Hi, I’m Louisa. I’m a twice-published author and a book coach for memoir writers determined to succeed in the traditional publishing industry.
In this post I’m going to share with you the 3 secrets of bestselling memoir authors that are ALSO the 3 secrets to getting a book deal.
But first – a little personal story.
When I was working on securing my first book deal about 16 years ago, life coaching had taken off, and I was working as a freelance health, wellbeing and psychology journalist. I’ve always been intensely interested in personal development, and I remember wishing that I could find a coach who ALSO knew the publishing and media industry. Because if you have any experience with business coaching, you know it’s about working through beliefs that aren’t serving you to create the future that you want and achieve certain goals.
What I wanted was someone who knew the BACK end of publishing who could lead me through the personal development side of things. It’s all very well to tell someone to ‘keep going’ when they’ve had a rejection on a manuscript, or no response to a pitch, but i wanted an actual professional to look at my pitch and say what was missing! I needed specific, industry-related feedback teamed with that coaching component.
Succeeding in the nuanced and fiercely hierarchical creative industries like acting or music or writing are very very different to more conventional career paths like police work or nursing or recruitment or banking. The path is riddled with nuanced snags and trends and big egos and – like all art, is very very SUBJECTIVE. You need to be confident and comfortable in this nuanced, mysterious space.
But because i couldn’t find someone who specialised in both – the personal development side AND the business of publishing and media, I hired a separate coach for general goal-setting, and set about to find publishing mentors separately, but it was very difficult to find publishing mentors who would give me the full view of what to do.
I’d find someone who had published a memoir, or a professional editor, and each separate person taught me something, but none of them really gave me the full picture of what it takes to both GET a book deal, but really succeed in publishing as a career choice. I wanted to be CONFIDENT in the high standards, high stakes, big ego land of traditional publishing.
I didn’t want to just feel that it was a fluke when I got my first book deal.
Now – if you’re like me, you’re not interested in self-publishing. I love traditional publishing exactly for the very reasons that it’s difficult – I love that your work goes through several gate-keepers before it’s published, and it works to a higher standard because OF those gatekeepers – publishers, editors, agents, sales teams, distribution, marketing, and so on.
Because these are the same reasons a traditionally published book LASTS much, much longer and is seen and valued very differently than one that is self-published.
There’s an esteem to traditional publishing that comes from the conservative and traditional aspects of the business. And it’s also, exactly why it is so difficult to GET a book deal. The two things go hand in hand.
So, back to wanting a mentor who understood self-development AND traditional publishing.
The late memoirist Toni Morrison once said if there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
Which is exactly why I’ve just opened up – for the first time ever – a private mentorship for authors ready for their first book deal. This is a business coaching mentorship AND self-development. With the specific outcome of success – and reaching your potential – in the high stakes world of traditionally publishing a memoir.
It’s called the Art of the Book Deal and I created this for the me of 2007 – searching for processes and details around the BACK end of publishing, AND the mindset techniques and business support as I worked towards my first book deal.
Because publishing is a business, like everything else, so a mentor who actually knows the back end is going to help you get there faster than just someone who can encourage you to keep going!
And so within this mentorship – a 1:1, private mentorship where it’s you and I working in a coaching capacity – you’re going to receive ALL the support I needed and patched together from a variety of sources, in order to get my first book deal.
It’s taken me months to put this offer together, because I wanted it to be truly the one-stop process for someone who has their manuscript, OR their proposal, and want to escalate that to a book deal very quickly.
Now, I promised to share 3 secrets to becoming a successful author and the same 3 steps that will get you a book deal. These are the steps it took me to get an agent, fire an agent, and land my first offer of publication within 5 days of sending the query and the manuscript to a potential publisher.
But most people just focus on the first one.
So here are the 3 steps to selling your manuscript to a traditional publisher and MAKING it a bestseller:
And these are actually self-development traits you can adapt to succeeding in ANY industry, but i’m going to talk specifically about how these apply to getting a book deal in the high stakes of traditional publishing.
THE FIRST SECRET TO BECOMING A BESTSELLING MEMOIR AUTHOR
Now this is where most people focus the entire effort.
You might have heard the 10 000 hour rule from Malcolm Gladwell – this is his hypothesis that to become a real master of any craft, you need to spend at least 10 000 hours on it.
So perhaps, like me, you studied writing and editing, or you’ve used my memoir writing programme to write and revise your memoir over a year, or you’ve spent 10 000 hours mastering the craft of writing – this is easy to do if, like me, you’ve been writing in a journal every day for ten or twenty years OR if you’ve been working as a freelance writer and conquered the fear of the blank page.
This is is the skill of writing and revising your manuscript, first getting a thousand, then ten thousand, then maybe 80 thousand words down in a singular narrative, making sure the manuscript ticks the boxes, having edited and revised it to your best ability.
And the skill piece ALSO applied to what I call your sales documents such as your query and your synopsis and your book proposal, which are essential to getting a book deal with a traditional publisher.
If you have this skill piece, you’re a third of the way there! You no doubt have writing skills, like I did. Writing skills are essential to get you a book deal and be a successful author. But on its own, writing skill is NOT enough. And sadly, this SKILL Piece is where most people stop, and it’s why most writers send out their proposal, don’t hear back, or get pretty far along and maybe get a rejection, then don’t know what to do next. It’s no wonder, the skill piece is all that most conventional writing courses and education focuses on.
And – among the general public, it’s just assumed that writing the book (and the query or proposal) is all you need to get a book deal – and some luck, maybe.
But there’s two more pieces that you need – to not just GET a book deal but be a successful author in the long term.
The Second Secret to becoming a Bestselling Author
The SECOND thing you need to be a successful author and to sell your work is a certain character trait. Without this character trait you’ll go off on the latest whim that takes your fancy or spend a decade getting your query letter together or go to every workshop you see or get distracted .
