How to Get a Book Deal with World’s Largest Publisher

April 24, 2007 - Get free updates of new posts here

The most common question I’ve been getting over the last few days is: how did you manage to publish your book? (or how do you get a book deal?) It’s not as straight-forward as you might think. Most assume that you should write a book and then pitch it to a publisher, which ” especially with non-fiction ” is total suicide. I created a mock-up cover for my book when we sent out my proposal to publishers, and one came back and asked point-blank: “Why is there a UPC code on this? Is it self-published or already written? We never buy either.”

Here’s how I got signed with the hottest imprint at the world’s largest publisher (Crown within Random House) as a first-time author. My basic process is this: write proposal, get another author to help you get an A-list agent, agent refines proposal and helps you sell to a editor at a top publisher (ideally after an auction) Here’s a bit more detail:

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

Step 1: Proposal Draft
I created a decent 20-page book proposal (much like a business plan, with competitive analysis, audience sizing, marketing plan, etc.) using the following books:
10 That Sold and Why (for the samples)
Putting Your Passion Into Print (good for understanding the economics of publishing)
Author 101 (the best series out there for all steps in the process, especially marketing plan and PR)

Step 2: Author Feedback
I asked for feedback on the proposal from a best-selling author, Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul (130+ million copies sold), whom I’d become friends with over several years. How’d I meet him? I volunteered for the Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs and volunteered to organize an event with a panel. I stalked Jack at one of his speaking events and managed to convince him to come to speak. Volunteering for non-profits and business organizations is the best way I’ve found of meeting people who are otherwise untouchable. Who are the best authors to target? Jack is a unique case, as I knew him, but the best authors to target are ” in my opinion ” those who had bestsellers 1-2 years ago, as they’re probably working on a second book, not being bothered by media or others much, but they have fresh contacts (agents, media, editors, etc.). Authors past the ego-inflating period of bestsellerdom are usually very nice and willing to help you if you’ve done your homework. Don’t ask them questions you can answer on Google or with one of the above books ” it will just piss them off.

Step 3: Author Referral to Agent
Jack referred me to three A-list agents. An agent can be thought of as a book’s midwife, the person who shepherds you through the process and fights for you when things get ugly (and there are a million chances for this). Can you sell books without an agent? Sure, but then there is no buffer between you and the publisher, and good agents personally know the editors who are most likely to buy your book. Just like a married couple, if you spend enough time with your publisher, there will be arguments, and without an agent to play go-between, things can get irreparably damaged with one or two stupid e-mails. I’ve spoken with several 7-figure (i.e. they get more than a million dollars as an advance per book) authors who told me that they’ve sold books without agents and will never do so again. Some will disagree with me here, but I’m happy to pay 15% of the book earnings to someone who handles all the details and egos, including mine.

I ended up signing with Stephen Hanselman, whom I liked because he is, first and foremost, a superstar editor and not just a salesman. He bought some of Harper Collins’ most successful books, like “You The Owner’s Manual” and is known for having a good eye for bestsellers. Good guy to have in your corner. He helped me refine the proposal, which ended up being around 96 pages (!), and develop the target list of appropriate editors. It’s sometimes said that getting a good agent is harder than getting a publisher. This is often true, and why you need a referral from a kick-ass author to get in the door.

Step 4: Sell to Editor
Steve crafted a cover letter and sent out the proposal to his target list of editors. “Publishers” don’t buy books; specific editors do. We set 12 meetings the following week in NYC, for which I flew in. Many pitches and many questions later, Steve set the bid deadline and we sold the book the following week to Heather Jackson at Crown. From emailing the proposal to selling the book, total time was about 3-4 weeks. It doesn’t need to take long if you have an A-list agent.

That’s it. Then you have to write the monster! From idea to launch date today, this book has taken me about 2 years of sweat and tears. It’s a looooooong process, and I don’t recommend it if cash is your motivator. There are better ways to make fast money, but there are few better ways to refine your own thinking and release an “idea virus” that improves the world. Online is great, but printed books have a certain magic and power in them that travels everywhere.

Today is the launch date for my baby, please help me do it with a bang! First day, and first week, Amazon volume is REALLY important for bestseller lists and foreign rights. If you help me today, the book can get some awesome press and become an unstoppable force! If you wait, it becomes infinitely harder, then impossible, to pull off.

Thanks for all of your support! Check out the book at: The 4-Hour Workweek, and here’s to living life large instead of postponing it!

