Author Platform: Done It vs Gonna Do It

July 17, 2017

I read book proposals all day long, and one of the most important parts of the proposal is Author Platform. I need to know is how well I think an author’s book will sell, and that’s where Author Platform comes into play.

Author Platforms are a toughie to explain because everyone has different definitions for what they are. I keep it real simple.

Author Platforms are about who you are and how many people know you in the category for which you write. It’s a measurement we use when figuring out how well your book may sell. For example, if you’re known as the quilting queen among a huge group of quilters, that platform won’t help if your book is about cancer. That’s what I call a misfire. I see lots of those. Conversely, that quilting queen could probably sell a bucket load of quilting books.

Author Platforms are hard to establish and take a LOT of time. You can’t snap your fingers and bamm-o, you wake up one day with a shiny new Author Platform. It’s tons of hard work, and you have to ask yourself if you’re up to the task. Many authors insist they were born ready, which immediately sends the Rescue Beagles into a fit of wheezing laughter, because if you’ve never published before, you have no idea what a time-suck it is.

I’ve seen too many authors who simply give up when they see just how hard promoting their book is. We’ve seen authors who expected their publishers to do it all for them, and the truth is, it’s an unrealistic expectation in today’s publishing world. The world has changed.

There is so much competition for readers’ attention, let alone the media, and at the same time publishers’ publicity departments are shrinking, so publishers have to be very mindful of those they choose to work with.

Publishing. Is. Not. For. The. Faint. Of. Heart. Tattoo this on your forehead. It’s a huge investment of time and money, and no publisher with any juice blithely accepts a new title. They do P&L statements, they talk to their sales teams, they take every precaution they can to stack the deck in their favor. And they consider the Author Platform.

I’ve gotten to where I classify Author Platforms into two groups: Done It and Gonna Do It.

Gonna Do It

These are authors whose platforms consist of things they’re gonna do.

  • I plan on getting involved in speaking engagements at ________ (fill in various venues/groups)
  • I plan on promoting my book through social media.
  • I plan on contacting _________ (insert famous name here)

The problem with these is that they’re in the future. Nothing has been established now. No steps are being taken now. Intentions are lovely, but they take time to establish, so it’s foolhardy for an acquiring editor to put faith in things that haven’t happened yet, because you know what? They may not ever happen. Seen it. Pinky swear.

Done It

This group has already taken steps to establish their Author Platform. They’ve already spoken at those events or are intrinsically involved in those groups. They have a strong social media presence in their field of expertise, and they’ve already contacted those Big Mouth names who can lend a cover blurb or review.

Editors want the Done It group.

I have seen so many great stories fall into the Great Abyss because the authors simply weren’t prepared for the amount of time and energy it takes to promote their book. It proved too hard, so they gave up. Problem is, their publishers are still humping the book, and it blows when the authors give up, because then we’re fighting an uphill battle. So are you in for the long haul, or are you going to fold your tent when it gets tough? Many people suffer when the author gives up or won’t listen to the publisher’s promo team.

We depend on the author’s footprint to help us establish inroads with readers and media. If your book proposal says “gonna do it,” do you think this communicates strength and ambition to a publisher, who is going to spend tens of thousands? Or are you unprepared?

Don’t be a Gonna Do It. It could be the difference between a contract and a rejection.


Cleverness Has its Limits

July 13, 2017

Dear Authors,
There is no bookstore or library category called Hybrid Memoir, so it’s truly unnecessary to label your book as such. Besides, it doesn’t tell me anything. A hybrid of what? And who cares? At the query stage, this is unimportant because it’s not a selling point.

Use your gifts of words by showing me what your book is about. It’s pretty easy to see the elements that make a book a cross between self-help and memoir. Editors are pretty savvy.

Trying to invent new labels to draw attention to your story could be counterproductive. Just stick to the facts and let your story sell itself.


Marketing Your Book – Think Outside the Box

June 11, 2017

Recently, I had the honor of talking to a talented friend who is self-pubbing his book and wanted to send me a copy. I was so pleased that he’d think of me! I asked him if he planned on doing any signings, and he indicated he didn’t think there would be enough interest. Considering his topic, I took one look at the Rescue Beagles and uttered, “Poppycock!” Okay, I didn’t really say that. More like “Bullsh*t!”

