How I got published

(If you’re new to my blog, you might want to read my launch post: Gotta launch.)

handwritten poster collage of the magic secret

The road to a nonfiction book-in-print
This road to “published” began with my long-time interest in and study of self publishing. When I wrote my book, I had already been following Dan Poynter of ParaPublishing, one of the most respected leaders in the publishing industry, for over 25 years.

Presto! You’re an Author!
This story is about attracting a publisher — becoming “externally” published. Getting your book picked up by a publisher and brought to print in that system is indeed a special accomplishment for any writer today. I often hear it referred to as the ultimate calling card, and that’s probably true. It’s the achievement that has long been required in order to call yourself an “author.”  One accomplished friend of mine who was working on his own book said it this way “It’s a much bigger credential than my Ph.D. You can’t buy it, and you can’t earn it by going to school. It’s like being crowned.” I’d say it definitely opens doors.

You can’t get there from here
But — I wasn’t focused on attracting a publisher. Quite the opposite. Steeped in the culture of self publishing, or more accurately becoming your own publisher (there is a difference), I knew that giving my book over to a publisher meant giving up a lot. Money wasn’t going to happen, for starters. Having your book picked up and published is a good way to be sure you’ll never see any money for it. I wanted to make money writing.

On the other hand, self publishing today, done right, is a viable business model. New tools for publishing and distribution are bringing self publishing to a whole new level which I find exciting and dynamic. Nowadays, people who self-publish are also called “indie authors.”

I’m telling you about self publishing because it was my knowledge about the realities of that business model, and my determination to write a commercially successful book, that led directly to the happy day of “being published.” I got a phone call from my publisher the day before Thanksgiving, with the news that they wanted my book. It was a take-a-deep-breath kind of moment, and I won’t pretend it wasn’t exciting — it was one of the most exciting calls I’ve ever gotten. The uplifting feeling of acceptance is indescribable. I had written a book that a publisher wanted.

How did this happen?
Let’s step back to my process as I worked to create a book that would be well received and marketable.

Because I was planning to self publish, I had to know the marketing pieces of the puzzle. I had to know them backwards and forwards. There was not going to be a big entity with a powerhouse of publicity behind my book. It was just me.

I had studied self publishing through Dan Poynter, as I mentioned, for many years. I had internalized the critical concepts required for successful publishing. And I can break them down for you here, in a long-but-worth-it blog post.

Get something to drink, and let’s get started.

Are you planning to be published?
The magic secret: First off, you have to know your readership. Don’t take another step until you’ve answered these questions and snugged up to your reader like an old friend. The number one issue for marketing your book — and the number one question your future publisher will ask — is WHO wants to read it? I recommend you take these questions and turn them into your own personal worksheet. Or, you could create a journal where you work on answering these critical questions.

Who are you writing for? Where do they live? Age? Income level? Interests? Pursuits?

How do you know what they want? Are you sure? What are their big problems you’re going to solve?

You must keep writing about your readership until you feel you know them as well as you know yourself. Create an ultimate reader. She will want to read everything you publish. She will sing your praises to her friends and the word will spread. Your future publisher needs to see this in your book. You will also have to convince your agent or publisher of the interest your readers have in your topic, so get to work on that.

Target, target, target demographic
When you get around to your revisions, this is what you’ll be looking for. Every sentence should reach toward the heart of your reader and keep her close to the information you are providing. She should be feeling relief, and magnetism, and enlightenment from your words.

This is what I worked on day in, day out, as I wrote my book. The self published version of my book was “Open Here,” and I pointed it at the 40 something midwestern woman who was looking up from her Good Housekeeping magazine, staring at her kitchen curtains, and thinking, “there is more to my life and it’s time I reached for it.” My target demographic had kids who were about grown, or didn’t have kids and was looking at what she was doing with her life. The book was written to be open as to age, but was aimed at women who were craving their creative self.

The most enjoyable part of my success with the book came about four months after it was released as “Little Shifts” by Sourcebooks. I was approached via phone by a woman who had found my book in a Barnes and Noble in the midwest. She was very excited about it, and spoke warmly on her message. When we talked, she told me she wrote for Woman’s Day magazine and that her audience would love my book. She was including it in an article she produced along with two other books.

Get that target demographic? I was aiming for the midwestern woman looking up from her magazine, and a few months after publishing, bull’s eye: Woman’s Day. I had hit my target dead-on.

Can you see why it’s so important to have a target demographic? Your book may or may not be written about in a magazine with 18 million targeted subscribers, but you want to prepare as if it will be.

