Platform Means Everything to a Novice Author


There may one day be a time when paper books are iconic remnants of a tree-cutting past. But that time is still far away. Trade publishers will use their professional editors to make your book better. They will hire graphic designers to make your book more attractive and appealing. And they will handle e-book sales as well. So, why would you not want to share the profits with a publisher? Read on…

Traditional publishers will make sure that your print books are sold (and are returnable) by bookstores, where more than half of all books are still sold – and where SP books rarely exist. This constitutes a huge and very valuable market for any author.

Being trade-published is not a decision. It is the result of talent, of books that appeal to large segments of the reading public, a compelling author platform and often a plucky and well-connected literary agent. An author with the determination to contact hundreds of small and medium-sized publishers is also a critical part of the equation. Your platform will sell your talent. And your talent will enhance your platform. All of this takes time and effort. In today’s culture of instant gratification, the process of gradually building a solid author platform seems archaic. Nevertheless, it is a road that we all must travel.

Like a job seeker uses a resume to obtain an employer interview, novice authors use their platform to gain a trade publisher. Major publishing houses are not interested in SP books, unless they come from a famous author or a celebrity. But if a trade publisher decides to publish your book, you are in like Flint. That’s right. Once you have a major publisher working to sell your book, you can use the added free time to write more books and become even more attractive to publishers or to promote your book much farther and deeper than you had imagined possible..

Google your name. If many pages (not items, but pages of items) appear with positive references about your talent as an author, then you have a solid author platform. But if only a few items appear, you’ll need to enhance your platform before you can entice a major publisher or a well-connected literary agent.

How do you enhance your platform? Keep writing. Read voraciously. Read the very best authors. The more books that you read from the greatest literary authors, the more you’ll begin to borrow their best techniques. Simultaneously, do everything possible to sell your books, to obtain positive reviews from the most credible sources and to get interviewed by the best Internet, blog, radio and TV personalities. Seek appearances as a guest on a major blog. Request interviews from the most famous Internet personalities. Appear on a radio or a regional TV program. Do some public speaking about your book. Consider book tours and signings. All of this will enhance your author platform. After considerable effort, something vastly different will appear when you Google your name. You will have become a popular author.

While SP authors spend most of their time on marketing, promotion, sales and stocking, the TP author spends much of that time writing their next books. It’s true that all authors must market. But the TP author has a professional team marketing for them, giving them more time for writing instead of promotion. But the SP author must devote virtually all free time to new marketing efforts, reducing the time and resources available for writing new books.

This process can take years, although it’s easier if you have a well-connected literary agent. But… it is possible. This is the game. Learn to play by the rules.

If you decide to SP an e-book, take a long look at Smashwords. They are a distributor and a sales platform. They sell on their own web site, but their real power lies in vast distribution networks. When you use Smashwords (which is FREE), they will distribute your book to every major retailer, including Apple (iTunes), Amazon, Baker & Taylor, B&N, Diesel, Kobo, Sony and Scrollmotion. This constitutes the bulk of the world’s e-book retailers. And if you join Smashwords with a premium membership, they will format all of your books for every type of e-reader, tablet, smart phone and computer.

My experience teaches me that building a considerable author platform will, over time, lead to interest from agents and publishers. And while it may seem easy and attractive to SP, there are compelling reasons to TP. Keep in mind that we live in a time where only a few terrific SP books exist, surrounded by a massive widespread morass of SP crap. You can elevate yourself above the crap by creating a viable and powerful author platform. Should you take the time and effort to accomplish this, the literary work will become yours.

You can continue to SP and spend all of your time working on marketing and promotion. Or you can fabricate a compelling author platform, attract literary agents and become a famous TP author. Instead of using your time to promote and market, you may then use the extra time to write new books and further enhance your platform. After several successful books, you will no longer need to play the author game. You will have won.

Author Platform: Reaching Readers and Gaining a Competitive Advantage


“Author Platform”: If you’re an author, your platform is your ability to reach readers. Authors who can build, maintain and leverage their platforms will have a significant competitive advantage over those who cannot. Think of author platform as a multi-layered infrastructure that allows you to reach both new and existing fans. Elements of this infrastructure include your social media followers on Twitter, Facebook and the RSS feed of their blog (social media tool). It also includes subscribers to your private mailing list. It includes your celebrity, and your ability to leverage social media or traditional media or the love of your fans to get your message out. There are two primary factors that drive sales of any product or brand. The first is awareness. If the consumer is not aware of your product or brand, then they cannot purchase it. Authors must place their product in front of a consumer and gain their attention before the consumer can consider purchasing it. The second is desire. Once a consumer is aware of your product or brand, they must desire it. The author is the brand. Your job as the author is to build awareness of your brand, and to build, earn and deserve positive desire for your brand. Awareness plus desire create demand for your product. This is why platform will become more important than ever in 2014. Your platform helps you get the message out to existing fans, those who already know and desire your brand; and, equally if not more important—your platform helps you reach new fans. The larger your platform, the more it will grow incrementally because a well-maintained platform grows organically.

——– By Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. Reprinted with permission from the AAA Books Unlimited Literary Agency October 2014 Newsletter.

