Aspiring authors now have more options than ever for publishing their books. Ebooks, blogs, and self-publishing are all viable paths to more exposure. Yet traditional publishing often reigns supreme if you hope to bolster your own credibility and reach the widest possible audience.
Getting a psychology book traditionally published requires that you offer something publishers believe will be profitable. That usually means establishing yourself as a reliable expert while presenting a novel and interesting take on a psychology issue.
Why Write a Book?
For some people, publishing a book is another item to cross off the bucket list. For others, the benefits are unclear. Writing a book offers numerous benefits to mental health professionals, including:
- A chance to carve out a niche.
- The ability to deeply research a topic, enabling you to offer better treatment and keener insights.
- Increasing visibility and credibility. Clients may be more eager to hire a therapist who has published a book on the specific issue they face.
- A second career. While most authors do not earn enough to quit their day jobs, writing a book can open new revenue streams and may lead to future publishing opportunities.
- The opportunity to contribute something meaningful to the field. Is there an issue you think is going ignored or a mental health topic shrouded in secrecy, stigma, and misinformation? You may be able to offer people information that improves their lives and inspires meaningful action.
- Gaining the respect of your peers. Traditionally publishing a book may gain you more professional recognition, potentially opening career doors.
Pitching Your Book
For most writers, the process of pitching a book begins with finding an agent. An agent is a book marketing expert who knows the industry. They can help you shop your manuscript to publishers, connect with the right publishing house, and advocate for a book contract that is in your best interests.
To get an agent, you need to prove that your book is marketable and that you are an appealing and credible author. Most literary agents work on commission. This means that they only get paid if your book succeeds, so they’re deeply invested in only working with authors who have a viable, potentially successful book.
To find a literary agent:
- Begin by identifying agents who work in your niche. If you intend to write a popular psychology book, a person who markets psychological fiction is not a good match.
- Research each agent. Review their website and client list.
- Once you’ve found an agent who seems like a match, send them a query letter. This letter should outline your expertise and the general subject matter of your book. Review the agent’s website to understand their query process. Some want a manuscript sample in the query letter; others do not. Agents receive lots of queries, so keep your letter concise. Remember that the point of the letter is to sell you as an author and your book—not to detail the entire history of your process.
- Ensure your book is well-written and readable. If this is your first book, it’s helpful to hire an experienced editor. Bad writing, numerous grammatical errors, excessive wordiness, and similar issues deter agents from responding to queries.
If you hear back from an agent, interview them about their process. Don’t pick the first agent who contacts you; compare multiple agents to ensure you get the best possible representation.
Once you sign with an agent, the agent uses their industry contacts to begin shopping your book to publishers. To do this, they will need a manuscript or a manuscript sample. Many publishers want to see a completed book from a new author, so ask the agent for specific details about what you’ll have to provide.
Ideally, the agent will shop your book to several publishers to create a competitive bidding process. This can take months, and sometimes even years. If a publisher is interested, they’ll talk to you about terms—royalties, advance, marketing plan, and similar factors—and then you’ll sign a book contract. This formally initiates the process of publishing your book. From there, you’ll complete the book and may have to go through several rounds of edits. If, for some reason, you do not participate in this process or fail to complete the book in the time outlined in your contract, you may have to give back your advance. The publisher may also opt not to publish the book.
Once the book is published, the publisher may require you to actively participate in marketing efforts, such as by showing up to book discussions and author signings. The publisher typically pays expenses associated with these events, including airfare if you have to travel.
How Much Money Can You Expect from a Book?
Success stories of people who have sold millions of copies of their book have convinced many aspiring writers that publishing a book offers a path to fame and fortune. For most authors, even successful ones, that’s not the case. Instead, a book typically offers supplemental income, not a massive stream of revenue. The average traditionally published book may sell only 3,000 copies in its lifetime, and as few as 250 to 300 copies in the first year it is published.
You’ll typically get a book advance, which is an upfront payment. The specific amount you can expect depends on how well the publisher thinks your book will sell. Books from previously successful writers, celebrities, and people who have a history of popular content (such as a well-read blog) typically garner larger advances.
If the publisher is able to earn back its upfront investment in the book, you will have earned out.
Earning out means that you become eligible for royalties. While an earn out should be your goal, it’s a goal most books never achieve. A royalty is the percentage of book sales paid directly to you. The specific amount you can expect also varies and should be clearly outlined in your book contract. Successful writers and celebrities can typically negotiate for higher royalties. Most royalties hover around 10%. This means if a book sells for $20, you’ll earn $2. If your book sells 3,000 copies at this rate, you’ll earn $6,000, plus an advance.
The amount you earn may be partially dependent on how well the book is marketed. Publishers often invest significant funds into marketing timely books that they think will sell well. If your book is in a niche industry or the publisher does not think it has the potential to be a bestseller, they may do little to market it.
Whether or not the publisher aggressively markets the text, there’s a lot you can do to improve sales. Attending events, blogging about your book, sharing your book with reviewers, doing book interviews, and similar strategies may help. Local bookstores are often eager to feature local authors, so consider calling around to get some events on the calendar. Your agent is a valuable resource here and can offer you tips on which strategies are most likely to work for your specific topic and target audience.
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Hurley, K. (2015, September 17). The cold publishing equations: Books sold + marketability + love. Retrieved from https://www.kameronhurley.com/the-cold-publishing-equations-books-sold-marketability-love
MacGregor, C. (2016, July 20). Ask the agent: What if my book doesn't earn out?. Retrieved from http://www.macgregorandluedeke.com/blog/ask-agent-book-doesnt-earn
Michel, L. (2016, June 30). Everything you wanted to know about book sales (but were afraid to ask). Retrieved from https://electricliterature.com/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-book-sales-but-were-afraid-to-ask