I was SO young and naive just 18 months ago, so rather than a total rewrite, I added present day comments in parentheses.
I NEED A QUALITY PUBLISHER BECAUSE:
THIS INDUSTRY IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. Building relationships takes time. I would rather build a SINGLE SOLID RELATIONSHIP with a publisher, than try to wear at least 7 hats unsuccessfully.
While I could self-publish with a very high royalty, I would ONLY have a book in print and be left to pretend that I am capable of being a DISTRIBUTION CENTER. (I self-published with Tellwell and the distribution is handled by Ingram Spark.)
While I am capable; as a “one man band” SALES ORGANIZATION, initially I would have to sell 200 books a week to live off the proceeds of my book, leaving little or no time for anything else. The idea of selling books out of the trunk of my car is not appealing, nor is what I signed up for. (I am in the process of sketching out an affordable marketing plan which includes some door knocking, but it will take much longer to penetrate the market, doing everything myself.)
I could expand my PLATFORM much faster with a book deal, than on my own. (This is already turning into a full time job, even though the book is 60 days from release as of the date I wrote this.)
I need their PUBLICITY people. While I could develop these relationships on my own, or pay out of my own pocket for such services, it again would be much faster for a company that does this every day. (Yes, sadly I will invest more money still to launching the book properly.)
I need their OVERSEAS CONTACTS. It would take a very long time to develop these on my own. (Ingram will get me listed almost everywhere, but it will take a very long time to reach reviewers and store buyers on my own.)
I need their DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS. It is rare that an “indie” author makes it into the educational market, large bookstore chains, or gets their book into libraries outside of their own backyard. These three revenue streams alone represent literally thousands of outlets and tens of thousands of books purchased. Without that widespread VISIBILITY there can be little hope of widespread success. To make things worse, the big bookstores are mostly interested in VOLUME. They are looking for immediate sell-through, and often want a money back guaranty and/or ask for books on consignment . . . even more out of pocket expense to us. (Also, their shrewd buyers ask for the biggest discounts from indie authors, because they know we are desperate.)
I need their MERCHANDISING experience and their RELATIONSHIPS. A quality publishing representative can place the book in the window, or at the entrance of the store, or in high traffic areas, and have the book “FACED” with multiple copies on the shelf. (About the only time this will happen for an indie author is if they are doing a book signing event, and once the day is over, so to is the special merchandising.)
When a publisher says that your book will not be in print for a year, it is a VERY ACCEPTABLE amount of time CONSIDERING THE WORK INVOLVED. (Revisions, editing, cover design with revisions, interior layout with revisions, multiple e-book formats, ISBN, Amazon listings, Ingram Spark listings, pre-release promotion etc. all take time. In my case, more than six months.)
Question: So what does the publishing world want from me?
Answer: A sure thing!
To have a shot at a BIG publisher you must have an AGENT. I am told that agents will pick up anyone that shows some talent, but more importantly they pitch COMMITMENT TO SALES. Top pro-editors can take a decent story and make it great. That is why the publisher pays them big money. Being with a respected agency means you get pitched in the brass ring; a world with large advances so you can write rather than wear several hats at once.
Question: So how do I get an agent?
Answer: With a high quality product.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that your query letter alone will not get their attention as a previously unpublished author. It might have once upon a time, before the “indie authors” clogged the system. Now a lone query will get you a polite rejection letter as fast as the mail system can work.
I am proud to say I have been rejected by ALL the finest agencies in New York.
I sent out a premature query before I had a handle on the industry, to “shake the tree to see what fell out”. In a word: NOTHING. In that first query, I later found a punctuation mistake, as well as a sentence which could have been better structured. I tend to end sentences with prepositions when I speak, and I also write that way. I DID NOT CONSIDER THE LEVEL OF THE READER.
This ain’t no blog yur riting.
This may be the single most important letter you will ever write, so make it nothing less than perfect, and have other scholarly types CONFIRM THAT IT IS PERFECT BEFORE YOU SEND IT.
