Absolute Proof You’ve Got a Winner
by Wendy Keller, literary agent
One of the saddest parts of being a literary agent is when some hopeful soul shows me their manuscript and I know instantly that it will never sell. Never sell to a publisher; never sell to the public if they self-publish it; never achieve even a small portion of the author’s dreams for it. Often, it’s my job to be one of the many people who has to tell them No. I always hope that if they hear No enough times, maybe they’ll give up and stop beating the poor dead horse, and take the relatively simple steps to find something that WILL sell so they can achieve their dreams.
Stubborn attachment to a weak idea or a bad manuscript is the #1 reason authors fail.
Here’s what to do about: figure out BEFORE you waste years with a bad book whether or not it will sell. It’s surprisingly easy – it just requires more humility than most people have, and a bit more time and less glamor.(Caveat: I know full well that what you’re about to read will be instantly rejected by 99% of all who read this crucially important technique. Most would-be authors suffer from “terminal uniqueness”. But that’s why 99% of all projects get rejected by the formal publishing industry and if they do get self-published, under-perform tragically.)
Decide that you will do whatever it takes to get a book successfully published, even if that means altering your idea a little bit to suit your potential market. I call this the “Trojan Horse” concept. You want the world to accept your book on sparrow mating rituals, but you just can’t seem to get any literary agent smart enough to recognize the best seller potential? Hmmm. What similar content could you use that WOULD attract agents and therefore also publishers, that would allow you to sneak in what you want to say about your passion? Maybe a book on bird mating rituals; or how bird mating rituals and human mating rituals are similar; or the difference among bird species; or how and why this developed? You may not be writing a best seller with any of these, but often, by EXPANDING or CONTRACTING the scope of the content, you will stumble over something that really does have sales potential.
For another, more likely example, say you want to write a sales book because you’re really good at your job. Well, there are two billion of those out there! Could you focus on one niche? One closing technique? One industry? Or would it be better to focus on sales people who are women, or over 46 or new to selling or experienced for many years…?
Now that you have released your myopic viewpoint and realized your end goal is a successful book, it’s time to test it against a live audience! Start by doing some keyword research (or pay someone to do it for you). This will tell you what words and phrases people are using to find content like yours on Google. Now set up a PAGE in Facebook. Yes, a page. Not the one where you post photos of your puppy and your kids. This is a business page. Name it something with your name and one of your strongest keywords. Start writing short articles (like this one!) about your topic. Add pictures of the mating birds or the sales people you’re writing about. Be creative! Post three times a week for three months and watch to see if anything happens. WHILE you are doing this, take 1-2 hours a week to search on those same keywords on Facebook to find other, more successful Facebook writers. Share their content on your page, and comment on their articles. Watch to see if the number of Likes YOU have changes at all. (There are many ways to conduct this kind of test of your content, this is just the easiest, cheapest and fastest one to set up.)
Be responsive to your “public”. Watch what they say and adapt. Slowly expand from Facebook into a website and Twitter, maybe Pinterest, certainly LinkedIn. There has never been a better time in the history of the world for an author to test their content against the public to see if there are any takers. Adapt your message to suit the interest of the people – you are a service provider, not the Fount of All Knowledge.
If you can get to 5,000 followers total in your entire social media network, you have a potentially successful book. The faster you attracted them, the more likely it will sell well. If you can’t and it has been more than 12-18 months, you do not. Self-publish at your own peril. You won’t get a deal from my side of the business.