This character trait is FOCUS. I tend to think focus and determination are similar. A book deal for your MEMOIR needs to be the entire focus of your work. Yes, you might have a day job or another job you’re doing, but it can’t be a new and challenging one, and you can’t be simultaneously pitching a novel or promoting a supernatural thriller.
FOCUS as a character trait is what will get you there much faster.
So for example, when I was selling my first memoir, I was also working as a freelance journalist, but it wasn’t new to me, so it wasn’t taking a lot of new skill development. I wasn’t also moving to a different country, or going through a divorce, or starting an entirely new career path. To succeed in a big endeavour, you need to focus.
It’s a big sale, really, and if you go off track and start thinking you might self-publish, or work on a children’s book instead, or change your memoir to a work of fiction midway through or switch your manuscript to a bunch of essays because of something someone said in a facebook group or at a workshop, you’ll NEVER succeed.
FOCUS is so important to get yourself a book deal. Focus also means that you put less important things aside until you GET this book deal. You know how to prioritise, and what is a worthwhile thing to spend time and energy.
So that’s two of the 3 things you need to get a book deal AND be a successful author – skill, focus and there’s one more.
But I need to say that with just focus and no skill, you’ll probably make lots of great connections but no-one will ask for the manuscript. OR, you might sell it to a really small publisher or the first agent or editor who makes an offer, and it won’t have the best chance of success – say it only sells a few hundred copies or the promotional side is missing or you’re never consulted about the cover.
So there’s one more step, and these all work in synch – they’re the exact 3 steps I needed to master before i got a book deal AND what ensured my second book was a bestseller.
The third step really works to GIVE you more focus because you can actually feel that it’s possible to get this book deal and see how it’s going to be a success (ie. you know you’re not deluding yourself!)
This last piece is something that often you need to ‘borrow’ from someone else, particularly when it’s something you’ve never done before.
For a first-time author, or a first-time MEMOIR author, a book deal is something you’ve never achieved before!
And this is exactly why those who want to learn a new skill or excel at something at an elite level get coaches – it’s as much about the feeling level as the skill itself.
This last piece is a really important piece of your book deal and matters just as much as the manuscript itself and your focus.
You can have skill, a really great manuscript, and you can have the focus and determination to get it published, but WITHOUT this last piece, it will be five years on and you haven’t responded to a weird email rejection or even made headway understanding why your book didn’t sell in the acquisitions meeting.
The third piece to becoming a bestselling memoir author
The last piece, which is what mindset coaches work on, is CERTAINTY OF BELIEF.
So here’s the 3 steps, to recap:
You need to believe it’s possible. This belief needs to be 100%, not just hope.
Having belief and certainty that publishers are buying memoirs right now, how the whole thing pans out, when you can expect to hear back, when and how to respond to certain requests or rejections, how to know what you have is something that will sell.
When you have CERTAINTY that something is of value, and exactly how and where it’s going to sit in the marketplace, you are unstoppable, because you know exactly how to respond to nuanced requests in the industry.
This BELIEF piece is something quantum physicists talk about, that once you’ve experienced something once, it’s more likely to happen again – you have the memory in your mind of doing it so you’re more likely to attract it again.
And the paradox is that you need to BELIEVE it before you see it for the first time!
So how do you change your beliefs and see it as possible? You gather evidence and you borrow that belief from someone who has already done it!
This is why Olympic coaches get athletes to rehearse every second of the event before it happens – so it has this sense of inevitably. And so they don’t freeze when the crowd is roaring and the gun goes off at the starting line, etc etc.
This feeling of CERTAINTY OF BELIEF from either having already HAD the experience or rehearsing it or modeling it from a mentor is exactly why when I’d had my first book deal, I was able to secure a second book deal WITHOUT even having the manuscript. I had first-hand knowledge and had seen for myself how it worked from the back end.
Now it’s very very hard to do this piece on your own. This is one of the reasons I patched together a collection of mentors as i was working on my first book deal – there are so many details that you don’t see as an outsider to the publishing industry – even terminology I had no idea what it meant, things like ARC copies, acquisitions meetings, or just exactly what and when things are reviewed when you send a manuscript to a publisher or an agent.
But because I knew how important this mentorship piece was to bringing me certainty, when my first publisher DID call me, less than 5 days after I sent her my memoir manuscript, to say she LOVED it, she would have a deal for me and would be taking it to acquisitions the next week, I knew what that meant.
I knew what to get her for that meeting to help her sell it and get it over the line. And if it hadn’t? I’d have known what to do next.
I had such strong belief in my ability to get a book deal and this was only through seeking out published authors as mentors for the process, AND having a growth mindset.
I’m really passionate about self-development, and this is perhaps what makes me different to many book coaches out there. I don’t just look at a piece of writing from an intellectual level, I want to see how the author thinks about themselves and their career. This is actually more important to your success than you’d realise.
When you have a mentor – a coach in your corner – you can catapult towards mastery of a certain skill at lightning speed when it might have otherwise taken you years.
We get clear on the market, on your manuscript (and how it’s going to sell), on your pitch, on your follow up, all your sales documents and navigating the relationships you need to navigate to get your book deal, and, of course the details of the deal.
But most importantly, we work on your mindset all throughout the process. So that when the mentorship is done, YOU THINK differently about yourself and your book.
The mindset piece pulls everything else together.
Here’s the 3 things you need to become a successful author, and sell your book – and really, to succeed in any industry!
SKILL – you must be able to write. But don’t stop there!
FOCUS – make a decision about what you want and don’t deviate from that goal. This will accelerate everything.
CERTAINTY OF BELIEF – Invest in mentors to get that certainty so you understand the little and BIG details that mark success in the process.