See, I get cranky when an author spends countless hours writing their tomes only to admit defeat when it comes to doing the really important stuff; getting readers’ noses into the pages. In the time it takes to offer the Rescues a designer doggeh chewie, I’d thought of several out-of-the-box things he could do that would put him front and center with his core readership. I immediately disabused him of his self-defeating mindset with these ideas, and he admitted that he’d never even considered those venues.

It’s what I do on a daily basis…think outside the box.

Yes, our books are blessed to be distributed on a national basis, but that alone doesn’t guarantee sales. Readers gotta wanna read it, and this is where author participation comes in handy.

Before our authors’ books hit the shelves, we discuss the regional and not-so-regional ideas that go beyond the traditional author venues – bookstores. Signings in bookstores can be iffy propositions because you are depending on customers, whose reading tastes are varied, to be interested in your book. Obviously, the larger your author platform, the better received a bookstore signing could be. Most authors’ author platforms aren’t where they could be, so attracting a readership is tough. Even tougher if you’re doing it on your own.

Thar be considerations.

Consider Your Research

Writing professionaly isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to be tough, tough, tough, and be willing to entertain the impossible, which means your book has to have good red meat. Apologies to all vegans. How well researched is your book? Does it stand up to scrutiny? For example, I had doctors and other medical professionals writing to ask me what kind of medicine I practice. I nearly fainted with pleasure. I researched my topics for a year. A. Year. I consulted many docs. I was/am a Reiki Master. It was safe to say I knew what I was writing about.

Consider Your Readership

First step is to isolate your intended readers. For example, if your story/memoir is about ballet, then your intended readers are lovers of the ballet, or are involved directly with ballet.

Consider Your Platform

Many authors lack a large author platform, so you gotta work with what you have to get your book in front of readers. What is the golden thread that ties you to your story? It’s much easier to determine if you’ve written a memoir. But fiction writers also have a personal link to what they write. Figure out what that is. If you’re the ballet author, consider your background and life experiences and see how that will establish a core readership. The most important element is to define that golden thread that connects you to your readers, so that they say, “Yes! I’ve lived this, too!”

Consider Your Venues

Now that you’ve determined your your book has that needed red meat, defined your audience, and measured the size and legitmacy of your author platform, it’s time to figure out where to find these lovely readers. Let’s continue with the ballet author. First places I’d think of are ballet studios and ballet/shoe apparel stores. These are places that are filled to the brim with a core readership.

Many authors discover that their books don’t have a readily-definable readership. What to do? Answer: dig deeper. Let’s say your story focuses on a woman’s journey through life, and her profession is a baker. First place I’d think of for an author event is a bakery. Thar be lotsa bakeries around…even in my wee Iowa town.

What Do You Have to Offer?

Okay, you’ve done all your homework and you’re ready to approach those ballet studios or bakeries. How do that? Do you go in and beg for them to host your event? NO.

No one appreciates being asked to perform a favor. You gotta bring something to the table. You gotta take the approach of “What can I do for you?” The venue has to gain something by hosting you. Define what that is.

Using the ballet theme again, a perfect way to approach a ballet studio could be to offer a special workshop. A flat fee would buy the workshop and signed copy of the book. The studio wins. The author wins.

Let’s say your book is tougher to define in terms of a venue or audience. Don’t let that stop you! An author I know found this adorable, intimate little bar in her area. She approached the owner/manager and asked which day was his slowest. He said Tuesday. So she asked about a deal; Tuesday night, she’d do a book event. She suggested that a flat fee would buy her book and a glass of wine/beer/appetizer. Or he could simply offer discounts on Tuesday night. He was intrigued because she offered options and solutions. What did he have to lose? She made up posters and put them up on his bar windows and walls. The manager took out an ad in the paper and neighborhood flyer.

Tuesday night came, and the place filled up. She has a lively sense of humor, and received a lot of enthusiasm. Not only did the bar sell a LOT of booz and food, but she sold out of all the books she brought (50). Not a bad night.

