Performance anxiety in writing is a universal theme, as it is experienced by writers at every level of mastery and in every genre. While the expressions may vary from the "deer in the headlights" freeze, to avoidance, to cynicism and resignation, it all comes down to the same fundamental concerns–will the work will be “good enough?” and does writing make a difference?
Q: William Nona writes: "So, like, really, how do I find an agent?" A: This question has vexed aspiring authors for decades, and continues to pose a mystery to most. I have friends who are literary agents, and they are just as perplexed as to why people approach them in the manner they do and expect to receive representation. In the interest of making life easier for you and the agents, let's cover 9 fundamentals that you must do to have any hope of success.
Here are 9 keys to make yourself and your book irresistible to literary agents:
1) Author Platform--this is a make or break point for non-fiction writers, but can be significant to fiction writers as well. Everyone in publishing has figured out by now that the #1 predictor of book sales is the size and strength of the author's platform.
That means you have some or all of the following: (you don't have to have them all, but the more of these you have, the easier it will be.)
- A large list of opted in subscribers who have given you their contact info.
- Large numbers of followers in social media (like over 100,000 "likes" and "views" and around 30,000 unique visitors to your blog each month.)
- Guest blogging spots on high profile websites (such as hit daytime talk shows' sites, Huffington Post, etc)
- Strong relationships with affiliate partners with even larger lists than yours
- Regular and widespread media coverage in which you are quoted or featured
- Speaking bookings for groups that came to hear you
- A solid, growing client base of raving fans who already are purchasing products from you
- A previous book you wrote that has sold well.
2) A salable concept--If you have a book concept that agents can sell, they will get a lot more excited about it and you. A salable concept has three main traits:
- Authentic to you and what you want to say
- Relevant to your target audience
- Unique and fills a need/want in the marketplace
3) Show them you can write--believe it or not, quality of writing still matters. Agents and publishers got into the business at least in part because they appreciate a good read more than most. Especially for those writing novels and memoir, the quality of the storytelling can overcome at least some of the shortcomings you may have in author platform. Still, anyone who wants an agent is best served submitting a well-written work, even those with mega-platforms.
4) Look with persistence: some of the most successful authors of all time had trouble finding representation for their work. This is the main difference between the ones that make it and the ones who don't. The ones who don't stop. If you want an agent, you must commit to having one. Commitment looks like the remaining 5 points...
5 ) Have your work professionally critiqued and edited before you contact any agent at all. You can improve the work and avoid burning a bridge because you sent something that appeared unprofessional.
6) Find out how agents like to be pitched. Get a book, get a coach, but don't make it up or reinvent the wheel here. Certain things work, and most everything else doesn't.
7) Query and pitch: find agents you think are a match for your work, send queries, and/or go to writers conferences and pitch them in person.
8) Listen to the feedback: if you're fortunate enough to receive feedback or suggestions from agents as you query, pay attention. Don't just dismiss it. Take an honest look at their comments and what you sent and look for opportunities to improve.
9) Be polite and gracious: publishing is a small, small, tight-knit world. Be courteous to everyone. Say thank you. Never bad mouth an agent, a publisher, or another author's book. You never know who's listening.
This week's Ask Robin Question: Warren Peary writes, "I want to start a blog to promote myself as a science fiction author and gain a following. How do I get started? How is a blog different than a website? How do I get people to follow my blog? Who should I use to help set up the blog? Thank you."
Answer: Thanks for your question. Lots of questions, actually, so let's take them one by one. A blog is different than a website because it is more dynamic. For blogging to be most effective in helping you grow your platform, you should publish a new post at least twice a week. Daily is great if you can get to it.
I find the best way to start and manage a blog is to build your website through Wordpress and create your blog as one of the tabs on the site. Like I've done on GetPublishedCoach.com. You can research various "plug ins" that will allow you to do this, or if you're not tech savvy, hire a website developer who can help you set it up. (I'm a firm believer in paying the right expert vs. giving myself brain damage, but to each his or her own.)
Here are 10 tips to promote your blog and gain followers...
1. Blog consistently. At least twice a week for best results.
2. Guest blog for others who have a bigger following than yours and ask that they include a link back to your website with a short bio at the end of your post.
3. Post reviews of newly released books in your genre on your blog. (This is especially helpful to fiction writers, since it's harder to sort out people who enjoy a specific genre of fiction than it is to find people who have an interest in a particular non-fiction topic.)
4. When you write a blog post, notify your followers on social media with an announcement.
5. Include a link to your blog on all your social media profiles.
6. Add share buttons (again, a plug in) on the blog site, so people who like your blog posts can share them on social media.
