How can I get a best selling book(s) published?
April 28, 2012 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Please bear with my premise. I have conceived & rough-edited an original series of art books that I am certain will become extremely popular. They are unique but mainstream; smart but immediate, they have universal appeal, and their content is hard to copy.

I have a website where the original art project is displayed. It receives about 100 visitors daily. I also got many hundreds of emails from readers who write in glowing terms that this is the cutest, most original, heart-warming, wonderful (etc.) project they have ever seen.

I love developing this project so much that I would like to quit my day job & dedicate myself full time to it, so I want it to become a commercial success.

I know that with a bit of promotion the website can be seen & appreciated by many. But I have no contacts in the ‘industry’ and never thought that this is the direction I’m going to end up in. So I’m not sure how to get it to the right people, who can take what I’ve done & make it available to the wider public.

Should I wait until a savvy editor discovers the website? Shall I send solicitations to book publishers? Shall I look for an agent to represent me? What are the best ways of finding the right person or agency? What is the best angle to use? Should I try the self-publishing route? I could really use some guidance here, from folks who’ve done something like this successfully, or who are in the business & know how it works.

Thank you in advance for your help. I set up a throwaway account at , if you prefer to write privately.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hire a publicist. That's what they do.

But consider this ... If the stuff was so jaw droppingly good, wouldn't the website have gone viral? They say, don't believe your own press. I'm skeptical of how commercially viable it is, if it's only getting 100 hits a day. Stuff is shared so easily that websites that have mass appeal tend to go viral and get many thousands of hits a day.
posted by jayder at 1:21 PM on April 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I really doubt you should hire a publicist before you have either a contract with a publisher or a self-published volume (or series) to sell. Publicizing a website where you give stuff away for free--even with advertising--doesn't make economic sense.

Should I wait until a savvy editor discovers the website?

No, because that will never happen.

Shall I send solicitations to book publishers?


Shall I look for an agent to represent me?

Also possibly.

What are the best ways of finding the right person or agency?

Going into stores and finding similar books to your hypothetical book, and seeing who publishes them and who the agents was who represented them (the agent is usually thanked in the acknowledgements).

What is the best angle to use? Should I try the self-publishing route?

Self-publishing an art book requires an upfront investment of tens of thousands of dollars in most cases--it's not like self-publishing a novel where a print-on-demand publisher can be your printer.

Join and ask your question there. There are other people there who have published art books, both with commercial publishers and as self-publishers.

Don't quit your day job until you start getting paid for this work.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:26 PM on April 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

And nobody can ever be "certain" what is and isn't going to be popular. I am a freelance editor. I work with people who are convinced they have written a bestseller. They are mistaken in that conviction, because there's no way of knowing.

It's a crapshoot; one book with the potential to be a bestseller might take off because of chance (Christopher Paolini and Eragon) while another book with equal or greater potential might languish in the midlist. I know people who have written bestsellers and they never expected them to do more than moderately well. J. K. Rowling hoped to make tens of thousands of pounds, at best, from Harry Potter.

I say this not to be a downer, but the "this is going to be a bestseller" attitude is counterproductive. It is pretty much the best way to guarantee your work isn't going to be a bestseller. "This has a lot of commercial potential" is the way to think about it so that you don't get locked into "knowing better" than the people who have been doing this stuff for decades and refusing to take their advice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:31 PM on April 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Well, I'll just say that if you have a good job don't quit it until you are actually generating revenue at least double your current monthly income that appears to be long-term sustainable.

It's hard, but not that hard, to grow a website without working 40 hours a week on it. I kept a full time career and grew a website from 0 to 1.5 million page views a day working maybe an average of 2 hours a day, 5 days a week in a matter of 6 months. I then steadily grew and sustained that for about 2 years without ever quitting my day job.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:41 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had kind of a knee-jerk reaction to your questions, so I'm going to throw a couple of different thoughts your way, some happy, some not.

First, and this may be kind of a downer, unless you've been using Google Analytics and know for sure what your stat breakdown is, it's likely that the makeup of those daily visitors to your website = repeat visits, not unique new IPs. That means that the fanbase you perceive yourself to have may be a lot smaller than what you think it is. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. I think that it's a good reality check to really see just who exactly is visiting your site and where they're getting there from.

