Psychotherapy Blog


Why Some Therapists Always Get Their Books Published

Posted by Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 12/23/14 - 4:28 PM
It's a shame for you not to write a book when many therapists do it so easily. The problem: Most psychotherapists know about as much about the publishing business as they do about building a nuclear power plant.

When I listen to therapists talk about writing their first book I generally hear something like, "Gee, I'd like to write a general, counseling, psychotherapy, or self-help book."

Let me assure you that the general counseling, psychotherapy, or self-improvement books are some of the most difficult topics world to get published. It worked in the 1960s and 1970s, but the chances of it working today are slim to none.

Yes, Gerald Corey is a master at pulling it off, Raymond Corsini was a maestro as well, Lewis R. Wolberg accomplished it big time, Sam Gladding does it exceedingly well, but it's an extremely difficult route to take. These folks are accomplished professionals. I am not saying it is not possible, just that there are easier paths. As an analogy, your child could become a professional athlete, but the odds of doing so are about 1 in almost 25,000. Translation: Little Jimmy or Sally is more apt to win the lottery. You could become the next Muriel James or Eric Berne, but you get what I am saying.

Believe it or not, there is one idea that is even worse than attempting to pen a general counseling, psychotherapy, or self-improvement book. This flawed plan goes something like this, "I had an interesting childhood. I grew up in South St. Louis, my father was an alcoholic and never paid attention to me, and my mother suffered from panic attacks and liked my sister best. I'll write a book about my life."

Folks, get over it! Tell your neighbor. Book an appointment with the therapist you don't know down the hall, but don't write a book about it. Almost anybody on the face of the globe could come up with a similar book about his or her own life. But why? Most publishers don't give a hoot that your mom liked your little sister best. Moms always do for gosh sakes!

As I often say in my lectures with a small degree of sincerity: If you lost a lot of weight with Atkins, exercise, or eating fruits and vegetables, trust me, you don't have a book. On the other hand, if you shed your pounds and drastically improved your blood chemistry markers while wolfing down a dozen ice cream bars each day, sitting on your duff watching "Saved by the Bell" reruns, then congratulations my dear reader, you have a book.

An editor of a publishing company is looking for something new, something exciting, and something different. (Or, on very rare occasions, something that has not been done in years.)

Let's examine the anatomy of a good book idea. Say you wanted to write a book on alcoholism. Would you be able to sell the idea to an agent or an editor? The simple answer is probably not. Now, let's assume you wanted to write a book on rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) and alcoholism. That's a little better idea, but I certainly wouldn't consider it a strong idea. Assume you beefed it up a little and wanted to pen a tome on using REBT for alcoholic teens. Wow, now we are getting somewhere. And finally, you put together a book about using REBT for alcoholic teens who are disabled. Hmm, you might just have a winner.

Of course you are cutting down on the size of your audience, but in today's society the more specific the idea, the higher the likelihood you will dominate your market. Again, in today's market, the more specific the idea, the better.

Most authors in general (therapists included) search the entire globe in search of the perfect book idea, when in many instances that creative gem of wisdom is staring them in the face.

As a case in point, after I had written a number of books I therefore decided I was going to write a dictionary of counseling. Sure, there were other counseling dictionaries, but I was convinced mine would be the best. I mean come on, let's be brutally frank, isn't that what every psychotherapy author thinks? What happened next is very typical. Everybody rejected my idea.

Then one day, I had a powerful insight. What do I teach in college? Is it psychology or psychiatry? No, technically, the psychology program is two doors down from my office. Is it social work or counseling? Actually it is not. Well, what do I teach? We call our program human services. And then a bright light bulb lit up in my head. Had anybody ever written a dictionary of human services? At the speed of light I checked Books in Print, Amazon, B&N and anybody else I could think of. Nobody had composed a dictionary of human services. I had struck pay dirt. Within the year my CV was sporting "author of the first ever Human Services Dictionary." I don't know about you, but I really liked the way that looked on my vita.
The ultimate rule of publishing a book in this field is to write about what you know best.

7 Surprising facts about the book publishing business

Here are 7 sure-fire ways to jump-start your career as a book author:

1. Your first book is the most difficult to get published, but moving a book into print is never easy even if you are the author of 50 texts. Expect to be rejected a lot.

2. The most common question I receive is: "Dr. Rosenthal, how do I find an agent?"
Unless your book has massive appeal and you want to appear on the "Rachel Ray Show" or "Brian William's NBC Nightly News," you don't want an agent. In fact, most academic publishers won't speak to you if you have an agent. Most therapists reading this blog do not—I repeat do not —need an agent.

