Keller Media Blog

cheesesandwichBy Wendy Keller, Literary Agent

It’s lunch and you’re hungry.  You want a cheese sandwich. 

The number of decisions that might go into this allegedly simple decision are potentially infinite. Assuming you can have anything you want in this world full of possibilities:

 

  • Do you want the wheat, rye, white, brioche, pumpernickel or rustica?
  • Toasted or not?
  • Would you prefer provolone, cheddar, Swiss, gouda or neufchatel?
  • Want mustard with that? What kind?

Decisions, decisions.  You can go healthy with the wheat and sprouts or scary with the Wonderbread and American.

When you’re finally certain you want to write a book, the choices are just as unlimited. 

  • Do you want the book itself to make money?
  • Do you want it to build your brand?
  • Grow your business?
  • Establish your authority?
  • Change other people’s lives?
  • Make you famous?

Decisions, decisions.  You can go the traditional route and ally with a credible, reputable publisher (and literary agent) or scary and self-publish, taking your chances.

I can’t help you with your lunch choice, but because I’ve been a literary agent most of my life, I can help you with your publishing decision. Here it is: Publishing choice is an illusion.

Just like you only get to eat what’s in the fridge if you can’t make it to the store, you don’t have choices as an author unless you decide you are willing to put in at least a little effort into marketing/promoting/building a fan base for your book. (All that stuff is collectively called a “platform” by publishing people).

No publisher can accept a nonfiction book unless the author has at least something of a platform. And the sad reason most self-published nonfiction books shrivel and dieis because of lack of platform.

None of your goals can be met unless and until you have a platform.  A traditional publisher like Penguin Random House, McGraw Hill or HarperCollins can help you supersize any kind of platform you’ve got going, but the mere fact of a published book isn’t going to get you anywhere interesting or valuable.

You can self-publish any time you like, but good luck figuring out later that you should have prepared a platform in advance to make your book get noticed amid the tsunami of books published annually. (It won’t be too late, it will just be a whole HECK of a lot more work to swim to the top while the new stuff keeps pouring in on top of your book).

In fact, choosing to build a platform is the quintessential first choice you must make if you plan to become successful as an author.  Just like deciding you want a cheese sandwich for lunch, and then all other choices follow, the only choice is, “I want my book to be a successful one.”

Every other option and opportunity will follow. Easily. Then the publishing world, instead of eating your lunch, will help you satisfy your appetite for success.

sellyourbooktoapublisherBy Wendy Keller, Literary Agent

Anybody with a credit card can self-publish…

But the authors who want their book to have maximum impact on the world and on their own bottom line invariably seek out bona fide, legitimate publishers. You know, the kind of people who pay an advance for the honor of printing your words, then actually invest their own time editing and improving, printing, marketing, selling and distributing your precious book.

It all starts with one simple step: crafting a strong nonfiction book proposal. (For fiction, you have to write the whole book first. For nonfiction, just a “sampler plate”)

The proposal is the core sales document that every nonfiction author must create in order to present a book to a publishers.

A book proposal is to a publisher what a business plan is to a venture capitalist – and basically for the same reason: you want a stranger to invest their money in your idea.

A book proposal has five basic parts:

  1. The Overview – where you sell the sizzle of your proposal
  2. The Author’s Bio – where you cement the fact you are the ideal expert
  3. The Marketing Plan – where you show ’em how you can help them help you sell a lot of copies
  4. The Competitive Analysis – where you prove your book deserves its space on the shelf because it is better than anything published on the topic to date
  5. The Chapter Summary – where you lay out in good order the brilliant content you will be giving to the reader

Add to this two carefully chosen, not-necessarily-consecutive, well-written, well edited, compelling chapters and voila!  You’ve create a proposal.

