you don’t need to be Jack Welch—the former near-legendary CEO of GE— to write a management book. But you do need the proper credentials, and you do need a fresh, new idea. How can you tell if your idea is fresh enough?

You have to do the legwork. 

Spend time studying the business books in the biggest bookstore in your neighborhood. Go on-line, to places like Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Type in key words that describe your book idea, and see what comes up. If there are many similar books to yours already published, or soon-to-be- published, do not depair. That could be a good thing. There are some topics that are very popular and can support many books on the same topic (as long as you take a new and unique angle on the subject).

On the other hand, If you find nothing at all that resembles your topic, that could be good or bad. Perhaps you came up with something no one has ever thought to write about, or, more likely, your topic might be too much of a niche —or a niche of a niche—to be viable. Talking to a seasoned  business book editor can help you figure out which is most likely. 

Lastly, and perhaps more important, write about something that inspires you. If you write about a topic that you are passionate about, you are sure to produce a better book. I am passionate about Peter Drucker. That’s because I know he came up with most of the best business ideas of the last century. Almost all of the best business books of the last 25 years owe their provenance to Peter Drucker in one way or another, whether the authors realize it or not. 

if you follow your passion you won’t lose your way. And working side-by-side with the publisher to actively sell and promote the  book is key. Like my boss at Portfolio (Adrian Zackheim) likes to say, no author should do anything so foolish as leave the entire marketing campaign to their publisher. Best selling authors work closely with their publishers to promote their book. They give speeches on the book,  making purchase of it mandatory for all audience attendees, tell all their clients about the book, develop websites like this one (Portfolio author Seth Godin is king of the book-selling-bloggers, see sethgodin.com). Some even hire their own outside publicist to hype the heck out of the thing. All of these activities helps garner the book the attention it deserves. Remember, there are almost 300,000 books published each year in this country, and it takes quite a bit for a book to break out (see my blog “Business Books by the Numbers,” Part I and Part II below for more on this).          

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