How to Successfully Publish Non-fiction Books as a First-time Author (with a Traditional Publishing House)

Publishing my first two business books has been quite a ride. Since I regularly get asked how I sold two manuscripts to two reputable publishers within a few weeks, I decided to summarize a few contributing factors. By following a few key guidelines, you can increase your chances of success and ensure that your book reaches its intended audience.

Identify your target audience and develop a concise message.

Before you even start writing, it is important to know who your book is intended for. Defining your target audience will help you tailor both writing style and content to the needs of your readers. Your book should have a clear message that is easy to understand and communicate. This will help readers know what they can expect from your book and why they should read it. A strong message combined with a defined target audience will make it easier to market your book to potential readers.

Work with an agent and a reputable publisher.

If you want to go the traditional publishing route with a reputable house, you will most likely need a literary agent. Publishers don’t typically talk to first-time authors directly, as they get flooded with inquiries. Agents are trusted resources for publishers, and serve as a quality gate. If you can find an agent in your niche that burns for your book, they will fight for you and help you secure a deal. By the way: reputable literary agents make their cut by receiving a percentage of your royalties (not by charging you for their services) – it’s a perfect win-win.

Working with a reputable publisher can help ensure that your book is taken seriously in the industry. Look for publishers with a track record of success in your niche and a strong distribution network. Yes, there are upsides to self-publishing as well. I recommend reading some of the great resources out there comparing traditional vs self vs hybrid publishing.

Hire a professional editor.

A professional editor makes every manuscript better. They help ensure that your book is well-written, error-free, and engaging. This is especially important for first-time authors who may not have much experience with writing and editing. For me, working with an editor was eye-opening, even with my background in journalism and writing. A good editor is the best investment you can make to create a book where every chapter, every page reads like a full meal. That’s what makes a book a page-turner.

Invest in marketing.

As the author, you will always be fully responsible for marketing your book, regardless of the publishing route you take. Marketing is a crucial part of promoting your book and getting it in front of potential readers. Note: publishers might tell you that they have a marketing plan in place. What they actually have is a set of standardized measures within their distribution network, which help to increase the reach of your book. This is a huge advantage of traditional publishers. 

Build a strong author platform.

Building a strong author platform can help establish you as an authority and make it easier to market your book. A platform can include a professional website, social media presence, speaking engagements, and a strong email list. If you don’t have a solid platform, it will be the first thing your agent will advise you to build. As a first-time author you will likely invest way more money into platform building and marketing than you will earn back from book sales. If you just want to check ‘write a book’ off your bucket list, investing heavily into platform building can be a waste of money. But if you plan to write multiple books platform building can be an investment worth considering.

Be patient and be ready to put in a lot of effort.

Publishing a book is a long process that requires patience and persistence. It may take time to find an agent, a publisher, edit your book, and market it effectively. Be prepared for setbacks and stay focused on your goals. If you are not ready to put in the work it requires to write a proper book – regardless of the publishing process – I suggest you don’t publish a book. Readers don’t appreciate ‘quick and dirty’ books, because they are often poorly edited and therefore painful to read. Worst case: you are damaging your reputation.

Find out more about my books – and reach out if you have questions about writing and publishing a book. Good luck with your endeavours!

Main image by Becca Tapert