25 Tips on How to Impress a Book Publisher by Cheryl Tardif


1. Understand that publishers are very busy people. We are juggling multiple authors and manuscripts, as well as promotions, events, and marketing. We have little time to spare, especially when swamped with hundreds of manuscripts, many of them sent when a publisher is closed for submissions. Showing a publisher that you understand they are busy and submitting during their open submissions time shows you respect their time.

2.Learn everything you can about the publishing company. Learn about the publisher, their authors, and the works they’ve published to ensure that you’d be a good fit. Connect with them on social networks. Share their posts and tweets. Buy some of their titles, especially in the genre in which you write.

3.Read and follow their submission guidelines. Most publishers post their guidelines on their websites. Read them carefully, and pay special attention to whether or not they have a specific time frame for submissions. Follow their guidelines! Give them exactly what they want. Be prepared to answer questions, especially regarding past sales.

4.Hook the publisher in the first sentence of your query. Just like a well-written book, your query should hook them in the first sentence. Read your first sentence, and ask yourself: “Would this make me want to know more if I were a publisher?” Ensure that you follow the Four Firsts for your manuscript.Don’t know what I’m talking about? Learn about the Four Firsts here.

5.Let your personality shine as a positive person. Don’t be afraid to show publishers who you are. Just be sure it’s someone publishers will like. Be humble, appreciative, and a team player. Don’t act like you know it all. You don’t.

6.Be open to learning. With the ever-changing landscape of publishing, successful authors must always be open to change—and to experimenting when new things come along. Show a willingness to learn and to evolve with the industry.

7.Be everywhere online! Recognize the importance of a website, blog, and social networks, and use them frequently. Even if you’re not yet published, you should have a website, a blog, and Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to your writing. Publishers will look for these.

8.Have an impressive platform in the SAME genre as the one you’re pitching. If you’ve been writing nonfiction and have a huge following there but are pitching a work of fiction, understand that the audience isn’t the same—unless there is a common theme. Example: Nonfiction books on dealing with autistic children have a specific audience of people looking for help with dealing with autistic children. A novel featuring an autistic child as the main character would then appeal to this audience.

9.Don’t rave about how awesome your book is and how it’s going to sell thousands of copies in the first week. Be humble and stick to the facts.

10.Show you understand your audience and that you know who your target audience is. Don’t pitch a book with a ten-year-old main character as a novel for adults. And don’t pitch an unpublished book as “for anyone, any age.” There are few titles that fit that description, but this is established by sales and time.

11.Don’t send the book until the publisher asks for it. Unless the publisher’s guidelines tell you to send it with the query, wait for them to ask for it.

12.Ensure your book is as error free as possible. Run a spell-check and grammar-check before sending it. And have at least one other person edit the entire work, preferably someone with actual editing skills who understands CMOS rules.

13.Know what CMOS is and understand the rules. Have a hard-cover edition on hand or sign up for the online edition. Show your knowledge of CMOS style rules in your manuscript. CMOS is the writer’s Bible.

14.Do not e-mail the publisher to ask if he/she has read your book yet. If the guidelines do not stress a time limit, ask for one when the publisher requests your manuscript.

15.Impress them with your publishing credits. If you have published other works in the same genre or type (fiction or nonfiction) as the book you want to submit, let the publisher know, and point them to your Amazon profile page.

16.Make sure you have an Amazon profile page if you have published works available on Amazon. If you have no profile page, you’ll look like someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

17.If you have won a prestigious award, mention it briefly. Ensure you know the difference between a “prestigious” award and one that means very little.

18.If you have published other works in the same genre, briefly summarize what you have done to promote them. Impress publishers with your marketing abilities and creativity.

19.Reviews are vital! Make sure you have a substantial amount of reviews on your published works, especially those in the same genre as the book your are hoping to submit. Don’t query a publisher or agent until you have 10+ reviews on the majority of your works, and an average rating of 3.5 or above stars.

20.Don’t pitch a publisher your manuscript while also pitching your services as a book cover designer, editor, marketing coach, formatter, etc. Query separately. Be professional.

21.Be editable. Your book isn’t perfect. Even if you’ve had it edited by someone else, the publisher will need to know that you’re open to being edited.

22.Don’t ask if you can supply the cover, cover description, or images for the cover. Publishers have their own creative designers.

23.Understand you have competition. Know who your competitors are and who has written works comparable to yours. Watch how they promote their works on social networks. Learn from those who are selling.

24.Make the publisher curious enough to want to ask you questions. Don’t tell them everything in your first e-mail.What you want is for the publisher to engage in conversation with you. You want to give them everything they ask for and hint at anything outside of that. For example, if a publisher doesn’t ask for sales data in their guidelines, you could mention you made a best-sellers list for two weeks in a row. Let them ask for more information. When they do, give them everything you can, including where the best-sellers list was published, what ranking you got, and total sales to date for that title.

25.Express gratitude. Be thankful for the publisher’s time and for any feedback or advice they give you. They don’t have to give you any feedback­—or their time.

