How to Publish Your Book

Course No. 2553
Professor Jane Friedman,
University of Virginia
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Course No. 2553
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Explore the history of the publishing business, the competition in the market, and the major players in the industry.
  • numbers Learn what elements comprise a good query letter and which red flags almost always result in immediate rejection.
  • numbers Understand why you might be rejected, even if you’ve done everything correctly and what feedback is being conveyed.
  • numbers Get a handle on the pros and cons of self-publishing and other formats and deliverables for your writing.

Course Overview

We have all heard the stories of publishing “miracles,” such as the struggling English teacher who fished his first short story out of the trash, turned it into a novel in two weeks, and ended up becoming one of the best-selling authors of all time. Or the teacher living on welfare whose book got published because the head of a publishing house gave the first chapter to his daughter to read, resulting in one of the most successful franchises in the world. Or the stay-at-home mom of three active children who wrote at night and just happened to have her manuscript picked up from a slush pile, turning her into a wildly successful Young Adult writer.

Hearing these stories of success can make getting published appear to be easy—a happenstance where the right manuscript, in the hands of the right publisher, means anyone can become a best-selling phenomenon. But, sadly, that’s not the case. With the advent of the convenience offered by the internet, today’s new writers face unprecedented competition in the writing market. In addition, the publishing market is in a constant state of flux, susceptible to corporate take-overs or consolidations, making publishers even more wary about taking on new authors. Further, a plethora of options for publication make navigating the increasingly complex publishing industry harder than ever. Were those three best-selling writers just lucky?

Most authors, even those lucky best-sellers, have had to deal with self-doubt, rejection, and frustration. Whether it was a touch of luck or steady perseverance and using the right strategies, authors such as the ones whose stories were shared above (Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer, respectively) serve as both a source of inspiration and a source of frustration for aspiring writers. If they can do it, why can’t I?

Luck can, and occasionally does, play a role, but learning the ropes, understanding how publishing works, and having someone who can help you navigate this increasingly convoluted system will make all the difference between a manuscript sitting on your closet shelf—or rising to the top of the best-sellers list.

In the 24 eye-opening lectures of How to Publish Your Book, Jane Friedman, publishing industry expert and educator, provides you with sought-after secrets of the publishing process that will help you navigate this difficult progression, bypass pitfalls that many novice authors get hung up on, and improve your chances of being considered for publication. She acts as your personal guide though the entire process from finalizing your manuscript, to writing the perfect pitch, to reviewing contracts and marketing your book. She provides the candid scoop on what you need to do in order to increase your chances of being considered. The knowledge you’ll gain by having an inside expert teaching you how to position your book for publication gives you a unique advantage and drastically increases your chances of getting noticed in this increasingly competitive industry.

The Magic Formula to Getting Published

The reality is that there is no magic formula that will guarantee publication. Just writing a good book is certainly not enough. In fact, as you’ll learn in this course, once you have written your book, you are not even halfway there. The hard truth is that, with a rejection rate of 99%, many excellent manuscripts will never see publication, and many writers will give up the hope of ever being published.

There are, however, numerous things that you can do to improve your chances and streamline your path to success. This course will provide you with extensive insights into the publishing process that will help you avoid the most common mistakes, pitfalls, and wrong turns that many authors encounter. Avoiding these errors will help you to dramatically increase the likelihood of being considered for publication.

Professor Friedman provides a comprehensive path to publication, which is laid out in clear steps and includes specific tips and guidelines a writer in any stage will benefit from, covering topics like:

  • defining your genre and finding the right market
  • reviewing and editing your manuscript
  • determining the right agent or publisher
  • writing a query letter, developing a pitch, and constructing a proposal
  • submitting your manuscript
  • dealing with rejection
  • understanding a publication contract
  • the pros and cons of self-publishing
  • marketing your book

With expertise in the industry as the former publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest, a lecturer in publishing at the University of Virginia, and a former professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati, Professor Friedman is highly qualified to provide you with a penetrating view into the many mysteries of the book publishing world. Previously an executive in the publishing world, and a published author herself, she has a depth of experience that provides her with unique insights into the publishing process from the both the perspective of the industry and of the writer enduring each step.

