How to land the perfect book deal

“Writers are told the main road to a book deal starts with getting a literary agent. With more and more publishers accepting non-agented submissions, landing an agent may no longer be a necessity. Two years ago, I secured a book deal for a travel memoir without an agent. However, my future as a published author took an unexpected turn when the deal fell apart. It turned out the publisher didn’t have a stable business model. When I started to see the red flags, I decided to walk away. Considering the number of start-up publishers out there, this is bound to happen. The following steps can help ensure your book deal is a success from query to first-run printing.

Small publishers vs. large houses

In recent years, large publishing houses have been signing fewer books from first-time authors. And sometimes, authors whose titles didn’t meet sales goals were dumped by their agents.

The financial end of publishing impacts a company’s entire business model, which means small presses aren’t in a position to offer top-dollar advances like The Big Five traditional houses. With smaller budgets also comes an inability to gamble on a book based on a proposal that might never make it to the market. Dennis Johnson, founder of Brooklyn-based independent publisher Melville House says, ‘We can’t work in hypotheticals, so I only want to see finished work.’

Howard Shapiro, director at Pittsburgh-based publisher Animal Media Group that opened its doors in 2012, notes another difference: ‘With a smaller catalog, we’re able to offer each author personal attention and don’t treat them like a number. We feel this keeps them engaged throughout the publishing process, which helps when the book hits the market.’

Identifying the right publisher

An essential part of identifying the right home for your book, and a good place to start, is to research publishers to create a targeted list and avoid presses that won’t be around long enough to produce your book.

Visit each publisher’s website, and while you’re reviewing their titles, keep an eye out for red flags: an outdated or hard-to-navigate site, unclear submission guidelines, a suspect (or missing) mission statement and previous books with a lack of media presence. Click around to see if the publisher is posting informed content through social media. You can’t judge a publisher by an online presence alone, but it will give you an idea as to whether the company is worth querying.

‘Writers need to do their homework,’ says Johnson, who advises exploring a publisher’s catalog as a crucial first step. ‘This is the most important aspect of the querying process. Read what publishers have published and know what they do before you pitch them.'”

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