You’ll want to finish the proposal for your nonfiction book before you start pitching it to literary agents.  We are the gatekeepers for the publishers, so we’ll be the first people you try to attract.  If you pitch a proposal that isn’t even partly written yet, by the time you get around to doing it, the industry may well have shifted and that same agent may no longer be able to express interest.

getpaidtogivespeeches

By Wendy Keller, Literary Agent

Got something interesting and valuable to say?

Want to share it with the world?

Could speaking grow your business, your reputation or your brand?

If you fancy yourself getting paid to give speeches, here are TEN important questions that will help you get your goal faster.

  1. What will other people get from listening to you? List the benefits.
  2. Can you make your content appeal to a corporate audience? That’s where the money is in speaking. Even if your topic is self-help oriented, can you skew it a little and at least speak to corporate to pay the bills?
  3. What other successful speakers or books are out there on your same topic? What do you advise that they don’t? How are you different and unique?
  4. How comfortable are you on the platform? Take a improv or a comedy class. Take some acting or voice lessons.
  5. Volunteer for Open Mic Nights at a comedy club. Sign up for Toastmasters.
  6. What kinds of people do you ideally want in your audiences? What are their problems, fears, goals and dreams?
  7. Write it down.
  8. What companies, groups, organizations are most likely to contain those kinds of people?
  9. What kind of fees are similar speakers getting – and why are they getting them? You can expect to get between
  10. $3000-$5000 per speech within the first year (maybe more) if you begin with the right steps.
  11. What do you need to do to prepare to win the engagement over other speakers competing for that same microphone?
  12. Is there any research or other documentation that supports your premise, thus giving you third party credibility? Find it and cite it.
  13. Can you write a killer speech, complete with emotion, humor, facts and stories in a way that compels people to listen to you with full attention?

Success as a speaker happens when you are sizzling while you’re on the platform, because doing a great job generates word of mouth referrals.

Yet if you can’t get the opportunity to strut yourself, you can’t soar. Building an effective marketing system that displays your talent and your content to best advantage is where you must begin.

literary-agentHow to Be a Dream Client
By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent

Congratulations! You have signed with a literary agent (hopefully one of us here at Keller Media!). You are one HUGE step closer to achieving your publishing dream. But what happens after everything is signed and made official?

Hopefully your book proposal is in good shape. If it needs some work, your agent will likely tell you what additional information or rewrites they need before moving forward. Once you both agree the proposal is in the best condition possible, your agent will then start pitching you to editors at various publishing houses. These are editors who have been carefully selected because they acquire books that are similar to yours.

After lots of follow up, your agent will let you know once an offer comes in. It is ultimately up to you whether or not you take the offer, but your agent will give you their advice on how to best proceed. Once the deal terms are closed, your agent will negotiate the long-form contract with the publishing company before arranging for your signature. Your advance will likely be paid in thirds – one third upon signing, one third upon delivery of your manuscript, and one third upon publication (minus your agent’s 15%!).

This is where the agent becomes more hands off in the process, because you will be working with your editor to establish a delivery schedule for your pages and discussing the material as you submit it. If problems come up, your agent will act as your liaison.

When it comes time for publication, your agent will likely toast you with champagne (wine, Diet Coke, coffee) and talk to you about when you might be ready to write your next book.

So what can YOU do to make this whole process – from signing to publication – as painless as possible?

1) Establish the best method of communication early on. Hopefully you will have an idea of your agent works even before signing with them. You will know if they are easier to communicate with via telephone or email (I’m guessing email), and they will know just how much you would like to be kept in the loop. For instance, do you want periodic updates on the pitching – or do you just want to hear about it when it is all over? Do you want to know what the editors say when they reject or pass on your project? You need to make this clear from the beginning.
2) Be open to thinking outside of the book and be open to change. One of the reasons why we advise authors to complete their proposal BEFORE their manuscript is because this leaves things open. If an editor asks if you are willing to make a few tweaks, are you really going to say no? If your agent suggests some ways to make your project more commercial or more appealing to editors, are you going to assume you know better? You are the expert in the field you are writing about; your agent is the expert in the field of publishing.