Be Aware of Publishing Pitfalls

Professor Friedman lays out the realities of writing for a living to aspiring writers so that they understand exactly the scope and commitment that may be required to undergo this process. Most writers, even those who have published multiple works, cannot support themselves fulltime as writers. As John Steinbeck famously noted: “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” Professor Friedman adds that if you are just writing because your friends or family told you that you should write, you are making a mistake. Another common misconception she dispels is the notion that once you get a contract, your part is done. On the contrary, it is highly likely that you will bear the onus of promoting your book. Once you get a contract, you need to be prepared to publicize and market it.

Once you are aware of the challenges you may be facing, Professor Friedman guides you through the nuances of the different literary genres, advising on the popularity, ease of publication, and pros and cons of each one. She clears up misconceptions about the children’s book market, which is commonly considered one of the easiest genres to break into—yet in reality, the opposite is true. Professor Friedman helps you clarify your goals and objectives, provides tips for pinpointing your audience and market, and guides you in determining what genre best suits your story. This enables you to align your submission to the publication houses best suited for your manuscript and to better stand out from the crowd of ambiguously categorized submissions.

Uncover the Major Players in Publishing

Once you’ve selected the right category for your work, Professor Friedman reveals the publication options available to you. She reviews the Big Five in the publishing industry—New York-based publishers who account for more than two-thirds of the published books in the United States. Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan comprise the Big Five, which Professor Friedman predicts will eventually become the Big Four or even Big Three. Professor Friedman explains the subsidiaries and conglomerates of each, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of working with smaller presses, independent publishing houses, and self-publishing. She also explores in-depth the role that major online players such as Amazon have had in subverting the traditional publishing process. Much like other evolutions and advancements in this industry, the emergence of Amazon has both benefits and drawbacks for struggling and established authors alike.

Nail the Query

One of the hardest parts of getting published is crafting the time-honored query letter—an exercise that can make even the best writers faint with dread. This short introduction of you and your work serves much the same purpose as a resume and cover letter do for job-seekers. At their base, all query letters should include:

  • an element of personalization or a demonstration that you’ve done your homework and you’re aware of the marketplace you are trying to enter;
  • a definition of the property you have to offer—meaning the title, genre and page count; and
  • a brief overview and pitch to sell your story—called a hook.

But in order to effectively catch the attention of an agent or publisher, it should be much more than that. Professor Friedman believes the query letter is all about seduction, and she notes that many authors struggle with it because they have to distance themselves from their work in order to view it as a marketable commodity—a product.

To add to the complexity, no publisher wants to hear “This is the next Hunger Games.” They need to understand what will make your book resonate and stand out in the market the way The Hunger Games did. They need to be intrigued by the scope of the conflict or immediately feel empathy and understanding for your main character, all within a few short paragraphs. You can understand why even experienced writers struggle with the perfect query letter.

Professor Friedman offers a number of illuminating strategies to help you create a gripping query. For example, answer a series of three questions in your hook:

  • What does your character want?
  • Why does he want it?
  • What keeps him from getting it?

She also strongly recommends having a query letter reviewed and critiqued by a number of outside resources in order to provide a distanced perspective that can truly detect if you’ve captured the essence of your story with a compelling hook.

Even if your query is stellar, chances are, you will have to deal with rejections. Professor Friedman spends two lectures exploring the ramifications of being rejected, provides insights into the real reasons that are often behind rejection, and shares tips on how to not take it personally so you can move on. She delves into the psychological battle all writers deal with, considering ways to deal with frustration and desperation and turn those emotions into motivation to keep trying and improving.

More than Fiction

The non-fiction market is much more competitive than commonly presumed, and commercial publishers are extremely selective. As Professor Friedman notes, in order to be considered, you are required to have “a viable idea that has a clear position in the market, paired with an author who has visibility to a readership and marketing savvy. You need to convince the publisher that you have direct and specific experience reaching and understanding your audience.”

Professor Friedman reveals the most important elements a non-fiction writer needs to consider when submitting for publication. She outlines the importance of the proposal, when you may and may not need one, and the three most important components your non-fiction book proposal must include:

  • “So what?” – Why does your book exist? What makes it unique, and which methods do you use to provide this information?
  • “Who cares?” – Demonstrate that there is a sizeable audience for your non-fiction book and that you know enough about your potential readers to know that this book will be of interest.
  • “Who are you?” – You must have sufficient credentials to present yourself as an authority on the subject.