I now treat the agents like a publisher that I would pitch directly, as I am an unpublished author without an agent. In other words, I am a nobody so I treat them with a lot more respect.
Without giving away all my secrets, consider sending them some SALES TOOLS. They need to SELL YOU to a publisher; not just your book. Ideally, they should believe in the product they are selling. Agents need to formulate a sales pitch in their mind for a specific buyer, before they will consider representing you. They look at 1500 query letters a year- that is 5 per day. YOU MUST IMPRESS THEM. (It also helps if you can give them an easy sales pitch. “This new author has a MS that is edited, and they have been engaged in pre-release promotion for the last twelve months. They have a large online presence with a great many followers and they are easy to work with.)
When a literary agency does not get back to you quickly, you still have hope.
F. Y. I. A REAL AGENT NEVER ASKS YOU FOR MONEY. They get paid from their percentage of your royalties.
After waiting 30 days start pitching publishers directly.
I may have landed in the “slush pile” as they call it, of several agencies. That is a stack of “made the cut but I have no time” queries that an agent puts aside until they hear the right words from a buyer (the publisher).
In my non-fiction genre, I have 64 targeted potential publishers that I will do business with. Only about 10 of those demand agency representation.
ALL OF THEM ARE ACTIVELY SEEKING BOOKS LIKE MINE.
I did the research and targeted them simply. Who is known for the largest advance; who is known for fair royalty rates both here and abroad; who can get a book out the fastest; who puts out the best product, but most importantly: WHO HAS THE BEST MARKET PENETRATION? In other words, you see their books in any bookstore nationwide. One in particular made my “A” list by mentioning they like “controversial”.
In the beginning it is the publisher that is doing you a favor. However, when your book takes off, it will be seen that it was you who did them a favor, by targeting that publisher. The perception dynamic changes with success, and egotists may once again have to go looking for a publisher. Granted, it will be much easier for them on their second go-round, especially if they had a best-seller in their past.
Everything in my past business dealings tells me to cultivate multiple offers, but an author must be aware of THE GIANT UMBRELLA WHICH COVERS MOST OF THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. The big 5, as they were once known. is really more like the big 3 now with merger and acquisition activity, and the mega-publishing companies reach down to many of the smaller publishers. So, if you pitch more than one under the same umbrella you will upset them, because you have wasted someone’s time.
So what does a publisher want besides a sure thing?
They need a long-shot worth betting on.
You must exhibit professionalism. It should be evident everywhere you are; in person, in your presentation materials and online.
As some of you know, I have struggled with the learning curve of the non-windows based sites like Facebook, and have complained openly about my misadventures. Facebook now does what I want and I PERFORM PAGE MAINTENANCE WEEKLY. Tweets and Blogs keep my status updated, so in theory I could just walk away from it. If I did that, my feed would become cluttered with new people who I became friends with, as well as my more ridiculous tweets that also add to the clutter. I edit my timeline to get rid of the crap, because you never know when someone in the publishing industry is stalking your page.
You must ask yourself, What would a publisher or agent think if they visited my page?
My latest adventure was with the AiA (Association of Independent Authors) site. I joined for free and created a rudimentary site leaving an apologetic “under construction” post stating that I would be working on it. The other day I got back to it and made it fairly professional. I spent a great deal of time reviewing 10 of their 26 pages of members in my quest for friends, only to find that about half of the members have next to nothing on their page. They obviously joined so they could put it on their resume, with no intention of developing the site. THIS IS NOT PROFESSIONAL. It shows an agent or publisher that YOU ARE SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT FOLLOW THROUGH.
I begin with a polished Query Letter addressed to a specific individual where possible. This serves as a cover letter to a far more comprehensive package which includes:
- An Overview
- A Competitive Title Analysis
- A Chapter Outline
- My Platform
- An Author Background Information page
Being a successful author may be more about the words we write AFTER the book is done.