The bar owner was so pleased that he decided to offer Tuesday nights as “Author Night,” and authors could come and give a talk. It ended up being a lucrative event for him.

I love it when a plan comes together.

But this all takes a lot of thought. And this isn’t just for self-pubbed authors. It’s for all authors. Many publishers don’t/won’t make the time or budget to extend themselves on a local level, and I think it’s a mistake. Local/regional promotion has a way of spreading out on a wider basis, because you never know who is in the audience.

If you’re talented enough to write, you’re talented enough to take your promotion into your own hands and make it work. The only time you fail to succeed is when you don’t listen to advice from experienced professionals, rely on others to maximize your success, and sit on your hands.

Go. Be daring. Be successful. Think outside the box.

 

 


Using Your Foreword as a Selling Point in Queries

June 5, 2017

There are many ways you can sabotage your query letter – of which I have blabbered about for the past fourteen years (gah! Has it been that long?). But I encountered a new one today; pushing the bio of the person who wrote your Foreword.

Huh?

What concerns me is that authors are putting their focus in all the wrong places. Don’t get me wrong, forewords are lovely things if you can get one from someone noteable in your subject matter. And yes, it’s equally lovely to put that noteable name on the front cover, and any publisher worth their salt capitalize on it.

But to push this while trying to sell your manuscript to an editor is premature, because it gives the appearance that the foreword is the reason I should be interested. It isn’t. The first order of business is selling yourself and your work.

More worrisome is the foreword author who is only known on a small regional basis. This isn’t going to wow me, so you’ve wasted precious query-letter space pimping someone few know.

This is not a selling point.

Your story needs to stand on its own. It shouldn’t need props and puffery. Keep it simple, keep it real.


Riding the Fence – Indecision at Your Own Peril

May 11, 2017

There’s something that’s been ricocheting around my pea-sized brain for a while, and it has to do with Riding the Fence…as in, “Do I wanna self-publish, or do I wanna go with a publisher?”

This makes my teeth itch, and I’ll tell you why.

Time Suck

I had an experience recently where the author was Riding the Fence about whether to self-pub or sign with a publisher. I was the lucky slob who drew the short stick.

I liked his book and made him an offer. But we gotta back up and count all the hours that I spent getting to that point to making the offer.

  • Reading his book proposal (1 hour)
  • Reading his manuscript – making copious notes on arc issues, organization, and further development (30 hours)
  • Discussing with marketing/sales teams and other publicity folks (8 hours)

So, going into this endeavor, I invested nearly 40 hours. Big deal; it’s what I do.

However…

He was expecting a six-figure advance. Yah, ain’t gonna happen. He didn’t have the story or platform to support such a fantasy. Depressed, he then tells me he’s considering self-pubbing.

WHAT?

Now I’m thinking voodoo dolls and sharp, pointy things. Nearly a week’s worth of my time is blown to bits.

Reality vs Fiction

Because he’s Ridin’ that Fence like a buckaroo, he asked me exactly what I could do for him and his book. Okay, I’m totally good with these questions, because authors should have a solid idea about what their potential publisher can do for them.

However…

Time spent writing numerous emails pointing out the Realities and Fiction of self publishing (16 hours)

After nearly three weeks hemming and hawing, he wrote to tell me he was self-publishing. Argh. Why in the HELL didn’t he decide this before he wasted all my time? This kind of stuff is so unnecessary.

It Ain’t About Just the Money

Publishing has drastically changed since the heyday of spending like drunken sailors. Publishers gotta work smart if they want to stay in business. We always plan for a book to do well, but the marketplace is a fickle mistress, and the best-laid plans may go awry. And they go awry for all kinds of reasons. Just to say, that they also go very right for all kinds of insane reasons, as well.

However…

  • Author platform was over-inflated
  • Genre Buyers don’t like the topic (that is a whole other post in itself)
  • Intended audience doesn’t respond

Huge advances makes only one person happy; the author (and his agent, if he has one). They get a nice payday regardless of the book selling well or tanking. The publisher eats it. In these uncertain times, advances had little choice but to go southward.