She also lays out five significant steps in researching your proposal that will help you demonstrate how your idea isn’t like a million others out there, and she explains the best format to lay out your proposal. Nowhere else can you find such an invaluable tutorial on how to position your non-fiction book for success.

Going Beyond the Traditional Book

One of the most fascinating areas Professor Friedman explores is the multitude of options for aspiring writers that extend beyond traditional publication. While most writers dream of seeing their name in print, viewing their book physically on the shelf, and potentially even earning recognition and awards for their work, Professor Friedman introduces a number of alternative publishing options and discusses why they are worth considering. With the publishing industry getting increasingly more competitive, it can be beneficial to consider options such as blogs, websites, literary magazines, newsletters, academic journals, fan-fiction, social media, and more. We are living in a world where people are seeking online connections; collaborative reading and writing experiences are becoming increasingly popular. Attention spans are shrinking as well, so for the modern audience, short but poignant blog entries or crowd-sourced collective stories may be a more viable platform for your project than a full-length book. As Professor Friedman notes, “If your blog is read by fifty thousand people but your published book only reaches ten thousand, which one was more worth your time? For many authors, that’s not just a rhetorical question—it’s a reality.”

Self-publishing has made significant strides in the last few years. While self-publishing once signified that perhaps your book wasn’t good enough to get picked up by an established publisher, it’s become more commonly understood that people now self-publish simply to avoid the long process of securing an agent and book contract. And when you look at the success of self-published authors such as Lisa Genova (Still Alice, debuting on the New York Times Best Sellers list at number five in January 2009), or Andy Weir (The Martian, which is currently being produced as a film staring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott), it’s easy to see how self-publishing has become a viable option for many writers.

Professor Friedman outlines both the pros and the cons of self-publishing, walking you through a typical process, introducing some of the options and platforms for self-publication, and elaborating on the steps you will need to take to enable a self-published book to succeed.

The possibilities offered by additional writing platforms and self-publishing can contribute to your ability to get your submission noticed by a traditional publishing house: having an established readership when you query publishers about your work will add more weight to your consideration. Particularly in the non-fiction world, where you will find a publisher who has a proven target market for your work, you will need to demonstrate to the publisher that you have an established audience. You should not expect the publisher to bring their audience to you; you have to bring your audience and your platform to the publisher. Having an established audience for your work through blogs, social media, self-publication, or any other format will help you catch the attention of a publisher. However, self-publishing is itself an accomplishment, and not necessarily a steppingstone to traditional publishing.

