The honest answer to this question is I have no idea.
I remember googling it once and the answer seemed to be — make a book and spend the rest of your life trying to make publishers believe that it’s amazing, which they won’t. And that’s pretty disheartening advice for anyone who wants to make or write a book.
I didn’t do any of that, so I can only answer from my perspective. Both of my books have come about by publishers approaching me. I’m not sure if that was luck or that publishers are changing the way they find authors. I have a feeling it was a little of both. There’s an element of luck in everything good that happens, and I think publishers are discovering authors more often.
I think a lot of publishers these days actually don’t even accept unsolicited submissions. While there are plenty of books out there which exist because the author was just making work and getting it out there.
That’s the one reason I got a book deal, I was making art I enjoyed and showing it to people. It’s that simple. Quoteskine Volume 1 happened after I’d been posting drawings here for just over a year. A publisher approached me about illustrating another book they were looking to put out and we got talking about a Quoteskine book.
By then Quoteskine had a decent following of people online, and I think that’s another big positive for publishers these days. It’s much easier for a publisher to put their faith in an author (or project) that already has a proven following than it is to take a chance on something nobody has heard of.
So I think doing work and getting it in front of people is really important. Whatever kind of work it is, it’s important to put it out there and see if other people like it as much as you do. Some of my favourite ideas have turned out to be some of my worst projects. But you never know that until they’re out of your head.
The 2nd time a publisher approached me about a book it was a little different. They knew they wanted to publish an interactive book, and because they were fans of my work they wanted to know if I had any ideas for those kind of books. I’d never really done anything like that before, so at first it felt a little odd that I’d been approached. But once I stopped being paranoid that it was all a trick it was a real confidence boost. The publisher had obviously seen something in my work that convinced them I could do something they’d love. And I think that thing was good ideas.
So my other big piece of advice is to have ideas. Many more ideas than you already have. If you’ve got one great idea for a book there’s a chance it might actually be shit, even more so if you’ve never shown it to anyone. So you should have some more great ideas for books too. When you have an idea you should make it and show it to people. If no-one likes it, have another idea. If you make it and end up thinking it’s shit, have another idea. If it’s the best thing you’ve ever done in your life… have another idea.
Keep having ideas and making them into real things until it’s impossible for people to ignore you.
And don’t ever be afraid to show people your ideas. Whatever the idea for your book is start getting it out there. Start a daily art blog, make zines of short stories, post a poem a day to your website, send comics to a bunch of newspapers… Whatever works best for you.
One of my favourite quotes is:
"Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you." — Paul Arden
I think the best way to get a book deal is if you believe in that.