How to Get an Agent or Publisher For Your (Self-Published) Book
I get this question a lot: "Now that I've self-published I need to find an agent, how do I do that?" Well, it might seem to be a simple and easy transition. I mean you're already published so it shouldn't be that hard, right? Not so fast. There are a number of things you need to know before you run headlong into an effort to get a publishing contract.
First off, publishers like what other people like. Well, generally they do. If you're building success for your book, getting great reviews, building your audience and online presence this is a good thing and will often be viewed favorably by publishers. While there are agents and publishers that won't even consider a self-published book, there are a number of them who will. The key is to find those agents and publishers and get to know what they specialize in. Since there are a million articles and books on how to craft a query letter and submission packet I'll skip that. For the purposes of this article, though, we're going to focus on personal branding and industry positioning.
The first question authors will ask me is how do they know they're "ready" to submit? Ok, so you've got a dozen or so great reviews, you've been blogging regularly and you are a regular at author events. Sales, however, are still slumping. You've sold 1,000 copies at best and struggled to even make that meager number. Is that a bad thing? Not always, but it depends on how your book was published. If, let's say, your book was published through a print-on-demand company, a thousand copies is a fairly high number (the average print-on-demand book sells 75 copies).
Also print-on-demand is limited in its distribution, meaning that even if you've gotten great media interviews, reviews, and buzz for your book, the reason you're not selling a ton of copies is the broken distribution systems these books often wrestle with. Bookstores won't stock them because of the non-returnable factor. (Note to the savvy author, avoid, at all costs, the "returns program" POD publishers offer, bookstores don't care if you've paid to have your book returnable. Don't believe me? Sign up for it, pay your $500 and then do some calling around to find out).
Here's the deal: print-on-demand has for years been the red-headed stepchild of publishing. Are there good books published through POD publishers? You bet. But for most of these authors it's like pushing a boulder uphill. Now don't get me wrong, all of my first books were published via POD and still they've been successful despite the biases and all the other things New York publishing likes to heap on this form of publishing. But the point being: knowing your market and understanding how the market works will go a long way to giving you the insight you need to be successful. Distribution is not defined as a place on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, because anyone with an ISBN can get this type of placement.
Distribution is defined as a distribution company actively marketing your book to bookstores and other sales channels. This doesn't happen in POD and the New York publishers know this. So, if your book is still selling well despite these obstacles then you've got a winner on your hands, and it might be time to seek a bigger publisher for your work. On the flip side, if you have self-published and you do have a distributor in place, then consider trying to pitch your work after you've sold over 3,000 copies of your book. But there's a small catch: you don't want to sell out of your market. Generally speaking this won't happen, but in certain cases it could.
Let's consider, for example, that you wrote a regionally-focused book about the history of a town or state and you've focused all of your marketing efforts in that region. It's likely that if you've sold 5,000 copies a publisher or agent could view this as sold out of the majority of the market. You might counter that you could sell this in other markets but unless there's some tourism angle, it's not likely and even then, the appeal needs to be really strong. Most books based on towns or cities are sold in the city and generally not outside of that area unless they are big tourism draws, in which case the market becomes much more competitive. Also note that if you're thinking of trying to cheat the system you should know there's a little thing called Nielsen BookScan that logs all sales by book and author, so no fair counting your author purchases as sales - BookScan notes sales through commercial sales channels only (major market retailers and bookstores).
All right, so you're ready to pitch your book. You meet the sales criteria and you know you haven't sold out of your market. What's next? Next, ask yourself what your platform is. Platform is one of those words that agents and publishers love to toss out to unsuspecting authors. So what does platform mean? Well, it's a bit tricky because it varies depending on what you're writing. Platform isn't who you know but who knows you. It's your area of influence. For fiction writers it could be your e-mail list, the subscribers to your blog, conventions you speak at, conferences you attend (as a participant, not just an attendee). For non-fiction authors, defining your platform is a bit easier. Often non-fiction books are tied to speaking, coaching, or some other business model. These are all part of your platform.
When I sold Red Hot Internet Publicity to Sourcebooks, one of the first things I listed on my marketing/book outline was my platform: subscribers to the Book Marketing Expert Newsletter, business revenue, speaking events I am booked on, average client base - everything. All of this is your platform and all of it lends itself to having a built-in audience. This is what publishers look for. Regardless of how you publish you still have to market your own book, and publishers know it'll be easier to market a book that has a following than one that doesn't.
After you define your platform the next thing is to define your hook. Especially with self-published books, agents and publishers expect you to have a hook. Since the book is published, if you don't have a hook this is a tell-tale sign that you haven't been marketing this book correctly, if at all. (There are additional platform-building tips that appear later on in this issue).
How can you find the right agent or publisher for your book? The traditional ways certainly work: getting books and guides designed to give you agent and publisher contact info, but there might be a better way. Try going to some writers' conferences that allow you to schedule editor and agent appointments. This is a great way to get some immediate feedback on your book, pitch, and the possibility of selling your work. There are a number of conferences around the country, just be sure to look for ones that offer one-on-ones with publishing professionals.
And finally, it's sometimes tempting to switch genres to get published. But unless there's some compelling reason for you to genre-hop, like a changing focus in your business, I recommend sticking with what's been successful for you. Don't one day write on true crime and the next day start offering dieting advice unless that's where you want your ultimate focus to be. Also remember that if you've been writing true crime for years, and have built an audience and following, you've now lost that base by jumping ship.
The truth is that the odds aren't always in our favor. With eight hundred books published each day in the US the market is narrow, to say the least, but if you know your market, have a platform and are selling books, you're already 90% of the way there - the rest is just finding the right match for your book and maybe a little bit of literary luck.
Related Tags: publisher, books, authors, publishing, self publishing, agents, print on demand
Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a book marketing and media relations expert whose company has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. Visit AME. Your Article Search Directory : Find in Articles
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