Do You Have What Publishers Really Want?

If you are a writer who dreams of landing a traditional publishing deal, you might have a nagging question in your mind. It’s probably phrased something like, “Is my book idea what a publisher wants?”

In fact, a better question to ask yourself is, “Do I have what publishers really want?” What publishers seek in an aspiring author doesn’t only involve your book idea or even your writing. These are a big part of what they consider in their decision making process, but they are not the only things.


New Headshot Nina Amirnina-authortrainingmanual500This guest post is by Nina Amir, author of How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time and The Author Training Manual: Develop Marketable Ideas, Craft Books That Sell, Become the Author Publishers Want, and Self-Publish Effectively. She transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs. Known as the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. A sought-after author, book, blog-to-book, and results coach, some of Nina’s clients have sold 300,000+ copies of their books, landed deals with major publishing houses and created thriving businesses around their books. She writes four blogs, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge. To learn more about Nina, visit Get a FREE 5-Day Become a Published Author Series from her when you click here.


Understanding the Makings of a Traditional Publishing Deal

To understand what a publisher seeks in an author, you first must understand the traditional publishing deal. At a basic level, it’s a business deal. You might even call it a financial deal.

Look at it this way: You have a product you want to bring to market—a book. You want someone to finance the creation and production of that product. So, you go looking for an appropriate venture capital partner—a publisher.

The publisher, on the other hand, seeks someone with a viable, meaning marketable, product who will be a good business partner. A good business partner, in this case, is someone who can complete the creative end of the production process—write the book—but who can also help the product succeed—sell the book.

To land the deal, you give the potential venture capital partner a business plan, in this case a book proposal, for your product. He evaluates it. If he finds it to be a sound investment, he offers you a contract. If you like the terms of the contract, you sign it, and the two of you go into business together.

The 7 Things a Publisher Considers

Given this rather simplistic view of how you become a traditionally published author, let’s take a look at what a publisher, or rather the acquisitions editor and the whole pub board at a publishing house, consider when they examine your business plan.

  1. Your idea. You must have a good idea or story, which means one that is unique and necessary in its category.
  2. Your book’s market. The market analysis must indicate the potential for great reader interest, therefore, large sales.
  3. Your book’s competition: Similar books in your category must show a proven track record of high sales.
  4. Your credentials and author platform: Your bio and your pre-promotion of yourself and the book must show that you have the ability to help sell the book once it is released. In other words, you just have a proven ability to write or expert status plus a large, built-in readership, known as platform, for your book in its target market.
  5. Your promotion plan: You must show a concrete plan to use your author platform to sell books in a variety of ways upon release, not only for a month but for 3-12 months and beyond. The more creative and extensive the plan, the better.
  6. Your plans to write more books: Publishers seek multiple-book authors because the more books authors write, the more books they sell. Additionally, they prefer to invest in authors who will continue to produce products for the company or who have ideas for how to brand themselves by writing more books.
  7. The manuscript or sample chapters: Your writing must prove you can produce a quality product with the potential to sell.

Publishers Want Business Partners

If you look over this list, you’ll notice that of the seven items evaluated by the publisher, only four (1, 2, 3, and 7) pertain directly to your book. The other three (4, 5, and 6) pertain to you and your ability to be a good business partner. In fact, if you write a great business plan that proves you have a marketable idea and that you can produce a great product, which involves numbers 1, 2, 3, and 7, you also demonstrate your business acumen. (All seven of these items actually should be included in a book proposal.)

And that’s what publishers really want. They want to find aspiring authors who are good business people. That means that if you want to land a traditional publishing deal, you must prove to the publisher you, and your book idea, are a good financial risk. Even if you write fiction, you increase your likelihood of becoming traditionally published if you prove your business savvy.

As you write your business plan for your book—your book proposal, keep that in mind. Produce a document that convinces a venture capital partner you are a worthy business partner with a viable product, as well as a creative idea, and you might find yourself with a contract faster than you thought possible.

