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“How Can I Attract a Traditional Publisher for My Self-Published Book?” (and Sell More Books)

Authors often ask me how to attract a publisher for a self published book. It’s not easy but it happens. You need to be strategic. In this post I share four steps to attract a traditional publisher for a book that you originally self-published. Since one of those steps is to sell more books, I also offer seven top strategies to sell more books.

The 4 Steps to Attract a Traditional Publisher for a Self-Published Book.

Lisa Tener book coach

Step 1: Write a fantastic book: a book that helps solve a problem for readers, a book that’s beautifully written (hire a great editor!), an engaging book (think transformational exercises, QR codes or other tools to engage readers), a book that stands out (fresh research, a new perspective and, again, writing that shines on every page).

Sometimes, very occasionally, all it takes is step 1. Later in this post, I’ll share a true tale of fairy-tale like success.

Step 2: Sell 15,000 copies of your self-published book to interest a publisher or agent and nab a book deal. Okay, this number is somewhat arbitrary and somewhat not. 15,000 tends to be the magic number agents and acquisitions editors bandy about when they get the question for how to interest a traditional publisher in a self published book. Depending on your niche and the size of the publisher, this number could be a bit smaller or larger.

Step 3: Write a book proposal and query letter: Yes, you still need a book proposal. Why? Publishers and agents want to know what else you’ll do to market the book once they publish it. If you’re all tapped out, that won’t sell books, so be sure to include a marketing plan that builds on what you’ve already done.

Step 4: Query agents (preferred) or contact publishers directly (plan b) and, once they invite you to do so, send them your book proposal.

The Step 1 Fairy Tale

Kimber Simpkins wrote her second draft of Full: How I Learned to Satisfy My Insatiable Hunger and Feed My Soul in my Bring Your Book to Life® Program. She followed that with a book proposal, queried a few publishers directly and got rejections, likely because she did not have a huge platform.

Rather than continuing to work on growing her platform, she felt a strong urging to get the book into readers’ hands. She self published and entered the book into the Nautilus Book Awards competition.

Just a couple of months after publishing–and before she even heard back from the awards (which she won!)–a publisher contacted her. One of the publishers that rejected her query. The very acquisitions editor she’d written to, in fact.

How did this happen? Short answer: She wrote a wonderful book that helped readers with a pernicious problem and the acquisitions editor happened to discover it. And that acquisitions editor happened to be looking for a great book on the very topic of eating disorders.

Longer answer: Acquisitions editors are busy people. Most likely, an assistant has been the one to reject the query. Assistants are given a list of reasons to reject a query or proposal. My guess is that her platform wasn’t large enough to make the initial cut.

Step 2: Sell More Books

There may be infinite ways to sell books. You need to find the ways that work for you. Activities you enjoy, that help you reach your core readership. Ideally, if some of these activities bring in income beyond book sales, the activities become sustainable–you receive income for all the time, energy and–potentially–money you put in.

So, first, create a business plan that supports the following activities (it will also support more book sales). Your business plan can include paid speaking engagements, training, evergreen online courses, consulting and other creative endeavors.

There are infinite ways to sell more books. I’ll share seven of my favorites.

7 Ways to Sell More Books

  1. Get Amazon book reviews! (Note: there are important rules to know here).
  2. Use Amazon Ads.
  3. Be a guest on targeted podcasts.
  4. Enter prestigious book awards / contests.
  5. Give your book to influencers.
  6. Offer a gift in exchange for email address; offer that gift during interviews, speaking gigs and on social media (and every chance you get): this is how you’ll engage more deeply with potential readers.
  7. Do that enjoyable activity that brings in income–create and offer the course, get the speaking gigs. Share your book in these ventures.

Ready to dig a little deeper?

#1 Get Amazon Book Reviews

The Amazon algorithm favors books with a large number of verified reviews (from people who bought your book).

But you need to be careful. Amazon has rules about who can write a review–don’t ask someone who lives in your household or close friends and relatives. You can’t ask someone to review your book in exchange for a book review from you. You cannot offer a gift for people who write reviews of your book.

