Writing | Career

Why I Stopped Dealing With Book Publishers

A book agent “came back from the dead” to haunt me.

Sean Kernan
5 min readOct 1

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Pexels via Julia M Cameron

18 months ago, I put together a 40 page book proposal. I merged in some of my most popular Medium and Quora content, and expanded it substantially into two well fleshed out sample chapters. I’d already ghostwritten a book for a client that did well and felt confident I could write something people loved.

Yet I had no illusions about the mountain in front of me. Publishers are swarmed with submissions each week.

I had a call with a book agent who gave me another hard truth: White dudes aren’t in fashion right now. Many of the agencies and publishers I visited stressed their focus on diversity and underrepresented communities — which is well and good. The industry has been mostly white for decades.

However, it wasn’t good for me when I stood in my bathroom mirror. I’m a 6’4 blonde dude who looks like a poster child for the Aryan race. But I wasn’t about to let that be my excuse.

I fired out 20 submissions each week. The rejections trickled in. More than half the publishers and agents outright ghosted me. Other rejections arrived many months later. Fortunately, I spoke with two publishers and an agent and nearly landed a deal with a “Big 5” publishing house (which includes Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, and Macmillion).

Initially, my book was titled 11 Laws of Living Better. My list-style writing seemed to resonate on Medium and clickbait titles tend to work well within this book category. However, per feedback, generalized books aren’t what the industry is looking for. They want a central idea and theme. So I pivoted to The Consistency Advantage, or Consistent as a backup.

My editor from the Big 5 gave me some interesting insights. Per their research, readers want an immediate and recognizable value proposition with self-help titles. The readers are always thinking, “What’s in it for me?”

The editor also taught me to think strategically about how you sequence chapters. In an ideal world, chapters shouldn’t just flow seamlessly into each other. They should magnify subsequent chapters. I was…

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Sean Kernan

Always on the hunt for a good story. That guy from Quora. Writing out of Tampa, Florida.