3. The second most common question I receive is: "Dr. Rosenthal, how do I copyright my book?"

My answer: Don't waste 30 seconds of your valuable time worrying about this process. Most publishers want to retain the copyright so it won't be an issue.

4. Another thing I hear is: "Should I send a publisher or editor my manuscript by mail or via an email attachment?"

The question is irrelevant because you should never send an agent or an editor a manuscript. If you do send a manuscript it is a red flag you don't know what you are doing and you won't be taken seriously. Instead, mail them a query letter, a book proposal, your first chapter, the strongest chapter from your work, and a CV. Since you probably don't understand what I am talking about here, I will put in a shameless plug and refer you to my new You Tube video. Click Here.

5. "Will I get rich off my monthly royalty checks?"

Yes, when the moon turns to green cheese! Most publishers send out royalty payments just twice a year, and I once worked with a company that paid just once a year.

6. "Should I hold out for a big advance?"

Yes, when the moon turns to green cheese a second time! First, if you get a $1000.00 advance, realize that the publisher will subtract a grand from your first royalty check. Second, keep in mind that a lot of academic publishers often offer no advances, and in fact, do the direct opposite. In an attempt to recoup their expenses for creating your book, they will pay you nothing (that's nada, zip, zero) for the first 500 or so copies. Check your book contract for specifics. Yes, Bill Clinton really received a ten million dollar advance and Dr. Phil no doubt rakes in a sizable sum as well. But in the case of celebrities, the publisher is buying a name.

7. "Isn't self publishing the best route?"

For most of us the answer is an unequivocal no. A publisher sends out 100,000 copies of their catalog at a time. Let's see, just 100,000 postage stamps would cost you $49,000. Gulp! Now add in your printing and paper costs. If you are one of the top direct mail marketers in the world, then yes self-publish. That eliminates virtually everybody who will ever read this blog.

Kevin Trudeau's self-published work Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About was at the top of the charts few years ago, but he literally put millions into infomericals and related advertising. Richard Nelson Bolles created What Color Is Your Parachute?, the best selling job hunting book in history. Initially, the text was a self-published work, but was later picked up by a creative mainstream publisher who catapulted the work into stardom.

If you give hundreds of workshops a year related to your book, then self-publishing might be a valid strategy.

And finally, if you try everything under the sun and it fails, then what the heck, self-publish.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the hot topic of electronic books, or e-books, for short. E-books, or so-called digital works, can be read on electronic devices such as a computer, tablet, or Kindle. Books of this nature now account for approximately 30% of all book sales with over half of those sales taking place on Amazon.

Initially, e-book sales were surging and a lot of folks were worried that the paper and print versions of works were dead in the water. Not so. Digital sales seem to have leveled off. If you publish a book with a traditional publisher, you need not worry because if the publisher thinks there is any chance the book will sky rocket to stardom in an electronic version the company will create one for you.

In terms of self-publishing (also dubbed indie publishing) the e-book offers a viable route, but trust me when I say it is definitely no panacea. Have you ever sold books at a conference and told a participant who is eager to buy your text that it is only available in a digital format? There goes the autographed copy you could have sold.
If you do go the self-published e-book route I highly recommend you go through a firm who is skilled in putting these works together. Why? Unless you are a total computer geek there is an excellent chance the final product will not be easy to navigate and readers will shower your self-proclaimed masterpiece with negative reviews. Just as an example, your reader might click the chapter on group psychotherapy in the table of contents and takes her to the section on sports psychology. Expect to pay an e-book conversion firm approximately $300.00 or more for a job well done. What's that? You thought it was going to be free. Come on folks.

Another key hint is to keep the price of your self-published e-book very low. Although it sounds insanely low, some research indicates that a price tag under $5.00 would be prudent.

Unfortunately, the indie authors raking in money hand over fist with e-books are mainly in the fiction and romance genre and not psychotherapy. Several of my books sold via traditional publishers do indeed have e-book versions, but at this point in time the sales pale in comparison to their paper and ink counterparts. And yes, I have penned a single self-published e-book. As for sales of this digital masterwork, the number of readers is so small you'd need an electron microscope, and a good one at that, to get a sneak peek at the action.

So here's a toast to your bestseller. I'll see you on the Dr. Phil. Then again, maybe not.

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