Cheryl Tardif is the publisher at Imajin Books, a hybrid publishing company based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is also known as Cheryl Kaye Tardif, an award-winning, international bestselling author represented by Trident Media Group in New York. She is best known for Children of the Fog, Submerged, and Whale Song. Booklist raves: “Tardif, already a big hit in Canada . . . a name to reckon with south of the border.” Check out Cheryl’s website and Imajin Books website, and connect with her on Twitter (Cheryl and Imajin Books) and Facebook (Cheryl and Imajin Books).

http://www.imajinbooks.com
http://www.cherylktardif.com

Blog: http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/09/29/25-tips-on-how-to-impress-a-book-publisher

8 Unexpected Lessons From Working with a Literary Agent by Brian Klems


With self-publishing becoming more widely accepted and Amazon waging wars with publishers, more and more I get the sense from aspiring authors that they don’t think landing an agent means as much as it used to.

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Writers’ Digest Guest post by Bethany Neal, who writes young-adult novels with a little dark side and a lot of kissing from her Ann Arbor, Michigan home. She graduated from Bowling Green State University and is obsessed with (but not limited to): nail polish, ginormous rings, pigs, pickles, and dessert.

“My Last Kiss” is her first novel. You can connect with her online at http://www.bethanyneal.com.
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They believe “traditional” publishing is going the way of VCRs and none of the old rites of passage apply anymore. That’s fine if you think that, but, in my experience, it simply isn’t true.

I signed on with my agent, Stacey Glick of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, in September of 2010 for my first (unpublished) young adult, suspense novel and it has solidified some valuable lessons.

Guest post by Bethany Neal, who writes young-adult novels with a little dark side and a lot of kissing from her Ann Arbor, Michigan home. She graduated from Bowling Green State University and is obsessed with (but not limited to): nail polish, ginormous rings, pigs, pickles, and dessert.

My Last Kiss is her first novel. You can connect with her online at http://www.bethanyneal.com.
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    Searching for an Agent

The beginning of this journey started with little more than a polished draft of my manuscript. I started simply by researching agents through Literary Marketplace, which is a massive tome that sits behind the reference counter at most public libraries.

Some of this research was review because I had previously queried a paranormal YA trilogy that ended in 32 rejections.

Having revived my search, I made a shortlist of reputable agencies looking for YA. I browsed their sites and found agents within each agency looking for my specific flavor of YA. I write a little on the dark side—somebody is almost always dead—and I write a lot of kissing. Not everyone wants to represent that, and that’s fine.

I think the most important part in the agent search is reading every agent’s bio and only querying those you feel a connection with and who are interested in not just your genre but also your style. My agent, for instance, at the time was looking for darker YA projects with a strong voice. That’s my writing in a nutshell.

Landing an Agent

I had two full manuscripts and one partial out with various interested agents when I got the email.

The email that said Stacey read my manuscript and wanted to set up a time to discuss it. I’d been rejected by 14 other agents already, so I wasn’t even sure what that meant. Then I got the call.

Thus began a string of very important lessons for my writing career.

1. Look before you leap.

My agent told me what she liked about my writing and the story and answered every single one of my questions.

I was so out of my mind excited that she wanted to represent me. So I told her I didn’t need to wait to hear back from the other two agents interested and I wanted—needed her as my agent.

This is my one regret in my agent search. I should have given myself a day to regain sanity and speak with the other two agents. I don’t regret signing with my agent because she’s been an enormous support throughout the years, but it’s something I know I should’ve done for peace of mind.

Take that day to pause before you jump on the first agent who smiles at your manuscript.

2. Prepare to move.

Almost immediately, my agent was requesting more information.

Stacey asked me to send her an author bio and a synopsis for the other novel I’d written, then emailed me an agency agreement that stated DGLM exclusively had the right to sell my novel for one year.

Right out of the gate there were deadlines. This one at least was a soft deadline, but it stoked a sense of urgency.

We went back and forth on revisions for a few months and ended up pushing back the submittal date so she could feature my novel in DGLM’s Upcoming Projects newsletter to generate interest with editors.

[Understanding Book Contracts: Learn what’s negotiable and what’s not.]

3. Anticipate nice, bad news.

After about a month being out on submittal, she sent me an email chocked full of the most positive, helpful, optimistic rejections I’ve ever gotten in my life. It was the best of a worst-case scenario I could have hope for.

I made revisions based on feedback and we made a round two submittal, but the basic consensus was to move on.

Luckily, I’d been writing away during all this waiting and close to finishing a draft of my new project that editors were eager to read because they remembered liking my first novel. That new project is titled MY LAST KISS and was published by FSG/Macmillan on June 10, 2014.

I didn’t expect to feel encouraged by rejections, but aligning with an agent allowed me to receive bad news in a way that turned out positive.

4. You’ll idolize your agent a bit.

It’s strange waiting with bated breath for someone’s email while also kind of loving and worshipping them even though you’ve never physically met them. I don’t think I could ever do online dating because it was weird. I’ve since met (and loved even more) Stacey in person.

I wasn’t anticipating, though, how many emotions I would wrap up in whether or not I heard from her.

5. You will hurry up and wait.

There is a lot going on, but the process from signing with an agent to publishing is a pretty drawn out experience.

