Written by Wendy Keller, Literary Agent
You think you’re different? Special? You think you’ve got something to say that the world needs to hear? Or are you candidly just looking for a way to get some attention, prove to your mother she was wrong about you never amounting to anything, or find a way to appear on Oprah? Your motivation doesn’t matter to publishers – what matters are your results.
In the 1930s, publishers used to sit around in velvet smoking jackets, perusing the occasional laboriously typewritten manuscript that lolled on their desks. These manuscripts were submitted by the literate few, those persons wealthy enough to know how to read and write and not have to spend their entire days shuffling about in the field, looking for corn for the next Thanksgiving dinner. It was a lot easier to get published back then because there wasn’t much competition.
Before that, patriots like John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson pretty much invested in self-publishing. They paid some printer to put heavy metal type into enormous trays, run paper across it a few pages at a time, and eventually bind it in hand-tooled leather. Like lots of self-published authors today, they gave many copies to their friends and family and still had too many left over.
Some things have not changed. You will still trade your toil for a publisher’s ability to wrap some paper and ink together. The difference now is that publishers also offer distribution – that magic word that means that your book might have 90 days or so to make an impression on the Barnes and Noble shelves before it gets shipped back to the publisher as a return. But at least it will be there for those few weeks.
The best thing you can do is to remember that just like when Ol’ John, Ben and Tom were out there getting published, it’s still a business. In fact, it’s even more of a business now. Publishing is a business, made up of professionals, who typically report to a whole intricate web of more important professionals. These people all demand to be paid for their work. They expect you as an author to be a professional, too, and to market the book every waking moment, especially in those make-or-break first 90 days. That’s how they all get paid, after all.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to convince them that you are gall-darnedest, most committed, brightest, most innovative, motivated, excited self-promoting book author the free world has ever seen.
Basically, that means you better have some marketing going on in advance of trying to get them write a check.
You see, publishing is like a feudal system. Selling them your manuscript makes them your overlord and you’re the serf. But the system works, because instead of getting a plot of land on which to raise your family and graze your cow, now you get about 7.5-10% of the cover price of your book. In fact, the amount they pay you per book for the books you sell is roughly what it actually costs them to print the thing in the first place!
So why do it?
Why not self-publish like your forefathers? Why give those overlords a single penny of profit from the sweat of your brow?
The answer is you, my friend. It’s what you will get out of it. You might change the world by sharing your brilliance. You can increase customers to your business, practice or consultancy. Transform your book into a speaking engagement and a nice fat check. Yes, it will give your mother something to tell the other ladies at her bridge night. Yes, it is written proof that someone else believes in what you are doing.
That’s all nice. But I’m an agent. “Show me the money!” I say. How does a book make you money? Visibility.
If they can’t see you, they can’t hire you. They can’t book you. They don’t know you are out there. A book gives you a window of time to show off, to prance in front of the radio show’s mic, the newspaper reporter’s camera crew, the TV cameras. It gives you a chance to get great clips that will stuff your speaking package full of good ol’ American bills.- the kind of Ben Franklins you care about.
All this prancing about is good for business. It’s “free” advertising, it’s publicity, pure and simple. You now really can elbow your way into the next echelon, because your book’s jacket cover can be the red carpet that opens the doors for you. You’re looking at a limited time offer – pretty much the six months surrounding its release – to make your big impression and leave ‘em hungry for more. But in those six months, not only will you have the golden opportunity to spread your wings. If you have positioned yourself accurately, you’ll be in place to take off for the stratosphere!
Get published. Now.
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