by Wendy Keller, literary agent since 1989
Ahhh, for the good ol’ days! The days when a gifted writer could just tie a fresh ascot and then sit down at his Smith-Corona to write some lovely prose. Sooner or later, some incredibly good looking, elegantly coiffed agent would share it with an enthusiastic editor of legendary skill who would recognize him as Hemingway or Fitzgerald. A princely advance check would be written, enough to keep the exceptionally talented writer in martinis, ascots and summer cruises to Capri.
How lovely! How perfect! How very, very historic.
Yet every week, EVERY week, some writer accuses me or my team of “not recognizing” their brilliant work, their literary genius, not signing them on and lavishing them with praise.
Let’s be clear: Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the Old School Editors like Maxwell Perkins are all dead. Those days of talent being enough to get a book deal died with them.
Like it or not, publishing is an industry. A business! Business is in business to make a profit, not to take chances on your book, even though you’re a nice person with good spelling. Sorry. If you have no PLATFORM (read: a pre-existing fan base of people who hear you speak, read your blog, follow your Tweets, already recognize you as the expert on your topic for some good reason) then however brilliantly you’ve pounded your Smith-Corona, there is no pot of gold waiting at the end of your rainbow.
You just CANNOT be nobody and expect a deal from a modern nonfiction publisher. And since agents work on 100% commission, we can’t take shots on unknowns.
The solution: get a platform. Now. Start today. Then pursue the aforementioned incredibly good looking, perfectly coiffed agent for representation. Put your horse before your cart and create an entirely different reality. As I’ve said 2 billion times to astonished writers, “Publishers want to hitch their wagon to a rising star, not be the horse that pulls your cart.”
(A few of you will appreciate I moved from ascot metaphors to Ascot illusions. You, I like.)
Please, get a platform before you query my agency or any others. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartbreak; you’ll save our staffs a lot of time; and you’ll give yourself a real chance at a publishing deal. Promise!
Browse this website to find lots of ideas on how to get your platform growing.