by Wendy Keller, Senior Literary Agent, Keller Media, Inc.
Authors throw themselves against the big steel doors of the publishing industry with alarming velocity. Those who are too bruised by rejections continue stomp off to self-publish. “That’ll serve those idiots right!” they sometimes think.
But what happens 90% of the time is the author has “no luck” – roughly translated into poor sales of the self-published book. Which only makes things worse should s/he try to write another book someday in the future.
The reasons authors give for “no luck” are myriad. But the reasons the agents and publishers give are fairly consistent: the author wrote the book only for themselves, with very little consideration to whether or not readers would buy it.
The time to start thinking about your readers is before you sit down to type out a book.
Some foolish authors say, “I don’t want to make money with my book! I just want it out there!” Publishers and agents hear, “I have no clue how to market a book, I don’t care about anyone but myself, and I hope that somehow by magic because I’m secretly so talented my book will rise to the top and I’ll become hugely famous for it.” Which really doesn’t happen all that often in any given century.
Whether you “just want it out there” or you’re actually serious about this, your first step is to read 5-6 similar books – as close as you can find – to your proposed books. Books that are doing well. (To tell if something is selling, look at the Amazon.com sales ranking – it’s about halfway down the page – and see if the number is between 1 and 150,000. If not, it’s not doing too well.)
Once you’ve actually physically read those books, spend some time thinking about what you can add to the conversation that is New, Different, Better or offers readers something More than those books. This takes enormous courage on the part of an author. Your idea might be an also-ran. It might not be as original and exciting as you thought.
If you can find a way to adapt your proposed content so it is interesting and valuable (read: deserves to be published) then your next step is to clearly isolate who your readers will be. “Everyone” is the most common answer, but not all people are literate, only 17% of Americans buy books, and not everyone will spend $25 to find out what you have to say.
Get specific. Go to places your readers hang out (I don’t mean ask your friends for their opinion!) Listen to the questions people are asking about your topic on social media. Gently blog about it – promote the blogs on Facebook – see if anyone at all is interested in your perspective.
If you start to attract conversation, you know you’re onto something. Now, finally, sit down and start writing. You’ve done what it takes to create a successful book.