Many people think that the only way you can get a book published is to have connections in the publishing industry. That definitely helps, but it’s not the only way a book contract happens.
As I’ve built my writing career, I’ve found that contacts with editors I’ve worked with in the past can lead to new projects. This is especially true with nonfiction. I might get a phone call or email from an editor saying, “We’re looking for a book on Topic X. Do you have any interest in writing it?” If my answer is yes, I’ll put together a book proposal, which (after some back and forth) the editor takes to the editorial board. This method of finding a project saves us both a lot of time: the editor knows my work and thinks I’m a good fit for the project, and — instead of shooting in the dark — I focus on a proposal that I know is of interest to a particular publisher.
My experience with fiction (so far) has been different. When I started trying to sell a novel, I didn’t have any contacts in fiction publishing. I signed with my agent and with my urban fantasy publisher based on “cold” submissions.
Here’s a breakdown of how I find projects, going from most common to least:
- An editor I’ve worked with in the past contacts me with a book idea.
- My agent gets a list of desired projects from an editor and contacts me about possibilities.
- My husband writes nonfiction. Sometimes I’ll co-write a book with him or take over a project he can’t fit into his schedule.
- I come up with an idea, write a proposal, and my agent pitches it to editors.
- I sold two novels by submitting through the publisher’s slush pile (that is, I signed a two-book deal based on one finished manuscript).
- My agent pitched the novel to publishers (I sold one book so far this way).
I hope this gives you an idea of the many different routes an author can take to signing a book contract. Contacts are important, but not essential. And, of course, once you make that initial contact, you’ve got something to build on.