When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that the New York publishing scene is a tough nut to crack. The reality is that with 83% of Americans wanting to write a book, the competition for a publisher’s attention is steep. What’s an author to do? If your attempts for finding a traditional publisher aren’t bringing any results, maybe it’s time to think like a publisher, instead of an author.
Writing a book is the easy part, and while publishers look at writing style and voice, there’s a whole lot more that goes into a successful book than just how well it’s written. When it comes to success, a publisher looks at this much differently than an author does. Truth be told, a publisher gauges a book’s potential success largely by the author.
Now don’t misunderstand me, there’s market consideration as well, but the author’s “salability” is looked at very closely. What we refer to as a “platform” is something all authors need to have, regardless of their target market. A platform is not who you know, but who knows you. It’s your area of influence. A platform can be any of the following:
* Your business
* Your fan base
* Speaking gigs you have coming up
* Your email list of potential buyers (i.e. fans)
* Your website (if your site is drawing traffic and capturing email addresses)
* How well you’re known in your market
If you’re new to the book world (meaning this is your first book) you may not have a single item on the above list in your vault of marketing tools. That’s okay. Now’s the time to build them.
The next piece of this is to write for a market. Over the years I’ve seen countless authors write a book on something for which there is no market. They believe their book will create the market. This won’t happen. Ever. First, if you’re self-publishing a book you probably don’t have the funds available to you to “create” a market even if you wanted to. You may respond to this by saying, “Yeah, but new markets are created every day.” And yes, this is true; what’s also true is that while it may seem that these are “new” markets, they were in fact already existing but, perhaps, untapped. Finding these markets can cost you a fortune in consumer research, advertising, product/book placement, etc.
When a company like Coca-Cola decides to put out a brand new product, you can bet that millions of dollars has gone into this prior to the launch. When authors come to me and say, “I have a great idea and it’s never been done before,” I suspect there’s a reason why, a publisher will too. Now, let’s say that you’ve done the research, you’ve spent years working in this arena and you know there are readers out there. Millions of them. If this is the case then I’d suggest you show up armed with your (current) research and data.
The ability to self-publish your book has (thankfully) brought a number of books to the attention of a traditional publisher that might have otherwise been overlooked. Why? Because publishers like what other people like. If you have a book that you’ve self-published and it’s done well, a publisher might consider this for commercial access as well. By “commercial” I mean consumer, trade paperback, mass market. The key is to keep a close eye on the track record of the book and document your success. This form of documentation will later become the resume you use to entice a publisher into considering your book.
I was talking to an author the other day who had a great idea. He had a hard time getting a traditional publisher interested in his book, so he self-published with the intent of getting a major house to publish him. With that he mind he solicited referral letters from bookstores. Why bookstores? Because if you can get a bookstore excited about your book who then tell publishers it “flew off the shelves,” you’ll be a step closer to piquing a publisher’s interest. Why? Well many (if not all) publishers will solicit advice from booksellers on the sales potential of a book they’re considering. They do this because they know that the bookseller is front and center with the consumer every day. They see what sells and what doesn’t. Having a bookstore (preferably several) in your corner could be a tremendous thing for your future and the future of your book.
And finally, let’s be realistic. With 800 or so books published each day in the U.S., the competition is fierce for gaining the buyer’s attention. Your book is your resume and because of this, it needs to be letter perfect. You should never wait for a traditional publisher to come along and “polish” your book, it should be gleaming with perfection. Yes, there are always things you’ll want to change after it’s published, but having a book that’s edited with a cover that sparkles will not only get you noticed by a publisher, but by your reader as well. And in the end, it’s the reader we must reach. Once you do, the world will beat a path to your door.
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Penny, great reminder that publishers more than ever are focusing on “platform” above all else. Whenever I’m asked about getting a major publisher I tell people to start building up their fan base before they ever think about writing the book. Cheers, Kevin