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 parapublishing.com. 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 www.larsen-pomada.com.

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 www.sfwriters.org 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 www.wheregirlscomefirst.com. (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