Long time no see, all! – Tim Ferriss

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36 responses to “How to Get a Book Deal with World’s Largest Publisher

  1. Pingback: » How to Get a Book Deal with World’s Largest Publisher… and Beat Harry Potter?!

  2. Jeff Reply

    Hmmm, it sounds like Tim didn’t do much research at first. No need to buy any books from Amazon, just read through the archives of the many blogs maintained by literary agents. The one by Miss Snark is the best and will tell you all you need to know about getting a literary agent: http://misssnark.blogspot.com/

  3. Watts Reply

    With all due respect to Miss Snark, Tim went about it a perfectly fine way — find a successful author, writing work that’s got overlap with the audience you want your work to receive, and get an agent recommendation from him or her. You are going to get cute and funny anecdotes from blogs, but just like Mr. Ferriss’ blog really isn’t a substitute for, you know, READING HIS BOOK, reading a literary agent’s blog isn’t really a substitute for seriously learning about the book business.

  4. Mike Sabat Reply

    Tim,
    Just clicked to Amazon and bought the book. The biggest reason is because the premise sounds great, closely followed by the marketing campaign – like giving away free advice on Noah’s blog.

  5. Jerry Reply

    Blogs are nice in the sense that you could learn new ideas and have access to it all the time but there will always be a timeless quality to actually owning something, something that will always be by your side even if there’s a power outage or a server crash.

    I’m not sure but I think there’s a similar idea to this with the fact that webcomics publish their content freely over the Net but at the same time, still make money selling the hardcopies of their work.

    Moreover, blog entries are separate from each other but once in a book, they’re arranged in such a way that they actually make sense. And one would have to admit that what one person sees, another person sees differently. I guess what I’m saying is people tend to look for 2nd opinions. I sound like an Ogier, don’t I?

    Anyways, I checked Miss Snark’s blog. She’s funny. And her link to Miranda was frickin’ hilarious.

  6. Tim Ferriss Reply

    Thanks for the conversation, guys!

    For me, as Watts noted, there really was no substitute for getting in the fray of it and learning the dirt with those currently playing at a high level. There are certain ugly aspects of the game that most agents and others will not write about on a blog, but they’re happy to tell you about them in person over coffee. Knowing the pitfalls is as important as hearing the success stories.

    Thanks for the support, Mike! I decided early on to launch this book by following my own rules, so there will be no physical touring or book signings in bookstores, for example. So far, the fat-free book launch is working really well! I’ll put up a post someday (after hitting the lists, of course) and pull back the covers a bit on how I pulled it off…

    Cheers,

    Tim

  7. Piaras McCorry Reply

    Hello Tim,

    I received the book yesterday and have already got through to page 70 something as I cannot put it down. Amazon did a great job in getting the book to me quickly and I am now telling others about the ideas contained within.

    Great job and I look forward to the follow up.

    Piaras

  8. Tim Ferriss Reply

    Thanks for the support, Piaras and Jason! Amazon sold out and the publisher had to scramble to get these out, so they might have shipped direct. I’m thrilled to hear you’re enjoying it! Just made my day ;)

  9. Jason Reply

    Awesome! I bet that is the thrill of a life time! Maybe when my site launches you can tell a few friends ;)

    On another note, I went to a site just now, http://domystuff.com/, and in the flash it says ‘Outsource your life’. I had a chuckle. Today is the first I have really heard about that and I saw it twice in one day. I think this book may really be onto something!

  10. Amanda Reply

    Hi Tim,

    You’re book so nice! I got a copy of it given by my boyfriend. It’s really cool and interesting. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I already got new good ideas to change my Lifestyle.

    Thanks for this very wonderful book of yours. Hope you can write more books that can help people today.

    More Power!

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  12. Dick Carlson Reply

    I’ve actually got an agent before I finished the proposal. Since I’ve been in the “event” side of the technical training field for several years, I connected with an agent who keeps encouraging me to write “that book” and then more.

    My biggest problem is actually getting the proposal on paper. I get half-way done, and then go back and revise all of it. I suppose the trick is to lock myself in a little room for a week.

    Suggestions?

  13. Carrie Reply

    Dick,
    Quit trying to write the proposal yourself. Your agent is more experienced at it.
    Instead, make him an outline, a bulleted list, or even a mindmap of points you want to cover and let your agent whip it into a winning proposal.
    That’s part of what he’s there for.

  14. Tim Ferriss Reply

    Thanks to all for the kind words and questions! It has been a dream come true to get this out — I see my classmates and hate the fact that they feel compelled to work 100-hour weeks out of self-imposed obligation. There are definitely better options.