In my case this becomes a stapled booklet. If your query does not hook them initially, their curiosity will have them at least skimming the contents of the booklet, and they will be less likely to just trash it. They get thousands of queries a year.
I INVEST $3.00 to $5.00 in postage + ink, paper, envelopes, and the time to prepare all of these materials TO SHOW MY COMMITMENT to this endeavor, and SEPARATE MYSELF FROM THE COMPETITION. I have received positive feedback for my presentation materials over the years, so why not.
If the whole “book thing” tanks, I only blew about $300.00 to find out that I cannot crack the top 10% of publishers, and ONLY THEN will I entertain self-publishing. To me, self-publishing still sounds like the vanity presses of old. It allows you put a book on the mantle for your friends to marvel at, while it forever reminds you how you wasted years of your life trying to be an author. (Oh, this may be a self-fulfilling prophesy, were it not for the fact that I have always planned to move on to other things, once this book is launched.)
You want to make the job of the publisher as easy as possible while keeping their costs as low as possible.
For those readers not familiar, it is publishing industry terminology or jargon that has many interpretations. It can be thought of as a symbolic raised platform for you, the speaker, giving talks (presumably about your book), or a declared policy (usually associated with a political party).
For an industry of wordsmiths they really blew it on this one. Where there is vagueness there is opportunity. (Ask any lawyer.)
I prefer to think of it more a LAUNCH PLATFORM for a Saturn 5 rocket- the biggest rockets ever launched. Your book is the rocket. You are the astronaut.
Who was the first man to walk on the moon? Almost everyone knows, if you do not get him mixed up with John Glenn.
Who was the third man to walk on the moon?
Pete Conrad is not a household name because he had a less of a platform. His achievement was just as incredible as those of Neil Armstrong but without the same press or notoriety.
This leaves the bulk of us starving writers to try to build our platform in the low-cost or no-cost world of online media. (Our time should be worth $25,000.00 per year, but we will leave this for another post.)
In the advertising world,
“The medium is the message.”
This incredible quote from Marshall McLuhan reminds us that one fifteen second Super Bowl TV spot will outsell an entire year’s worth of related online marketing efforts.
Initially, the celebrity author will launch powerfully due to media hype, but they only have a single stage rocket and rarely, if ever, achieve escape velocity.
A REAL WRITER (like all of us, we hope) has a second stage rocket which will get us into orbit. We have more STAYING POWER and some of the book publishing industry continues to EMBRACE THIS. Year in and year out, our books sell, while the celebrity book becomes a distant memory.
The top three percent of us write so well, they have a third stage to their rocket, which will take them to the moon.
We know this much: a platform includes aspects of a resume and aspects of a marketing plan without actually being either. It should tell a publisher not only how committed you are to making the book a success, and the skills you possess to make that happen. It can also outline your comprehensive marketing strategy. It is here where you could indicate any SPECIAL CONTRIBUTIONS you can make that may SAVE THE PUBLISHER TIME AND MONEY. This makes you interesting.
What should go in your platform description?
Anything and everything you have that shows the publisher HOW POWERFUL YOU ARE and what makes you SPECIAL, DIFFERENT AND UNIQUE.
Where are you in the media? Are you on TV? Are you on the radio? Are you in newspapers? Are you in magazines? Are you lecturing? Are you a professional public speaker? While I can say that I ONCE WAS to the last four; currently I am not, so I wield little power these days.
Any publisher will be happy to publish a book from a top TV star- especially the ones that misbehave publicly. The sad truth is that much of the book publishing industry has climbed aboard the tabloid journalism train, selling sensationalism. It is the fastest and easiest path to unit sales. They have forgotten that the “bad boy” actor was made famous by the creators and writers of his popular TV series. He was FED HIS LINES and merely performed someone else’s words.
How are you SEEN ABOVE THE CROWD? What makes you special, different and unique in terms of VISIBILITY? How are you HEARD ABOVE THE CROWD? How loud is your voice? Are you AUDIBLE? What is the SIZE OF YOUR CROWD?