I had no idea how long every step would take. It took us five months to get my first novel revised and ready to get out on submittal. It took another couple months worth of waiting to hear back from editors. And there’s more waiting once you get published. You can make good use of the time spent waiting though. For me it became an opportunity for uninterrupted writing time, which is invaluable.

[Learn important writing lessons from these first-time novelists.]

6. Expectations will drive you mad.

The biggest, dirtiest little secret about getting an agent (and being published) that no one tells you: Expectations, albeit mostly self-imposed, will drive you mad.

You start worrying about what will sell. Don’t. It will lead you down a dark, dark path—like Van Gogh, cut-your-ear-off dark.

Do yourself a favor and don’t go there because it’s extremely difficult to climb out of that pit of author-ly sorrow. You can’t predict the market and what will or won’t sell. The sooner you accept that, the saner you will be.

7. Agents breathe fresh life into your work.

An incredibly positive, unexpected bonus to finding my agent is how insightful and willing she is to collaborate on revisions.

Stacey will send me an email with literally one sentence asking something about my manuscript and it will enlighten me to the exact issue I’d been trying to fix for eight months. Having access to an expert with a keen eye is invaluable.

8. An agent is a partner in your journey.

On the warm and fuzzy side, how much she believes in me and my writing is something I couldn’t have anticipated.

Being an author still feels like this soap bubble that might burst at any moment. Even after having my first novel published, that insecurity hasn’t gone away. If I didn’t have my agent to give me pep talks and reassure me of my talent when the chips are down, I don’t know where I’d be.

Being a writer is hard work. Getting published is even harder work. Having an agent can give you a much needed hand. Just know that there are some surprising twists and turns along the way.

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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

WHEN SHOULD WE SELF-PUBLISH? WHY? WHY NOT?


By Charles S. Weinblatt

My first book would have been a perfect poster book for self-publishing. It represents every solid reason why an author should self-publish. Forget the years of effort writing books and then devoting months or years attempting to contract with a small, independent publisher. Forget the years of writing, searching, struggling to gradually create an impressive author platform to attract literary agents. Forget depending upon someone you did not hire for editing, graphic design and printing. Forget waiting until a publisher is ready to schedule your book’s publication, and then the added time to distribute, promote, market and sell your book. When you self-publish, you make every decision on your own and on your own schedule.

Why was my first book such a perfect example of when to self-publish? First, it was not fiction. Fiction is harder to sell if it is self-published. It was a textbook on job seeking skills, something that I had honed for six years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and then continued on my own in my private consulting practice. I taught it so frequently that I might have done it well in my sleep. And I knew that I was good at it. Thus, my textbook, Job Seeking Skills for Students (1986, Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company), would be viable. I could sell almost as many copies as I desired through my consulting practice and as required reading for graduate students in my university (The University of Toledo). Why share the profit if you don’t need to?

Of course, I wrote that book in 1985 and I understood nothing about self-publishing then. Along came Kendall-Hunt Publishing with a nice advance and I required no convincing. They could see that I would have little trouble marketing and maintaining regional sales. All they had to do was replicate it elsewhere. Given my complete lack of understanding that there was another option (self-publishing), I took the advance and gave my book to Kendall-Hunt. However, if I had the same decision to make today, I would self-publish it in a heartbeat.

Of course, with self-publishing comes serious responsibilities. The author must hire a talented editor, a gifted graphic artist with successful experience designing winning book covers and jackets, as well as a solid printer and an excellent publicist. The self-published author must purchase the ISBN, arrange distribution contracts on different continents and make sure that every retailer of value around the English-speaking world has copies to sell. This author must also handle promotion, marketing, sales, returns, stocking and restocking retailers, etc. Not rocket science – but very time consuming.

If it happened today, instead of 1985, I would also need to create the e-book version of Job Seeking Skills for Students and format it for each type of e-reader, tablet, computer and smart phone. Then, I would need to post it for sale at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Diesel, Apple (iTunes), Kobo, Sony, Scrollmotion, Baker & Taylor, etc. But it would have been worth the effort. These are books made for self-publishing. Bypass the annoying, laborious platform creation and go directly to sales, where you, not a publisher, keep most of the profit.

There is a time and a place for everything. And when it comes to self-publishing, there is a difference in the chance for success between fiction and non-fiction. If the author is a celebrity or a highly-recognized subject matter expert, self-publishing makes perfect sense. But if the author is unknown and writes fiction, all such bets are off.

You can count on your digits the number of best-selling self-published fiction authors who were not already made famous by celebrity or by traditional publishers. Today, many famous fiction authors are deciding to carry their readers along into the self-publishing world. In other words, this works in only one direction. You use small independent trade publishers to attract literary agents, who will attract major publishers to your books. After you’re a famous fiction author, you may then decide to self-publish and keep more of the profit.

There are some excellent self-published books. I’ve self-published three books. They’re probably not excellent; but through them I was able to comprehend the process. Here is the single most important factor. There is no talent entrance bar for self-publishing. No one evaluates your writing. No aptitude is necessary. You can literally make your cat a self-published author in a few hours. This fact degrades all self-publishing books in the eyes of readers, agents, publishers, distributors, publicists, reviewers and bookstore owners. Please note that I am not advocating this as a desired condition; only stating it as a fact. It is not good, bad, right or wrong. There is still a stigma attached to self-published books. Thankfully, the stigma is somewhat lower than in prior years. But it remains. Since anyone can become a self-published author, regardless of talent, all such books are stigmatized by those careless, inept, unskilled “authors.”

