After a month of sleep deprivation, self-medication, and caffeine saturation, you wrote your 50,000-word novel. Now what? Do yourself a favor, before you rush to send that novel out, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and come up with a strategic plan for getting your book successfully published. Because one of us is a writer, and the other is a literary agent, we thought we’d shed some light on this planning stage from both perspectives. Then we’ll give you 10 simple things you can do to increase your chances of success before you send your manuscript out into the cold cruel world.
DAVID, THE WRITER:
Before I shacked up with a literary agent, I had absolutely no idea of the sheer insurmountable massiveness of the Matterhorn Mountain of manuscripts that every agent faces every day. No matter how fast they reject manuscripts, they just keep coming. I always thought that agents would be excited to get my manuscript, would cherish the prospect of being able to get rich from it. But now that I’ve been living with an agent for over a decade, I realize what a fool I truly was. The great agents can barely service the clients they have. Even the bad agents have too many clients. If an agent is already established, they’re not hungry. If the agent is young and ravenous, they may not have the contacts necessary to lure the elusive golden ticket of a publishing contract.
Before I lived with an agent, I used to finish a piece of writing and send it everywhere. The problem, I now realize, was that I kept sending out a faulty product. One that hadn’t been road tested. That wasn’t finished. It’s as if I invited a guest over to my house for some delicious cake, and I only baked it for 40 minutes instead of an hour. All the ingredients would be there, but my guest would be forced to eat something all sloppy, gloppy, drippy and nasty. I’d say for every hundred manuscripts that arrive at our door every week, a good 85% of them are half-baked.
Now that I myself counsel so many writers trying to get published, I realize that many of them think, as I did, that an agent or publisher will help fix their manuscript. With the ever-shrinking publishing business in such turmoil, agents and editors must be absolutely passionate about a book. Or believe in their heart that it will make lots and lots and lots of money. Hopefully both. But because they have so many books to choose from, it only makes sense that they would be most attracted to the cakes that are beautifully baked and frosted. The ones that need no fixing.
ARIELLE, THE AGENT:
While it’s never overtly stated, agents and editors are trained to say “No”. You’re trained to look for reasons to turn a project down. To think of every objection anyone might possibly have. Uncover every reason a book might fail. In fact, because I have so little time as an agent, if a manuscript is just good or if it’s at all sloppy or if the writer doesn’t appear professional, the manuscript will go right in the trash.
But when a writer has done her research and perfected her craft, agents get excited. They can sniff a professional often in the very first paragraph of a query letter. And when they do, the thrill of the potential sale ping pongs through their bodies.
I love helping writers. I love working with writers. But it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, often for very little reward. One of my great frustrations as an agent is that some of the very best books I’ve ever worked on never got published. It breaks my heart! That’s why agents are so very picky. And that’s why you have to anticipate every reason why an agent might say “no” before they can.
Now that you’ve heard both perspectives, here’s our top 10 list of things to do before sending your manuscript out. These tips are writer and agent friendly!
1) READERS & CRITIQUERS. Like a fine bottle of newly opened wine, let your manuscript breathe. While it’s breathing, get people to read it. You absolutely cannot be objective about your own work. Almost everyone thinks that their baby is the cutest, smartest, and most talented. For this reason, don’t depend on your family and/or people who love you as your readers. Look to your NaNoWriMo cohorts. Writer’s groups and workshops. Readers and writers on any of the gazillion websites where they congregate, like Goodreads, RedRoom, and Open Salon. Offer to read other writers’ work in exchange for them reading yours. Yes, of course, take all comments with several grains of salt. But if everyone says your ending sucks, there’s a very good chance that it does.
2) MOUNTING A PLATFORM. Nowadays, publishers don’t just want you to have a following, they expect it. How many eyeballs can you bring to the table? Relentlessly connect with your audience. For example, Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, a novel about Alzheimer’s she originally self-published, hooked up with a major Alzheimer’s website. After much dedicated hard work, Lisa became a keynote speaker at a big annual Alzheimer’s convention. This led to the New York Times bestseller list, which led to a seven-figure two-book deal.