3) Stay on schedule and do the work. If your agent gives you a deadline, you should be very clear right away if you do not think the date is realistic. Just like you need them to stay on top of things when it comes to reaching out to editors, they need you to stay on top of things when it comes to doing revisions, providing additional information, and so on.

4) Ask questions and don’t make assumptions. Your agent likely has several other clients, and part of an agent’s job is figuring out how to give each client the amount of time that they deserve. You should never get lost in the shuffle, of course. However, you need to keep in mind that a voicemail that isn’t immediately returned doesn’t mean we’ve dropped the ball. If you have real concerns, talk to us! If you’re confused, talk to us! We can clear a lot of misconceptions up before they become resentments.

5) Trust us to do our job. We get it, rejection and/or waiting is tough – it is difficult for us, too! We want your book to be published just as much as you do – because we love the book, but also because that is the only way in which we’ll make any money off of the deal. If your book sells, we’ve essentially done a lot of work for free – and free doesn’t pay for a trip to Hawaii! We’re open to ideas (just as we would want you to be), but you need to presume that we are using every tool we have at our disposal to get things rolling. Yes, we’ve reached out to Random House. Yes, we’ve followed up. Yes, we’ve waxed poetic about you.

6) Be nice. Please. Sending angry, abusive emails doesn’t do anything but hurt your cause. Assuming you know more about the publishing industry than us makes us wonder why you felt you needed an agent in the first place. We have a common goal – selling your book – and you and your agent will both need to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
We have worked with many of our clients for years (some even decades!) because we have established, cultivated, and nurtured successful relationships with them. You deserve that, too! Work side by side with your agent to create a publishing dream team.

By Megan Close Zavala, Literary Agent

This is the last in a series of columns about mistakes that even the greatest writers make.  If you’d like to check out that the earlier posts, please click here:

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part I

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part II

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part III

What Good Writers Do Badly, Part IV

 

#13: They Give Too Much Detail – Or Not Enough

One of the greatest aspects of writing a book is creating the world in which your characters live and/or that your readers can lose themselves in.  While this might sound like this would only apply to fiction books, that is not the case.  Memoirs a history books need to present compelling characters in well-depicted environments.   Self-help books, even business books, all involve storytelling.

Even the best writers, however, oftentimes go overboard with their level of detail.  For instance, many authors love making lists.   They list every item on a character’s bedside table, every product on a grocery store shelf, every sight/sound/smell/taste/feeling that could be experienced.  While the depth of detail may be impressive, things often backfire, and the desired effect isn’t reached.  Stick to what is necessary; get rid of anything extraneous.

This same concept applies when it comes to characters (or stories) that you choose to include in your book.  For instance, in a financial planning book, each chapter will feature a particular aspect of the financial planning process that the reader will need to learn to achieve success.  Within each chapter, there will be a handful of stories illustrating how some individuals successfully followed this advice.  Again, you only want to choose the individual stories that bring something unique to the table – don’t tell 30 different stories about the same type of person.  In fiction, it is tempting to stuff as many characters as you can into your novel.  Because you want your characters to feel as fully-realized as possible, you need to make sure that they receive the necessary amount of “time.”  If there are too many characters vying for attention, the depictions will likely suffer.

 

#14: They Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Criticism

Writers are generally sensitive, creative souls.  If they weren’t, how could they write with such great insight and passion about their chosen topic(s)?

Criticism can hurt.  Giving your proposal or manuscript to someone to read and to provide feedback on can be nothing short of terrifying.  There are few times in a writer’s life where they feel more vulnerable than receiving someone’s blunt assessment on their work – their work that they have been spent weeks, months and years working on and dreaming about.

When it comes to choosing who to read your work, here is what I oftentimes tell writers to do: start with one person who loves you and one person who can remain completely impartial.  Theoretically, the loved one will be proud of you and will shower you with compliments, which can soften the blow from your other reader.  (Eventually, you may become completely impervious to the sting of criticism!)