This lack of industry vetting might mean nothing to a non-fiction author who is already a celebrity or known subject matter expert. But it can mean everything to a novice fiction author. Tread here very carefully. The vast majority of self-published books are not well written. They contain a multitude of errors in spelling, grammar, character development and punctuation. Just sample a few self-published books.

Do not suspect that most readers won’t notice these “little mistakes.” Readers will most definitely notice and they will roast you in reviews because of the mistakes. If you’re not willing to take the time and spend the money to hire a talented and experienced editor, why publish? It will only be embarrassing after it’s been read.

Self-published fiction is almost never reviewed by the most respected, persuasive and compelling review organizations in any genre. I am a long-time reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. Believe me, the best review organizations will reject it. As none of the best reviewers will take on a self-published book (so far), the author is left promoting reviews from readers, family members, neighbors or workplace buddies. Such reviews might appear nice on the surface, but they are unconvincing to the public. You would not buy a car if it was rejected by every major automotive review organization. Why would you not feel the same way about a book?

Self-published fiction books rarely appear on the shelves of bookstores, where more than half of all books are still sold. I’m not arguing for or against this – only stating a fact. Yet, that’s an enormous market to just give up because you want to self-publish rather than go through the trouble to create a winning author platform and attract publishers.

Unlike the trade-published author, who typically receives an advance and pays nothing to be published, the self-published author typically invests several thousand dollars on editing, graphic design, printing, ISBN, distribution, publicist, video trailer designer, marketing, promotion and sales. In most cases, the self-published fiction author will not recoup those expenses, let alone earn a profit. Please understand… I’m not telling you not to self-publish. I’m telling you why your chances for self-published fiction success might be poor and why you most likely will never recoup those expenses.

 

Although all authors must market, the SP author is completely on her or his own. She must hire her own editor, graphic designer and publicist. Without prior experience, hiring this kind of talent successfully can be hit and miss at best. The author must then hire a talented and experienced video producer to create a quality video book trailer and then it must be distributed in literally dozens of the right places.

 

Publishers, especially major publishers, promote your books at key international book fairs, conferences and conventions, something that would cost the self-published author thousands of dollars each year. Yet these are the best places to reach film producers and studio executives, screenplay authors, directors, as well as opportunities for translation and foreign rights sales. So add the cost of trips to London, Paris, Jerusalem, Berlin, etc., to your book budget.

And while the self-published author is devoting at least 20-30 hours per week to distribution, promotion, marketing, sales, stocking, etc., the trade-published author has more time to write new books because their publisher handles some of this heavy lifting. Don’t take this too far. All authors must promote and market their books. It’s just somewhat easier and less time-consuming when you have a publisher helping out.

A novice fiction author requires a powerful author platform to attract an agent. Major publishing houses only accept proposals from trusted literary agents; and well-connected agents almost never take chances on their reputation.

When an agent decides to read your query, he or she will also Google your name. When that occurs, you’ll want the agent to read many pages of powerful author platform, including dozens of positive articles and references about your books and your author reputation. Platform also includes influential writing awards, especially with regional or national media recognition. Agents and publishers want to see a gradual increase in sales of prior trade-published books. National or international news articles about you and your books in newspapers, magazines and journals are prominent platform building blocks. Major radio, TV and Internet interviews with powerful agents are useful. Blogging successfully and guest blog appearances with the best and most well-liked blogs help.

All of this takes a lot of time – years – to accomplish. To a novice fiction author, platform means everything. The big advances and publicity are earned one trade-published book at a time.Of course, being trade-published for fiction is not a decision. You need talent, a marketable book, a high quality publishing proposal (see other articles on this site for information about how to fabricate a winning book publishing proposal) and the determination to contact dozens or even hundreds of small independent publishers. During this time, building your author platform is the single most important focus of your task. It’s more important than royalties or sales. Platform means everything to a fiction author, because generates success later. And it can attract one huge piece of the puzzle – a well-connected literary agent. More about that, plus book marketing ideas elsewhere here: https://cweinblatt.wordpress.com.

Agent Queries and Publisher Proposals – Why You Should Use Links, Not Attachments


By Charles S. Weinblatt

Copyright © 2014

Abstract: Agents and publishers do not accept unsolicited letters, proposals or manuscripts from a novice author. Nor will they open an e-mail attachment from an author unknown to them. A well-connected literary agent is your access to major publishers and major publishers can shower you with a hefty advance and place the efforts of the best editors, graphic artists, printers, marketers and publicists at your doorstep, to make your book a market success. So, how do we, as unknown (or little known) authors, get agents and publishers to deliver contract offers?

