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5 Tips for Scoring a Book Deal (on Top of a Little Luck)
Written by
Brooke Warner
February 2015
Written by
Brooke Warner
February 2015

This week I had two long-time clients score big time: One secured an agent after months and months of querying. The other landed a book deal and sent out the following stats in a celebratory group e-mail to the people who’d helped her along the way:


6 years of working on this book

20+ years of working on different novels

102 query letters to agents

7 months on submission to dozens of publishers...

my agent got me a book deal!

Yes, a super exciting moment for her, and a really great start to 2015.

I’ve often said that an aspiring author with enough tenacity can still land a book deal in today’s difficult publishing climate, though I think this is more true for novelists than other types of writers. Getting there, however, is not just about locking down one single piece of the puzzle. You’re not going to land a book deal if you just query enough agents or shop your book long enough. There’s a certain kind of drive some writers have that’s beyond patience and insistence and stamina. Writers like these two clients of mine have a deep knowing that their books will get published—somehow, some way. They’re in it for the long haul, until someone comes along and gets their vision, and finally validates what they’ve known to be true all along: that there’s a readership waiting for their book. The wait can be excruciating. I’ve seen successes like these over the course of my entire career, and I always believe it’s possible they’re just around the next corner for certain writers I work with. But sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. Which is why I believe there are certain measurable ways you can help yourself score a traditional deal, but why I also believe it’s is a combination of tenacity and luck.


Here are a handful of things these two writers did that any author aspiring to follow in their footsteps can learn from:

1. They attended to their platforms.

I’ve written a lot about platform (notably here and here). And while you can land a deal without much of a platform, you can’t if you are not actively working on it. Both of these authors understood that and didn’t stop. They blog actively, and attend to social media. One of them pursued HuffPo until she landed a column. Both of them updated their query letters every time something big happened. They realized the value of getting their voices out into the world, and took to heart the need to cultivate their young (and growing) audiences.

2. They sometimes broke the rules.
Every time I tell authors to break the rules, I invariably experience pushback, and yet breaking the rules is where movement happens—as long as you do it with savvy. For instance, I believe in sending queries directly to agents or editors even if their sites say to send to an info@ e-mail or to send via snail mail. I believe in asking agents, upon receiving a rejection, for more information, or if they know any other agents who might be up your alley. I believe in being bold, sometimes to the point of being ballsy, when the situation calls for it. Just yesterday a close publisher friend of mine (at a pretty big house) told me that she picked up an unsolicited phone call from a woman following up on her slush pile submission. When the woman asked her for a meeting, she was just in a mood, so she said yes. That aspiring author is a lucky woman, but she made her own luck. She gets a fifteen-minute meeting with the publisher of the house she wants to publish on. I wish her the best. These kinds of opportunities only come to those who seize them.

3. They sought out help, often from more than one expert.

These two authors worked with me, but they worked with other editors along the way as well. They have both been in writing and critique groups. They’ve both pursued a real education in becoming a writer (by which I mean university). One belongs to the California Writers Club. Both are active students of writing and never once got complacent about their work. They pushed themselves to become better novelists, and by the time they were shopping their books, they didn’t just believe they had good novels, they knew it.

4. They engaged!
Writers should go to conferences. They should talk to agents and editors--get face time. They should be on Twitter, “talking” to agents and editors who are active on social media. Both of these authors engaged all over the place. Which is striking, because I so often interact with writers in my coaching practice who choose not to. Some don’t see the value of social media—to their detriment. Make yourself known. Show up. Say hi. I attend writers’ conferences a lot, so I experience every kind of person, from the avoidant writer to the writer who makes me feel uncomfortable because they put me on a pedestal to the person who is just cool, who feels like someone I want to hang out with. So sure, maybe you’re not cool, but just be yourself.

5. They had a long-term plan.

These writers both had a longer-term vision in mind. Whenever I start working with someone I ask about their publishing plans. I want to know, will you publish no matter what? I always want that answer to be yes, because I want writers to have that fire in the belly, and to want others to read their work. If you’re going to shop your book to agents and editors, you need to develop a thick skin. You need to assess your tolerance for rejection. You need to understand that you will see the worst side of this business—people not getting back to you at all, trying to change your book project completely, giving you feedback that doesn’t make sense. All of this will happen if you shop your project long enough. But the long-term plan both these women set their eyes on was landing with someone who “got” them—and that had to happen twice for the one who got the book deal, once with an agent and once with an editor. But lightning can strike twice, and if it hadn’t I think eventually she would have pursued some form of alternative publishing. Her book was destined to be published no matter what. Still, it’s good to have a sense in the back of your mind how long you’ll keep at it—six months, a year, two years, more? For some people the wait isn’t worth it. And that’s why it’s good to lock down that plan, even if it’s a loose one, right from the get-go.


Do you have a publishing success story you want to share—a story of a book that got published against the odds? I’d love to hear about it.

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  • Leslie Johansen Nack

    It's so great to hear success stories but we're all success stories because we're publishing too! Just because it isn't with a traditional big house, it doesn't matter. If our work is good then we might get picked up by a big house once we published with SWP. It can happen! I get down some times about how much effort it takes to "sell" myself because it's not in my comfort zone, but what I've noticed in the past year is that my comfort zone is getting bigger. Stuff that made me super uncomfortable a year ago is no big deal today, and stuff that makes me uncomfortable today will probably be no big deal next year. I just have to keep pushing on all fronts. It's hard and it's tiring and sometimes I want to give up but then I remember why I write. I write because I have to, and I want to be the best. Being the best takes hard work and I'm up for it!

  • Virginia Pike Gielow

    Great post. Thanks for the insights. I have a professionally edited contemporary romance,but my hurdle, that is difficult to overcome, can be summed up in two words: Shy introvert with numerous rejections.Perhaps twitter is the answer.

