Book Proposals

Are You Writing Out of Order?

Generally speaking, if you want to write a book, sitting down at a computer, opening a Word document and starting to write it is not the first thing you should do.

Certainly, every writer should write and keep writing. In the same vein, every runner should run, every person interested in being a chef should prepare food and so on.

But writing a book is not the first thing you should do if you desire to eventually be published. In fact, in many cases, writing the book is much further down the list than you might think.

I don’t want to recommend it is the “last thing you should do” because that phrase has been hijacked by discouragers in every walk of life and has a more negative meaning than I need to make my point.

But for sure writing a book isn’t the first thing you should do.

Any author blindsided by the publishing industry focus on “platform” might have experienced the disappointment when they discover the seemingly never-ending list of  “one more thing” needed to be done before an agent or publisher agrees to look at their work. You wrote the book and now you discover you skipped a step or two.

Or three…or eight.

There is one primary reason why writing a book is not the first thing you should do.


Your competition is not skipping steps.

It’s the same reason that being good-looking is not a fast-track to being a great film actor or why a fast runner is not guaranteed to be a great professional athlete. The other person competing for the acting job has been studying acting for 10 years. Your competition for the baseball team has been training to hit a curve ball since he was ten years old.

Competition is the iron that sharpens iron but sometimes that sharp iron cuts deep.

Every literary agent is different, but I personally receive over 1,000 proposals each year from authors inquiring about representation. I look at each one in varying detail, but the most common theme when I decline to offer agency representation boils down to a fundamental issue that the book is out of order. The author should have done some or all of the following, and they didn’t:

  • Consider whether they want to have a book published or be a professional writer (those are different paths)
  • Study writing
  • Study the book publishing industry
  • Be a recognized, credible authority on the subject of your book
  • Present your book theme in public (non-fiction)
  • Get a website
  • Work in social media
  • Be aware what the market is saying about the type of book you are writing

I could probably come up with several more given enough time.

Your strongest competitors have most often put the book in ninth place after the eight things listed above. In fact, they might have added a half-dozen more steps along the way.

The disappointment that comes with failure to be published is often a result of skipping steps. The book was first when it should have been third, ninth or twelfth.

But working through the steps still makes no guarantee you’ll make the cut, primarily because of competition. But skipping steps will almost guarantee you will be declined.

I have a writer-friend who spent three decades writing in the marketing/advertising world before writing a book.  There was no “luck” involved in his eventual success as an author. There were decades of iron sharpening iron, clients who pushed and pushed, decades of honing and crystallizing…and living.

Skipping steps on the way to getting a book published is never effective.

One of the “steps” along the way to a book deal might be to write something in a different medium. Some content from books should instead be articles. Some a series of blog posts. Some should be website content updated every day.

Then, once your message has been sharpened, maybe a book is next.  Maybe.

Books are the slowest, most deliberate and long-term communication medium. Urgent messages are communicated differently. If there is a tornado coming to your town, you don’t write a book about it. You sound the alarm and tell everyone to take cover. The book about the great tornado of 2015 comes two years later with stories of the aftermath.

If you have an urgent message of great importance for our society, a book releasing in two years is not the best vehicle for that message.

Books are a unique communication medium. Understanding where they rank on your to-do list is an important element of success. Your competition understands it. So should you.

So, what was my purpose with this post today?

To deepen your commitment and resolve.

Getting a book published and eventually moving into a career of professional writing is not for the faint of heart or the casual writer. Just like so many other endeavors, if it were easy, everyone could do it. But everyone cannot do it, because it is hard.

Are you serious about being an author or do you want to get a book published? Your answer to that question will reveal your next steps. I strongly recommend not skipping any of them.


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