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How to Get a Publisher: What Every Publisher is Looking for in a New Author

I just got an e-mail tonight from an acquisitions editor congratulating one of my clients, Bring Your Book to Life Program graduate Leslie Shapiro: The editorial board had approved her manuscript and they’d be sending a book contract shortly.

One thing that struck me in this process was Leslie’s flexibility. When the editor suggested a title change, Leslie immediately let her know she was open to the experience and wisdom of the editor and the editorial board.

Many authors feel understandably protective when it comes to changes to their book, but the truth is that a publisher has loads more experience in the publishing realm than a new author. Generally, a publisher’s ideas are going to help get your book into the hands of readers and make it a better read. In this case, the editor later e-mailed a compelling title, one which preserved a phrase used by the author in the earlier title.

If you know in your gut that you don’t want anyone else to have control over your title, cover, content and design, self-publishing is a better route. But, in my experience, publishers generally add so much to the process through the collective experience of the editorial and publishing team. And they are expecting you to understand that.Publishers are looking for authors who are flexible and open to their expertise. Authors who “know it all” tend to be a real turn off for publishers.

If you want a traditional publisher for your book, and a publisher is interested, get a sense of the types of changes they are thinking of making up front and see if you can live with those changes before signing a book deal. Be open and flexible to understand why they may want those changes. And once you sign a book deal, be easy to work with! Certainly share a concern about a decision if you have one, but first seek to understand why a publisher wants to make the changes they do.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. kristine Grant says


    I submitted my book proposal (outline, intro, first three chapters…) to IHC publishing. Three months later,(quite a wait), I received a reply stating they “loved my idea” appreciated my passion and way with words yet felt there were not enough self-help elements for their customers. I wrote back that I could certainly include a more in-depth self-help elements. I have not received a response. Is that typical? The book I am writing is an absolute match for HayHouse publications. I understand they will only review your proposal if submitted by an agent. I live in the San Diego area. Do you know of an appropriate agent? Thanks.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Kristine,

      It’s possible your e-mail got caught in spam. I would certainly try contacting them again–maybe even by phone, given they were interested. However, before you do that, you might think through how you would include the self-help elements, so you can propose something specific to them. By the way, do you mean HCI books?

      Hay House is also looking for authors with a large “platform” or following. I’ve heard Reid Tracy put out the number 30,000-40,000 people on a list works well for them. So if you don’t have much of a following, it may not be a good match despite the subject match. I only recommend specific agents when I’ve worked on a book proposal and can vouch for it being top notch and completely polished–as well as a book I think is highly marketable. My reputation is at stake. I hope you understand. Good luck. It’s certainly a great coup to have a publisher interested.

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