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How to Get Published: Changing Rejection into a Great, Big Book Deal

dr. craig malkin, authorWhen I first met Dr. Craig Malkin at the Harvard Medical School CME publishing course, I  knew I wanted to work with him to help him get published. When he pitched his book to the panel of agents, editors and book coaches, I wrote on my comments, “I’d like to talk with you,” knowing he had something special to offer–a book very worthy of being published, a book people needed.

His relationship book took research from other fields and applied them to dating. I knew this book was good from the moment I heard his pitch—and it was.

However, Dr. Malkin didn’t have any kind of online following and, in such a competitive publishing category, that was going to be important; so, at my suggestion and while working on his book proposal, Craig pitched a column to and also, somewhat religiously, read and responded to  reporter queries through the free pr service

He also incorporated all the advice my colleague, Rusty Shelton, provides about connecting with other experts and key influencers on Twitter and sharing the work of these colleagues. In turn, these folks shared his well written and timely posts–often tied to breaking relationship news (think Kim Kardashian’s divorce). His posts were thoughtful and useful–providing actionable steps to improve relationships and doing so with humor and even a sense of playfulness.

These well written posts often became featured on the Psychology Today home page and picked up by the Huffington Post–sometimes for their home page. He began to do more featured posts for the Huffington Post.

In short, he did everything that an author with a solid book and book proposal needs to do. And he signed with a top agent–Miriam Altshuler. But then, something went wrong.  As Dr. Malkin describes it, “My first book idea received a ton of attention but the markets changed so dramatically that when we went to sell, the big houses already had authors in the area I’d proposed.”

I remember one phone call where Craig wondered aloud whether it was all worth it. What did he do? “I dusted myself of and kept writing. Just a few months later, my blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today attracted the attention of publishers, including HarperCollins, who then asked me if I’d like to write a book based on my work there. They’d already seen my first book proposal, so even though they didn’t pick [the first book] up, they had more confidence I could deliver.”

The result was a book deal for Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad—and Surprising Good—About Feeling Special with HarperWave and Harper UK. Rethinking Narcissism comes out in Spring 2015.

Rethinking Narcissism addresses the “narcissism epidemic” by illuminating the spectrum of narcissism, ways to control the trait, and why too little of it may be a bad thing. It is the first—and only—book that not only makes the distinction between healthy and unhealthy narcissism, but offers clear, step-by-step guidance on how to promote healthy narcissism in our partners, our children, and ourselves. Readers will learn more than just how to manage and avoid narcissism. They’ll learn how they unwittingly foster unhealthy narcissism—and how to nudge their partners—and their children—towards a kinder, gentler version of “special.”

When a publisher contacts an author and asks them to write a book, it may seem like luck, but clearly that’s not the case. Authors like Dr. Malkin work hard to put all the pieces in place for a successful publishing deal–and a successful book:

twitter* They make sure they reach their audience in big ways before they even send out that book proposal.

* They connect with community on social media, especially Twitter, and they focus more on helping others than promoting themselves.

* They write engaging and entertaining posts–honing their skills and writing work that truly stands out.

And then they persist through challenges:

* They don’t give up in the face of rejection.

* They do figure out what’s not working (like, this book won’t sell to a big publisher at this time).

* They keep connecting with their audience knowing that inspired action will move things forward.

* They also often get professional guidance (Craig worked with me on his platform building and book proposal) and they attend conferences or courses where they can learn more about the industry and meet key professionals.

harvard medical school courseDr. Malkin credits Harvard Medical School’s former publishing course with providing information and relationships that guided him through the process which ultimately led to a book deal. “I met a ton of terrific people, like Lisa Tener [aw, shucks!], who set me on the right track and Course Director Julie Silver, MD, who was always available and eager to answer questions. I left with a wealth of information about how to build a platform and what publishers look for in a  book. But the highlight for me had to be  the chance to pitch a book to a panel of agents and editors who offered detailed, written feedback on my idea and it’s delivery. What a valuable experience. ”

The course, officially titled Achieving Healthcare Leadership
and Outcomes through Writing  and Publishing,
takes place March 31 – April 2 at the Copley Fairmont Hotel in Boston, MA. I’ll be there leading writing workshops, serving on the pitch panel and meeting with aspiring authors throughout the conference to provide feedback on your ideas. I’ll also be co-leading the workshop on How to Write a Book Proposal on April 2.

Dr. Malkin’s advice: “When in doubt, write. It’s all about the work—don’t get too hung up on whether or not your current  project pans out. See yourself as a writer first—and worry about the product later.” Worked for him–could it work for you?

Have you met any challenges along the publishing path? What did you do in the face of them? Or are you looking for guidance? Feel free to share your experiences or ask your questions here.

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. Christopher Behnan says


    I’m finishing a book about my experiences as a hospitalized, bipolar teenager in the early 1990s.

    I have a couple of questions I’m hoping you can help me with:

    1. I don’t fully understand under what conditions to consider a literary agent (I’m a career journalist, but a first time book writer)

    2. Should my book be completed and edited before seeing an agent/publisher?

    3. Should I decide in advance whether to seek a hardcover versus e-book format? Or is that part of the agent’s job?

    Best wishes,

    Chris Behnan
    Detroit, Michigan

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Chris, thanks for your questions. 1. If you plan to traditionally publish, then I would seek a literary agent. For one thing, they can fine tune the proposal for specific acquisitions editors (publishers) and time their pitches so you are more likely to get more than one offer at a time. They will also negotiate all the things you would not know how to negotiate. They are totally worth their fees. If you don’t get an agent, you can always self publish.
      2. Yes. A memoir needs to be fully written (about 99% of the time, and with good reason the other 1%). And you want to put your best foot forward with your absolute best writing. So, do edit it fully.
      3. No, the publisher will decide that.
      These are great questions. Feel free to ask more as they come! And good luck. Search the blog and you’ll find more posts on literary agents — should you have one and why to get a literary agent, and how to choose a literary agent.

  2. Deb Scott, BA, CPC (@GreenSkyDeb) says

    This is a MUST read for any author getting ready to publish!!! I am a faithful follower of your work, but I found this to be one of the most valuable content rich posts you have written. Thank you for all the great work you do to make the world a better place!!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Thanks, Deb. We’re all met with some kind of challenge in our writing and publishing process (maybe more than one). It’s approaching those challenges with resilience and persistence that creates the big successes–often right after something that seems like a disappointment initially. I’m looking forward to our interview on March 11 on Secrets to Successful Book Writing, Publishing and Marketing on The Best People We Know Radio–with YOU!

  3. Justin Cancilliere says

    I’m writing a science fiction novel. I’ve been in the process for about a year now. One of my biggest questions I keep wanting to ask someone is what is the best way to success for a fiction novel? Is a book tour a good idea? And what if you work full time, is there a way that writers can get funds to do a book tour?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Justin, the interconnectivity in our world allows for authors and aspiring authors to connect with readers from the comfort of home. Start developing your online community now. Publishers will want to see that you have a professional website and social media presence. I highly recommend blogging and commenting on the blogs of science fiction authors you admire. Tell them what you love about a specific book of theirs. Write positive reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Shelfari, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere. Twitter is also great for writers. It takes time to develop a community so start now, but feel free to start small and build. This will be even more effective than a book tour, although a book tour is a great idea too. For the book tour, consider crowdfunding as a way to raise funds. You can be creative in the gifts people will for various levels of contribution.

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