Second, you've got some pretty big dollar signs in your eyes and I think that's going to prevent you from really making this project soar if that's what your heart's desire is. To be frank, my immediate reaction to your assertion that you were "certain [these books] will become extremely popular" was "this person sounds majorly out of touch with reality". I am sure your project is awesome. It sounds like it definitely could be. But for me, working in publishing, the attitude you currently have about the project doesn't lend itself to creating a positive connection with a publisher, publicist, or even a consumer. It's one thing to say, "Hey, I think this could go the distance, and I'm willing to give it my all to make that happen." It's another thing to assert to everyone around you that something is for sure going to be a success because it sets you up for failure. People will likely challenge that too-strong assertion right and left -- and they may go out of their way to be hyper critical. Instead, settle towards the middle -- that you want this to happen, believe in it, and look forward to the possibility that it could be a commercial success.

Third, you need to do some research before you take any bigger steps like quitting your day job. (Please don't.) Go to the bookstore. Go to many bookstores. Look at Amazon. Look at the US copyright office records. Try to find as many comparable projects as possible and really look at their content, the way they were designed and executed, and take note of every publisher and editor you see. Read up on the realities of self-publishing. Really look at your finances and start setting aside money to put into this project. If you have to, start looking to get some informational interviews with local publishers. Talk to them about your project and tell them that you're eager for feedback. Then take that feedback and look critically at the premise of your project and be prepared to "kill your baby" so to speak. You must be willing to let go of parts of the project if you really believe it to be commercially viable.

Fourth, you probably need to be submitting manuscripts of these books/your website to the US Copyright office if you haven't already. If you can, you also need to create a rough draft of at least one of the books so that you can copyright that too. This will protect you as you shop the idea around.

Finally, consider scrapping the book idea and instead make an app. Books are wonderful, but a series of really well-designed art apps could be even more fun because they could really allow you and a team of developers to get down and dirty with content you obviously love very much. There are a lot of start ups that would love a project like this. Just look around your city for companies that do digital books and app development for iOS and Nook. You'll also need to consider your demographic -- and move the project to the medium that will appeal to them most. Digital books have a lot of appeal and viability. I'd really consider that if you think it'd be a good fit for your content.

Above all else, stay humble, do your research, and stay practical about this. Good luck.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:56 PM on April 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

I know that with a bit of promotion the website can be seen & appreciated by many.

You could have linked to it here or put it in projects, for a start. And promoting a website isn't nearly as easy-peasy nor as foolproof as it might be. I was a paid blogger and as I got more money for more hits, I killed myself to get people to read and link to it. My best day shut down the server, as it got millions of pageviews. Millions. I'm not trying to snub you but 100 hits isn't close to what you should be getting if you're going to try to sell the art as book.
And you don't need to submit anything to the US Copyright Office--any completed work is protected automatically.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:16 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

One other thing to consider:

"Appeals to a smart, discriminating audience" does not necessarily mean best seller.

"Has massive appeal to an audience primarily comprised of idiots and non-readers" has more potential (think: "Shit My Dad Says").
posted by jayder at 2:38 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to chime in to say that in 2012 it is always a good idea to dream with caution when hit by any 20th century-style book author dreams. This morning I was all set to go hang out at one of my big city's chain bookstores only to see that they'd all shut down.

There is an idea woven into our pop culture that publishing a book is the finish line of success. But as a published author who was once represented by a celebrated "agent to the bloggers," I found the process of fighting to appear on dead tree products 100 times less fulfilling than seeing big hit counts and referral URLs showing up in my Dreamhost stats.

So dream big and don't let anyone chip away at your art and vision, but D.I.Y. if you have to, rather than relying on "the right people" to help you out in an industry that is going through some chaos. And I think the digital book suggestion above is great.

If you do want to go the industry route you should check out a book on crafting book proposal queries.
posted by steinsaltz at 2:52 PM on April 28, 2012

I would say...see if you can get it to go viral. Don't quit your day job, but make sure your website and project are as polished as possible, and try promoting it yourself. Write frequent blog posts about aspects of the project, and comment intelligently on the blogs of people who are interested in similar art things. If it is as adorable and wonderful as you think, more and more people will get interested, and a broader following will make the project much more marketable when/if a publisher comes calling.
posted by redsparkler at 3:03 PM on April 28, 2012

There's recently been a book that has "gone viral" in a sense -- it's called Jeff, One Lonely Guy, published by Amazon -- which I bought on the strength of David Shields' and Bret Easton Ellis' kudos. I am underwhelmed. (Yet here I am giving it more buzz.) It has made me ponder the "catching lightning in a bottle" element of getting something to take off. This book is so simple, so unimpressive, so anyone-could-have-done-it, so devoid of any brilliance, compared to creations that should have brought MacArthur Fellowships and Guggenheims and huge sales, etc., that nobody has hearf of, so I agree with the person up thread who says you just can't know what will become big. Just throw it out there.

