San Francisco Chronicle, December 2005

MIND YOUR BUSINESS / Getting your book out takes more than just finding a publisher

San Francisco Chronicle, December 28, 2005

by Ilana DeBare

Q: I am nearly done writing a self-help book about personal health, and I would like to get it published and sold. What is the best way to proceed from here? Should I self-publish and distribute on the Internet or try to find an agent or publishing house?

— Aspiring Author

A: The Internet has made self-publishing easier than ever, but finding an established publisher remains the gold standard for most writers. Publishers take care of nitty-gritty details like proofreading, layout, mailing out review copies and distribution. That leaves you time to focus on writing and marketing your book — presumably the things you know best.

Some people choose to self-publish because they want personal control over all the little details. But when I wrote a book several years ago, I was thrilled not to have to reinvent the wheel and become an instant expert on typefaces, jacket design and where to buy mailing lists of book reviewers.

Finding a publisher is easier said than done. Most large publishers require you to approach them through a literary agent. And these days, publishers and agents look for more than a well-written manuscript. They want a clear marketing strategy.

In your case, are you a nationally known medical expert? Do you have a weekly newspaper column or radio show about health? Are you tied into a network of fitness clubs that could sponsor book signings for you throughout the country? Are you the organizer of a statewide group of cancer survivors?

“The first question an agent asks is, ‘What is the author’s platform? Who already knows who the author is?’ ” said Ted Weinstein, a San Francisco literary agent. “It’s part expertise and part public persona.”

If you don’t have that platform, you may have no choice but to self-publish. Or if you envision a limited market for your book — say, you just want books to sell to clients of your yoga practice — then self-publishing is also your best bet.

To learn about self-publishing, read “The Self-Publishing Manual” by Dan Poynter, or check out his Web site at If you choose to try the agent/publisher route, read “Literary Agents” by San Francisco agent Michael Larsen, or “Jeff Herman‘s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 2006.” There is also a lot of valuable information on Larsen’s Web site

Whichever path you take, be prepared to do most of the marketing and publicity yourself. The biggest shock for me in the book-publishing process was realizing that the battle wasn’t over once I got a publisher. There was a second, tougher battle to get bookstores, reviewers and readers to know that my book even existed. For a good overview of book promotion, read “Publicize Your Book” by Jacqueline Deval.

Want a great source for networking and information about the entire publishing process? Check out the third annual San Francisco Writers Conference on Feb. 17-19. See for information.

And for those who are curious about my book, it’s called “Where Girls Come First: The Rise, Fall and Surprising Revival of Girls’ Schools.” You can read an excerpt from it at (Yep, that’s shameless self-promotion — but another lesson I learned from the publishing process is that there’s no shame in a bit of shameless self-promotion.)

© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle