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How to Sell a Book Before You Write a Book

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Do you want to write a book, but it seems like a lot of work—here's a shortcut! You can sell a book to a publisher or your customers, before you’ve even written it—and get validation that your story matters!

In all the books I’ve had sold, including when I crowdfunded my children’s book, the books were not written when I sold it. I have never sold a book to a publisher with the entire manuscript written. And, you don’t have to either, which is great news because it means you can get validation that your story will sell long before you put all that time and energy into actually writing it.

It's a shortcut which is not a cheat, it’s a sensible, practical strategy for people who are time-poor like all of us. Worse-case scenario: if no one wants to buy your book proposal and you’re getting feedback that it’s too ‘samey’, that’s your chance early to pivot it, tweak it and change it to make it a book that’s really going to sell.

Best case scenario: your book proposal sells fast and then you have another 8 months or a year to write it before your deadline. So, let's get stuck in ...

p.s If you prefer to watch a video of this content, just head over to my Instagram and watch my free masterclass here.

How I’ve sold multiple books before I’ve written them:

· My first, book Wife Interrupted I sold with a book proposal and 3 chapters.

· My second book, I sold with a book proposal and 3 chapters.

· The third book I sold off the back of a 800-word article I’d written.

· My next book, The World is a Nice Pace I sold off a book proposal which ended up being completely changed because wanted a new angle. So, I actually sold off a book from a phone conversation with a publisher about the new idea.

· My latest book, which comes out in 2024, I sold off the back of a book proposal and 2 short samples chapters (about 4000 words in total).

If you’re reading this with the spark of an idea but a lot of fears, let’s start by addressing the 3 common fears about book writing that I hear through my course and writing mentoring service (and what I’ve felt myself!).

3 fears of writing a book:

· Is my story unique enough?

· Do I have the skills to write it?

· Do I have the times to write it?

Is my story unique enough?

Uniqueness is overrated. Sure, there is a place for the unique story that has never been read before. But, also, there is a place for the relatable; the stories you hear that touch your soul because you have lived them too. Even if you are writing about a breakup or losing a child or motherhood, that has been told a thousand times in different ways… but there is a reason it’s been told so many times, because it’s relatable to so many. You won’t have overcome it in the same way.

Putting my editor hat on, you do need to have a new angle that makes you stand out. If I was writing an article on you, what is the new twist you are putting on it? My first book was about grief and being widowed. There are so many books on grief, but my unique selling point was my honesty in how I dealt with it — being promiscuous. There’s chapters of my first book which are samey but the unique angle was – here’s this 23 years old saying, I’m dealing with grief in this messy, unorthodox way and I’m happy to share it.

I always get my writers ask to ask themselves: Why you, why now? Why is your story important? Why could it only be told by you? Why does it need to be told now?

I’ve had book publishers before, quite rightly, tell me I had a good idea but it wasn’t good timing, or there are better people to write about it than me. It’s not fun to hear but, in every case, it was true.

This is also what you’ll outline in your book proposal, which we go into in my course in detail.

Do I have the skills to write a book?

I’m not going to lie, some people don’t, even though they have amazing knowledge or a story. That’s why I offer a ghost writing service. But, a lot of people do have the skills, even if they don’t see themselves as a writer.

Writing a book isn’t about writing in a really complicated, academic (unless you’re writing an academic book) way. The best advice I’ve ever been given, when I was a 20-year-old journalist was: write exactly as you speak. Write as if you’re speaking on the phone to your mum or your best friend. Hopefully, one day you get to record the audiobook version of your book, and then this tip will really pay dividends. My books read like my podcast interviews — my words and my voice are the same.

Do I have the time?

It can take a lot of time to write a book (although my record for writing a memoir is 14 days). But, once you sell a book it gives you time to write the book. Hopefully, a publishers gives you a nice little advance. Plus, the confidence boost to give you the motivation to churn out that book. You’ll have either a publisher waiting for your manuscript or, if you did pre-sales, 2000 customers waiting for you.

For procrastinators, this strategy of selling a book before you write a book is perfect. Just be honest: tell your publisher the rest of the book is written or tell your pre-sale customers (I did in my crowdfunding campaign).

Routes to market:

There are three main ways I’ve sold a book before I’ve written a book before, and I’ll break them down for you here. This is only top-line stuff — if you want to know more, I go deeply into writing a book proposal in my course, The Book Writing Remedy.

Route one: Sending a book proposal to a publisher.

A book proposal in its simplest form is a summary of your book. T The proposal is about 2 pages long and sums up the main story, the story arc, why it matters, why you're the one to tell the story.

In my course, The Book Writing Remedy, I give people a Canva template they can follow which takes you through the whole book proposal (introduction, paragraph 1, paragraph 2 etc). If you don't want to do the whole course (although I recommend it), you can sign up for my Book Pitching Template: an Easy & Proven Route to a Book Deal.

For ‘Why now’, a publisher will want evidence. If you’re talking about infertility, how many people experience infertility in your country/ the world. But, also go wider. Even if your story is niche, what are the common themes that people can relate to. Why is there a strong audience right now who are desperate for the answers you can supply.

For 'Why you? you don’t need to have a degree in your topic to have an impact, although if you do, then big that up. School of life counts for a lot in publishing now. If you do have a huge social media following it helps, of course, but if you don’t what network do you have _ are you linked in with chariti4es, with childcare centres or entrepreneurial networks. Big up what you do have — an incredible real life experiences.

Sending chapter samples.

When you send your book, proposal, you also need to send sample chapters. A publisher would love you to send a whole manuscript in an ideal world. But, the minimum is 3 sample chapters. You will need to send a chapter breakdown – this is a list of the chapter in your book, with a one-paragraph summary of what chapter is about (I share an example in my course). Side note: your chapter breakdown can change later, within reason. I don’t think I’ve ever had an final book perfectly match my chapter breakdown. Generally, I send my introduction and chapter one, plus a chapter from later in the book that shows the progression of your character (you!).

Side note: In Australia, you generally don’t need a literary agent as you can send proposals straight to book publishers. In the UK and America, you generally need a book agent first, as most publishers won’t take an ‘unsolicited’ proposal from an author (e.g you need an agent to pitch it for you).

Your book proposal doesn’t have to and may not, replicate your final book. You’re really enticing a publisher, showing you have a story to tell, and you’re the person they want to tell it. I share my chapter breakdown for The World is a Nice Place in my course and give people the chance to compare it with my final book — you’ll see the difference!

Route two: Selling an article on your story to use as leverage.

This is something I’ve done twice — writing a very successful article, than sending that to a publisher instead of a book proposal. It’s great because you get to gather evidence early that your story has impact. A few years ago, I ghost-wrote an article for someone in the public eye which had a lot of feedback. After seeing the impact of the article, I sent it to a publisher: ‘I think this story could make an amazing book’. And, they bought it.

I already had evidence that this topic had a hungry audience who were desperate to read it. As long as you have more to say, and not everything has been put in the article, this is a great way to pitch a book to a publisher or agent.

Publishers wants to have the least risk in signing you up. They want evidence that what you are writing about will sell and have commercial weight, so the more evidence you can produce that you are a sure-bet, the better.

Route 3: Crowdfunding a book

For my children’s book, I decided to crowdfund and self-publish a book as an experiment to see how hard it was, and whether I’d like to do it going forward. For me, the main benefits were financial (this is a big conversation, which is usually why I work one-on-one with writers to put a plan in place).

Crowdfunding a book is really the equivalent of selling pre-orders — people pay in advance and, if you hit your target, you deliver the book on a certain date. Producing a children’s book is more expensive than a black-and-white memoir because they’re usually hard cover and full-colour, so crowd-funding was a great option as I covered all the expenses of my illustrator and printing, plus admin like getting a barcode and ISBN number.

For me, I still love working with a publishing house with my adult books, especially when it comes to a certain category like self-help and spirituality (which is why I’m currently with Hay House). I’m happy to take a hit financially for the benefits of being one of their authors — it opens so many doors for me.

In Summary:

Selling a book before you write a book is a great option, no matter how you plan to bring a book to market. It’s a great way to gather evidence that your story has legs before you invest 60,000 words in putting all of your thoughts onto paper. You still have to put effort into your book proposal though — without a full manuscript, what you are pitching needs to have the wow factor. And, be open to feedback!

My course, The Book Writing Remedy takes people from book idea to ready-to-pitch in 12 weeks. If you don't want to do the whole course (although I recommend it), you can sign up for my Book Pitching Template: an Easy & Proven Route to a Book Deal. Or, reach out to work with me one-on-one.

And, good luck! The world needs more amazing books out there.

Amy is an award-winning journalist, editor, author and pod-writer who produces uplifting content for the biggest names in global publishing. With qualifications in Counselling and Mindfulness, as well as creating her own content, she empowers writers (of all levels) across the world through The Book Writing Remedy course and LIGHTWRITER® mentoring program.


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