I’ve blogged about “voice” here many times and given seminars on “voice” at writers conferences but Amber Carveo from Skylark Literary nails the concept very well in her blog post. I recommend you read it and tattoo it to your forehead. Brava, Amber!
” We treat each author as a human and not a contract number. Our company is run by humans for humans.”
Authors, if you see this on a publisher’s website, roll your eyes because this is nothing more than a weak attempt to sell themselves. Publishers who actually sell books to the marketplace on a successful basis always see their authors as human beings. Authors are the lifeblood to good mainstream publishers. The editing process is an intimate, absorbing process. There is a boatload of communication taking place. The idea that any editor can treat their authors as a number is fantasy, made up by those who truly have nothing to offer authors.
Sigh. One more time. If you’re gonna say you have a “book proposal,” it doesn’t mean a general overview of a page and three chapters. That’s a query.
A book proposal hasta have all this stuff in it. And yesssss, we needs it because it’s our preciousssss…and our saleses teams hateses us when we don’t have them.
- COVER SHEET (title and subtitle of book; genre, word count, author’s name, address, phone, fax, email)
- CONCEPT STATEMENT (optional—briefly state the target audience, why they need this book, why your book is unique or timely, why you are an authority on the topic, and what your book offers that other books don’t).
- OVERVIEW (how you came to write the book—weave in attention-getting facts; this must be the most compelling part of your proposal!)
- PURPOSE OF THE BOOK (what will your book do? what need will it fill? how will it benefit readers?)
- THE MARKET/AUDIENCE (who will buy your book? why do they want or need it? give statistics)
- COMPETITIVE BOOKS (what else exists? where is it shelved? how is your book new and better? how does your book differ from all other books on this topic?)
- MARKETING OF THE BOOK (bookstores, book clubs, Internet, clubs, associations; if applicable—these are sales outside of a bookstore environment such as retail store chains, specialty stores, catalogs)
- PROMOTION & PUBLICITY (list newspapers, magazines, TV & radio stations that the publisher should contact)
- AUTHOR’S PROMOTIONAL CONTRIBUTION (list everything you’ll do to make the book successful; be sure to include all of your ideas for author appearances and events)
- COMPLETION OF THE BOOK (state that “x” months from date of contract you will deliver the manuscript—usually a 9-12 month period is allowed)
- SEQUELS (optional—list 1-3 other projects that interest you and that have a large audience)
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR (your background and experience; why you are the best person to write the book)
- THREE SAMPLE CHAPTERS ( I prefer your first three chapters because I want to see how you lead into your story)
There’s no shame if you’re raising your hand. Publishing is fecking hard work, and I have twelve years experience and a team of hundreds backing me up. I can imagine how delicously hard it is to be a team of one trying to get a book into the marketplace. Whom do you turn to? How do you promote? Feh.
Over the years, I’ve talked to many authors who have self pub remorse, and their comments are almost universal: “I never expected it to be this hard.”
Yah. It is hard. That isn’t to say sales can’t happen, but it’s time consuming if you expect to sell any books. And while you’ve learned to boatload throughout the self pub process, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to see if publishers would be willing to take over your load. Heck, even Amanda Hocking threw in the towel and signed a four-book deal with St. Martins…so you’re in excellent company.
HOWEVER, chances are you aren’t Amanda Hocking,who knew how to promote ’til the cows came home, so there are some important things you oughta know about how editors view these queries on self pubbed books.
The Eight Ton Elephant in the Room
The first thought that comes to my mind is WHY? What are the reasons the author decided to stop going it alone. Sure, I can speculate, and I do, because my first thoughts focus on what I can do for the author’s book that the author hasn’t done on their own. It’s important that authors know the specific reasons for chucking in the self pub towel because they’ll then be able to define their expectations of a mainstream publisher.
To say, “Oy, I’m tired!” doesn’t help your cause. Write down the specifics of what made selling your book difficult. The list could look something like this:
- Marketing/Promotion – I have no real idea how to do this, and I’ve poured countless hours into the effort with no discernible sales.
- Distribution – Well, I did it through Amazon, so they’re taking care of “distribution,” but I can’t get my books into the stores.
- Editing, cover design, page/book layout – I feel overwhelmed and broke.
In other words, you spent hundreds or thousands, and the damn thing didn’t sell. Okay, I grok that. But more importantly, I look at the outside reasons why it didn’t sell.
The Query Letter
An author sent me a query letter the other day about her self pubbed book. I looked at the content, which was meh. It’s something I’ve seen a thousand times already – which could be one of the reasons it isn’t currently selling. So, her first fatal mistake is that the story didn’t sound compelling. It could be the case of it being a truly dull story, or it could be the author didn’t know how to write a mouth-watery synopsis. Strike one.
The letter went on to tell me how well received her book was and the huge sales it enjoyed. Hmm. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to smell a rat. If the book is selling so well, then why is she querying me?
First thing I did is check Bookscan. Admittedly, Bookscan is far from reliable, because not every store reports their sales to them. Nor does it include Amazon sales. But it does give me a general indication of the sales. In this case, the Bookscan numbers were a grand total of 2 units sold.
Then I checked Amazon, where I noticed the title was ranked at 8 million and only had a couple reviews. Now I’m trying to reconcile this against her claims of “well received” and “huge sales.” The book had barely been out a year. So there’s an obvious disconnect between what her query letter says and what I’m seeing. I mean, it’s possible there was much gushing, and maybe she sold lots of books at talks and such, but I’m just not seeing it, nor did she make any reference to that possibility. Strike Two.
But I took one last chance at finding her platform. This could tell me how she promoted her book. A quick google of her name showed diddly squat. Put that together with the low sales and few reviews, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t an active author, and she’s looking to me to take over where she’s been exquisitely challenged.
But here’s the rub; taking on a book that’s already been published is a big responsibility on my part because the book isn’t new. There has to be something that tells me this book will sell well. If the author doesn’t provide it, then what conclusions can I draw from what I see? Strike Three…she was out.
If you’re looking to try to get your book with a mainstream publisher, then help yourself out by thinking like an editor. With all the queries on unpublished works that editors receive, why would an editor choose yours? Being able to defend you and your published work will help bridge the gap and possibly elicit a sale.
However, all that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the chances of a publisher being interested in your already-self-pubbed book is extremely low. Most self-pubbed authors I know start fresh and go to publishers with a brand new book. It may be the publisher will pick up your self-pubbed book, but that book must have something to offer them in terms of marketability.
Your bestest friend is the practice of putting yourself in an editor’s Sorels (I woulda said Manolo Blahniks, but I’m squatting on 7″ of snow). If you can look at your query from an editor’s perspective, it may help you decide whether you’re better off making a clean break by writing a new book, or whether your self pubbed book is really something that would make a mainstream publisher jump on top of her barstool and offer free drinks for everyone.
Scott Damian has a lovely article in Flip Magazine. I agree with the author, Susannah Hicks, Scott is about the nicest guy in Los Angeles. Generous, kind, and always willing to do whatever it takes to put out a quality piece of work…which he has with VOICE.
Scott puts such a tender element to his story, especially his early years when he learned that he shouldn’t open his mouth. It broke my heart, and when I read about everything he went through, it makes me all squiggly happy that he’s such a success today. If you haven’t read his book yet, go out and pick up a copy. It’ll put the jam in your jelly doughnut.
Go, Scott! You rock, dude.
Love the sentiment, but I swear I was nowhere near Los Angeles yesterday. Honest! However, this might explain The Rescues going AWOL for a few hours…