How to Get Your Book Published (Or Publish It Yourself?)

Paul Cerrato, MA

Disclosures

June 25, 2013

In This Article

Introduction

Few physicians imagine that they'll achieve the kind of success that Michael Crichton attained in his career as an author. Crichton, famous for books like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, graduated from Harvard Medical School but chose a full-time career in writing instead of clinical practice. Considering the fact that his books sold over 200 million copies during his lifetime, it's fair to say that his detour into book publishing was a wise move.

Plenty of other doctors have also been successful with their books (see Best Books by Physicians). Whether you're looking to make writing a full-time job or just want to dip your toe in the water, you'll need to understand your options. These include not just traditional publishing but also self-publishing and publishing on demand. And you'll want to familiarize yourself with some basics, including topic selection, finding an agent, writing a book proposal, and promotion.

Combining Passion and Salability

Writing a successful book is a lot like writing a hit song or producing an award-winning movie. The most appealing projects combine the author's strong convictions about a topic with a sense of what the public wants.

Granted, there are authors who ignore the sales potential of their idea, are completely driven by their passion, and crank out best sellers nonetheless. But they're few and far between.

And then there are those authors who have no interest in writing a best seller but are convinced that an audience, no matter how small, needs to hear their message. Ken Terry, author of Rx for Health Care Reform (Vanderbilt University Press, 2007), says, "I felt I really needed to write the book and figured that if it were good enough, it would get published."

What Are Your Submission Options?

Assuming that you have a compelling story to tell, or have chosen a specific topic for which there is a clear market, you have several submission options. You can query the editor at a publishing house directly, use a literary agent, or try to network with book publishing professionals. Sarah Parsons Zackheim, author of Getting Your Book Published for Dummies, says that attending writer's conventions and workshops is one of the best ways to connect with people in the industry. She also recommends spending some time in the library consulting a tome called Literary Market Place, the publishing bible that contains a complete listing of publishers, agents, book packagers, and an assortment of other helpful contacts.

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