No matter what stage you are at in creating your book-to-be, How to Publish Your Book offers unparalleled guidance to help you determine your best path to publication. Will you decide to go the route of the traditional publishing experience, complete with an agent, editor, and publisher? Is self-publishing a smart option for your book? How would you like to explore other publication platforms and media? This course lays out your best options and leads you step by step toward achieving your goals.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    Today's Book Publishing Landscape
    Take an in-depth look at the world of writing and getting published: the history of the business, the competition in the modern market, and the major and minor players in the industry. Clear up some common misconceptions about what it takes to become a published writer and get an overview of what to expect if you pursue a career as a writer. x
  • 2
    Defining Your Fiction Genre
    Understanding where your fiction book falls in the general categories of literature is an essential step to getting published, as there are a plethora of genre-specific publishing houses. Differentiate between the various categories of fiction writing, including defining commercial and literary fiction, and examine the various types of children's books. x
  • 3
    Categorizing Your Nonfiction Book
    The non-fiction world is also broken into categories including memoires, education, creative or narrative non-fiction, and practical or self-help. Delve into the various genres of non-fiction writing, and learn how to determine which publishing house best aligns with your non-fiction manuscript. x
  • 4
    Researching Writers' Markets
    The modern publishing markets are far more complex than they were even a few decades ago. Learn about the different agents and publishers, and discover the tools out there that can help you find the right ones for you. Also, learn how to spot scams and get a handle on what questions you need to ask when deciding whom to approach. x
  • 5
    What to Expect from a Literary Agent
    Examine the pros and cons to using literary agents, and learn how the responsibilities and obligations of literary agents have evolved. Learn about how to acquire one, what to expect from an agent, and what standard and non-standard practices you may encounter if you choose to go that route. x
  • 6
    Writing Your Query Letter
    The query letter is your first impression and often what catches an agent or publisher's attention, so it's important to create a memorable one. Learn what elements comprise a good query letter, what components the publisher or agent requires, and how to stand out from a sea of queries so your book gets further consideration. Find out which red flags almost always result in immediate rejection. x
  • 7
    Writing Your Novel or Memoir Synopsis
    Once you've nailed a query letter, you will need to provide a synopsis. Condensing your entire story into a one-page overview while still keeping it compelling and intriguing is not easy. Get valuable tips on what a synopsis should and should not contain, and learn what your synopsis needs to focus on and accomplish to be successful. x
  • 8
    The Importance of Author Platform
    A platform generally refers to an author's visibility and reach to a target audience: who is aware of your work, where does your work appear, and how many people see it. Examine the six components that make up most platforms, and review the requirements for various genres of writing. x
  • 9
    Researching and Planning Your Book Proposal
    Dissect the elements in a book proposal, which is essentially a business plan that persuades a publisher to invest in your book. Because publishers look for a viable idea with a clear market, paired with a writer who has credibility and marketing savvy, your proposal will need to demonstrate both of these, which will require investigation into the target market, audience, competition, authors, and more. Learn the five essential components you need to research to write a captivating proposal. x
  • 10
    Writing an Effective Book Proposal
    Once you've completed the research required, analyze how to effectively incorporate your findings in a compelling manner, how to craft an author bio that will showcase your credentials, and how to integrate a marketing plan - including identifying your target audience - throughout your proposal. Review examples of how stats and research are incorporated into well-crafted proposals. x
  • 11
    Submissions and Publishing Etiquette
    While each publisher and agent has their own requirements for you to follow when submitting your work for consideration, there are rules that apply universally and will often result in rejections when not followed. Learn the guidelines for mailing and emailing queries, what your rights are and how to protect your work, and the definitions of common terminology that publishers and agents may use when requesting submissions. x
  • 12
    Networking: From Writers' Conferences to Courses
    Just like with a job search, networking can be an important and useful component to getting published. Delve into the options and resources you have for meeting other writers, agents, and publishing representatives, learn how to develop a gripping elevator pitch for your work, and discover ways you can network online to help develop and perfect your proposal. x
  • 13
    Pitching Your Book
    Not all aspiring writers will have the opportunity to pitch their books, but every writer should have a pitch prepared. Learn the three types of pitches you should have ready, examine strong and weak pitch examples, and get tips on how to prepare for pitches without succumbing to nerves or stage fright. x
  • 14
    Avoiding Common Manuscript Pitfalls
    Many agents and editors rely on their experience and instinct and can tell within the first page whether or not a manuscript is worth reading further. Discuss the two rough categories of red flags: narrative or structural problems and surface-level errors that can lead to a make-or-break decision before the second page. You'll also get invaluable tips on creating a strong opening, including the pivotal first sentence. x
  • 15
    Hiring a Professional Editor
    Explore the different stages of writing and reviewing, examine the different types of editing you can consider, and learn what an editor can and can't do to make your work publishable. Then, find out the three reasons you may consider hiring a professional to review your work. x
  • 16
    How Writers Handle Rejection
    In this important lecture, you'll learn why you might be rejected, even if you've done everything correctly. Dissect some of the common reasons for rejection, how to let go of rejection or react to it in a constructive manner, and what your options are if you've been rejected. Interpret common or form rejection phrases to learn what feedback is really being conveyed. x
  • 17
    Overcoming Obstacles to Writing
    Rejections are not the only obstacles to becoming a published author. Look at common dilemmas writers face, and learn how to create time for writing no matter what your daily schedule looks like. x
  • 18
    The Book Publishing Contract
    If you get to the point of the process where publishing contracts are being drafted, it's important to understand the terminology and protect your rights. Examine the three areas of the contract to which you should pay close attention: the grant-of-rights clause, the reversion-of-rights clause, and the subsidiary rights clauses. You'll also explore matters of compensation and material ownership. x
  • 19
    Working Effectively with Your Publisher
    While most aspiring writers are thrilled to get to this point in the publication process, it's also important to know what will be expected of you once a publisher agrees to move forward. Learn the several phases you'll go through with the publisher, including editorial development, design and production, sales and marketing planning, the book launch, and post-launch PR and publicity. x
  • 20
    Becoming a Bestselling Author
    Marketing your book is a huge part of becoming a best-seller, and much of the onus of marketing will fall on you. Learn about how you'll be expected to provide support in order to help publicize your book, such as hosting author events, creating a presence on social media, and reaching out to your connections. x
  • 21
    Career Marketing Strategies for Writers
    Author websites, blogs, newsletters and emails, and social media will be your responsibility, and these marketing tools are often required by your publisher. Get tips on creating successful marketing tactics to help publicize your work and keep your publisher happy. x
  • 22
    The Self-Publishing Path: When and How
    Discuss the value of publishers, then review specific scenarios in which you may not need those benefits. When is self-publishing a viable option for your book? Get invaluable advice on steps you should take if you choose to self-publish, and learn about the tools you will need to succeed. x
  • 23
    Principles of Self-Publishing Success
    Understand the vital role metadata plays in positioning your self-published book for success. Examine pricing models to attract a large audience that is hesitant about purchasing from an unknown entity. Learn tips to garner reviews that will help your book get noticed. x
  • 24
    Beyond the Book: Sharing Ideas in the Digital Age
    In an era when attention spans are shrinking and collaborative reading and writing are becoming more common, it's important to consider the story or message you wish to share, rather than focusing on the container. Consider the many ways besides a book to write, publish, and share ideas in the digital age. Explore the plethora of options you have as a writer in modern times, and reflect on what the future may bring. x