However, what a publisher CAN do is offer:

  • Superior editing and design work
  • National/international distribution
  • Marketing/promotion
  • Getting authors into industry book fairs and conferences
  • Sending review copies and media kits to industry reviewers and media

And that’s just a short list…and they do it all on their own dime.

The self published author is responsible for bankrolling the entire endeavor, and they often have no idea whether they’re getting a great editor or cover designer. They don’t realize their books won’t be reviewed or stocked on store shelves.

In simple terms, self-pubbed authors are a team of one, and they’re competing against publishers who do this for a living. Even as small as we are, we’re a team of hundreds…all who are devoted to selling our books to the widest marketplace.

So, sure, the advance offered to this particular author may have been less than he was expecting, but the cash outlay that we would have put into his book would have been in the tens of thousands…along with countless hours of professionals doing what they do best.

Do the Research

Let me say that I have no problem with those who want to self-pub. Heck, the marketplace is big enough for everyone to play in the sandbox. But don’t hedge your bets to a publisher by Ridin’ the Fence…”I’ll see what they offer me, then I’ll make up my mind.” That kind of attitude really sucks the jam out of my jelly doughnut.

Make up your mind about what kind of publishing options you want to pursue, and stick to it. Someone who isn’t sure will invariably find fault with the publisher for any little thing that happens.

Publishing is a partnership – a two-way street – and if one of those parties consistently rides the fence (“Damn, I shoulda self-pubbed…then I’d be rich and famous.”), then what chance does the committed party have in succeeding? And the self-pubbed author is rarely rich or famous.

Do the work and research ALL your options BEFORE you decide whether to stick your big toe into an editor’s front door. The more information you have, the better able you are to decide which option is best for you and your book. And you won’t waste anyone’s time.


Noob Alert

April 24, 2017
Dear Prospective Authors,
Please, please, please refrain from sending me your cover art in your query letters. You need to spend time telling me how amazing your story is, and why I must have it. This kind of thing shows you as being a noob – someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and they don’t care.
I avoid noobs.

How to Make an Editor Weep…

March 25, 2017

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I think writers tend to forget there’s a big wide literary world out there where competition is the game we all play and excellence is the great equalizer. Some are more excellent than others – but I can assure you there’s one way to be considered part of the “less excellent” group…your grammar.

If you’re going to call yourself a professional at anything, one assumes that you’ve taken great strides to be very good at what you do, right? The art of writing is no different. Oh, I know, with the advent of self-publishing, we’ve witnessed all sorts of crimes against humanity and the English language, because now anyone can be a published author.

But in the world of stuffy editing teams, puffy sales people, grouchy accountants, and submissions committees, authors can’t get away with sounding like they’re missing a crucial element of their craft. I can hear the submissions committees now: “Pricey, how DARE you bring this before us! This author doesn’t know how to use pronouns!”

Case in point; an author has been playing coy with me for a few weeks, telling me their manuscript is the “story of a lifetime.” Yah, yah, heard this song and dance a million times. After telling the author twice that they could pound sand unless they actually provided a book proposal that gives me an idea of what the story entails, I finally received an email promising said book proposal. Hurray, thinks I.

Until they wrote this:

“I’m really excited about all the attention me and my cousin are getting in our town about…”

Oh. The agony. The cruelty. Okay, okay, this may seem like a case of, “Really, Pricey? Aren’t you getting just a bit picky?” I ‘spose. But if the author is this comfortable using improper pronouns in an email – and let’s assume they’re trying to impress me – then how great is their writing? Am I potentially facing huge amounts of time correcting every pronoun debacle, every misspelled word, and God knows whatever else? Editing is onerous enough without having to teach someone the basics of English…and I’m not sure this old-timer has it in me to try.

With schools placing less importance on grammar and composition, I fear our future writers may be doomed…and I’m facing more bottles of “Gray No More” on my locks and more dates with Jim Beam.

I’ve said it for many years, and I’ll keep on bleating it until my teeth fall out; if you’re going to take writing seriously, please learn how to write. Save an editor from mainlining good gin.

Save


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