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.


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.


Rejection Hurts: A Cautionary Tale

April 26, 2017

I’ve just had a Wut. The. Hell? moment. Hasn’t happened in a long time, so I guess I was due. What am I talking about? The suckosity of rejection, and how authors choose to deal with it. The struggle is real, and it’s biting my butterks right now.

Lashing out over rejection. I’ve talked about it a number of times over the years. After a refreshingly long drought from nastiness, one came barreling down to the Price Batcave with enough force to roust The Rescues from their undeserved nap (after all, there is filing to be done!). Le sigh. Why, why, why do authors do this?

Here is the exchange:

Me: Thank you for writing. I’m afraid there are many, many books on ….. already on store shelves. Minus a unique hook and well-established author platform, I don’t see the qualities that make this a “gotta have it.” Best of luck to you.

This is a fairly standard rejection. It’s brief and offers my thoughts on why I rejected it, because I don’t like to leave the author wondering what elements were responsible for the rejection. When I have a hundred other queries to read, brief is my champion. Needless to say, I was shocked when the below email came blasting into my inbox:

The Author: I usually don’t bother with this kind of stuff, but really, how many of your published titles are “gotta have it” books.  How can anything you’ve said possible be of any importance to me.  If this book is not for you, then just pass on it and leave it at that.  Be an adult about it and have a little compassion for the authors who submit to you.  Seeing your titles I would think you would be a pro at turning someone down without covering your own behind.  

I am old, but what you’ve written could be devastating to a young person.

“Covering my behind”? I’m not quite sure what this even means, since I’m not obligated to justify a rejection letter. The author inquires how many of our books are “gotta have it.”

Srsly? How to answer that. Do I go for tongue-cheek?

“Well, none of them are ‘gotta have it’ books, dear author. We just publish any ol’ crud that crosses our desk.”The mind boggles.

After some thought, I decided on honest enlightenment.

Me: All of our books have “gotta have it” qualities. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have published them. My comments to you were offered as an explanation as to why it wasn’t right for us. I give these in order to help authors figure out why they’re receiving rejections, or how they may improve their query letter so as to be more successful in the future. Only in rare instances do I receive a response such as yours, because most authors want to know the reasons behind their rejections. It’s impossible for me to know who is going to take offense at constructive critique or be appreciative. But my aim for the past fourteen years has been to help authors wherever I can. Rejection hurts, but lashing out and being acutely rude to me for the shortcomings of your query letter is hardly appropriate or professional. May I offer a bit of your own advice, and act like an adult?

Considering how some editors and agents have fired back at snot-grams such as these, I felt mine was a reasonable response to someone who has an obvious aversion to rejection.

Dear Authors…we know rejection sucks stale Twinkie cream. Don’t forget, we suffer rejection as well when an agent or author decides to take the other publisher’s offer. No one is immune to the effects of, “Ah crap, lost out on that one.” But the guarantee is that the sun will continue to rise, the birds will sing, and authors will continue their search for the perfect publisher. And hopefully, there will be a love match. If not, then write something else. The trick is to remain true to your passion, and not let passion overtake your desire to punch out an editor’s lights. Because, really…it’s just plain stupid.

 

 

 

 

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Comp Titles: How to Take the Jam Out of My Jelly Doughnut

April 25, 2017

Is there anything worse than getting a doughnut that doesn’t have enough jelly? It’s one of life’s tragedies, and the struggle is real. If I order a jelly doughnut, then please make sure there’s all sorts of gloppy, oozy jelly in there. So much the better if it dribbles down my chin. Pure. Bliss.

How to take that jam outta my jelly doughtnut? Well…

Tell me that your book has no book comparisons. Continue the blight by insisting you’re breaking “new ground.” Bless your heart. Maybe you are breaking new territory, but I can assure you that someone has done it before you…to some degree…which would be a title comparison.

I don’t ask for title comps for my health. I need them when I’m talking to my sales teams, bookstores, book fairs, basically anyone with a pulse. I. Need. Them. All publishers do, in fact. It’s a part of navigating this nutty biz.

Failure to do your part in providing important info pegs you as a Noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care), or plain lazy. It tells me that you aren’t in touch with your competition – and yes, Mrs. Wigglesnort, there is always competition. Worse, is that I won’t take you seriously. If you insist you have zero competition, then I have to wonder about the veracity of your manuscript. It’s a matter of dominoes, and once they start to fall, it’s hard to win the game.

Competition is tough, tough, tough in the lit world, and you’re looking for reasons to engage us, not repel us. Make sure you submit a winning jelly doughnut. Know your competition. Read your competition.

 


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.

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