3) IDENTIFYING COMPETITION. Know your marketplace. Frequent your local bookstore. Live in the section where your book will land. Read everything. Befriend booksellers and pick their brains for comparable titles. Assemble a deep and elaborate comp list (this is industry lingo for comparative titles). When you go to an editor or agent, and they ask you about a book similar to yours, you better know that book, and know how yours is different. You also want to compare your book to others that have been successful in the marketplace.
4) FINDING BUYERS. Pinpoint books similar but not exactly like yours. Scour the acknowledgments. See if the agent and/or editor is named. Research these people. Find out everything you can about them. What other books do they represent or edit? Where did they go to high school, college, grad school? Are they horse people, cat people, Jane Austen people? All this will help you find the right buyer for your book when you go to sell it.
5) A PITCH-PERFECT PITCH. 1 minute or less. 1 page. 150 words. That’s all you get for a pitch. Read tons of flap copy of other books in your section of the bookstore. Use your comp titles to develop a 5-second elevator pitch, which will usually either end or begin your pitch. For example, we call our book the What to Expect When You are Expecting…of publishing. In other words, our book, like What To Expect promises to be a one stop shopping guide for everything you’ll need to know about the subject. It may seem cheesy and/or ridiculous, but this shorthand “sales handle” gives agents and editors a quick and easy way to understand and describe exactly what your book is. A pitch is like a poem. Every syllable counts.
6) MASTERFUL QUERY. 1 page. 3 paragraphs. The first paragraph establishes your connection with whomever you’re trying to hook with your book. The second is your pitch, condensed to one paragraph. The third is your bio, again shrink-wrapped so that it’s one short paragraph. This letter needs to establish who you are. If you’re writing a humor book, this letter better be funny. If you’re writing romance, there better be some sizzle. If you’re writing suspense, there better be a great cliffhanger somewhere in sight. Read your query out loud before you send it. Again, get others to read it. Sadly, this one page has a lot to do with your chances of getting successfully published.
7) GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. A great editor can make your book so much better. Our editor improved our book approximately 15,000 times. She kept challenging us to be more precise, to surgically remove unnecessary words, to say things with more clarity and concision. She could, in the words of editor/agent/author Betsy Lerner, see the forest for the trees. If you have the dinero, investing in your book early on in the process may save you time and money in the long run. If you don’t have a lot of spare change, you can ask a local bookseller to just read—not edit—your manuscript for a fee.
Originally posted at The Office of Letters and Light
Get a free consultation with the Book Doctors, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Whether it’s figuring out a great title, how to pitch your book, get an agent, market and promote, or self-publish, we can help you get successfully published. Just send proof of purchase of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Offer good til midnight Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010.
David Henry Sterry & Arielle Eckstut, aka The Book Doctors are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Between them they have published 20 books, been a literary agent for 18 years, been on NPR countless times, contributed chronically to the Huffington Post, and appeared on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
To purchase book: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/buy-the-book
Pitchapalooza Barnes & Noble Big Apple: The Goddess Next Door, Two Female Presidents, & a 1/2 Swedish 1/2 African Gigolo (With Pitching Tips)
10 years ago, before 9/11, the Kindle, Facebook and Twitter, Arielle, my ex-agent and current wife, and I both had books coming out. One about my childhood hero, Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The other was about her childhood hero, Jane Austen. Our publishers, Random House and Simon & Schuster, seemed disturbingly uninterested in helping us sell our books. So we called up our local bookstores and proposed doing events. They said if we could bring Leroy Satchel Page or Jane Austen down to the bookstore, they’d love to do an event with us, otherwise they were completely uninterested in us or our books.
Then one night we were at a party in San Francisco, and word got out that there was a literary agent in the house. Like moths to the flame writers flew furiously, pitching their books to Arielle. This was the lightbulb moment. Why not create an event that would explain how to take something you’re passion about, develop a book out of it, get it published and deliver it into the hands, heads and hearts of readers all over the world? Thus was born the Putting Your Passion Into Print event. I personally set up a 20 city West Coast tour. We were flabbergasted by how many Citizen Authors flooded out of the woodwork. Grannies, Goths, surfer dudes, soccer moms, PhD.s and homeless ex-vets. They all had two things in common: 1) They wanted to getsuccessfully published. 2) The wanted to pitch their books to an industry professional who could help them makes their dreams come true.
