How to Write a Book: From Manuscript to Book Deal - Jenna Kutcher

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How to Write a Book: From Manuscript to Book Deal

Jenna Kutcher 

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At this point in my entrepreneurial journey, there are few things I consider myself a “newbie” at… But by now, you’ve probably heard that I’m writing my first book, and THAT whole thing definitely has me feeling like a first-timer. It was important for me to navigate this new world of book writing and publishing with a team of experts who know the ropes, and I’m thrilled to have one of those experts on the show with me now.

Margaret Riley King is a partner and literary agent in WME’s global book division representing a roster of bestselling and award-winning authors in all areas of fiction and nonfiction. During her 13 years at WME, she has built a specialty area in the representation of influential women’s voices and has grown this into a literary powerhouse. She is also my book agent and I feel so lucky to say that! 

This is a special conversation about all things “writing a book” — what does that process look like? How do you get a book out into the world? Where do you begin with negotiations and promotion and all of the things? Margaret is here on Goal Digger to answer all of those questions, and more.

The Role of an Agent

Margaret is my literary agent, which is one role in the whole scheme of writing, publishing, and releasing a book. When I met with Margaret for the first time, I already had an entire manuscript, but that’s not always the case when people begin working with an agent. Some people might have an idea, or the foundations of an idea, and so the first step is answering the big question: What is the book?

When that material is ready, Margaret reviews it with an editorial eye and helps to get it to the best possible place before sharing it with publishers. It’s her role to find the best possible creative and professional match between author and editor at a publishing house, and then to negotiate the best possible deal.

After that, you might assume her work is done, but an agent continues to be part of the process from managing the relationship, conversations around distribution, marketing, crisis management, the cover and title, and beyond. “I’m an advocate for the author,” Margaret explained. “And I take that very seriously.”

The Book Proposal

One of the first steps in getting my book deal was preparing a book proposal that Margaret took to the different publishers and publishing houses to pitch the idea. Margaret explained that writing a nonfiction book has a slightly different proposal process, and you can often sell it without the full book by including select chapters in the proposal.

A book proposal details what the book is, who the writer is, why they’re writing it, who it’s for, and why now. The proposal also includes an outline of the entire book along with sample chapters so a potential editor can get an idea of what the book will read like. 

When my proposal was finished, Margaret shared it with the big five publishing houses including HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, and more. Although there are many other avenues, these are the publishers that she primarily works with. Within those five conglomerates are different imprints that focus on specific themes of books. 

The begins a series of meetings with interested parties. “It’s a little bit like dating,” Margaret explained. The relationship between author and publisher is an intimate professional relationship, and it’s important to find the right fit so both parties feel comfortable with what could be a long-lasting relationship.

Meeting with Editors

I learned a lot through the process of meeting potential editors for my first book, How Are You, Really? These meetings are as much about the author pitching the publisher as it is the publisher pitching the author. A publisher might come to the table with ideas for changes to the manuscript, editorial suggestions, and a scope of their plans for promotion and marketing. 

Then the author discusses their thoughts for the direction of the book, if they’re comfortable with the editorial suggestions made by the publisher, and their own ideas for promoting and marketing the book. A publisher and editor want to know that you have a built-in audience to bring to the table, so the author will demonstrate the platform they’ve built to support the successful release of a book.

More from Margaret Riley King

Margaret has represented some big names in the book space, and she’s dedicated to elevating the voices of women who are shaping or have the potential to shape culture. If you’re curious about the world of writing and releasing a book of your own, press play on this conversation for insight and inspiration from an industry expert.


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  1. Talisa Garbo says:

    I wish the guest had been more organized and detailed in her explanations, especially as someone who works in publishing, I’ll assume. In the beginning, she said, “Just write”…and then “Find an agent” as if it’s that simple 2-step process. Then when more probing questions were asked she said finding the agent is ‘sort of the last step’. Huh? Disappointing.

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