We always say that publishing is a long and winding road. We also understand that concrete, real-life examples can be helpful in guiding your own process. To that end, we’ve conducted a new series of interviews, giving you a peek behind the curtain to share the insights and experiences of successful authors. We’re calling it our Publishing Success Spotlight Series.
This week’s guest is Dr. Mary Barbera, author of Turn Autism Around, which published just last month with Hay House. We spoke with her to discover how she first became interested in publishing, how she’s grown her platform, and what advice she has for authors looking to get published.
Tell us how you fell into the world of book publishing, and the inspiration for your books.
By the time I knew I wanted to write a book, I’d had years of building my expertise and establishing myself in my field. Before I entered the book publishing world, I “fell” into the autism world when my first-born son, Lucas, started showing signs of autism and was diagnosed the day before he turned three. I had no idea how to help him, so I started reading books and attending conferences, and a few years later, I became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. My Master’s degree in Nursing also helped to train thousands of pediatricians, professionals, and parents on the early signs of autism.
In 2006, I realized that there was a real need for me to write my first book because I could no longer recommend the outdated books I had once relied on. I now had the credentials and the passion to get my hard-earned expertise into a book and out into the world, and I also had a journalist help me write my first book proposal and book. However, because I didn’t even have a website (let alone a platform), I did not get an agent or an advance for my first book. I did, however, get a contract from a small niche publisher based in the UK called Jessica Kingsley Publishers (which was purchased by Hachette UK a few years ago). The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders was published in the spring of 2007. It sold out on pre-order and continues to sell better than ever.
You mentioned that you struggled to find an agent or major publisher to work with you on your first book, likely because you didn’t have a website or a greater online presence. How did you build your platform from zero to what it is today?
By the time my first book was published, I had built a website and began speaking internationally. I began to collect emails as I went, but it actually took me 8 years to hit 2000 subscribers. Then I read Jeff Walker’s book, Launch, in late 2014. Following the guidance in Jeff’s book, I launched my first online autism course for professionals and “gung-ho” parents, and a back-end membership a few months later. I attended LaunchCon 2016 and joined a group coaching program called Launch Club at that live event. The following year I became the Launch Club Spokesperson of the Year, and my email list was up to 40,000. At that point, I left one-to-one consulting and became a full-time online marketer. My list is now over 150,000 subscribers strong, and growing at a rate of ~2000 per week. I also have over 80,000 Youtube subscribers and my podcast, Turn Autism Around, has nearly 1/2 million downloads since launching in 2019.
What tips do you have for first-time authors in securing an agent or publisher’s attention?
While I didn’t get an agent for the first book, I did have two author friends connect me with their agents. One agent asked me if I had a book proposal done and, when I didn’t know what that was, directed me to The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published. My other friend’s agent was nice enough to read my sample first chapter and gave me great advice to put my parent hat on (not my behavior analyst hat on), since parents were the ones who would be searching for the information presented in my book. This invaluable advice on positioning and finding my audience helped immensely, and while that agent did not offer me representation, she still encouraged me to get the book published. In the end, it was a real success, as it propelled me to become an autism leader, and provided a much-needed resource for many parents and professionals.
My advice, therefore, is to work on a book proposal while you simultaneously grow your platform—but more importantly, to write and publish your book no matter what, with or without an agent, an advance, or a big publisher. The world needs your knowledge out there and self-publishing or publishing with a niche publisher may be the quickest way to a bigger book deal and more impact. Like with my experience, getting your name and experience out into the world may then lead to an opportunity to secure an agent, and can even open the door to a successful and lucrative venture in traditional publishing.
Please tell us more about your experience landing a deal with Hay House and how it happened.
Creating my online courses allowed me to help parents and professionals from over 80 countries, and as I built my business with a few full-time employees and contractors, I really did not think I would write another book. However, when the parents who took my toddler/preschooler course started to report massive transformation in their children, I began to think about a second book. I was at a Mastermind in Durango with Jeff Walker when I officially decided to write another book. This time, I knew I wanted to get an agent, earn an advance, and sign with a big publisher, so Jeff connected me with Hay House since Reid Tracy (the CEO of Hay House) is a close friend of his. Even though I was connected to Hay House and didn’t necessarily need an agent or a ghostwriter/book doctor, I wanted to have the biggest impact possible. Irina Lee, one of the mastermind participants in Durango with me, connected me with Lucinda. I felt an immediate connection to Lucinda and knew she was going to be the best agent for me and a true advocate for my book.
What was the most difficult part of the publishing process for you, and do you have any tips on overcoming this problem?
First, I just want to acknowledge that writing a book is a big undertaking! Deciding to write the book, dedicating the time, and setting mini-deadlines for myself was key.
Had I not worked with professional writers to help me tell the stories and give step-by-step advice in an organized way, I probably wouldn’t have finished either book, and if I had they would not have been as good. I also had several readers (parents and pros) who helped catch errors or point out confusing parts in the drafts. I also dictated the whole first book and many chapters of my 2nd book into dictation software to give them a conversational tone (and for ease of writing too). Finally, I wrote both of my books in a timeless way… so they will be helpful for decades to come.
Our readers would love to learn more about your new book. How’s the publication process going so far?
My new book, Turn Autism Around: An Action Guide for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism, was published March 30th, 2021. Early on when we put the book out for bid (and got offers from Hay House and Penguin Random House), Lucinda suggested that late March or early April would be a good time to publish since the media would be more interested in covering the topic with April being Autism Awareness Month. I’ve been on numerous national TV and radio shows in the past month, and appeared as a guest on several vlogs and podcasts, too. Hay House has been amazing to work with and ordered three runs of my book (10,000 copies initially, 4,000 one month before and 4,000 more the day before publication date). Turn Autism Around is the book I needed for over two decades, since Lucas started showing signs of autism at 21 months of age. It was inspired by the transformations of many of the toddlers whose parents took my online courses. It covers how to increase talking, decrease tantrums and get children (with or without a diagnosis) eating, sleeping, and potty training more easily. My book has already helped parents and professionals around the world, and has a #1 Amazon best-selling new release status in five different categories and dozens of 5-star reviews.
I’m really pleased with how it’s going so far, and look forward to more to come!
Dr. Mary Barbera is a mom to a son with autism, who transformed over the past 2 decades from an overwhelmed and confused parent to a behavior analyst and best-selling author. In her latest book, Turn Autism Around, Mary teaches both parents and professionals how to use simple but proven strategies to increase language and decrease tantrums in children with autism or speech delays. Go to TurnAutismAround.com for book details and bonuses.