And that nagging question? It will be disappear because by producing a business plan for your book you’ll have done the work to prove your idea is, indeed, one publishers want.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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12 thoughts on “Do You Have What Publishers Really Want?

  1. mhender668

    I disagree with the premise of this article. It’s a lot of baloney.

    Of course, an author must assist in the marketing of his book. He should have a website and blog, and have a social media presence, and all that. He should have book signings. But a writer is a writer. He writes books. That requires a certain set of learned skills.

    A publisher is a publisher. That requires a different set of skills. They hire editors, cover designers, and marketeers. Their job, and their only job, and the only thing that makes them of any use to anyone, is to sell books. That’s it. That’s all they do. But now you want the author to do that. So, what good is a publisher?

    Authors and publishers are two different things. To suggest that the author also be the marketeer is absurd, unless the author is self-published.

    Why don’t you also suggest that the author design his cover? Maybe he should write the cover blurb. Maybe he ought to determine the type of paper to be used, or the font of the book.

    I won’t submit to a publisher or agent who asks me to provide a marketing plan. I should ask them for a marketing plan.

    Here’s an idea: I write the book, the publisher publishes (i.e., markets) the book. I’ll assist in any way I can, in proportion to the marketing budget from the publisher. But if I have to do everything, why do I need a publisher?

    1. Brian A. Klems

      When you’re new to posting to the site, your posts go into a folder and need to be approved before they get posted–and I’m the one that has to approve them to confirm the posts aren’t spam (we get a TON of spam). Once I approve the first couple, you won’t have problems anymore and the posts will show up automatically and immediately. Often, if the first posts by a new user are on Friday afternoon or over the weekend or on a day I’m not in the office, I won’t be able to go through the folder until I return.

      Anyway, you are now approved and can post away! Welcome to the Writer’s Digest community.
      Online Editor

  2. Roulf

    I agree with Cirota. What do traditional publishers bring to the table to justify taking the majority (in some cases 90%) of the profits? If we have to compromise, edit, rewrite, correct manuscripts, reread, then market, solicit reviews, do book-signings, seek and stock independent stores, social network and twitter to sell copies, do we really need traditional publishers any more? And often, the compromises are to diminish publishing risks which the author had hoped would make the work distinctive.

    I have placed my first book with Amazon Kindle and Create Space. Audiences can have either electronic or print form (print on demand), and I net closer to one-third of the profits. Since I’m doing most all the work anyway, and I didn’t mind designing my own cover, I figure the higer profits on my sales offsets the fewer books I might sell (granting I don’t get physical shelf space in a store.) Writers want to write, not market. The danger inherent to authors becoming more business savy and marketing wise is that savy and learning might show them they no longer need the traditional publisher. I know it’s a business deal, but the times, they are a changin’. My potential partner (trad. publishing) will have to meet me half way; they need to sell me that I need them as much as I have to impress them that they need me.

    1. iucounu

      “What do traditional publishers bring to the table to justify taking the majority (in some cases 90%) of the profits? If we have to compromise, edit, rewrite, correct manuscripts, reread, then market, solicit reviews, do book-signings, seek and stock independent stores, social network and twitter to sell copies”

      Let me take those in turn.

      1. “Compromise.” I’ve never asked an author to ‘compromise’ their work. I have often suggested changes, talked them through with the author, gone back and forth, and come up with something we BOTH agree is better. That’s the whole point of editing. To make the book more perfect than you could alone.

      2. “Edit.” No, your editors will edit your book. By which I mean, one editor will write you a long editorial letter suggesting any changes, and another editor will scrutinise your work at sentence level and send you a marked-up manuscript, and you can haggle over anything you disagree with until there’s something everyone is happy with. You may be under the misapprehension that trade editors don’t edit any more. Well, it’s nonsense.

      3. “Rewrite.” This has always been part of the author’s job. Would you want someone else to rewrite your work?

      4. “Correct manuscripts.” No, we copyedit and proofread your work for free, thus saving you thousands of dollars.

      5. “Market, solicit reviews.” This is what our marketing and publicity departments are for.