This series of articles will help new or unknown authors understand how to create desired proposals and what literary agents and publishers will accept or reject. It offers a structural framework for distributing vast amounts of positive author information (platform) in a safe and protected manner that agents and publishers will feel good about opening without a malevolent result. Using a variety of embedded live Internet links, your author’s platform will be instantly available and with significant depth of data. This includes opportunities to sample different kinds of writing, writing awards, major newspaper, magazine and journal articles, TV, radio and broadcast news about you and reviews for your books from the most compelling and persuasive review organizations. This method will deliver the greatest amount of positive platform data in the most benign and viable manner.

Would you open an e-mail attachment from someone you’ve never heard of, who lacks any connection with you personally or by way of business? When someone you’ve never known sends you a poorly-worded e-mail informing you of their desire to share $20 million that their poor dead father left in some obscure bank account in Ghana just for you, do you give them your personal information? If a stranger via e-mail offers a free roof on your house if you will only open the attachment, do you open it? Well guess what? Neither will agents or publishers open your attachment. They don’t know you and now that you’ve contacted them in this manner, they never want to know you.

First, read the submission rules on each and every agent and publisher web site. Some agencies and publishers are closed to submissions or proposals. Sometimes this is only temporary, or for one or two genres. Those that will accept a proposal typically have solid rules for submission. Sometimes they even embed a strange or unusual rule, just to make sure that applicants are obeying. They own the game. Disobey their submission rules at your own risk. But remember, unless you’re a very well-known celebrity, you need them much more than they need you.

Never send a literary agent or a publisher an e-mail proposal in which the most important information has been added as an ATTACHMENT. This might sound like something everyone should already know, but then you might be surprised with the number of neophyte authors who don’t comprehend or who or won’t obey the rules. A number of small publishers and literary agents have regaled me with stories about how rookie authors ignore both submission rules and common sense.

In the past, we wrote manuscripts upon metal typewriters or by hand, paid to have it professionally edited and then we mailed the entire manuscript on paper to a literary agent or a SMALL independent publisher. Major publishers rarely opened or responded to unsolicited proposals then, let alone now.

Today, agents and publishers do NOT want to read your manuscript. Nor do they want your snail mail. If they desire you to hear from you at all, it must be in an e-mail with a brief description of who you are, why you have contacted them and why they should have any interest in your writing. All platform data should be in links, not attachments. If your platform measures up and if the topic is of any remote interest, then they will want to know more about your talent. And they will not open an attachment, period. If you send one anyway, your wonderfully-crafted e-mail and its attachment will be unceremoniously dumped into the e-trash pile.

Nor does an agent or publisher want to read a ten page electronic document that explains in great detail who you are and why you are making this contact. They desire your platform, but only in an electronic format that allows then to pick and choose which aspects to access in detail, with no attachment to open. Think about how Wikipedia encodes a vast amount of information about a person through a combination of headings, narrative and links. This is what you need to accomplish, but in an even more concise manner, via your e-mail message and embedded links. Your goal in submission should be three or four paragraphs, filled with LINKS and NO attachments.

That’s a lot about what not to do when contacting an agent or a publisher. So, how does a novice author win this contest?

First, and most obviously, you must have talent. No dashing protagonist or wondrous topic can make up for a lack of writing talent. Second, you must have a marketable book. James Michener could not have sold a book about how to drink a glass of water, regardless of how eloquent the prose or how deep the characters. Finally, you must be willing to spend a great deal of time marketing, show that you understand how to effectively promote books and demonstrate that you have already done so with other published books. All of this is part of your author platform. You can and must be able to prove that you have done this with other books. If you simply haven’t had the time to write a number of books and have then trade-published, then consider that your best years are ahead. You won’t be making the same mistakes as others. But there is no substitute for the time it takes to write, read, write some more and gradually use the learned aspects for future platform enhancement. The more you read, the more you’ll incorporate the best aspects of those author’s talents into your new books. I’m sorry if this does not coincide with our society’s value for instant success. The best authors spend decades reading the best authors and incorporating their winning attributes into their own books. If you are unwilling or unable to devote years toward learning how to be a great writer, then SP or vanity publish and best of luck to you.

For the rest of us, the answer lies in creating a relatively short (three to four paragraph) e-mail narrative that contains all of your platform and writing qualifications opened with LINKS, not attachments. While almost no one will open an attachment from a stranger, most of us will open a link. Why? They’re safer. Your computer might be wide open to attack if you expose a dangerous attachment; but chances are your browser will detect a threatening link and stop it before it opens. Add to that the protection derived from your firewall and anti-virus programs. Attachments are DANGEROUS, while links are much more benign. This article is about how to pass along positive aspects and details of your author platform via links that are live and safe, rather than via potentially-dangerous attachments.

Since your only real shot at an agent or publisher lies in placing all of your critical platform information in links, you will obviously need to put the data on commonly-used formats, such as You Tube, Facebook, Goodreads, book landing pages, major Internet interview sites, publisher sites and retailers, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I love using two major free frameworks. One is BlogSpot. The other is WordPress. Both platforms are easy to use and are globally recognized. An important criteria in this decision is how well you can understand and use analytics. Analytics provide the reason for the season. They show us who is paying attention, where they discovered us and how much of our message is received.

