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- Come up with a blockbuster title
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- Self-publish, if that’s what you choose
New information on marketing strategies:
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David has now been a writer for 15 years. Before that, he was a professional actor for 15 years. In that time, he located, lured and landed over 50 agents. In fact, he got so good at it that he eventually got an agent to marry him and be the mother of his child. Sadly, on their wedding day, she fired him as a client. For those of you who don’t know, that agent is Arielle.
We’ve seen lots of agents try to tell writers how to find an agent. The sad truth is agents have no idea how to find an agent. All they have to do is look in the mirror, and there is an agent staring back at them. They look around the office; they’re surrounded by agents. Agents can tell you what things not to do and what things annoy them. But they also often give bad advice because, quite frankly, they don’t want the competition.
We see lots of agents tell writers not to do multiple submissions. But, in fact, it can take an agent nine months to get to your manuscript. That’s how long it took Arielle to read David’s manuscript after he submitted it to her. And we went on to get married! Imagine if it took nine months for every agent to get back to you, it would take you seven years to query 10 agents. Of course, agents don’t want you to do multiple submissions. They want you all to themselves.
David also heard an agent say a writer should never submit a book that’s already been self-published. She said it in such a dismissive and entitled way. You find this a lot with agents; they tend to develop a dismissive, entitled, bitter, jaded, snarky outer shell. You can’t blame them because they are constantly inundated, and everyone wants the agent to make their dreams come true. In fact, a great agent can make your dreams come true. David is living proof of that. However, he also did exactly what the dismissive, entitled agent said couldn’t be done. One of his books went out-of-print, and people kept asking where they could buy it. So, as an experiment, he decided to self-publish the book. It was a great experience, and he learned an amazing amount from doing it. It cost him nothing because the book had already been published; and he bartered with people to make him a new cover, a new layout for the printed version and an e-book. He immediately started making money on the book. At the same time, he went out to a number of agents and editors, and lo and behold, got a book contract. When that happened, he immediately took the book down from where it was available, and no one was the wiser. Mind you, he didn’t tell the people he was submitting a book that had already been self-published. But if they had asked, he certainly would not have lied. They didn’t ask. He didn’t tell.
So how do you find an agent?
There is a fine line between research and stalking. The Book Doctors firmly believe it’s important to stay on the research side of that line. The first thing David does is make a list of 10 to 15 books that are similar, in the biggest broadest sense of that word, to his book. Let us emphasize in no uncertain terms that we mean big broad strokes. And please, for goodness sake, don’t say that your book is like no book ever written. Because that book will never be published. Lots of our clients have no idea what books are similar to their books. That’s a problem.
One of the most important things you can do as a writer is to read, and you have to become an expert in the section of the bookstore where your book is going to live. Recently, someone pitched us a piece of noir. We asked him if it was more like Raymond Chandler, Dennis Lehane, or James Elroy. He looked at us like a confused puppy and said, “Who are they?” They’re only three of the most successful and brilliant noir writers in history. If you are lucky enough to get an agent or editor interested, and they ask you if your book is similar to another book on the shelf, you have to be able to say, “Oh yes, I love that book, and readers of that book will love my book, but it’s different in these ways …”
2. Find Books Similar to Yours
Take a field trip to your local independent bookstore. When the phones aren’t ringing off the hook and the cash registers aren’t going crazy, find a person who is the expert, or as close to an expert there is, in the kind of book you’re writing. Then ask them what books they have that are similar to your book. Start making a list of books that are similar to yours, again in the broadest, largest sense. List books that looked interesting to you, that looked like they were done by people you’d like to do business with. In the acknowledgments section of those books, look for the agent and/or editor.
3. Make a List and Create an Environment of Competition for Your Book
Your agent list should be a little bit like a high school senior putting together their college list. You should have some well-known agents at the top of your list, some agents you admire but aren’t bigwigs yet, and some agents that have just started out or whose lists are small.
As soon as anyone expresses interest, you immediately email everyone else on your list. There’s nothing that’s going to get you a response faster than having someone else interested. That’s human nature. It’s like the sorta cute kid in high school who shows up with a beautiful cheerleader on his arm. Immediately, he becomes much more attractive. He’s exactly the same guy he was yesterday; only now someone else wants him. You see, every agent who’s been in the business for any length of time has a recurring nightmare in which they’re walking down the street, people are pointing at them, laughing and giggling, whispering to each other, “There goes the agent who passed on Harry Potter!” That’s because every agent has passed on a book that has become wildly successful.
4. Know Thy Agent-to-Be
Make a file on each of the agents. Where are they from? Where did they go to college? What are their hobbies? Where have they been interviewed? What books have they agented? Are they a dog person? You’re going to use all this information when you write your query letter.