Thus was born Pitchapalooza—an American Idol for books where writers would get one minute to pitch their books to a panel of book professionals. The panel then critiques their idea while an audience of aspiring writers and those who love them soak the whole thing in. The panel evaluates everything from character to plot, presentation to marketing, title to comp books, befriending booksellers to finding an agent.
Pitchapaloozas prove Einstein’s theory of relativity over and over. Sometimes a minute goes by in a second. Sometimes it takes six months. But wherever we went, there were so many great stories out there, so many passionate writers who just don’t know how to navigate the stormy waters of the publishing ocean. And we’re proud to report that many Pitchapalooza participants have gone from being talented amateurs to professional authors with published books.
Which brings us to Thursday night, November 11, at the Barnes & Noble on E. 86nd St., in the throbbing center of the publishing mecca, NY, NY. It was the launch for The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published and our biggest Pitchapalooza yet. We had Larry Kirshbaum, a 40 year veteran of the publishing business, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group, now the head of his own literary agency, LJK Literary Management. And Bob Miller, newly minted Group Publisher of Workman Publishing. Since our book is published by Workman, it was a make or break time. We knew that if we put on a great event, it would go a long way to generating enthusiasm from the top down. And if it sucked, and nobody showed up, it could sink our book, which is just a brand new baby. We sent out hundreds and hundreds of e-mails to writing groups, publishing people, friends, relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. We invited all of our Facebook “friends” and Twitter tweeters. Luckily, we are blessed with a rarity in the book business: a publisher who actually supports their books. They hooked us up with Gotham Writer’s Workshop, who sent out an e-mail promoting our event to 70,000 writers. And Workman and Barnes & Noble took an ad out in the Village Voice.
So as we showered, shaved, and dressed in our Sunday best, we were tingling with excitement and sick with nerves. Imagine our surprise and delight when we showed up at 6:15, and there was already a gaggle of nervous writers with dreams in their hearts and stars in their eyes, waiting to pitch. By 7:00 Citizen Authors of all hue, with hair blond, green and even blue, packed the room, 130 strong, Standing Room Only. As we took our places at the podium with the other judges, you could smell the fear. It was a stifling hothouse of wide-eyed hungry hope and raw vulnerable terror, electricity crackling and buzzing through the room. It was one of the most charged atmospheres I’ve ever been in, and I worked at Chippendale’s Strip Club in the mid-80s, when it was the hottest show in New York City.
And then it began. An old white guy pitched a book about black wisdom. A lawyer lady pitched a thriller involving a lawyer lady. A life coach who called herself The Goddess Next Door pitched a book for women Entrepreuners. An Italian immigrant septuagenarian pitched a book about how he learned English when he came to America as a youth, the first words he learned were: zank you, asshole and son of a bitch. A Norwegian oncologist pitched a book about how fragile life is. Two different people pitched novels about the first female president. A Puerto Rican man pitched a thriller with a mambo beat. A half Swedish half African immigrant pitched a memoir about being homeless and ending up in the sex business: “Coming to America meets American Gigolo.” A tall stately young woman pitched a book about helping women get athletic scholarships to college. A woman who spent time in jail pitched a prison memoir. A security guard pitched a memoir about becoming his own lawyer and winning a lawsuit against NYU. A woman driven by the desire to help sick children pitched a kid’s book about Pointy the umbrella. A man in a hat pitched a book of poetry about how awesome women are. But the winner, Verne Hoyt, gave a pitch which sent shivers through the judges and the crowd. It was a stunning story, simply and exquisitely told.
The event was America at its best. A simmering melting pot of grit, humor, pathos, wild imagination, mad passion, and stories about triumphing in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sadly, only 23 people got to pitch, so over 100 writers were victims of pitchus interruptus. So the second the event was over, they rushed the stage, clamoring to be heard, ravenous to tell their stories. It was the closest we’ll ever get to being a Beatle: getting swallowed up by a crowd obsessed with grabbing a piece of us. It was terrifying, overwhelming and incredibly cool all the same time.