Contacting an agent or a publisher is not simple or free of risk. As your author platform constitutes everything positive about you as an author, the way you deliver that platform is absolutely critical. In essence, you have a few sentences to sell yourself. The paragraph below elicits how I might contact an agent or a publisher.

I was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952. I am a retired university administrator. I’m also the author of published fiction and non-fiction. My biography appears in Wikipedia,the Marquis Who’s Who in America, and I am a long-time reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. I write novels, short stories and articles. I’ve received many positive reviews for my recently published novel Jacob’s Courage, including by Jewish Book World and The Association of Jewish Libraries, which you can review here.  Additional information is available on LinkedIn, Goodreads and a Facebook fan page for my novel.

This one paragraph opens almost every aspect of my author platform. The Wikipedia page alone reveals most of my recent writing achievements. But it goes one important step further. It reveals my ability and my desire to heavily market and promote my books. Today, virtually all authors must market – self-published, subsidy-published and trade-published. If agents and authors do not see proof that you are willing and able to market, they are going to be less interested in you. But if they see you working very hard to market, they will give your book and talent a closer look.

When I decided to find a publisher for my debut novel, I understood nothing of how unknown authors are published or how to acquire a literary agent. As the years passed, I read a great deal more about the process. More recently, I’ve interviewed dozens of writers, agents and publishers. I gradually made fewer mistakes. While I remain a relatively unknown author, I have a decent author platform, my recent books have been trade-published, I have a well-connected literary agent and a major university will be publishing me for fiction later this year. That’s not a career in writing; nor do I desire one. But I’m happy to share what has worked and what industry leaders accept as the bare necessity of acquiring an agent or publisher.

Technology marches on and the publishing industry continues to adapt. This serves the interest of both sides. Authors can waste far less time on proposal and query generation. Agents and publishers can access multiple layers of information about an unknown or poorly-known writer electronically. The deeper they want to delve, the more links they decide to open.

NEXT: What to put into your literary agent query and your small publisher proposal.

 

Proposal Power: What Publishers Desire in a Proposal


As resume writing is a path to a successful career, the publishing proposal is a gateway for being published, especially for fiction. Unfortunately, very few neophyte authors are experienced in publishing proposal writing. Novice authors are rarely considered by publishers. Why should a publisher spend several thousand dollars on an unknown, unproven author? Since very few rookie authors have a literary agent, it’s up to the author to design a proposal that not only meets their expectations, but sweeps editors off their feet. Non-fiction authors who are known subject matter experts should still design a proposal. But it is vastly more critical for unfamiliar fiction authors.

Before we go any farther, if you think that this article will enable your book to be published by HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House or any other major publisher – STOP READING. Only trusted, well-connected literary agents deliver author proposals into the hands of major publishers. If you don’t have such a literary agent, or a close friend or relative in the industry, you will NOT have a proposal read by a major publisher – PERIOD.

Many small independent publishers around the world specialize in one or two genres. However, you can have a proposal read by one of the many thousands of small independent publishers around the world; and that’s a good way to start an author platform and propel your nascent writing career.

Publishing proposal writing is a science and an art form. Your proposal must not only explain very succinctly the synopsis of your book, but also how it compares to similar successful books in the same genre. It must contain, at a minimum, one section each on: the author, a concise synopsis, a market analysis, a competitive analysis, promotional and marketing concepts, a chapter outline; and sample chapters. This cannot be thrown together and submitted carte blanche to any and every publisher. It should be re-worked and customized for each publisher. You must explain why you and your manuscript are a good fit with each publisher, based upon the publisher’s past experience, areas of success, author and genre predilections. You accomplish this by analyzing each small publisher and demonstrating why your manuscript will make sense given the publisher’s preferences.

The author is the easiest section to complete. Expand upon all of your accomplishments as a writer or as an author of fiction. This can go back as far as your high school newspaper. Include all writing competition awards, published articles, prior published books, media outlets that have accepted your work, positive reviews from persuasive review organizations, etc. Include all major media interviews via radio, television, cable, Internet and local newspapers, journals and magazines. This section tells the publisher that you have had successful writing responsibilities and that you have been rewarded and recognized for your talent. It explains what makes your writing and literary experience relevant to this topic and to the specific publisher.

The synopsis sounds easier than it is. In about 500 words or less, you must describe your target audience, why your book is exceptional and why it is a worthy expenditure for the publisher. Concisely describe the most compelling and persuasive aspects of your book. Lead with a powerful description. You must grab the editor’s attention immediately. Here is one example that led to a publishing contract for one of my novels about young Jewish lovers during the Holocaust:

“How would you feel if, at age seventeen, the government removed you from school, evicted you from your home, looted your bank account and took all of your family’s possessions, prevented your parents from working and then deported you and your loved ones to a prison camp run by brutal taskmasters? How would you feel if you suddenly lost contact with everyone that you know and love? How would you feel if you were sent to the most frightening place in history and then forced to perform unspeakable acts of horror in order to remain alive?”