When you are choosing someone else to read your proposal/manuscript/paragraph, make sure that they can actually review your work without prejudice.  Your spouse or best friend may say they’ll be honest, but they know how hard you’ve been working and generally can’t be trusted to give you the brutal rundown of improvements that should be made.  Maybe you can reach out to an acquaintance or colleague.  Make sure that this person is knowledgeable in the area that you are writing about or for (i.e. has seen a book proposal before, works in finance and understands the lingo you are using, or has tried diet books in the past and is looking for a new one to give that final push).

Once you receive the feedback, always try to look at it as educational.  If it hurts your feelings (it’s okay to admit that it does!), take a moment, sulk and lick your wounds, and then look at the advice and LEARN.

You do not have to take every suggestion that is offered to you.  If you feel in your guts that a change shouldn’t be made, don’t make it.  Just be aware that an agent or editor may have that same thought while reading your project as well.  If multiple people tell you that your main thesis doesn’t make sense, then it probably doesn’t.

If a literary agent (ahem) suggests that you would be more successful with a stronger platform, take her word for it.  If you get a stronger platform and things somehow don’t work out, at least you’ll know that you did all you could do for your book in that regard.  Because the person who gives you their advice on your project is hopefully someone you respect, you’ll already know that they are not just full of hot air and that they are trying to help you in some way.

 

#15: They Give Up

Rejection can be tough.  When the umpteenth pass comes through, it can be tempting to throw your hands in the air and give up.  Don’t!  I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about famous authors who were turned down time and time again before achieving success.  J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job, John le Carré was told he had no future, even Robert M. Pirsig’s bestselling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 (!) times before it was published.  When you are feeling down, remind yourself that YOU HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK.  There are lots of people out there who dream of being a writer, but a small percentage of those folks actually write!  If you need to set your project aside for a while, if you need to take time to feel sorry for yourself, do so.  But under no circumstances give up.  There are readers (and agents and editors) out there waiting to have their lives changed by your book.  Don’t keep them waiting too long!

email

 

Dear Literary Agent,

I have finished my very first novel.  It is a science fiction story that I think is very unique and could attract a lot of attention from agents and editors. I want to make sure it is in the best shape possible, though, before I start pitching.  Do I need to hire an editor?

Sincerely,

Maybe in Need of an Editor

 

Dear Maybe in Need of an Editor,

Congratulations on finishing your first novel!  How exciting!  That is a great feeling and you should take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back.

First of all, I hope if you say you are “finished” that you mean you have gone through several rounds of revisions on the book yourself.  Editing is a large part of the craft, and you need to make sure that you are 100% comfortable with what you have written before you give it to someone else to read (or pay them to do so).  Have you had anyone read your book so far?  I don’t just mean family members of friends – members of your writing group, for example, or a trusted, impartial contact.  What has the feedback been like from them?

If the feedback has been positive, I think you are probably in a good position to start pitching your book as-is.  If people have had issues with any part of your book, you may want to consider hiring an editor.
There are different kinds of editors, however, and it is important that you understand the difference.  A copy editor proofreads your book – they catch an typos, misspellings, or poor grammar usage.  They may give occasional advice on a turn of phrase or two, but their work generally focuses on the physical words on the page.  A developmental editor focuses on the content – they are the people who can help you flesh out a character, strengthen a plot, or help clarify a thesis.

If you tell us that a professional editor has reviewed your manuscript, agents and publishers will not necessarily view your book any more highly than they would another author’s.  We are already assuming we have your best submission possible – why would you send it to us anyway?

Our advice is that you take as many free editing opportunities as possible.  If you have exhausted those options, and still feel that there is something lacking in your manuscript, you can consider hiring an editor – once you have pinpointed where the issues are.

The very best of luck to you with your book!

Sincerely,

 

Megan Close Zavala and the Team at Keller Media

 

Want to submit a question to be answered here?  Email your question to help@kellermedia.com.

