After writing for magazines for several years, I knew I had more to say than could be said within an article’s limited word count. In fact, I knew I had enough to fill a book! And so I set out to make that dream happen.

I soon learned there was more than one way to go about it. In my case, it was fairly quick and easy to find a publisher, as several of my writing colleagues already had books published. A friend recommended me to her publisher and a couple of years later, a book was born. For other writers, however, there’s a little more work involved.

So You’ve Got an Idea

Writing a book, of course, begins with an idea, but how do you get your idea to stand out and attract a publisher’s attention in a world where, according to industry tracker R.R. Bowker, more than 300,000 books are published every year in the United States alone?

An agent can be invaluable for encouraging a publishing house to take on your project. Some publishers will not even consider an unsolicited book proposal and will require you to have an agent. Check publishers’ websites for authors’ guidelines, which will tell you whether those publishing houses accept unsolicited book proposals.

Tip: Want to increase your chances of being accepted by an agent or publisher? Get a referral from an author already with that agency or publishing house.

Whether you are trying to get the attention of an agent or a publisher, you will need to submit a well-polished book proposal. This means you must have a well-thought-out idea. Within the book proposal, you must be able to explain the following:

  • why your idea is unlike any other out there;
  • who your competitors are, and how your idea will stand out from theirs;
  • who you are, and why you and your idea will matter to others; and
  • who your audience is, and how you will help market this creation to that audience.

A chapter outline and a few sample chapters should also be included.

Once your book proposal is written, you’re ready to begin sending it out to publishers and agents. Make sure each recipient accepts nonfiction proposals within your topic area. Don’t waste time sending your proposal to a company or agency specializing in history books or romance novels.

While a referral from another author can help move your proposal to the top of the “slush pile,” not all aspiring authors have this luxury. An effective shortcut can be the query letter, a one-page introduction to you and your idea. Brief and directly to the point, a query letter must be able to grab the attention of agents and publishers who receive hundreds of queries and book proposals a year. If your query succeeds, you’ll be asked to send along your proposal.

How Is Your Platform Constructed?

It can be extremely difficult to find someone to represent you when you’re not already a big name, because publishers are most interested in writers who already have a built-in audience.

“In the current economy, agents and publishers want someone with a large platform,” says Bonne Marano-Marcus, author of The Complete Bride’s Workout Guide (New Page Books 2004) and coauthor of The Road Warrior Workout (Hatherleigh Press 1999). “As a fitness professional it’s hard competing with Jillian Michaels, Bob Harper and other celebrity trainers.”

What’s a platform? Joanna Penn, creator of The Creative Penn website (, explains: “The author platform is how you are currently reaching an audience of book-buying people, or how you plan to do so. It is your influence, your ability to sell to your market. It is your multifaceted book-marketing machine.”

In other words, if you’re a celebrity trainer on a popular television show, your platform is a given—a publisher knows you will reach millions of people. But what about the rest of us?

Amanda Vogel, MA, got her agent’s attention based on her platform as a fitness writer. In fact, her agent-to-be sought her out because her platform was already rock-solid. What is her platform built out of? It includes magazine writing for consumer and professional publications, public speaking (including being an IDEA presenter), her website (, blogs, social networking (including Facebook and Twitter™), ghostwriting a guidebook for a Hollywood personal trainer, and now her two books, Baby Boot Camp: The New Mom’s 9-Minute Fitness Solution (Sterling 2010), which she co-authored, and Transformative Yoga (New Harbinger 2009), for which she was the ghostwriter.

All these “bricks” in Vogel’s platform help her sell books. Remember, essentially your book is an extension of yourself. A publisher wants to know you are comfortable with and able to sell yourself.

If you’re thinking of shopping around a book idea but haven’t begun to build your platform yet, start now. Write articles for your local newspaper, speak to local organizations, get onto your local radio and television stations as a fitness expert, start a blog and network, network, network.

You might also want to consider the self-publishing option.

“I always encourage aspiring book authors to try traditional publishers if that’s their goal,” says Vogel. “But the reality is most traditional publishers look for platform. So if you don’t have any, you might find self-publishing a more effective way to bring your book idea to market.”

The upside of self-publishing is that it puts you in the driver’s seat regarding the vision of your book. You know the end product will be authentically you. The downside to self-publishing is that the financial and time burden of printing the book and getting it into the hands of booksellers falls mostly on you. If writing is not your strong point, you’ll probably also want to hire an editor with experience in book editing to make sure the book flows, is well-organized, isn’t redundant and has as few typos and grammatical errors as possible.

Some print-on-demand (another term for self-publishing) companies, such as Lulu, offer a variety of packages, based on your desire for a higher-quality product and need for the “extras,” like editing. Costs can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. While traditional publishers will expect you to help market your book (remember your platform?), they fund the book’s publication, and they already work with established companies to get your book onto booksellers’ shelves. If you self-publish, it will be your job to make these contacts, which may or may not result in success for you, especially with larger national booksellers.

It is important to note, however, that self-publishing a book is a part of building your platform and can sometimes lead to a traditional publishing house picking your book up or taking you on as an author for subsequent titles.

Tip: A less-expensive self-publishing option is the e-book. E-books are attractive to both sides, as they cut your self-publishing costs and add to your platform, while being a less-expensive option for those purchasing your work. You can also get an e-book out to the public in less time than it takes for a book to be published in the traditional manner.

While selling your book may or may not add a tremendous amount to your bottom line, it can lead to income in other ways, such as through speaking engagements. Being a published author adds to your credibility as a fitness professional, and organizations that are looking for speakers will often turn to authors first. This in turn contributes another brick to your platform.

Above all, however, there’s the intangible, priceless feeling of accomplishment when you’re holding the hard copy of your book in your hands. That feeling makes all the toiling and long nights worth it, regardless of whether your book ever makes a bestseller list.

SIDEBAR: Tips for Success

  • Do not think you need to write the entire manuscript when pitching nonfiction work; in fact, most agents and publishers prefer you don’t. Stick to the book proposal.
  • Follow up, but don’t pester. As Marano-Marcus was told by one agent, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”
  • Avoid the mistake of thinking you will be an overnight success, and that once the book is written, your work is done. Successful authors know the work has just begun at this point, as marketing will be key to your book getting into the hands of the people you want to reach.
  • Get to know the industry. You know how frustrating it is to try to discuss business with those who know nothing about the fitness industry but act like they do? The same will hold for a publisher or agent trying to work with you if you haven’t done your homework. Join local and online writers’ groups, read articles on book publishing, and get to know more experienced authors.
  • Remember: Most authors and writers experience more rejection than acceptance. Do not take it personally. It simply means you have probably not connected with the right agent or publisher—yet.

SIDEBAR: Helpful Resources for Aspiring Authors

  • How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen (Writers Digest Books 2011).
  • Nathan Bransford’s blog, See his posts on “How to Write a Query Letter,” “How to Find a Literary Agent” and “How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal.”

SIDEBAR: Websites to Help You Find an Agent or Publisher

Carrie Myers Smith

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