    For proposal writing, I’ve found it key to get sample proposals to model yours after. My agent was excellent for this, and other writers can be amazingly helpful, especially if their books came out at least a year ago. I would send you mine, but there are some confidentiality issues and complications due to a few competitive and marketing areas. Wait a few months and I might be able to!

    On a side note, I just found out that the book is on the very edge of hitting the big bestseller lists, but they stop calculating sales end-of-day Monday! If you have any friends or family who might like this book, please ask them to pull the trigger now! Amazon has stock, despite what they say (I don’t get why they keep saying they’re out), and http://www.bn.com is shipping even faster.

    Thanks again to all! Have to get some shuteye in preparation for a big week next week ;)

    All the best,

    Tim
    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com

  15. Lisa Reply

    Congratulations, Tim! I stumbled across your blog via the Discovering Buenos Aires blog. Reading about your book pub process has made for a fantastic Friday morning! For any readers interested in learning about my own foibles as a self-publisher, visit my blog and follow the ongoing write-up of the lessons I’ve learned: http://www.myartfullife.wordpress.com . With my first novel out for consideration in pursuit of an agent, and a second novel in the works, I will not repeat the self-pub process. Thanks so much for sharing your successful formula — hope for the rest of us.

  16. Perry P. Perkins Reply

    Tim,

    Just wanted to let you know I’m about 1/3 through the book (just heading into chapter 7) and it’s great. I love your statement:

    “Most people are fast to stop you before you get started, but hesitant to get in the way if you’re moving” (p34)

    I’ve committed that to memory, lol.

    Gleaning a lot from this post as well, although my own writing is fiction, I like the idea of getting your advice from people who have succeeded in the arena you’re aiming for.

    The “Low-Information Diet” is going to be the most difficult step so far.

    Thanks for the insights,

    -Perry

    PS – Heard about you book thanks to Scoble’s blog.

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  19. gene Reply

    I read Tim’s Book and I actually got inspired. I know it’s going to be awhile before I can start working on 4 hours a week, but it’s the book is well worth it.

  20. Pingback: » How Does a Bestseller Happen? A Case Study in Hitting #1 on the New York Times

  21. Karen Kelly Reply

    I found this post, and Ferriss post on Huffington to be of interest as both someone who has worked in publishing for many years and as someone who just published a book, which I wrote very quickly for St. Martins. The book, THE SECRET OF THE SECRET, is a sober minded attempt to explain the cultural phenomenon of THE SECRET. My book goes beyond THE SECRET to explain, seriously, where the law of attraction comes from, and why Americans are so in love with the idea and have been throughout the decades. I have gotten great feedback from readers, and the book has so far sold in five countries – earning back four times what the publisher paid me. Still…the book chugs. From my point of view it is easy to get published, it is much more difficult to sell books. Ferriss’ Huffington post is interesting, but I was left wanting more – more that I could apply to sales of my own book, which is good, provocative, and balanced. Mr. Ferriss any suggestions on how I can create a meme?

  22. Karen Kelly Reply

    By the way – I bought T4HWW a few weeks ago because of the KILLER title. This is something you do not mention in the Huffington post of this post. Having a great title, a TV segment in one line, is really key to selling a book.

  23. Olga Garcia Reply

    HI Tim,

    I haven’t gotten the book yet but I am definitely in love with it already (good signs)! I just returned from backpacking for a year and cannot fathom having a 100hr work week yet alone a 40hr work week. I was not here when your book came out as I was traveling across The Great Ocean Road trying to find the most remote place in the southern part of Australia.
    It is awesome that you have taken it upon yourself to educate the world about a quality life!
    When I get my stuff sorted, hopefully we can talk more about living life. Sounds like you and your girlfriend are having a wicked time.

  24. Jason D Reply

    Hi TIm,

    Love the book and am totally inspired.

    I appreciate that you went straight to hard copy and by-passed the temptation of ebook land.

    It’s been a while since the April 2007 posting where you said you might post your successful book proposal … Is it safe to share yet? ;)

  25. Susie Beifuss Reply

    Hi Tim,

    I’ve just created a blog and then website, (although haven’t gotten my Publisher 3 page site I designed to show up at my site, http://www.susiebeifuss.com), ….so for now am just redirecting my site to my blog, http://www.susieland.wordpress.com) , whew.!!…until day before yesterday, had never tried to create a blog or site, so gettin’ there…..