I honestly believe there were a dozen pitches which, if properly executed, would make powerful, important, and deeply entertaining books. A number of writers were approached by agents and publishers who were in the audience. And it was a true education to see what ignited the crowd and what made it glaze over. For us, it could not have gone better. The head of Barnes & Noble events was there, and he was incredibly gracious. He told us he thought this was a reality show waiting to happen. Which is just what we’ve been saying for years.
Every once in a while you get a vision, an inspiration, an idea that seems so powerful and valuable and right that it won’t leave you alone. Inevitably everyone tells you why it won’t work. But sometimes, the vision is so powerful that you push on through, determined to prove the playa haters wrong. You work, you buff, polished, and refine. Then somehow, suddenly, it all comes together, and your vision becomes a beautiful reality. Exactly like you saw it in your head. Wouldn’t it be great if life was always like that?
6 tips from the Book Doctors on how to perfect your pitch:
1) A pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.
2) It’s always better to present specific images than make general, generic statements.
3) Don’t tell us it’s funny, make us laugh. Don’t tell us it’s scary, scare us. Don’t tell us it’s lyrical, wow us with your poetry. It’s like those people who wear T-shirts that say SEXY. Please, let us be the judge of that.
4) Don’t oversell. Claiming to have written the next Eat Pray Love or Harry Potter only makes a writer look like a deluded amateur.
5) Never say that your book is like no book ever written. That book will never be published. Publishers want books that are familiar but unique.
6) Develop an elevator pitch . An elevator pitch is a Hollywoodese short hand way of describing your book, where X meets Y. For example, Jaws in Outer Space=Alien. Ann Rice meets Gossip Girl=The Twilight Series. The elevator pitch for our book is the What To Expect When Your Expecting of publishing. Yes, we borrow from a title in an entirely different section of the bookstore, but you know exactly what you’re going to get from this elevator pitch.
Book Doctors thank Huff Po!
Nth Word, a great resource for writers!
Bradley Charboneau is THE MAN when it comes to authors & websites. Check it out!
7:10am – Olive wakes up.
7:11am – David & Arielle wake-up.
7:12am – 7:33am – Olive watches Clifford the Big Red Dog. David and Arielle sleep.
7:34am – 7:52am – David & Arielle frantically cram clothes, computer cords and Dora the Explorer coloring books into bags. Olive dresses, dances, sings and asks David & Arielle to read her Dora the Explorer.
7:53am – 7:58am – D, A & O shlep WAY TOO MUCH stuff: suitcases, backpacks, satchels and tote bags, into elevator. O pushes elevator buttons with tremendous glee.
7:59am – 8:08am – A checks out, D negotiates with ridiculously understaffed and thoroughly confused parking attendants until they retrieve the hybrid rental car. O dances, sings, and asks to play tag.
8:09am – 8:12am – A & D cram WAY TOO MUCH stuff into hybrid rental.
8:13am – 8:28am – D drives, A navigates, then fills hybrid tank with gas so they won’t be charged $14 a gallon by Hertz
8:29am – 8:34am – D & A unload WAY TOO MUCH stuff out of hybrid rental onto sidewalk while O dances, sings, and asks to color in her Dora the Explorer coloring book.
8:35am – 8:39am – Good-hearted salt-of-the-Earth Midwestern Hertz employee takes pity on D, A & O and drives them and their WAY TOO MUCH stuff right to Continental check-in.
8:40am – 8:47 – Continental charges us $50 to check a bag and a box of books while O & D play tag.
8:48am – 8:59am – A & D shove WTM stuff through x-ray scanner while O sings American Pie.
9:00am – 9:26am – D, A & O eat truly gruesome breakfast at Carl & Erma’s restaurant inside the Dayton International Airport. Carl & Erma should be ashamed.
9:27am – 10:21am – A tries to get that taste of Carl & Erma out of her mouth while D repeatedly belches fire burps and plays hide and seek, tag and does 50m sprints with O.
