Guest post by Roger C. Parker

Selling My First Book

I’m sharing this start-up story in hopes that—if you’ve ever had a book proposal turned down—you’ll persevere and find alternative ways to get your first book published.


Fed up trying to sell my first book to a trade publisher, I developed an attraction strategy that worked much better.

Here’s my story, in hopes it can help you…

Before approaching publishers with a small business advertising and design handbook, I had enjoyed a lot of retail advertising and marketing success that had brought me national visibility.

I had spoken at several Consumer Electronics Shows, conducted marketing seminars for firms like Apple and Yamaha, & published 50+ articles.

None of which, however, seemed to matter at all to trade publishers!

So, I gave up on trying to “sell” my ideas to a trade publisher, and decided to establish my presence on someone else’s dime…using their platform to “attract” the attention of a trade publisher who wanted to publish the kind of book I wanted to write.

I knew that once I established a track record with my first book, it would be easier to land contracts for follow-up titles.

Finding a client, not a publisher

My solution was to approach businesses that needed a book about using graphic design as a small business marketing tool and show them how they could benefit from publishing the book I wanted to write.

Once I redirected my search from “publisher” to “client,” things quickly fell into place.

My search lead me to the Aldus Corporation, (later purchased by Adobe). Aldus published PageMaker, the first popular desktop publishing program.

Step 1: Getting noticed by Aldus

The first thing I did was approach The Puget Sound Business Journal, where Aldus was located, and offer to do an article about the growing importance of desktop publishing to businesses in general.

The article was not a “fluff” piece, but simply referenced Aldus as a leading player in a revolution that was just beginning. The article also mentioned the growing need for graphic design resources for new desktop publishers without previous design experience.

I assumed that Aldus would find out about the article and would want to learn more the author.

Step 2:  Selling a solution, not a book

After the article appeared, I had no trouble getting an interview with Paul Brainerd, Aldus’s Founder, and Michael Solomon, the Sales Manager.

Before the meeting, I prepared a mini “show & tell” discussing the need for a simple design guide, modeled after Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (which I left behind as an example of what I was proposing).

During the interview, I avoided using the term, “book.” Instead, I emphasized the business benefits of what I had in mind:

  • Registration premium. I showed them that they could use the Aldus Guide to Basic Design as a premium, or incentive, encouraging PageMaker buyers to register their software. Obtaining user names and addresses was crucial to future upgrade sales.
  • Tracking. I described how they could use the book to track the firm’s advertising and public relations activities. The Aldus Guide would encourage readers or event attendees to submit their name and addresses to–potentially–coded addresses and 800-numbers.
  • Training tool. I also positioned the Aldus Guide to Basic Design as a training and seminar leave-behind for presentations to computer user groups and corporate markets. (Brochures get thrown away, but nobody ever throws away a helpful book!)

Step 3: Making an offer they couldn’t refuse

After getting their interest, and sharing my ideas, I wasn’t about to let greed get in the way of going all the way and getting my first book published.

As a result, I prepared a short, simple proposal for writing the book on a work-for-hire basis, with no royalties or future rights.

They immediately agreed, and I went to work.

It took less than 1 week!

The strategy worked.

Within 1 week of the Guide’s release, a trade publisher called me and I had an offer for what became my first NY Times reviewed and best-selling bestselling book: Looking Good in Print: A Guide to Basic Design for Desktop Publishing.

That began a publishing journey that continues today.

In fact, even after writing over 40 books, i.e., Looking Good in Print and the original Microsoft Office for Dummies books, etc. that have sold over 1.6 million copies in37 languages, I continue to write premium books for firms that needed to educate their markets and create purchase incentives.


If you want to write a book, don’t be discouraged by the roadblocks you encounter getting published in trade-publishing channels.

Instead, consider doing what I did: locate a firm, organization, or association, that can profit from the type of book you want to write, and offer to write it on a work-for-hire basis. This generates immediate cash flow, a proven track record, and can attract a call from a publisher interested in your ideas!

Can this technique work for you?

Let’s be real: there are no “formulas” for writing and publishing success. Techniques that worked yesterday may or may not work today.

However, the basic idea of exploring alternative strategies and approaching your book from a dollars-and-cents point of view remains.

As a book coach, I promise to work for you as strategically as I worked for myself, exploring alternatives, and overcoming obstacles preventing you from getting your first book published. Enjoy the journey!


Start your journey to writing and publishing success by downloading Roger’s free workbook, 99 Questions to Answer Before You Write and Self-Publish a Brand-building Book.

His 40+ books have been sold around the world, including the first book about choosing book titles.

Ask him a question at