  • Linda Dahl Publishing

    Brooke, I agree with your advice completely, and my experience bears it out!  I have 7 published books, both novels and non-fiction - and one of them is with She Writes Press.  My latest book deals with addiction and women, bringing together a wealth of cutting-edge information for parents of young women with a substance-use problem.  I spent several years researching, writing, interviewing, honing...and getting rejection letters by many publishers.  But I kept networking; researching likely publishers; and landed a deal, with Central Recovery Press.  "Loving Our Addicted Daughters Back to Life" comes out in June.  Be persistent, focused, stubborn and passionate!  

  • Karoline Barrett

    Thank you, Brooke! It was a long road, but worth it!  

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Karoline, amazing story! Thanks for sharing this with us. Really cool. Good luck with publication and all that follows!

  • Meg E Dobson

    I believe from my experience that you are right on the money. Still, it is difficult for introvert writers. I love conferences, but I rarely push through the crowds around agents and editors. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine s/he would be happy to speak with someone about anything but someone's manuscript. Kindness works for introverts and extroverts. In fact, introverts might have an up on this. Extroverts are being insistent and stand around with hungry, scary eyes. Kindness and professionalism.

    Plus we must know that every year, incredible manuscripts are ignored and will never be published. Even if publishes, there is no guarantee that the most beautiful jewel won't simply die away without being seen. But we know that. It is the passion of writing that brings us each to the keyboard. It doesn't matter in the end. I write, because I must.

    *At a conference I met a new imprint for a genre that I did not write. Intrigued and tired that what I wrote wasn't opening doors, I approached her with an idea for this new field. She was intrigued. When I finished the manuscript, this woman (as is often the case) was no longer the publisher. I queried and mentioned that I had spoken with the previous editor. My manuscript was accepted in a two book deal. Kindness and professionalism... and a ton of luck with an excellent solid writer's tool box--and even that is no guarantee, but I can be proud of how I got where I did. That's what counts. 

  • Janet Singer

    Great post, Brooke, and I'm happy to report that I am a "success story" (in regards to my book, anyway :)). Your advice is spot-on. It took me a good six years to write my book and win over a publisher; Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery was just released a couple of weeks ago. The bottom line for me was passion about the subject matter as well as the sincere belief that the book would potentially help thousands of people. Giving up was not an option, and I just knew I would continue querying for as long as it took. What was helpful to me was really listening to feedback from professionals (including you Brooke, so thank you:)) and taking their advice. Over the years my queries went from being ignored, to form rejections, to "thanks, this is good, but not for us," to "this is good, but you need to do this and this and this," to "Yes, we'd like to publish your book." So it was a journey, but one that has been totally worth it. Now on to the next phase, helping to market and publicize the book!

  • Karoline Barrett

    Thank you Shelah! It's been a long journey (the publishing world is in its own time zone!), but well worth it! 

  • Sally Ketham

    Wow Karoline, that is quite a journey and example of persistence! Agent #120? I love the way this all worked out for you! Inspiring! ;)

  • Karoline Barrett

    I wrote my first novel in about a year and began querying for agents right away.  Although I had quite a few requests for my manuscript, no takers. I hung in there. I wasn't going to give up.  Agent #120 signed me! Woo hoo! But, she couldn't sell my book. She ended up forming her own publishing company with a PR company in NYC to publish books she believed should be out there. While I was trying to think of what to write next, she asked me what I liked to read and I replied, "Cozy mysteries."  She encouraged me to write one. I did, hoping it would be a series. I never wanted to self-publish, I always wanted to go the traditional route. Last October she got me a 2 book deal with Berkley Books for my first cozy mystery and my second, which I'm wrapping up now. Along with an option for more.  I began building my Twitter platform  and connecting with other writers on FB long before my first novel was published. I think the biggest thing is to believe in yourself, find someone who believes in your writing, and don't give up. 

  • Marianne C. Bohr

    It all comes down to "ya gotta believe."  If you don't believe in your writing, why should anyone else? Thank you, Brooke, for the pep talk.

  • Rhonda Talbot

    Great post, all for trying things differently. I went so far as to research a specific editor to the kind of shoes he wears, well it got his attention, we will see   :/

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Great post, Brooke. Thanks for your wisdom and inspiration.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Deborah—that's an amazing following on your blog. Congrats! And yes, I agree that it's an amazing thing to have options in today's publishing climate. Thanks for the comment.

    And to you, too, Shelah and Cate!

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Enjoyed reading this post. I plan to be one of those authors who keeps up with my platform and still works on projects I am passionate about. I am also passionate about home-schooling my daughter, so time is at a premium. I need short jobs to pay the bills while I am working on my novel. At the moment I am writing a piece for an anthology.  I put that in the "luck as a result of engagement(on SheWrites!)" category, and am very grateful.

  • Deborah J. Brasket

    Thanks for the encouragement and the tips. I've been attending to my platform for a couple of years, and now that my novel is reaching the final stage in the revising/editing process I'm hoping it pays off. I've found that some platforms have been more successful than others. My FB author page does not get much interaction, but my blog is doing great, with over 8000 followers, lots of interaction, and a great group of fellow bloggers that I feel connected to. Then recently I had coffee with a neighbor, a successful author, who, after hearing about my novel, offered to recommend it to her agent at a well-known and respected agency. So I'm feeling more encouraged than I have in some time. But definitely, if I don't pick up a contract with a traditional publisher, I will publish my book independently. And I'm grateful I have the option to do that these days.

  • Sally Ketham

    Thanks for this Brooke! I 100% believe in the miracle stories, but also know believe that the seeds to the plants that bloom are found in the internal bouts of doubt where the author instead chooses hope and holds on to that dream, and pushes forward! :)