One of the biggest mistakes that most amateur writers make is that they just send anonymous letters without doing any research. In lots and lots of places, it says that Arielle does not like fantasy and science fiction; and yet every week she gets another email from a writer that says, “Dear Agent, I know you’re going to love my book; it’s the first in a 37 book series. It’s called the Unicorns of Narnia.” Arielle used to actually answer those emails. She doesn’t answer them anymore. They go directly into the trash.
5. Make it Easy for an Agent to Say Yes
Agents are trained to say no. They’re just looking for a reason to reject you. It sounds cold and cruel from a writer’s perspective; but having lived with an agent for so long now, David totally understands it. They are inundated and overwhelmed, mostly overworked and underpaid. They’ve got 50 submissions that arrived in their inbox today, they had 50 yesterday, and will have 50 tomorrow. It’s relentless. That’s why they’re looking for a reason to say no. These reasons include:
- Spelling or punctuation mistakes—we can’t tell you how many people have spelled Arielle’s name wrong
- Over-promising and under-delivering
- Too much horn-tooting and butt-kissing
- Using obvious and overblown comp titles (i.e. Harry Potter, Eat Pray Love, Hunger Games)
- Not following agent submission guidelines—you can’t believe the percentage of submissions that do one or more of the above.
That’s why if you just do the basics, it already ups your odds by loads.
6. Don’t Submit Your Book Until It’s Fully Polished
Writers are under the mistaken impression that an agent will help them fix their books. The agent is almost certainly not going to help you fix your book. If your book is not ready, the agent will reject you and your book. Almost certainly, that bridge will be burned.
7. Develop a Coping Mechanism for Rejection
JK Rowling was rejected 25 times. What makes you think you’re any better than JK Rowling? Thicken your skin. Everyone has her own method of doing this. David subscribes to the Godfather model: It’s never personal; it’s always business. He also enjoys accumulating lists of people who’ve rejected him; so that when he finally gets a deal he’s been looking for, he can send them all a very sweet email, and rub their noses right in it. But again, everyone has to come up with their own personal method.
8. Keep Up-to-Date
Sign up for Publishers Marketplace and Shelf Awareness. Keep abreast of who is selling books and making deals. Know what agents have awesome blogs. Speaking of which, here’s a shout out to Jennifer Laughran, who has an absolutely awesome blogfor those of you writing children’s books.
9. Go to Writers Conferences, Seminars and Workshops
There are very few places a writer can actually get face time with an agent. Conferences, seminars or workshops are one of them. You can listen to agents make presentations, and sometimes you can even have one-on-one sessions with them.
10. Join a Writers Group
When David lived in San Francisco, he found an amazing writing group. One of the writers was a very handsome, very charming, ridiculously talented writer. Plus he was a doctor. You wanted to hate him, but he was just too nice to hate. You knew if he caught a break, he was going to be huge. Well, he did catch a break. He wrote a little book called The Kite Runner and became an international sensation. His name is Khaled Husseini. Now David is connected with his agent by one degree of separation.
11. Attend Readings at Bookstores and Libraries
Any time an author whose work is similar to yours in any way, shape, or form comes to town to do a reading, GO! Buy a book. Be the last person in line at the signing. If someone comes behind you, get behind him/her. This is important because when you get up to the front of the line to have the author sign the book, it’s very rude to have a conversation if there’s someone waiting behind you. If you’re the last one, then there’s no pressure to move along. Sometimes the writer will want to talk to you; sometimes the writer will not want to talk to you. Pay very close attention to body language. Ask the writers if they’re happy with their agent. If they say yes, this gives you the opening to contact the agent and say, “I was talking to your client yesterday, and she said how much she enjoyed having you as her agent.”
12. Write a Killer Query
Three paragraphs. The first is always customized. Why should this agent be your agent? The second paragraph is your pitch. The third paragraph is a short bio. The whole query should reflect the voice of your book whether that be funny, authoritative, lyrical or whatever. This is your audition to show what a fabulous writer you are.
13. Persevere and Follow Up
Don’t ever assume if you don’t hear back from an agent that they are rejecting you. Assume they haven’t even looked at your query or manuscript. David’s maxim is: keep submitting until they say yes or the agent tells you to go to hell. He tries to have the Zen attitude that it doesn’t matter whether they say yesor no. Because when someone says no, it’s like you bought another lottery ticket. You have increased your chances of winning.
However, there are two kinds of perseverance: smart perseverance and stupid perseverance. The Book Doctors highly advocate smart perseverance. Always try to make your query/proposal/manuscript a little better. Polish, buff, shine until is evolves into the best versions of itself.