    Am just beginning to write my first book, “Smiled Upon by Chaos”, the first book in a series I’m planning named, “Adventures in Susieland”

    …basically, probably 5 or so books in the series, all brief, to the point, somewhat irreverant cronicles of my travels from my . previous perspective ……. “disengaged-dysfunctional-family-childhood, and subsequent struggle-for-recovery-adulthood………..to a much-preferred perspective.

    This new perspective has allowed me to be happy and healthy and to be thankful for the gifts and lessons I received as well as the strengths I’ve gained along the way.
    ………..from there to here (as explained in blog 08/08/08)

    I plan to finish reading your book, follow your advice without question, aim HIGH (as you say, less competition at the top), and follow in your footsteps…(I’ve been around long enough to know what I want when I see it…..your intellect and insights are helping me trust my own instincts and GO FOR IT!!!!
    Thanks Tim,

    Susie Beifuss

  26. Scott Dinsmore Reply

    This is awesome to see Tim before he was internationally known as The Man! Very cool. Your success is incredibly well deserved. I read your book and give at least 5-10 copies out yearly. Congrats.

    To the NR (a happy member),
    Scott

  27. Tim Ferriss Reply

    Thanks so much for the kind words, all! It’s been an unreal 3 years since this post. Wow.

    I owe a big thank-you to Noah for giving me one of my first opportunities to write in blog-land!

    All the best to you and yours, guys. Pura vida :)

    Tim

  28. Eric Reply

    Hi Tim,

    In April 2007, you mentioned you might share your book proposal as a sample, after few months. I have been searching your blogs, but I haven’t seen your book proposal.

    It would help a lot if you could share your book proposal. Of course, I’d understand if you wanted to take any part out because of legal or competitive reasons.

    The purpose is to see an example of a structure of a successful book proposal.

    Thanks for reply (I understand you are busy with your new book coming out soon)

    Eric

  29. Jane Reply

    Tim

    Well this is sad! so very very sad! and here is why….

    ….Not so much as a single word from you with regards to

    ” THE STRUCTURE OF A SUCCESSFUL BOOK PROPOSAL”

    giving hopeful new writers who have not been fortunate to have a friend here and there within your industry to help them along their way. Giving this false hope to those less fortunate quite frankly is worse than giving none at all. It begins here, where you write…..

    TIM FERRISS WRITES THIS VERY KIND GESTURE in APRIL 2007

    “For proposal writing, I’ve found it key to get sample proposals to model yours after. My agent was excellent for this, and other writers can be amazingly helpful, especially if their books came out at least a year ago. I would send you mine, but there are some confidentiality issues and complications due to a few competitive and marketing areas. Wait a few months and I might be able to!”

    Really??

    uh hmmm Nope!!

    Over a year passes by, we are now in 2008 and a gentle reminder just in case it had genuinely slipped your mind

    A request written

    “It’s been a while since the April 2007 posting where you said you might post your successful book proposal … Is it safe to share yet? ”

    “Uh.. NOPE!! NOPE!! and in my opinion not likely”

    then again 2 years later

    “Hi Tim,

    In April 2007, you mentioned you might share your book proposal as a sample, after few months. I have been searching your blogs, but I haven’t seen your book proposal.

    It would help a lot if you could share your book proposal. Of course, I’d understand if you wanted to take any part out because of legal or competitive reasons.

    The purpose is to see an example of a structure of a successful book proposal.”

    I then note your last but not least reply, which amazingly reads
    from Sept 2010 some THREE YEARS ON

    “Thanks so much for the kind words, all! It’s been an unreal 3 years since this post. Wow.

    I owe a big thank-you to Noah for giving me one of my first opportunities to write in blog-land!”

    All the best to you and yours, guys. Pura vida

    Tim”

    My response to that is ” IT IS US THE END USER ” the everyday regular guy/girl that has lined your pockets with fame and fortune! No, not your agent or your editor or your publisher, although they did help you along your way especially the friend that helped you with that very all important ” THE STRUCTURE OF A SUCCESSFUL BOOK PROPOSAL” that you should be giving thanks to but us!!! which you have failed to mention or thank

    Perhaps that is something that you should remember and consider with your next book published??

    I myself mean no malice in what I write just pointing out the simple bare truth of what did or in this case did not happen. I also do not know whether you write fact or fiction although by what I have read and observed I suspect the latter. I am not a writer but please for the sake of all over these three years which by your own words were ” wait a few months “, allay their minds once and for all ……

    Jane

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