Negotiating a book deal seems like the easiest step at the end of a hard road. You’ve written something, proposed the idea and an offer has been made. You can hardly believe its happened. A complete stranger wants to pay you for your book. Wow!

A great feeling though it is, a book deal, like any deal, requires you to become commercial in your thinking. Many authors, especially in the U.S. more often than not engage an agent to do this thinking for them. The agent does the commercial stuff for them and pockets some margin from the author’s earnings. This is kind of convenient – reaching the Publisher in the first place may have been facilitated by the agent – and the agent may have offered the author feedback and support key to the book’s eventual purchase. In large markets, like the U.S. Publishers may be too busy to handle proposals any other way, simply because of their volume.

However, the world is changing, and we can’t assume that the agency model will continue indefinitely. So, let’s consider what to do if you don’t use an agent. What differing opportunities are available from self-negotiated deals as compared to agent-negotiated deals?

An agent’s job, in a commercial sense, is to commodify your platform by auctioning your work to the highest bidding Publisher – and moving around Publishers (if necessary) to secure improved advances for future works. They are there, in the crudest commercial sense, to “show you the money” for each book you produce.

Partnering with a Publisher for the medium or long term is a different approach which creates mutual loyalty and allows strategic planning to prosper your career. This choice could be described as “show me the money tree”. Agents are capable of this as well, but good Publishers are paid to imagine your future books lining up behind the one they’ve offered to buy. Essentially, they don’t want to buy the golden egg that’s up for auction – they want to buy the goose who lays them – in the nicest sense of that fowl word!

So, agents are useful, and well worth talking to and dealing with. But I’d like to suggest that a creative partnership with one very good Publisher creates loyalty that can go a long way. When the sales team goes out to sell your book, are they selling out of the Managing Director’s brief to recoup the big advance – or are they selling the books of someone they know and respect?

Photo by Sumeetkanand.


You may think you have little chance of getting published. After all, the statistic on unsolicited manuscripts in Australia, a country of 20 million people (not counting boat people-who in my books are most welcome) is 1 in 5,000. In the USA, that would expand to 1 in 50,000. So, the question becomes, are you capable of becoming noticed in a crowd of unsolicited information?

Here are a three tips to getting noticed:

1. Do your category homework

Books are like cars. Are you a people mover (popular fiction), family wagon (childrens books) or painted bus (popular self help)?
Without category recognition, you’re goneski. Get into a mould and do your creative work within those parameters.

2. Be cool

When you query, propose or offer a manuscript, be super-easy to deal with. The person judging your chances is likely to be a very busy woman who had to crash through a glass cieling just for the opportunity to deal with your dream. Be respectful, expect nothing and pray. If in doubt, use a phone call no more often than fortnightly, 60 seconds a piece. Be you, be brief, be teachable.

3. Work your platform

Who will buy the first 3000 copies? If you can’t answer that question with confidence you are not ready to be published. You need to reach your audience with your value proposition by your own industry and persistence before you get published. Failing that, you are relying on talent and luck, which although well documented as a recipe for success, has a lower statistic on breakthrough deals.

Photo by gruntzooki

What’s your book idea? Comment here and I’ll reply.

3895914578_d95e5db3391. Write first, ask questions later

This is a key to remaining in obscurity. Follow your impulse, write your book and not only when you are drained of all motivation, seek feedback. When you seek feedback, start with learned friends. Avoid anyone remotely connected with the publishing industry. Ideally, find a bored English teacher who will judge your work alongside adolescents and curriculum writers. This will really ensure that your chance of connecting with a commercial book category is seriously diminished.

2. Send, send, send

Send your manuscript to as many publishers as you can find on the internet. Write one letter of introduction, and copy it to every recipient. Be careful to avoid any specific iterations of your project that take account of having studied a publisher’s business. Studiously avoid any kind of commercial proposal document unfolding the metrics of audience, previous success stories, marketing ideas and your availability to publicise the book. Send a stamped self addressed envelope to make it easy for the publisher to reject you without reading the manuscript.

3. Maintain radio silence

Never ever follow a publisher up with a direct phone call. Such an invasion of privacy could move your ideas into some kind of heightened relevance. Keep quiet. Believe that, if its meant to be, it will simply drop into your lap. Forget about any advice like “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” or the parable of the persistent widow. Just wait patiently. If this doesn’t work blog about unresponsive publishers.

4. Stick to your guns

If you receive feedback from someone in the publishing industry before you submit your manuscript, make sure you remain true to your original vision. Don’t even think about rewriting. Back into a corner and reiterate the feedback from your friend who is an English teacher. Stay focussed on your talent. Your ideas. Don’t compromise. Don’t listen.

5. Pitch hard

If you get a pitch meeting with the publisher, go hard. Lean into their personal space. Go for a knee-grab to reinforce your point. If you can, move around the desk to where they are sitting and really get in their face. Give them condescending looks when they sound unconvinced. Remember, if you don’t labor your points, how will the dummies ever get it?

photo by Lao P