Whenever you are rejected, ask if there’s anything you can do to make your work better. Time and again, David has seen people be very generous with their advice. When David first approached Arielle, he didn’t know her. In fact, David didn’t know anyone in the publishing business. After making initial contact, he sent her his manuscript. A week later he followed up, just to make sure she received the manuscript. It turned out she had already lost it. He sent another. A month later, when he hadn’t heard anything, he called her on the phone. Generally speaking, agents don’t want you to call them on the phone. But this is David’s strength. We had a very nice conversation; he never even mentioned his manuscript. He found out afterwards that because he’d been so nice, Arielle felt very guilty. One month later, he did the same thing. This went on, as he mentioned earlier, for nine months. One human gestation period. Finally, he told her he was coming to New York for Christmas. He lived in Venice Beach at the time, and in fact he wasn’t going to New York at all; but he had a feeling that if he said that, she would read his manuscript. He was right. As soon as they hung up, he went and booked a ticket to New York. Six months later, after she had helped him craft his proposal, she sold it for six figures in less than two hours. Ten years after that, they had the most amazing daughter ever.
As we freeze in a winter wonderland (or a frozen wasteland depending on your point of view) and dream of spring springing, we are positively jubilant that we’ve turned in the final draft of the Third Edition of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. So we thought we’d give you a little preview. If you want to get successfully published, then this info is a must read and one of our most important updates in the new edition.
Many authors neglect to put crucial information in their author profiles on social media platforms, if they even put up profiles at all. “You only get so many owned or controlled presences online,” says Peter McCarthy, of the Logical Marketing Agency, a digital marketing company for the publishing industry. That’s why you want to make sure to have in-depth and well-thought-out profiles on Google Plus, Amazon, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. Not only do you get to decide what to put in these profiles, but you also get to take advantage of the fact that Google ranks these sites highly for searches. So let’s say, someone is looking for a book on how to get published. If I have profiles on all these sites with well-chosen keywords and phrases on this very subject, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is likely to come up higher in this person’s search than someone else’s book on the same subject. And the higher up you can get on Google searches relating to your book, the more books you’re likely to sell.
But don’t put up the exact same author profile on all four sites. Differentiate slightly among them so that you can broaden the number of searches that might find you. Within Amazon, for example: Because people visit Amazon to buy stuff, your profile should facilitate those transactions. You want to be much more specific in describing the types of books you write. On LinkedIn, which is mostly for professional networking, you want to be more focused on credentials: Why should a reader trust you on your area of expertise? On Goodreads, which is more social in nature, you can be more informal and talk about your kids, your dog, and the books (preferably within your subject area/genre) you love and admire. On Google Plus, where biographical data help Google identify you in searches, it’s just the facts ma’am.
Find out more about author profiles and check out the rest of the updates we made in our new edition in May!
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We’re writing a new edition of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! and want to know what you need.
What do you want in the new edition of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published?
- How much time do I need to put into social media each day? (14%, 8 Votes)
- Should I try to publish with the Big 5, an independent publisher or self-publish? (13%, 7 Votes)
- How do I price my ebook? (11%, 6 Votes)
- How can getting my work published online help me get a book deal? (11%, 6 Votes)
- If I hire an outside editor, do I need a developmental edit or a line edit? (11%, 6 Votes)
- Should I publish with Amazon? (9%, 5 Votes)
- How do I self-publish literary fiction? (9%, 5 Votes)
- Are they real publishers or just author service companies that want to rip me off? (9%, 5 Votes)
- How to get the most out of a writer's conference? (9%, 5 Votes)
- What is the art of selling children's books? (5%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 11
Have other ideas? Leave a comment below to tell us what you want in the new edition of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.
You’ve finished your novel (or maybe not—that’s okay, too). What’s next? You gotta have a great pitch. Now you have the chance to test your pitch on The Book Doctors, aka, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, who are holding a Pitchapalooza for NaNoWriMo participants only. Pitchapalooza is like American Idol for books—only without the Simon. Arielle and David have been hosting Pitchapaloozas all around the country, and they were recently featured in The New York Times. Dozens and dozens of writers who have participated in Pitchapaloozas have gone from being talented amateurs to professional, published authors.
How does this online Pitchapalooza work? Just send in your 200-word or less pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 15th, 2011. Twenty-five pitches will be chosen randomly and critiqued by Arielle and David on their blog,www.thebookdoctors.com/blog. A winner will be chosen on March 1, 2011. The winner will receive an introduction to an appropriate agent or publisher for his/her book.
Plus, anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published gets a free consultation worth $100 (please send proof of purchase to email above).
And, for the first time ever, you have the opportunity to vote for your favorite pitch. Let Arielle & David know which pitch you like best by email@example.com. The fan favorite—if different from Arielle and David’s choice—will win a free copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published and the accompanying free consultation.
Just send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you in cyberspace!
Click here to go to The Office of Letters and Light.
New Orleans opened her beautiful, battered and FREEZING arms to us (it was as cold as a polar bear’s ovary in January in New Orleans, DO NOT come without your woolies!) as we made the next stop on our coast-to-coast pilgrimage listening to book pitchers from America’s citizen authors.