Keep in mind that I wrote the whole book with the target market and the marketing I would have to do MYSELF – always in the front of my mind. This focus clarifies everything.

This is the exercise which is the most direct route to being published.

Onward up the mountain
Now about the rest of the story: I worked very hard on the quality of my book.

Meditative revision
Before it went to the editor I paid (another mandatory step), I sat with every line of it. Sentence by sentence, I asked myself “Is this true? Why would my reader care about it? Can I eliminate it and not lose any meaning?” The other question for every sentence is “Does this sentence belong in this chapter? Is there anywhere else it would work better?”

These questions will clear your manuscript of the debris that will sink it.

Get your book out to at least five astute readers, and give them a list of questions to answer for you. Find someone (if you have a friend you can really lean on, that’s fantastic), who will scrutinize your book intelligently and thoroughly. Listen carefully to their feedback.

Book Length
The book is short, by design. I was thankful for that when I was doing the incredibly intense sentence-by-sentence review! I will make this recommendation to anyone producing books today: Shorten them. For longer material, try to make them into a series.

Crystal ball sees books in the future
Here’s my casual (but studied) prediction for the future of publishing. We are going to see a huge spike in books being read digitally, and that includes audio.

Millions of people now “read” books “on tape,” something they’re still saying even as audio books are also being delivered digitally and on CDs and DVDs. While this demographic tends to be less computer-happy overall, and much less likely to read books on an e-reader platform, they are going to convert very easily to other ways to download their much-beloved audio books.

Start your mental and emotional journey to align with this change which is already well under way.

  • News Flash: Digital publishing is a new art form.

    Prepare commandment One: You will make your books short and easily digitizable.

    Prepare commandment Two: You will make your books into audio.

    Prepare commandment Three: You will begin your blogging life.

    Be prepared to support your book with a decent blog where people can get to know you, trust you, and download text and audio pieces of your work. Offer an opt-in email list FROM THE START. (Hear the stamping of little fairy feet there?)

    Practice Now: Get Thee to Smashwords
    Do what I did: Put together a little collection of something, a short story, a white paper, a set of articles or blog posts. Name it and head over to, where you can upload it into a digitized book that will be distributed over multiple e-reader platforms.

    Bye-Bye Formatting
    Experience the absence of formatting. With the exception of poetry, this is a fantastic way to realize the importance of your content. Words, people. Words, not fonts, not spacing, not the cute little sideboxes and indented blocks of text.

    Imagine. Writers focusing fully on the words they craft together. Murmurs of a renaissance.

    Hello Formatting
    After you’ve begun to feel the importance of just getting the words into a deliverable form, you can start thinking about the future of formatting. The iPad, for example, will likely be a beautiful platform for ebooks with imagery and formatting. But your content, your pure flow, will still need to work across the many other platforms — including audio — and that means suspending your ideas about the “look” of your book.

    Does audio have formatting?
    No. But yes, it has its own sculptural tapestry which professionals bring to the best of audio production. Don’t worry about that right now. If you have a decent voice, record your book. If you can’t do it yourself, see if you can collaborate with someone. If you can afford it, hire a professional.

    Wait a minute, is this self publishing or what?
    I’ve taken you on a little journey of considerations for your book. The more you understand about what you have to do to be a modern publishing professional, or “indie author,” the closer you get to attracting an external publisher. And the more you understand about all your options once your book is in print, (happy day!) the better your book will do. This is an education in realism. Publishing is changing drastically and rapidly and you are going to have to ride several horses along the way.

    Enjoy the view.

    Back to Getting Published
    Meanwhile, you may be wondering, what about that publisher?

    I wrote my book as I described to you above. I worked it, paid to have it edited, and sent it out to readers with a list of points to give me feedback. I paid attention to that feedback. I designed my own cover, and I published “Open Here” through where I got great service at a reasonable price to produce my book in print-on-demand. I felt that POD was a good environmental choice, since the books are printed when they’re bought and not before.

    “Open Here” came out 03-03-03, and I was just doing the legwork to get it into distribution and publicized when I came across an interesting website. It was “Publishers and Agents,” and there was an offer being made. Gini Graham could reach agents and publishers by email. This was a new world, since the Literary Marketplace made it crystal clear that people in the industry would absolutely not look at an email they had not solicited.

    Curious girl
    I was very curious about how my book would be perceived by the publishing world, and paid Gini her small fee as part of my marketing plan. I figured I would at least see something about the marketability of my book from that side of the fence.