Examples of reviews that go against Amazon policy are those written by:

  • A person with financial interest in your book/services.
  • A close personal friend or relative.
  • You or a hired hand.
  • Someone you pay for a positive review.

#2 Buy Amazon Ads

Amazon ads have gotten trickier–and more expensive–now that so many authors use them. However, they can be an important strategy and, frankly, I wish I’d used them earlier.

Well done ads will sell more books, but it goes beyond the ads for the books: some of those book buyers may write reviews or recommend the book in a large private Facebook group because they ended up loving your book (that happened to me) or buy more books as gifts. The increased sales also help with the Amazon Algorithm, so that more sales begets additional organic views which begets more sales.

A few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • You need to price your book high enough that you don’t lose money on ads (unless you have a strategy that allows for the book as a loss leader and the book brings in customers for other products or services that more than make up for that loss).
  • Choosing the best categories for your book is crucial. Try Publisher Rocket to identify categories or, even better, hire an expert to do this for you. An experienced ads specialist will save you time and, in the long run, money. If you do want to go DIY, Publisher Rocket has a free course to get you started on Amazon Ads.
  • If you’re short on time like I am, you can work with a specialist in Amazon Ads. Feel free to email me for an introduction to my Amazon Ads specialist.

#3 Be a Guest on Targeted Podcasts

Guest podcasting is one of the most effective PR strategies for authors and business owners because:

podcast guesting
On WADK Newport with host Gail Alofsin
  • Podcast listeners tend to buy books, courses and other services.
  • Podcast audiences are targeted and therefore you can reach a large number of your ideal readers (and ideal clients).
  • In addition to helping sell books, podcasts are a great way to reach potential clients and grow your business.

Shelby Janner and her colleagues at Zilker Media have helped many of my clients with PR, including securing interviews on guest podcasts. As I wrote this article, I turned to Shelby for specific tips on using guest podcasting effectively for book sales and additional business opportunities.

Shelby shared a wealth of information based on her experience, beginning with this: “The value of podcasts is being able to tap into a loyal, niche audience. Say you wrote a book and the main target is sales leaders. You may be targeting Forbes for media placement. Forbes gets around 94 million unique monthly visitors.

Shelby Janner on podcast guesting and book sales
Shelby Janner of Zilker Media

“But, what if I told you a better target would be the podcast Sales Enablement Podcast with Andy Paul, which gets an estimated 26k monthly listeners? Yes, 26k is objectively a lower number than 94 million, but not every single person who reads Forbes is a sales leader. On the flip side, almost every single one of the 26k people who listen to Andy Paul’s podcast is a sales leader, and therefore a perfect potential buyer of your book. 

“We’ve seen this theory play out in real life as we’ve gotten anecdotal evidence from our publishing partners, who tell us they have seen better ROI from authors being on the right podcasts compared to massive media placements like the TODAY Show — yes, every author’s dream media placement!

“But even small podcasts can be powerful! We have had multiple B2B clients go on podcasts with a couple thousand listeners or fewer who have gotten new business deals out of the interview.”

Podcasts–the “New Wave of Networking”

Shelby continued, “Podcast guesting is not just about earned media, it’s the new wave of networking. Not only are you garnering connections by being a guest on other podcasts, but you now have content to repurpose across your owned and rented media. When you share podcast interviews on social media, your fans now have compelling content to share on your behalf. And that can result in book sales, as well as business and career opportunities.

Shelby Janner
Shelby Janner (center) says of podcast guesting, “It’s the new wave of networking.”

“The conversational nature of podcasts lends itself well to converting a podcast’s audience to your own using a good call to action. Most podcasters will comment about your book, share what they liked about it and ask you to share where listeners can buy it.

“But don’t limit your call to action to a book purchase. All podcasters will end the interview by asking the author where folks can go to learn more. Instead of just pointing people toward a website or social media, authors must create some sort of compelling call to action, like a free downloadable or a quiz. The lead magnet will convert that listener to the author’s owned media list. This instantaneous ROI is hard to get with any other type of earned media.”