10:22am – Continental announces 10:48 flight delayed due to unspecified mechanical issues.
10:23am – D sighs with irritated resignation. A begins to worry. O asks to color in her Dora the Explorer coloring book.
10:24am – 10:48am – A & O color in Dora the Explorer coloring book. D writes blog.
10:49am – Continental announces 10:48am flight delayed indefinitely due to further unspecified mechanical issues. Mechanics have been summoned, but have not yet arrived.
10:50am – D grunts with exasperated frustration. A worries with deeper intensity. O requests juice box.
10:51am – 11:22 – D teaches O to run backwards. Just in case, A makes sure they are booked on next flight out, but there is no next flight out until 8pm. So she books them on flight to Cleveland where they will have to pick up a second plane to get to Newark.
11:23am – Continental announces 10:48am flight delayed even more indefinitely. Mechanics nowhere to be found.
11:24am – D groans with dyspeptic agitation. A worries that D will have nervous breakdown. O announces need to go pee-pee.
11:25am – 11:31am – D takes O into foul hell-smelling men’s bathroom, wondering if the women’s bathroom could possibly be this nastily funkified. O pee-pees. A edits D’s blog.
11:32am – 11:38am – O & D play hide’n’seek, tag, and do 50m sprints. D helps O develop running-backwards skills. O. while running backwards, slams her head HARD, with a sickening SMACK, on the sharp edge of the ledge behind which the Continental employees stand.
11:39am – 11:48am – O howls, yowls, screams, shrieks and cries hysterically. A comforts while D apologies to O. A runs to get “boo-boo ice” while D continues to apologize and comforts O.
11:49am – 11:56am – “Boo-boo ice” relieves pain for O while A gives kisses hugs, and D apologizes some more.
11:57am – 12:09pm – O announces she’s all better and wants to run races. D & O run 50m sprints. A worries.
12:10pm – Continental announces 10:48am flight canceled.
12:11pm – D screams “OH MY GOD!” way too loud! A worries that D may have an aneurism.
12:12pm – O tells D in a sweet voice: “Daddy, don’t freak out.”
12:13pm – D & A crack up. O asks to hold hands & dance.
12:14pm – 12:19 D demands to know what Continental is going to do to compensate him for his suffering. Continental tells him he can have a shitty free lunch. Proving once again: There is no such thing as a free lunch.
12:26-1:40 A reads New Yorker while D & O do some sprints, and run backwards very carefully.
1:41-1:49: D, A & O hump WAY TOO MUCH stuff into tiny, scary, twin propeller airplane.
1:50-1:56: O freaks out when propellers start. A & O happen to be sitting in row right with propellers, which like they’re going to propel right into the plane. O cries. A comforts.
1:57 O calms as the propellers disappear in their speed. A calms. D laments.
1:58-2:30 O, A, & D fly from Dayton to Cleveland.
2:31-2:41 Plane to Newark is in whole other terminal. O, A & D have to schlep WTM stuff for what feels like miles. O decides she no longer wants to carry her suitcase.
2:42-3:31 O & D play tag, sing, dance, pee-pee in foul Cleveland Men’s room, and run 50m dashes. A buys remarkably decent salad, which they all consume.
3:32-3:33 Continental announces that plane is delayed to Newark
3:34-5:15 D makes crazy sounds, A freaks out, O is starting to show signs that a breakdown is impending.
5:16-7:01 O, A & D fly from Cleveland to Newark, happy to be finally really on their way home.
6:50-7:09 O, A & D de-plane, fetch and lug WAY TOO MUCH STUFF to curb side of Newark International Airport. O & D run 50m sprints, dance and play tag.
7:10-7:59 Granville, husband of O’s babysitter, picks up O, A & D and their WTM stuff into Lincoln town car. Granville drives to Montclair while D&A stare like road-burned zombies and O falls into a coma-like sleep.
8:00-8:03: D carries O sleeping into their house and gently places her in her bed. O never stirs. A trundles WTM stuff out of large dark car into home where Joann, A’s mom has a home made dinner waiting to be eaten.
8:04 A & D collapse. Never have been happier to be home…