How to write a book and have it published

September 1, 2008

Here are steps and suggestions for getting your book idea to a publisher and seeing your work in print and on the bookshelves.

Key Points

This article will provide you with steps and suggestions for getting your book idea to a publisher and seeing your work in print and on the bookshelves.

Why should you write a book? Being a published author is an effective method of enhancing your image as a physician. Physicians who become well known through print media often attract patients from all over the country, especially if they are treating unusual disorders, approaching common diseases in a new way, or offering fresh ideas about wellness as well as illness. Patrick Walsh, MD's Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer is such an example.

But unless you are in that latter category of full-time writer, don't assume that writing a book will bring a financial windfall. Most book royalties are 10% to 15%, and if you weigh the hundreds of hours of hard work required to complete a book, your time would be better spent in your practice than at the computer. But if you're still eager to join the ranks of published authors, here's how to get started.

Find a publisher and submit a pitch letter. Visit the bookstores in your area, not only the national chains, but also medical school bookstores. See what books have been written on your topic. Note the publishers of these books and find out the names of the acquisition editors by calling the publishers or looking on the Internet.

Contact the acquisition editors by phone or e-mail with an "elevator pitch" about your book idea. This is the hook in which you provide a few sentences briefly describing the book, why the approach is unique, and why the editor will want to publish it. Hook the editor with a taste of your book, why it will sell, and why you are the best author to write it. The pitch letter should be less than two pages or no more than two computer screens.

If you have piqued the interest of the editor, he or she will ask you to submit a book proposal.

Prepare a book proposal. Your proposal to a publisher should detail the nature of the book, why you are the one to write it, your expertise in the topic, your curriculum vitae, a complete table of contents, a market analysis of other books on the topic and why your book is different, when you believe you can have the book finished and ready for professional editing, and two or three sample chapters. We suggest including an introduction to give the editor an overview of the book.

Sample chapters are important for giving the publisher an impression of the style of your writing, the content, and what he or she can expect if your proposal is accepted.

Your proposal should be professionally bound on good paper stock and should contain a cover letter of introduction. If you want the proposal returned, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Create a market analysis and promotion plan. If you are truly serious about being published, conduct a market analysis and promotion plan. Those who take the time to do an analysis can expect to be taken seriously by the book editor. The market analysis should include an in-depth description of your anticipated audience, including the number of people in this audience and why they will be interested in your book.