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Call Me Pollyanna (Guest Post by John “Pollyanna” O’Leary)

I met John on a series of phone calls hosted by our mutual friend Trevor Gay, who, like us, is mad as a hatter. John is working on a book, and like many of you, he’s taking forever.

photo by Jeff Prieb on Someday Box Joel often lays out the case for self-publishing your book—instead of chasing the REALLY BIG PUBLISHING DEAL. I would have to agree that there are benefits to self-publishing. But based on my experiences as a writer (and author of the forthcoming book, Business Lessons From Rock) I believe it’s only fair that you should hear the other side of the argument. Let me take a moment to enumerate the advantages of pursuing a major publisher. There are many.

  1. You have the opportunity to find a literary agent! (Most major publishers only accept proposals from agents, not from peon writers.) Sending out query letters to over a dozen agents to find one who will actually look at your book proposal is a blast—and it’s a chance to sell yourself! You’ll also discover that receiving a multitude of rejection letters—which can be taped to your office wall in a decorative collage—is a worthwhile character-building exercise, which will only inspire you to do your very best. And once you find agents who will look at your proposal, most of them will reject it in the end, providing you with even more character-building opportunities!
  2. But once you eventually find an agent who will work with you, then you can receive detailed feedback on why your book proposal (and sample chapters) still needs major rewriting—which will enable you to further refine your writing talent and marketing skills! (Especially true if your book is already completed.) But the best part is when your agent takes three to five months to review your latest revisions, more than once! If your book is topical and timely (like my business book) this will give you ample opportunity to update your book—parts of which have been rendered obsolete given the time that has transpired since you began seeking an agent. (I can’t tell you how grateful I was to have this down period to make important revisions to my book.)
  3. If the agent agrees to work with you, then you have the opportunity to find and hire an attorney to review the agent contract—another learning experience! After that, your agent can finally begin shopping your masterpiece to publishers, so the fun can begin all over again. (This time it’s your agent who receives the rejection letters—so you’ll want to ask for copies, to add to your decorative collage.)
  4. In the unlikely event that you find a reputable publisher for your book, satisfy the demands the publisher wants, and finally have a contract to negotiate, another year may transpire. But again, this is perfect because you’ll need the time to rewrite your book which is now completely outdated. As a bonus, you may get an advance for your efforts, which you will happily share with your agent. How much of an advance? The general rule: it will match the cost of the lunch you have with your agent to celebrate the signing.
  5. But wait! The fun isn’t over yet. There’s still the pre-production stage—with many exciting back-and-forth conversations between you and your publisher—and the actual production stage (printing, binding, distributing). This may take another year, or longer. But by the time of the release date you’ll have the second edition already written! (Or it won’t really matter because you’ll be so focused on your regular job, making up ground for the years you spent on your book.) But at least you won’t have to stay up late worrying whether you’re getting your fair share of royalties. Given the upfront costs that major publishers incur, you can sleep comfortably at night knowing there will be no profit.

But before you call me Pollyanna, I’ll admit there are a few disadvantages to pursuing a major publisher, which I can list on another occasion.

John G. O’Leary is a management consultant, author, blogger, and musician. During his 15-year music career he shared the stage with over two dozen Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists. He is also a former candidate for US President, detailed in his first book The Running Game (Baseline, 1984), which was excerpted in Harper’s Magazine. His Business Lessons From Rock blog has been hailed by HR World as “one of the top 100 management and leadership blogs.”

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