While PUBLICITY is very important these days, we have other things about ourselves TO SELL a publisher on. You must ask and answer the following question for yourself.
What can I do?
In my case I have decently edited the work. I can produce a basic index and reference for them and have created cover art. Additionally, if they are willing to coach me, I could reproduce the entire text in any format and size, inserting page numbers for a complete interior; again saving them work. They would not need to invest in any online marketing of the book, as I can manage that part for them.
Cover, editing, page layout, Table of Contents, Preface, Forward, Afterword, About the Author, Reference Listing, Index (non-fiction) all take work off of their plate.
Show everyone in the industry that you are WILLING TO WORK FOR THIS.
Pitch the best things you bring to the table while subtly downplaying your weak areas. I pitch a quality product, knowledge, experience, professionalism, a cooperative nature, and the idea that DOING BUSINESS WITH ME, MIGHT JUST BE FUN. I am offering the publishers SIX POSITIVES to offset my one negative of being new to online PUBLICITY.
Publishing stats are often used by the “self-publishing” company’s salespeople to strike FEAR and DOUBT in your hearts and minds, in order to create an opportunity for them to SAVE YOU from the INSURMOUNTABLE world of publishing. Statistics can be spun in a positive or negative way, depending on whether you see an impossible hill to climb, or an opportunity for an adventure.
I suspect, as with ALL things in business, that those who DO THE WORK get noticed, and those whose work is above average advance. Why should the publishing industry be any different from any other industry out there?
Is the cup half full or half empty? These statistics will test your resolve.
130 million books are now in print. Can you be noticed?
About 275,000 new titles are published each year. Can you be one of them?
Approximately 50,000 of those are fiction.
About 50% of those fiction books fail to give the author a living, but it also means that 50% DO MAKE A LIVING. Do you BELIEVE that your book is in the top 25,000?
90% of new authors fail to find an agent by sending a query letter alone. That means 10% PULL IT OFF. Can you be in the top 10%?
If you have it all together with a unique product you are really only competing with the top 10% of authors looking to get a book into print this year, but you are playing in the big leagues.
If I did not BELIEVE that my book deserves a spot in that top 10%, I would not be doing all this. Fortunately my genre is fairly small, with some really uninteresting writers. I would hate to be a fiction writer up against Ray Bradbury.
If I have it all wrong, you will be able to say “I told you so.” until the fall of 2017 when I may pull the plug on all of it.
“Fortune favors the bold!”
I encourage “indie authors” to step up their game, and not take the easy “self-publishing” route. I have twenty years in business, communications, and marketing under my belt, but I cannot “wear all the hats” on my own, that a publishing house does, and still succeed. Self-publishing is for the most part, for those that wish to book up on the mantle for visitors to be impressed by. It is an EGO DRIVEN exercise a not a BUSINESS DRIVEN endeavor. You may impress your friends by handing them your “self-published” book, but getting noticed in the global market will be left TO YOU ALONE, or people that you must pay handsomely as only a VERY FEW of us have a clue how to crack the global egg.
I want to write books. I want to talk about my books. I do not wish to be a publisher because I know how difficult that business is. I also know I would take years to accomplish what they do in one. MOMENTUM would be lost. I would be endlessly responding to one shipping crisis or another, without being able to FOCUS on promoting the book.
I DO NOT BELIEVE that the ENTIRE book publishing industry is looking for “an easy lay” as the self-publishing companies would have us believe.
In fact, I am betting the other way.
(Well, boy was I wrong!)
Ms. Creant: The Wrong Doers!
Life With Women: The Long-Awaited Instruction Manual.
… talks of relationships, health, life, biology, philosophy, sociology, theology- even physics as well as the idea that NOT EVERYONE IS ON THE SAME PAGE.
This is the end of serious topics for at least three weeks.
Find a reason to laugh today.