      6. “Do book signings.” For what they’re worth (and they aren’t worth a whole lot) your publicity dept will help you organise them.

      7. “Seek and stock independent stores.” This is what the sales department of a trade publishing house is for, for heaven’s sake. What kind of a publisher are you talking about here, some kind of micro-hobby press run by a couple of numpties?

      8. “Social network and twitter.” You’re free to do some of this yourself, of course, but you will note massive social network activity from all trade publishers; as it’s publication day in the UK today, why not check out all the many books being pushed on Twitter?

      I honestly don’t know where people get the impression that we don’t do anything.

  3. Belle Rain

    I completely agree with sassy, Patsy, and Cirota. I asked myself if I really wanted to read this, and when I finished, the answer was no – I shouldn’t have. This type of information I can do without. I disagree with the whole notion that I must become a self-publishing guru for – ironically – a publisher. I’m not buying it the same way I’m not buying into a whole lot of internet ‘buzz’ and ‘trend’. I write. I will seek out a publisher who appreciates that fact, and hope they know their job well enough to let them handle the business end while I take care of the writing. I’m not against Indie, either, but I’d hate to be one of the scorned members of that tribe, uploading an unripe and immature work long before its time. Are publishers shooting themselves in the foot on purpose? Is Indie so popular because articles like this are telling the truth? What a scary, unpredictable time to become a published author.

    1. Patsy

      I want to chime in again because after I left my first reply I realized that I didn’t address the question of how publishers are still able to make the money they want to make. If writers just write and publishers aren’t sure before they sign them (without 4, 5 and 6 in this article) then I think the answer is that the publishers should be looking at more manuscripts instead. I bet loads of good books get shot down before they even get read.

  4. Cirota

    Here’s my question – if the writers need to do all the marketing, what do we need publishers for? Isn’t that what the publisher should be doing…you know promoting the book and so on?
    I find it really discouraging that publishers demand writers do so much “business” rather than just write. If writers were good at business and marketing, we’d be doing that. Lord knows there’s a lot more money in business than in writing.
    Now days we can self-publish, see more of the profits and have more control over our content. So again, if I have to write a book, develop a business plan, self-promote, etc. anyway, why would I go with a publisher when I don’t need to?

    1. iucounu

      No, you *don’t* need to do all the marketing.

      And you *don’t* need to develop a business plan.

      And you *don’t* need to self-promote relentlessly.

      These are all myths, I’m afraid.

      As a trade publisher, I’m really happy if authors want to go out on the road and online selling their books. That’s good of them and will probably help. But I also have a marketing department, and a sales department, and a publicity department, and if the author wants to go full-on Thomas Pynchon, that’s OK.

      The author of this blog is writing mainly from the perspective of non-fiction, I think. And in non-fiction, things like your credentials and your platform are more important. People would prefer to buy a book on Physics by Professor Hawking than by Joe Bloggs.

      In fiction? Well, I agree with this: “Produce a document that convinces a venture capital partner you are a worthy business partner with a viable product, as well as a creative idea.” But you know what the most convincing document is? A brilliant MS.

  5. Patsy

    This article saddens me. The trouble is that art has become business like everything else these days and I feel so discouraged. No wonder so many people are self-publishing and that there are so many books put out by publishers that are of little substance. Is this what people want to read? I think people are tired of being tricked into buying books either because they have trendy covers and paid for endorsements or are written by authors that have histories of writing best sellers. There are too many “well-marketed” formulaic clones of each other on the “book shelves” these days. I’ve managed to find a few excellent books the last few times I looked but I’ve also bought some real clunkers that looked good on the outside. I find myself often going to the library and reading classics or books that are proven to be well-written good stories. And often by authors that wrote only a few books in their careers.

  6. sassy

    Sorry, but I don’t agree with this article. Writers are best represented by a manager or agent who will complement the writer’s skills to a successful result. Few writers are business oriented. Writing a business plan is not easy and not easily learned. It is one thing to be told what to do. It is another to be able to do it.


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