Note: Zilker Media is offering a new program, Podcast Guest Insider with three different lists depending on your niche: business, entrepreneurship or health. You can try out their service with the first month free — and in that first free month alone you’ll get information on 10 vetted podcasts with contact information for you to start pitching yourself to guest on podcasts immediately.  Use code TENER10 so that when you continue past your free month, you’ll get 10% off the price!


#4 Enter Prestigious Book Awards / Contests.

The joy of writing journal
The Joy of Writing Journal with two of its three book awards

Winning a book award, such as the Stevie Award for Best Business Book or the Nautilus or Independent Publisher Award sends the message to readers that your book is an excellent use of their valuable time!

If you are looking to sell books in bulk to companies or nonprofits, the award can help make that sale. You can also mention the award in:

  • Proposing that bookstores carry your book
  • Applying to speak at conferences
  • In your media bio
  • In your book’s Amazon description
  • Applying for training or speaking gigs

While book awards may not in and of themselves sell hundreds or thousands of extra books, you can leverage the awards so that your activities do sell such numbers. Melissa Sones Consulting is my go-to expert for awards.


#5 Give Your Book to Influencers.

While the influencer may be a social media or TV influencer, they can also be a librarian, teacher, therapist, doctor, public speaker or anyone who reaches your target audience. A book review or public endorsement by an authority in the field can help your book sales enormously.

In an excellent post on Jane Friedman’s Blog, Angela Ackerman shares how to identify the best match for influencers and how to reach out to them.

#6 Create and Share a Gift.

Offer a gift in exchange for email address. Some call this a lead magnet, because it can do more than just sell books. As Shelby mentioned earlier in this article, these leads can become your clients and customers.

free gift to sell more books
Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

The gift can be a tip list, an audio meditation, an article, a free course, a quiz or ebook. Get creative. usually a digital product is ideal because there is no cost to you to send it.

Offer that gift during interviews, speaking gigs and on social media (and every chance you get): this is how you’ll engage more deeply with potential readers.

#7 Offer a Paid Service

In my experience, those authors who sell the most books have some kind of business plan and a paid product or service that’s related to the book. You can create an evergreen course, offer training packages to companies, get paid speaking gigs. In all these ventures share your book.

What’s most important here is to do something you love. The more fun you have, the easier it is to continue doing it. And your enthusiasm will be infectious.

I want to emphasize the fun factor. When I began teaching Get Your Writing Done as a workshop twice a month, I found that it was the most fun I ever had teaching. It gave me more energy and I looked forward to every class, as did participants, who had struggled with procrastination, finding (and making) time to write, and making writing a consistent habit so they could finish their work. Suddenly, they were making steady progress in their writing and having a ball–often eliciting their best work right on the calls.

As I looked to how I wanted to spend my time this year, I realized it was in doing the things that brought me the most joy, especially Get Your Writing Done. So, I reorganized around teaching this as my main program, turned it into a weekly workshop and added additional resources to help guide writers in the program.

Do What You Love

Using these strategies, you may or may not attract a traditional book deal for your self-published book; you’ll certainly increase the likelihood. There are many factors involved and success in terms of a book contract is not guaranteed.

Lisa Tener book coach

However, if you focus on fulfilling activities that bring you joy and create an impact, then the book deal will be icing on the proverbial cake. You can look back and feel fantastic about the time you spent and the things you did to get your books into the hands of readers.

Some of the activities I mentioned may feel uncomfortable–and that’s okay–it’s good to stretch yourself in some of your strategies. Just make sure that the majority of time you focus on activities that nourish you. The more joy you bring into the process of selling your books and marketing your services, the more fun you’ll have, the more success you’ll find and the more likely you will be to attract a traditional publisher.

Note: I have personally worked with all the experts I list here. For some, I am an affiliate, in which case, if you make a purchase, I receive an affiliate commission. Note that I participate in a very limited number of affiliate programs. I only recommend products and services that I have personally vetted and feel are of excellent value to my community.

NEWJoyofWriting_3D-4-awards

Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award & Independent Publishers (IPPY) Award

The Joy of Writing Journal: Spark Your Creativity in 8 Minutes a Day

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.

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Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award & IPPY Award

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