Credentials

I had a phone call today from a lovely woman who wanted to write a “How to Write a Novel” book that dealt with the typical POV issues, character development, etc., and asked if I’d be interested in pubbing it. First question I asked was, “And your credentials for writing this are…?”

“Well, I wrote a novel…a mystery.”

“Published by whom?”

“AuthorHouse.”

Silent groan and twist of the intestinal tract. “Um, may I ask why you feel authoring a mystery that you paid to have published puts you in the driver’s seat above all the gajillions of How To Write a Novel already populating the shelf?”

“I thought you might say that,” she replied.

“Well, yeah. See, depending upon the work, author credentials are vital because you’re presenting yourself as an authority. If you’re writing How To Write a Novel, you’d better know what the hell you’re talking about, and a mystery book from a vanity press doesn’t cut it.”

In the same vein, I received an emotional missive the other day about how Hollywood is made up of spoiled richies whose millions buy jewelry and homes all over the world, yet they aren’t doing their job to speak out about ending the war. Despite of the huge holes I saw in his premise, his credentials were that he’d taught military dependents overseas. Huh? If he was part of the Hollywood set and knew this community intimately, I may have had a mild interest. But his presentation was disjointed and bolstered with nonexistent credentials that failed to convince me he knew anything about Hollywood or the war. I couldn’t take him seriously.

And that’s the rub of it. If you are writing nonfiction (and some fiction) and you’re calling yourself an expert, you better be able to support your theories. Believing it isn’t enough. You must have the qualifications that tell the reader you know what you’re talking about. It’s the doc who writes about the medical status of America or the airline pilot who writes about the Blackbird.

As much as I love the idea of writing about how Twinkies should be considered part of the vegetable family, I know better than to take the literary plunge because it would be based on nothing more than my opinion. And who cares about my opinion? Don’t answer that…I was being rhetorical. I’m not a dietician or nutritional expert, so readers are going to blow me off – as they should. The only caveat to this, and it’s a large one, is if the author has done miles of research and has a specific reason for the research – as in, “my uncle died of an inverted bellybutton, and I made him a promise on his deathbed that I’d find out all I could about Inverted Bellybutton-itis.” How can I, as an editor, not be drawn in with the author’s passion and motivation?

And yet I see submissions that have great intentions but no credentials to back up their claims. Remember, the reading public is a savvy beast, and we’re not all that stupid either. If you’re passing yourself off as an expert in something, your bio better support it. Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance.

Now excuse me; I have an interview with a Twinkie.

6 Responses to Credentials

  1. auria cortes says:

    For those who don’t have a platform or an expertise in their topic of choice, do you recommend they contact an expert to write the foreward? Does that make a difference to a publisher?

    Also, what about writing a biography? Are credentials required?

  2. Lynn Price says:

    Auria, it depends what you’ve written. If it’s a nonfiction about cleaning the inside of a jet engine with peanut butter and you have no expertise in your subject, then what are the compelling reasons that make your book marketable? If you have no credentials to support your thesis, then it becomes little more than opinion, and it doesn’t matter if you have the most famous jet pilot in the world writing a foreward…because Forewords can be bought, and we all know this. We love forewords as a selling tool, but the guts of the book have to support it. A foreword can’t carry a book.

    OTOH, if you’ve written fantasy, obviously there aren’t any creds required. With fiction, it really helps to have credentials is if you have a nonfiction hook – meaning

    Also, what about writing a biography? Are credentials required?
    Absolutely. If you’re writing about Mickey Mouse, you’d better be able to tell me that you spoke with his wife, Minnie, his entire family and friends, and were able to obtain information (provable) that no one has ever uncovered before…like Mickey had a secret affair with Daisy and Minnie threatened to cut off his tail if he didn’t end it.

    If you just tell me that you read a lot of books and had no intimate conversations with the subject and his family, then I won’t care because it’s info that’s already available. You have to give me a reason why your book is different and unique, and the creds often provide this.

  3. auria cortes says:

    Thanks for responding.

    I had no idea forewards can be bought! That’s such an interesting fun fact.

    When my practical nonfiction book was published, it was my platform that piqued the interest of the publisher. But I’ve heard from several writers that a forward from an expert can do the trick. This shocked me because I spent years building my platform and found the forward option cheating. I’m glad publishers don’t buy into that.

    I’m using Auria Cortes as my pen name. However, sometimes I wish that the platform I built for nonfiction would be helpful in selling a novel. Then there would be no need for a pen name. But the publishing industry doesn’t work that way (understandably so).

    Also, thanks for the info on writing a biography. I’ve been kicking the idea around for a bit.

    “If you just tell me that you read a lot of books and had no intimate conversations with the subject and his family, then I won’t care because it’s info that’s already available.”

    The above was a light bulb moment.

  4. Lynn Price says:

    When my practical nonfiction book was published, it was my platform that piqued the interest of the publisher.
    There are no absolutes in publishing, Auria, and this is the reason that there is so much confusion.

    You were smart to nurture your platform for your nonfiction work because that helps when the sales teams pitch to the chain buyers. But a book can’t rest on the laurels of the author’s platform. It has to be well written. I don’t know what your nonfiction was about, but I was puzzled when you said that the publishers keyed in on your platform. I key in on the book. The platform is the gravy.

    But I’ve heard from several writers that a forward from an expert can do the trick…I’m glad publishers don’t buy into that.
    Ach, there are no fast and hard rules in this industry, and just because something worked for one author doesn’t mean it’ll work for someone else. Forewords by well known people round out the marketing appeal to a book, and we exploit that wherever we can. But the quality of the book has to be first rate as well.

    For example, I have an author who swears she can get a Big Name to write a foreword for her book and based on that, she feels I should offer her a contract. There’s only one problem; the book doesn’t meet our literary standards, so doesn’t matter if Ringo Starr writes the foreword, it isn’t going to sell that many books because it’s not well written.

  5. auria cortes says:

    I didn’t nurture a platform for my nonfiction work. I nurtured one as a way to market my business. Due to the platform I created, publishers came to me (more than one has approached me over the last several years).

    I wasn’t peddling a book proposal or an idea.

    So I feel confident to say that it’s my platform that piqued the publisher’s interest.

    Please don’t confuse that with me saying that is the reason I was contracted to write the book. All I’m saying is that my platform is the reason the publisher contacted me in the first place.

  6. Lynn Price says:

    Ah, thanks for giving me more details, Auria. It’s hard to make any sort of comment without knowing the whole story. Good for you and being approached. Publishers do this all the time because we’re always sleuthing for the next best thing. Hope you sell millions.

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