7. Promote your blog to your list, either by announcing articles, include partial blog posts in an email that links to the rest, or both.
8. Be entertaining. Be brief. If your blog is fun and engaging to read, more people will read it. Besides reviews, you also can write about your writing process. Not necessary to post entire chapters or long excerpts.
9. Invite comments. Don't just write at people. Invite them to contribute their thoughts.
10. Be authentic. Always. Everywhere. Blog is no exception.
Thanks for your question! Hope this helps.
All the best,
This week's Ask Robin Question:
Robert Frost writes: “I prefer traditional (publishing) and am sending queries. Difficult to find 'war' agents. Have 2013 writers market and guide to agents plus web search. Suggestions?"
Answer: Dear Robert,
Finding the right agent to represent you and your work can be an arduous task. Even without much detail on your manuscript's content, I believe I can give some guidance that will help you (and our other readers).
Of course, you should seek agents most likely to favor your book's topic, but agents who might like your manuscript won’t necessarily list every topic of interest. Unless the specifically say, "No (insert topic) books," you can assume that they might be open to it. Many agents would consider representing books on a topic, but they don’t want to represent those works exclusively or be inundated with queries.
You’ll find a bigger field to hunt in when you take a step back from the topic and look at the genre. I can’t tell from your question whether your book is historical non-fiction, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, or some other genre. Regardless, you can look for and query agents who represent works in your genre. Agents can be open to a broad range topics if the writing is good and the content is strong.
Good resources to find agents besides the ones you mentioned include: The directory for the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR); Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents; Agents Directory; and The Writer’s Handbook. I pulled much of this list from one of my favorite references, Michael Larsen’s How to Get a Literary Agent. A must read for anyone who wants to go the traditional route.
This week's Ask Robin Question: Suzen Fiskin writes: 'You speak of 'Hybrid publishing' How do I dig deeper to learn about it and what are the names of some of these publishers so that I can explore it?"
Answer: A hybrid press is a company that publishes authors with a shared risk/shared profits model. Some of these companies are selective, others are merely “pay-to-play” and will publish anyone who can write a check.
Traditional publishing has a long history of being slow moving and highly selective with publishers taking 100% of the risk and keeping the lion’s share of the proceeds from book sales. Over the past 20 years, self-publishing has grown in popularity, mainly because anyone can publish and publish fast, authors maintain full creative control, and they keep all of the profits.
One of the main challenges self-published authors have faced is using service providers who don’t know what they’re doing and ending up with shoddily edited books with covers that look homemade. The other common difficulty is getting bookstores to carry their books.
Thus the hybrid press has emerged as a middle-ground alternative.
The advantages to going through a hybrid press over self-publishing are mainly project management and distribution. With a hybrid press, all the services that go into producing a book are in-house, so you don’t have to shop around for service providers—editorial, cover design, interior design, printing, etc.
On the distribution side, many hybrid presses have access to distributors who sell to bookstores, similar to the major publishing houses. This means your book goes into the catalogs the hybrid press puts out to book buyers, and you don’t have to shop your book to stores yourself.
Generally, the overall costs of using a hybrid press are higher than if you self publish, and more books are sold online these days than in bookstores, but taking the project management off your plate may make it worth it.
As to specific companies, I know of a few where people I know have had good experiences. They include Archway Publishing, Motivational Press, and Morgan James Publishing.
With so many hybrid presses now in business, it’s impossible to name them all, but I can advise you to look for the following characteristics. (Again, by no means an exhaustive list, but a good place to start.)
- Books in their catalog look professionally done and are done to standards set by traditional houses.
- Use a publishing rights contract that you can easily end and keep your file if the publisher is not doing their job, the company folds, or if you want to pursue another option for any reason.
- You always keep the copyright to your own work. (This is true no matter who publishes it.)
- The publisher has and uses their distribution channels on your behalf.
- Publisher gives you an easy way to order more of your own books at a reasonable (no more than 50% of cover price) cost.
- Ensures that your book is available on Amazon.com and in Kindle format as well as other electronic platforms
- Typically, I say don’t purchase their marketing packages, as they usually are overpriced and ineffective, but I'm not familiar with all of the offerings, and offerings change, so I can't say with certainty never to do it. Just remember, marketing is on the author. Period.
Anything you care to add? Please leave your comments.
"From One to the Many"
Ask Your Question Below
Robin knows that people who have similar interests and goals often face similar challenges, so she created "From One to Many...Answers for Aspiring Authors" a weekly column where you can ask Robin absolutely any question about writing, publishing, or promoting your book. This is a powerful way to get some guidance for yourself and to contribute to the community. When one person asks a question, many may benefit from the answer.
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