The #1 thing publishers care about (or how to get your book published)

At the 2011 SXSW Interactive conference I attended a great panel discussion titled “Care and Feeding of Blogs and Book Contracts” moderated by Pam Slim of Escape From Cubicle Nation. My favorite part of the discussion was the insight offered by Mary E Glenn of McGraw-Hill and Matthew Holt of John Wiley & Sons. Statements like “You don’t need agents anymore” and “Hiring a PR firm is bulls*** and a waste of money” stood out the most to me. However, the hardest part was listening to the questions from the audience. Here’s a sampling:

  • How big of a readership does your blog need to have to get a book contract?
  • Does it matter if you can get published in major trade magazines?
  • What if you have a big email list but you don’t blog?

If you are asking these questions, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. This is not what a publisher actually cares about.

Back in December I spoke at the BizBookLab hosted by Todd Sattersten. There were a lot of publishing folk present and lots of conversations erupted around this idea of what it takes to get a book contract.

The same questions kept coming up about blogging, speaking, Twitter following, etc. And then finally somebody got it right.

It all boils down to this one fundamental question that all publishers care about:

“Can you sell books?”

What if you snapped your fingers and skipped all of the writing, editing, designing and printing of your book? Instead, this afternoon somebody dropped a pallet of 2000 of your books in your driveway. Could you sell them in the next 30 days? If the answer is “Yes” you can probably get a book contract. If the answer is “No”, you’re going to have a hard time persuading a publisher to invest in you.

Last year over a million books were published. Often when an author sits down with a publisher, the first question to come up is not “What is your book about?”. Instead, it’s “What is your platform?”. In other words, “We want to make sure you can actually sell your own book before we invest in publishing it.”

It’s about the tribe, not the tools. Blogging, social media, public speaking, etc are all tools for building and engaging your tribe. If you have a large tribe of passionate followers that are actively engaged and willing to spend money on your book, it doesn’t matter what tools you are using, you’ll be able to get a publishing deal.

Publishers are in the business of selling books. If you can sell books, they’ll be interested in what you have to say.

Photo by The Digital’s

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