I think you should share the website with us. There's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't. If its that good then you will get the buzz going right here in this thread (or in your profile). The chances of it taking off are slim enough, why are you holding back?
posted by jayder at 4:04 PM on April 28, 2012

The voice of reason here: don't plan on quitting your day job anytime soon. I know plenty of people who've attained fairly impressive successes in publishing and still wait tables because income from that stuff can be so erratic. That's just the world we live in now. If/when it comes time to make this your full-time enterprise, you'll recognize it when it happens. Leaving work to build up your business *into* that kind of enterprise is most likely just going to teach you some very sobering lessons.
posted by hermitosis at 4:36 PM on April 28, 2012

Seconding the "don't copyright stuff" at this stage. The time to register copyrights on print materials is at the time of publication; if you publish with a commercial publisher, they'll do it for you, and if you're self-publishing you do it then.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:28 PM on April 28, 2012

anonymous: "I have a website where the original art project is displayed. It receives about 100 visitors daily. I also got many hundreds of emails from readers who write in glowing terms that this is the cutest, most original, heart-warming, wonderful (etc.) project they have ever seen. "

Maybe consider posting your website to Metafilter Projects? If it's really as compelling as you say, I'm sure someone will cross-post it to Metafilter itself, and it will get a lot more eyeballs on it.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:34 PM on April 28, 2012

Don't quit your day job.

This art project sounds interesting, sure, but where's the money? Are people buying prints? Access to original files? Have you done research on what people will pay? Have you set up social media sharing / links? Is it easy to find on Google? Is it being blogged about on other sites?

This may - *may* - take on a life on its own, but it may not.
posted by chrisinseoul at 3:49 AM on April 29, 2012

I have a website where the original art project is displayed. It receives about 100 visitors daily. I also got many hundreds of emails from readers who write in glowing terms that this is the cutest, most original, heart-warming, wonderful (etc.) project they have ever seen.

I am an independent creator that has reasonable success self publishing, publishing with big publishers and have options of my projects in hollywood. I am still motherfucking poor. Don't quit your day job.

One project is not going to pay your bills forever- unless you have somehow stumbled upon the next star wars- and we are talking a llllooooonnnng wait for that to come through. Pinning your hopes on one project is unrealistic.

I think you might be looking at this the wrong way. You have a super awesome creatively satisfying project where you are basically a creative director. Maybe it's not the project that is so satisfying. Maybe you need to move to Manhattan or LA or somewhere you could use your love of organizing creative projects in a "day job."

Art books don't sell well. They just don't. It has nothing to do with the content. Heck- good books don't really sell that well- and now we are looking at a world where most people are going to stop buying paper books at all- and looking at art on a kindle is not exactly going to show the work in a great light.

If the Art book was a companion to a well established novel- it would be something that the publisher would look at to make extra money. But it sounds like you want to sell a book of a series of original-idea illustrations. It's going to be tough.

Look at your audience-
1.what are the last three art books that made the "best seller"? what is their content like? who published them? Does the content in your book work?

2. Do you want this to be a physical object? Do you really want to make up a "book" or would you be ok with it staying a digital download?

3. Have you made an mock-up? If you want this to be a physical book, you'll need to make up a mock-up. Design what pages go where, what the cover is going to look like, and put it all together.

4. Look at your motivation- is this something you want to do outside of this project or is this you one and only creative love? You are putting your toes in a lot of lakes here- editing, project direction, a little producing- but there is a shit ton of other things that would need to be done that are less pleasant. Choosing the book design, finding someone to do the jacket, accounting, market research, taxes, book store agreements- heck paying everyone in the end. If you get a publisher to take a chance on an unknown set of artists and an unknown person who got them together- they don't necessarily take care of all of these other variables- and they would absolutely want to assign you an editor that would do what you do- except not be in love with the project. If this is your baby, are going to be able to handle having someone else call the shots and tell you that one thing or another thing that you loved just isn't going to work and needs to be cut?

If I knew a little more about your project, maybe i'd be a little more optimistic.
You should really link to it on the project page. We could also give you a little more specific advice as to get it out there, how to selfpublish, what you need to do to protect yourself and your artists.

And to dissuade you from any fear of people stealing your idea- don't worry about it. It's really hard to sell any project, and editor live in fear of the all mighty getting sued. they mostly won't even look at unsolicited creative material.
posted by Blisterlips at 4:10 AM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Feedback on the internet tends to paint a false picture. Praise is cheap (unless backed by money) and your ideas are probably not as great as you think they are. Rarely do people go out of their way to tell you your idea is poor, it's a fact of life.
posted by jedrek at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2012

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