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You Don't Have to Have Any Connections to Become a Bestseller

Jun 02, 2020

Last week I wrote about how you don’t need to be well-connected to become a best-selling author. Today I’m writing about how you don’t need any connections at all.

Here’s the deal: when I sold my first book to HarperCollins, in 2005, I sniffed at self-publishing.

When I sold my second book, I had the same attitude.

And on and on, through my sixth book.

When I ran into people I considered non-writers and they told me they’d published a book, I immediately inquired, “Traditional or…?”

I usually let the sentence trail off into the ether, the word “self-publishing” too anathema for me to even utter.

Then something happened.

Publishing Broke

That first book deal was for $50,000, a number which disappointed me terribly at the time. I knew people who were getting $200 and $300k book deals so I felt terribly disregarded.

Ah, the sweet ignorance of youth.

My final book deal, roughly seven years later, was for $2,000.

Yes, $2,000.

I had been paid $5,000 for a magazine cover story that consisted of interviewing a celebrity for an hour and then shaping the transcript into a 1000-word story and suddenly I was getting less than half of that for a book.

Oh, and those people I knew who were netting six-figure book deals?

They weren’t earning out their advances… not even close. In fact, they were losing their publishing companies so much money that they’d essentially rendered themselves black-listed.

They could never sell another book. Who would make a deal, after all, with a writer who’d lost HarperCollins or St. Martin’s or another of the Big Five mid-six figures?

At the Same Time, Self-Publishing Exploded

Self-published books like The Martian and Still Alice became hit movies.

I watched James Altucher self-publish Choose Yourself and sell 45,000 copies in the first month while my friends with traditionally published books were talking about going back to school and getting teaching credentials.

Speaking of Altucher, he wrote in a blog post called “How to Self-Publish a Bestseller”:

The distinction now is no longer between “traditional publishing” versus “self-publishing.” The distinction now is between PROFESSIONAL versus UNPROFESSIONAL publishing.

My first ten books were done unprofessionally. Even the ones with the big publishing houses.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Still, getting a deal with a major publishing house isn’t an option for most people; the big ones are rumored to accept roughly 3 out of every 10,000 submitted proposals.

The big publishing houses also take between a year and two years to release a book.

The big publishing houses also choose to support very few of the books they release and thus do very little to help the authors of the books they have not selected.

How do I know this? Because all six times I went with a big publisher, I was one of the authors whose book had not been selected.

It took me a few years to catch onto the fact that the line between traditional and self-publishing had disintegrated so much that they had in fact switched places.

There are no gatekeepers now.