If that doesn’t grab your heart, maybe you don’t have a pulse. It makes everything that follows easier from the publisher’s perspective. No, the paragraph above does not constitute the synopsis. It says nothing about the protagonists, the story line, scenery, character development, dialog or the ending. But, it’s a start that may be sufficiently emotional to grab the editor’s attention. Avoid creating a long-winded, detailed synopsis, which is a very common mistake. Your synopsis should be about one page. Keep editing it until it describes everything relevant in your manuscript within a page. You do not need to explain the ending. But you definitely must hook the publisher’s editor.

The market analysis is relevant and essential. It tells the publisher that you comprehend the market for such books and how your manuscript is consistent with market needs. In describing the potential for your book, you must compellingly submit how expansive that market is today and where your book fits into it. Describe which authors are doing well with which similar books within this genre and why. This is where you’ll explain who will purchase and read your book, how many readers enjoy such books, where they are and why they will pay for it. You’ll need to perform enough research to cite specific examples and statistics to back up your claims.

The competitive analysis is perhaps the most critical portion of the publishing proposal. Here you contrast and compare your book with at least three similar books that have achieved prodigious public success. Select these three similar books carefully. They certainly do not need to be contemporary. Feel free to select a book from the Eighteenth Century, if it is relevant. Explain why people by the millions purchased that book, which is very similar to yours. Then explain why your book adds to the success of that genre.

It is not appropriate to suggest that your book is the same or better than the best-selling books in your sample group. Nor is it a place to suggest that your writing is better than that of Edgar Allen Poe (it is not). It’s a place to analyze why those similar books were a best-seller and how your book has the same potential. Heavy use of statistics is appropriate here. When you compare your book with a famous best-seller in the same genre, use research to produce valid positive statistics. For example, what is the best-selling book’s current Amazon sales ranking? How many editions were created? Was it popular globally? How many copies have been sold? How many positive reviews from famous review organizations did it receive? What did some of them say? How many awards did it receive? Was it made into a screenplay? If so, how much did the film gross? What awards did it garner? You’ll need to do this at least three times with the most successful books in your genre.

At the same time, discuss how your book treats similar situations differently and why. NEVER try to convince a publisher that your book is “exactly like…” the famous book. It isn’t and you will be perceived as insincere or not to be trusted. As you compare and contrast your book with the big-time, well-known successful books, cite similarities and differences in plot, location, dialog, protagonists, narrative, descriptive scenery, etc. Your book can belong to the same genre, but it should always be sufficiently different and for good reasons. Compare your book to the best-selling books in its genre by listing the potential for millions of sales, Amazon sales rankings, number of customer reviews, academic credentials, reviews from the most compelling sources, etc. Facts and figures belong here, as well as why that book sold so many millions of copies and how your book has similar potential. Many editors and publishers view this section as the most critical part of the publishing proposal.

Promotional and marketing concepts is an equally critical section. Here you’ll demonstrate two things: 1) that you are willing to carry forward the bulk of responsibility for marketing and promotion, and 2) that you comprehend the various tasks, requirements, efforts and skills required to make promotion successful.

Today, even large well-known publishers require authors with a platform to take on much of the responsibility for marketing. Unless your name is King or Clancy, it will up to you to market your book. The days of an author delivering a manuscript to a publisher and then doing nothing are long gone. No matter who you are as an author, regardless of your platform success, marketing and promotion are YOUR job now. Show that you understand how to do this. If you are not willing to engage in repeated public speaking, bookstore signings and book tours, if you’re not willing to produce media interviews, if you won’t land newspaper, magazine and journal articles about your book, if you will not create and daily add to a Facebook fan page and a web landing page, if you won’t blog, write on others’ blogs and disseminate an excellent book video trailer, then no publisher, other than a subsidy publisher, will have an interest in your manuscript.

The chapter outline is extremely important. Here, the publisher anticipates that you will deliver a description of each chapter in several sentences (not paragraphs). The publisher wants to digest the content of each chapter within a few seconds. If your chapter descriptions are several paragraphs each, the proposal will go into the e-junk pile. I have worked very hard to reduce my chapter outlines and my agent continues to demand even more brevity. This is an exercise in being extremely concise.

The publisher will want to read a few sample chapters. This is often the first three chapters, because that’s where character development is born. But it need not be. If you believe that three later chapters will better sell the book, use them. However, be advised that if you use later chapters, and the publisher has no way to relate to your protagonist, the quality of your manuscript will be lost. If you decide that the first three chapters are too boring to use, consider that those first three chapters may need rewriting to incorporate more anticipation, expectation, character development and conflict.

Finally, when all is written, edited and re-written, create a table of contents and use page numbers to identify each section’s location. All publishers expect this.

You’ll never attract a publisher by suggesting that you’re a talented author. If you are a novice and have yet to win writing awards or obtain positive reviews from compelling review organizations, don’t worry. We all start in the same place. Instead, show that you understand the publishing industry and your marketing and promotion responsibilities. Explain how you are creating an author platform that will be increasingly valuable to that particular small publisher. If the publisher has some interest in your book, they will be more willing to finance its publication. And if the publisher believes that more of those high quality books in the same genre are on the way, they will be more likely to donate several thousand dollars to print your first book.

Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of published fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Holocaust novel, Jacob’s Courage. His recent published books can be observed at http://charlesweinblatt.wix.com/charles-s-weinblatt.