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Want to get published? Here’s what publishers are looking for in an author

As much as it is important that your non-fiction book idea be timely, marketable, and original, the idea itself is rarely sufficient when it comes to a publisher or acquiring editor deciding to make your book a reality. In truth, they base much of their decision on something else entirely—who you are. Here are a few key things that every non-fiction book publisher is looking for in an author:

Subject expertise

Do you have the credentials, experience, and education to write the book you propose to write? If you’d like to write a book about the secret wisdom of toddlers, for instance, are you a pediatrician or psychologist who has worked with young children? Do you have kids of your own? What expertise will help support and substantiate any claims you make in such a book? Sure, we were all toddlers at some point, but that is not sufficient. A nuanced and deep understanding of any subject requires expertise and experience in the select field.

Writing chops

Do you write well? Do you have the ability to map out and write a full-length book? Are you prepared to work closely with an editor on your writing, including making substantive revisions and possibly writing brand new sections as recommended? And, can you do all of this on time? Contrary to what many writers believe, contemporary publishing houses rarely have the time to help develop you as a writer. The profit margins in book publishing are razor thin, and most publishers and their staffs work very long hours. When it comes to signing authors, they need to know you’ve the ability to write well and the willingness to work hard during the editing process. If you can demonstrate your writing ability, either through previous publications or sample writing, that will make a big difference. And if you aren’t comfortable with writing—or you just don’t have the time—be prepared to hire a ghost writer. The best book ideas are only ideas until someone gets them down on paper.


Do you have a substantial profile on social media? In traditional media? Do you write regularly on your subject in magazines, newspapers, and online sources as Huffington Post? Do you speak regularly in front of large audiences in your city? Across the country? Are you world-renowned in your field? Is your Netflix special going into its third season? And, even if you aren’t Gordon Ramsay or Mark Cuban or Brené Brown, are you prepared to work with your publisher to promote the book and invest your own time, energy, and good ideas to promote the book? Showing a prospective publisher that you indeed have a profile and that you have developed a marketing strategy of your own will go a long way to convincing them to sign you and your book.

It is crucial, then, that you do what you can to convey to the publisher your subject expertise, writing ability, and marketability. Certainly, some of this should go into any query letter or email you might send, and it should definitely go into the cover letter and the book proposal you send (should a publisher ask to see such a document). And, if you are lacking in any (or all) of these areas, then start figuring out how you can improve in each, and get down to work!

February 11, 2022
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