Food. Let’s talk eating first, since this is, after all, N’Awlins. Our first meal was at Cochon (that’s French for pig), recently voted #1 restaurant in New Orleans by the people who live there. Our amazing concierge from the W Hotel (best customer service this side of Zappos btw) snuck us in, otherwise we would never gotten seated.
Alligator. Pig’s feet. Hog’s head. Just reading the menu was an adventure in culinary exotica. We had smothered collard greens whose vinegar greenness melted in the mouth and intoxicated the taste buds. Creamy grits that made you want to cry for joy. Boudin balls crispy fried on the outside and mushy with flavorful sausage and rice on the inside. Black eyed pea and pork soup. A pork pie that made you rejoice to be alive, bursting with thick textures and deep dark gravy flavor combinations all set off by a crisp, crunchy crust. Dessert was a key lime pie that was to die for, with homemade butterscotch ice cream. Plus lime coconut sorbet that was extraterrestrially splendiferous.
On our last night we went to Commander’s Palace. It was the polar opposite of Cochon.
Upscale and formal as opposed to down-home and funky. A hidden kitchen versus the openness and excitement that comes from watching the chefs bustling, hurrying, and slaving over hot stoves. Vests and ties, not t-shirts and jeans. The food was also reflective of this schism. Whereas Cochon took traditional dishes and put contemporary spins on them, Commander’s was strictly old school. We had an appetizer that was simply spectacular – shrimp skewered with a slice of pork smothered in pepper sauce and accented by okra so fresh you expected it to grab your ass and woo you with a snappy pick-up line. But the last meal was sadly pedestrian. The grits were leaden, the gumbo was just above average, and the lamb no different than the lamb we’ve had at upscale joints across the country. Dessert salvaged the meal though: soufflé light and lovely set off by vanilla/whisky sauce; shortcake long on delicate buttermilk goodness and complimented by succulent strawberries and wicked whipped cream. One other important difference: Commander’s was $150; Cochon $60!
Okay, now to the secondary news: our event. Garden District Books is one of the delightful, intimate indie bookstores that reeks of charm and is run by a serious book person: Britton Trice.
The staff is warm, friendly, welcoming, and knows books inside and out. Actually we were scheduled to go there in September 2005 for an event, but were waylaid by Katrina, So it was joyful to finally make it there and to see the bookstore, and indeed N’Awlins not only up and running, but flourishing. It was a freezing night, but to our delight 75 people showed up to pitch.
A very stylish slow talker gave her pitch about a memoir of continually saying the wrong thing at the wrong time with the charming title: The Bumble Gene. Another writer told her story of ½ human, ½ alien hybrids. A trust-funded rock critic gave a lovely presentation about her coming-of-middle age memoir. But our winner blew us away. He pitched his middle school novel called Peaches, starring a “blaxploitation Pippi Longstockings.” It was unique yet familiar, funny and poignant, magically delivered. One of the things that sets this Pitchapalooza apart from dozens and dozens of others we’ve done was that lots and lots of the people told stories in which New Orleans herself was a main character. People there take a real pride in their crazy mishmash of a culture and history. It was way, way cool!
Again, we were blessed with a set of slammin’ judges. Susan Larson, who has her own NPR show after being the book critic at the Picayune for two decades, had a gentle wisdom and wit while dispensing pearls of valuable 411. Kathleen Nettleton of Pelican Publishing was wonderfully no-nonsense, with a real tell-it-like-it-is POV that comes from being in the family book business since she was 12 years old. She told the writers there how critical it is to research a publisher to make sure you fit perfectly on their list.
Writer tip: be nice, not bitter. We were confronted by a writer after the event who was hostile and angry, disgruntlement shooting off her like poison arrows. She complained about how we sucked because she didn’t get to pitch. As we said, there were 75 writers there; we would’ve been at the bookstore until 3AM if we stayed to hear everyone’s pitch. To offset the disappointment some feel, we offer a free one-on-one consultation for everyone who buys a book. But this was not enough for this lady. She snarled and huffed away. An incredibly handsome and snappily dressed doctor approached us full of thanks and gratitude. He didn’t get to pitch either, but said how much he learned by watching and listening. Immediately we wanted to help this guy. So he told us his story. He was a doctor who had overcome drug addiction while treating patients. Great story, told with style and heart.
We were sad to leave New Orleans, but there’s already talk of bringing us back down for the Tennessee Williams Book Fair. We can’t wait!
We feel that one of our book’s greatest contributions to the morass of writer’s guides is our chapter on social media, aka chapter 2. We interviewed everyone one from Sree Sreenivasan (professor of journalism at Columbia University) to Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaiman (with whom there is an interview over Twitter) and many other social media geeks. The result is a hefty chapter on how to make social media work for you as a writer and author. Check it by clicking here.