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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
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  • Closed captioning available

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  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Exercises
  • Online resources for writers

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Your professor

Jane Friedman

About Your Professor

Jane Friedman
University of Virginia
Jane Friedman has worked in the book, magazine, and digital publishing industry since the mid-1990s. From 2001 to 2010, she worked at Writer’s Digest, ultimately becoming publisher and editorial director of the $10 million multimedia brand. Most recently, she led digital media initiatives at The Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), an award-winning literary journal published by the University of Virginia. She continues to...
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How to Publish Your Book is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 63.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical and Professional Presentation Having published in academic journals, I thought I knew a bit about publishing for a wider audience, but this DVD presentation showed me how much I don't know. Having years of practical experience as the editor of Writer's Digest as a resource, Ms. Friedman presented the material in an organized and easy-to-follow format. Particularly effective were her practical examples of engaging hooks, effective query letters, and timely examples of present-day authors who have published best sellers. She also provides personal insights regarding what to avoid when engaging an agent, for example. Well worth the investment!
Date published: 2020-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than the title implies Excellent course that covers all aspects of wanting to write something for other people to read, from internal doubts to the finer points of self-publishing. I stumbled across the author's blog and there learned about the series, free from my local library. Listened to it continuously over the last three days and am in a much better position to evaluate my next moves and weigh the risks/rewards of various strategies. Excellent resource for writers at any stage of the process.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely thorough I have taken other online courses on this topic which provided little insight or direction. Jane Friedman is an expert in her field and has the additional attribute of being able to share her expertise. The lectures cover all aspects of the publishing process in a logical sequence, offering informative details and insights from an experienced perspective. An excellent series which I highly recommend.
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course. Very well presented. Good for any kind of fiction writing. Reallty enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2020-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All courses Since I have ordered about 15 courses, I guess that speaks for itself.
Date published: 2020-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robotics A hands on approach with thorough explanations! no previous knowledge required. Professor loves what he teaches. Score 10+/10
Date published: 2019-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent resource Ms. Friedman is an incredible resource. Get the course book, buy the transcript if available. Every word is useful.
Date published: 2019-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful professor and course I loved this course - so much helpful detail and a no-nonsense presentation by someone who obviously knew their field very well. I really appreciated everything about this program.
Date published: 2019-05-11
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