In the highly competitive world of publishing, the odds of securing a book deal are stacked against first-time authors. Offering insights that could give aspiring writers a leg up in the process, authors Rachel Pacheco WG11 GRW21 and Robert Chen WG19 sat down with Wharton Magazine for a panel discussion at last weekend’s Wharton MBA Reunion Reimagined. The event invited alumni whose Reunions were postponed amid the pandemic back to Philadelphia to reconnect with classmates and hear from Wharton faculty.

“Publishers are less willing to take risks on unknown or first-time authors,” said Pacheco, whose Bringing Up the Boss: Practical Lessons for New Managers was released last year. “What they want are big names who they know can move 5,000 to 10,000 books on the first day of publication.”

Well-constructed book proposals, said both alumni, could help convince publishers to take the leap. “One thing I learned in terms of creating a proposal,” said Chen, author of Selling Your Expertise: The Mindset, Strategies, and Tactics of Successful Rainmakers, “is that it’s actually a lot more about how you’re going to market the book and your platform to move books. I felt that was more important than the content itself.”

“I didn’t set out to write a book, per se,” said Rachel Pacheco WG11 GRW21. “It was really that I saw this need with new managers.”

“The book proposal is essentially a business plan,” said Pacheco. “A lot of what I learned in the classroom about pitching a business is identical.” In addition to marketing strategies, other essentials for the proposal include details on competitors, financials, and other stakeholders. “It was really this awesome process of using this business-plan template that I had to sell the book,” Pacheco said.

Even with a publisher on board, keeping your nose to the grindstone to get a book out the door can be a difficult task. “There were moments where I was just like, ‘Should I return the advance and forget this?’” said Chen. “One thing that kept me going was saying ‘I think these ideas will be really useful if I can just get this to the finish line.’ Having some ‘why’ in service of others — that helped me.” As a partner at communication-skills consultancy Exec-Comm, Chen wrote his book to help professionals who have mastered the technical skills in their fields to move into more senior roles and master the salesmanship aspects of those positions. “The other element,” said Chen, “is that a lot of people find selling distasteful, and I wanted to write something that addressed the benefits of selling so that not only do you have a clear guide but also the right mindset to approach it.”

Similar to Chen, Pacheco was inspired to write by a gap she identified in the available resources for young managers. “About seven years ago, I was staring a new role as the chief people officer of a high-growth health-care startup,” she said. “I realized that people being promoted to managers were two or three years out of undergrad, managing someone one year out of undergrad, and no one knew what they were doing.” That realization led Pacheco to start a weekly company-wide email with management tips. Those emails snowballed into a successful blog that, in turn, became material for Bringing Up the Boss. “I didn’t set out to write a book, per se,” said Pacheco. “It was really that I saw this need with new managers and said, ‘There’s nothing in the market; let me create something myself.’”

Another important consideration for first-time writers: how best to structure a book. As practical handbooks, both Pacheco and Chen’s books contain charts, takeaways, and opportunities for reflection. “One thing I tried to keep in mind,” said Chen, “is what is this book designed to do? I wanted this book to be more of a reference guide as opposed to a one-time read.”

From the start, Pacheco also had a clear vision for Bringing Up the Boss: “When we were thinking up what the book was going to be, I had told my editor, ‘My dream is that there’s a dog-eared copy of the book on a manager’s desk with sticky tabs coming out that someone would refer back to. About six months after publishing the book, I saw this random post about my book on LinkedIn where a woman had taken a picture of the book on her desk with the sticky tabs coming out.”