    It was now October of 03, the night before my birthday. Gini helps you get the right subject line (that all important first-sight item), and looks over your query letter contained in the email. (She doesn’t take on everyone, since these people trust her to deliver only relevant material to their email inboxes.)

    We sent the email out before midnight on October 19th. On October 20th, by mid afternoon, I had dozens of responses from publishers. I could not believe my eyes. Only a handful of these were automated responses, and in the end, I had about eleven requests to see the book.

    What the…??? Publishers were contacting ME? Gini’s system worked.

    Nice birthday present. My view of my publishing world was changing. Hm.

    Why did it happen that way?
    What’s the first thing people do when they sit down at their desk? Check their email. What are they looking for? The next potential author with that carefully crafted, easy-to-market best seller who knows their audience so well they can announce it in a seven-word subject line. Voila.

    I sent the book to everyone who asked for it, and received a number of very nice rejection letters. I mean, really nice. They loved my book, gave kind feedback, and some of them asked to see other work, but the standard “not quite right for our list” prevailed for my new book.

    Less than six weeks later, right before Thanksgiving, I got that call from Sourcebooks. It went something like this: “We have some news for you. We’d like to publish your book.”

    Here’s my note to Gini which is still there on her site:
    “To this point I must say your service is an astonishing development in the transformation of the world of publishing. In the first 12 hours after the query went out for my book ‘Open Here: You Hold the Keys,’ I received requests from executive editors and senior editors at several major publishing houses, including St. Martin’s, Ballantine, Rodale, and Barnes & Noble. Altogether, I received responses from over a dozen publishers and after 6 weeks, have been offered a contract by a major publisher who wants to publish the book Thanks for your help in polishing up my query letter and in selecting the appropriate recipients. Quite a service you offer.”

    You can read more about the process of working with the publisher, the edit I had to do myself with their oversight, and other aspects that happened after the book was printed with its new title, “Little Shifts.” I’ll be writing articles about all that on my blog,

    For now, you know what you need to know. I’ll sum it up for you here:

    Know this person. Love this person. Solve her problems. Speak directly to her, constantly, in your writing.

    Understand the changing face of publishing and how books are being consumed now and in the immediate future.

    If you’re afraid of blogging I don’t know why you’re writing a book. Get your blog on right NOW. I don’t care if you are mucking around in the total dark about your topic and your future book, if you aren’t blogging, you are missing out on a huge learning curve which you’ll have to face. Blogging is extremely informative to your process — it is self publishing, and it will build your audience ahead of time. Part of blogging is belonging to a world of collaboration and connection. Get busy building that world.

    Respect your future life as a published author. No matter which aspect of that world is your Mt. Everest, you can begin today by connecting to the community of writers, “indie authors,” and self publishers who are creating this new world.

    Follow and participate as I continue to report on the big new adventure that is digital publishing. Subscribe to my list on, and you’ll see that bright light at the cutting edge, right in your email, every week. I’m nailing down every little step that you need to know about, in plain language, step by step along this road. (I also have a little fairy helping me out.)

    And remember these things:
    The future of publishing is that publishers need YOU. You don’t need them. In the near future, (it’s already happening), publishers will see your portfolio, your self published works, your blog following, and your tightly-focused market, as well as your excellent writing. Your book will be desired for its modern and savvy availability, no matter what your topic.

    Write for your readers and provide every possible form of modern delivery. Do this well and your chances of being externally published will skyrocket.

    Blessings and laughter,
    Suzanna Stinnett
    and the Ebook Fairy

    Stay informed: Join Suzanna and the Ebook Fairy here at This Extra Day. Get on my email list up there in the right hand column.

    I’d use Gini’s service again – she’s still at it!

    Get your brain into digital mode:

    yellow mushroom under leafy canopy

    Take a break

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    2 Responses to How I got published

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, even ‘tho I have no immediate plans to self-publish a book.

      Just a question – impertinent, I know… Did “Little Shifts” make you money?

      And another one, come to think of it. How did it compare with “Open Here” in that respect?

    2. Suzanna Stinnett says:

      I’m chuckling, Marlene, and I don’t mind your question — but the thing is, I knew when I “gave it up” to the publisher that the changes of making a dime on it were profoundly reduced. Sure, it made me a little money. I didn’t have time to market “Open Here” before it got transformed, so I can’t compare. And it’s important to know that publishers may not want to pick up a book that has already made the author money, because they may think that the readership has already purchased the book. Can a sword have more than two edges?

      If you’re curious about the business models, I recommend you check out Dan Poynter’s classic book on self publishing. It will give you some serious food for thought.
      Thanks for your comment and happy writing,
      Suzanna Stinnett

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