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  • [Path to Publication] Top Resources for a Deal with a Top Publisher
[Path to Publication] Top Resources for a Deal with a Top Publisher
Written by
Tracy Slater
January 2015
Written by
Tracy Slater
January 2015

I always say that the thing that played the biggest part in my signing with one of the Big Five publishers was luck. Given how many incredibly talented writers and moving stories exist out there (and in here, on She Writes itself), I deeply believe that luck, more than anything, ignited the whole process of my deal with G.P. Putnam’s Sons (which I wrote about earlier, here).

But I relied on a few crucial resources along the way, too.


Last month, I wrote about the resources I used for writing my proposal. Besides the proposal, though, here’s what helped me the most for each stage of the process:


Building my platform. Top resource? Other writers.


I know it’s unusual to get a deal for fiction or memoir without a full manuscript, and I know one reason I was able to do so was that I’d built a strong platform--a series of connections--in the literary world. This helped allay the Putnam team’s fears that I wouldn't be able to sell any books as an unknown writer. My platform/connections came from the literary series I founded in 2005 called Four Stories. From 2005 to 2013, when I signed my deal, I featured many published writers at Four Stories. These are the people helped put me in touch with editors of journals, magazines, and newspapers, who in turn helped me build my publications list.


I was able to bring to Putnam both a broad list of contacts and a growing list of publications.


I’d say to any writer hoping to sell books—either self-published or traditionally—that the more connections you make, the better positioned you will be. If you want to publish traditionally, then get to know people who are doing so if you can. If you want to self-publish, getting to know other people who write and care about the same topics as you will help build a potential readership.


Making my sample chapters as flawless as possible. Top resource? Readers.


As mentioned in an earlier post, I took classes through MediaBistro to both help polish my proposal and write my sample chapters. These classes were invaluable. As writers, it’s pretty impossible to edit and objectively critique our own work. Doing so would require that we be both inside and outside our own heads at one time.


If you can’t or don’t want to take a class but do want to publish, join a writing group or get people as close to your target audience (i.e., those people most likely to buy your book) to read your work. It’s a hard concept to get used to, but when you write to publish, what matters in the end isn’t your own sense of your work: it’s your audience’s sense of it.


Negotiating the deal. Top resource? My agent.

When I was deciding whether or not I would need an agent, I went back to my trusty network of Four Stories contacts and asked them, “Do you think an agent is necessary if I’m not self-publishing?” Uniformly, people said “Yes.”


Now that I’ve signed the deal and am going through the pre-pub process, I see why everyone said an agent was so crucial. True, you have to give your agent 15%. But mine has paid off in so many ways that have outstripped that 15%, from increasing my advance to checking every aspect of the contract (and there was a lot there I would never have understood alone) to ensure we got the best terms possible, to helping explain the difference between national and global rights, to advocating for me on issues like the book cover and the publicity schedule.


Best of all, with my agent acting as the “tough one,” my editor and I can continue to have a really nice, fluid, fun working relationship, because we always only discuss the book, never the business stuff.


Finding the right agent/editor. Top resource? Targeted data.


When I was looking for my agent, I used Publishers Marketplace’s online database. I signed up for a few months of access, and even though it cost some money, it helped me figure out exactly who on each day (and during every month over the past few years) was selling what kind of books to which editors and presses. Then I could query agents who I knew represented books on my topic and write them really targeted, specific query letters explaining how my book was similar to others they had sold.


A less refined but cheaper (as in free) way to accomplish some of this is to look in the acknowledgement sections of books similar to yours. Authors almost always thank their agents and/or editors there…



Tracy Slater is an American writer based in Japan. Her memoir The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World has been named a Summer 2015 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and is forthcoming from Penguin Random House’s Putnam imprint in June. Her blog is http://thegoodshufu.wordpress.com, she is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheWriterTracySlater, and she is grateful to be part of the She Writes community.

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  • Tracy Slater

    Hi Kelly. Feel free to contact me at tracy [atmark] fourstories.org!

  • Tracy, your blog is great!  Just signed up for updates.  Your story is incredible and I look forward to reading your book in June.

    What's the easiest way to communicate with you in a private forum?  I couldn't find an email address on your blog -- or on Four Stories.  I'm at [email protected]


  • Tracy Slater

    Hi Kelly. Exciting that you will be doing a writing project in Japan! Tokyo will be *really* hot in August, by the way. I'll most likely be back in the US for much of the summer. Will be going back fora few publicity things around early July, just after the book comes out, and then am hoping to stay through mid-to-end of August to miss much of the heat. Feel free to get in touch w/any questions about the expat community though. I've been here for 10 years so hopefully can offer some help! All my best to you.

  • Tracy Slater

    Thanks, Mardith! So glad you found this info useful. Wishing you the best of luck with your project!

  • Great post, Tracy.  I look forward to following your book's path to publication!  Very smart idea to start a reading series to build your platform.

    By the way, I intend to travel to Japan in Aug for a writing project -- likely flying into Tokyo.  If you'd like to be in touch, please feel free to contact me at HayesRaitt (at) aol.  I'd love to pick your brain about the expat community there.

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!
  • Mardith Louisell

    Thanks for the great and practical information, Tracy, conveyed in a clear manageable way. I will save this post. Congratulations!