 

questionBy Alex Schnitzler, Editorial Director

A client was ready to write his second nonfiction book.  He self-published his first, but he had bigger dreams and signed with our agency to prepare a proposal package to send to publishing houses.  The proposal draft he sent our agency lacked clear focus, but he had the beginnings of a strong platform, so we signed him.  I wanted more of an edge to his overview.  I wanted to read something distinctive that provoked thought and curiosity and uniquely asserted the force of his beliefs.  None of that existed in his draft.

When you have a strong concept, but your content is thin, you need to rethink your material before Hollywood (or New York) comes knocking.

What’s your book about?  What makes it unique?

I suggested to our client that he approach his content development with several questions in mind.

Email to Client:  The revision you sent me still needs a lot of thought, depth and consideration. Speed is not the issue, at this point.  Quality is.  If your ideas were original, then this might be easier to construct. Your content, however, is not remarkably striking.  You’re covering territory that many writers have addressed, written about, spoken about, published about, and televised.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t attempt to write this book.   You can accomplish amazing originality in your structure and delivery.  So, you must find a way to approach your content development from a unique perspective.  You can begin by asking yourself some hard questions.  Most important:  What’s your book about?  Who cares about your topic?  Why are you the person to write it?

Who’s going to read it?  And why?

Defining your audience in your pitch is crucial.  I’ve read countless proposals where the author fails to indicate any audience or sadly writes:

This book is for everybody.

What does that mean exactly?  You mean all three hundred million people in the United States?  Are you planning to target, Europe, Latin America, Asia… the world?   Who are you writing for specifically?

In a nonfiction book proposal pitch, this is a serious issue.  Many hopeful writers ignore its importance.  Perhaps it stems from a naïve belief that everyone will want to read the book, or that the writer hopes everyone will read it, but it’s just not the case, and it’s not a prudent approach.

Here’s why.

  • Books rarely target a macro audience. Content, in general, even on the web, is increasingly targeting niche markets.

Here’s another reason why.

  • Defining your readership will help you focus your topic.

Often, authors have a great topic (as in the example above) but little clarity on how to shape and deliver their content.  Even though defining your audience may feel restrictive, it’s actually quite liberating.  Once you have a focus, you can move more confidently into the construction of your material.

Most important: Don’t define your audience in your head.

Write                 it                   down.

Find statistics, facts, trends.  Get your ear on the ground.  Use your imagination.

Agents, editors and publishers want to know your demographic target, not simply from a marketing perspective (although this is also important), but from an editorial position.  If you demonstrate audience savvy, then you will develop your content, tone, pitch, and style accordingly. Even better if you can prove people are already paying attention to your content – hiring you to speak, buying your audio or ebook product, following you on your blog or even Facebook.

Why are you the person to write it?

Demonstrating authority on your topic will win you readers.  In your pitch, your overview, or any other venue where you sell your idea, you must illustrate your command of the content.  But, more essential, you must ask yourself: why?  Why are you the person to deliver this material?

Consider this possibility: Many people find reading uncomfortable.

Every reading event begins as an agreement, an unspoken contract between writer and reader.  Your content unfolds, slowly, leading the audience on a process of discovery.  The nature of this agreement places the writer in control and the reader in a position of weakness.

Readers don’t know you.  If that is the case, they might not trust you.  They’re approaching your material for the first time.  They need assurance.

If you fail to immediately take charge of your content, demonstrate authority, concentrate on voice, your readers grow insecure—either they’re stupid, or you’re incredibly inept.  Since your audience rarely chooses door number one, your idea ends up in the trash.

So, illustrate your authority with invention.

  • Take Charge of your Content
  • Combine Biography with Intent
  • Use Relevant Anecdotes

And… most important

  • Demonstrate Humility

These questions provide the foundation for any content development.  Without much effort, you can sit down and shape your idea by sketching out a few answers.  Whether you’re looking to write a book, develop a blog, or build your platform, your efforts will cement your approach and effectively build bridges to your future fan base.