Agency

When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

by Steve Laube

Unhappy young business man looking away

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. We work with our clients to create and develop top notch proposals. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are a few examples of projects that I represented in years past that did not sell to a major publisher (and are ones that I still think are great projects):

The autobiography of a well-known former NFL coach who became a follower of Christ late in life. He now devotes considerable time to prison ministry. The story gave deep background into his time in the NFL.

An extraordinary graphic novel series. It was ahead of its time and no publisher was willing to take the obvious risk to produce and distribute the project. The author/artist later found his own backing and formed a company to create the material. They found a non-traditional distributor and ended ups selling over 250,000 units.

An already self-published book on the importance of character in a person’s life, what is it and how to cultivate it. The author was a judge and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his state. His credentials were impeccable. He was “media-ready” and spoke regularly on the topic.

A supernatural fiction manuscript that caught my eye for its great storyline and wonderful storytelling. The combination of being a debut author and having a thinly veiled science-fiction thread caused it to rejected by everyone. The author shelved it and wrote another novel, which didn’t sell. The author shelved that one and began writing non-fiction where the author has become quite successful.

The above examples are from the past, but you may be wondering what happened last year. In 2012 my personal clients had seven projects that did not find a publisher. On the other hand my clients did secure sixty-three new book contracts. My clients and I have to live with that percentage, but I wish it were higher.

So what do you do if your project doesn’t capture a publisher’s attention?

Try Again
See the fourth example above where the author did not give up. Even switched to a different discipline entirely and found the perfect outlet for his talent. This is the most common solution for professional writers. Tears of frustration may be shed, but they step back and come up with a new idea.

Do-it-yourself
Let me reiterate that self-publishing is always an option a) If you have an audience to which to sell the idea b) you have the gumption to be an entrepreneur and sell your project and c) you have the money to invest in making it an excellent final product. The first example above is what this author did. He was well loved in his community, even did local TV commercials, and thus had a ready-made market for his story. This is a perfect example of where self-publishing makes a lot of sense.

Find Another Option
The second example above illustrates this. The author did not take no for an answer and ended up with a company behind his work.

The judge, example three above, retired from his position and continued to speak and influence those around him. He also continued to sell his self-published book to his listening audience. He was no worse off than before he approached me for representation. He gave it a shot and it didn’t work out.

Or do as one lady did at a writers conference. During her 15 minute writers conference appointment she asked me point-blank, “Do I have what it takes to be a successful writer?” I stammered a bit not wanting to hurt her feelings, “You have the foundation of a good story but it is going to take a lot of work to get it ready to be competitive. ” She thanked me and abruptly ended the meeting. Later that afternoon she came bounding up to me full of smiles. She proclaimed, “I quit! I called my husband and told him I’m quitting this writing stuff and I’m going to take up knitting instead. I’m so happy! Thank you for telling me how much work it was going to take. I’d rather spend that time doing something I know I will enjoy.” The moral of that story is to ask yourself the ultimate question of whether you are willing to continue to work hard in order to overcome any objections to your next idea.

Your Turn:
Any stories you wish to share?

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Serious Talk with your Potential Agent

What are some of the things you should ask when an agent has called to offer you representation? Here goes, in no particular order:

1) Would you go over your contract terms with me? Even though you will be reading the agency contract before signing, this is your chance to learn the main points you can expect to see.  Ask questions now. After you review the contract, don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications in writing.

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Reactions to Your Career

Often, strangers ask me what a literary agent does. Once I tell them, they’ll want to share with me that they are writing a children’s picture book. Or an aunt, cousin, or friend, is writing one. I think a lot of parents write read-aloud books because they are part of the bedtime ritual with their own children and perceive that the volume of books published means the market is vast. Unfortunately, it is not, as I discovered when I wrote three of my own, never-to-be-published children’s picture books. But I digress.

When I said that I present books to editors, an auto mechanic asked, “So you are teaching the editors how to read?”

Most people understand what I mean when I say I’ve written Bible trivia books, but conversations can get more lively when I tell them I’m the author of Christian romance novels. One recent reaction was laughter. And more laughter. I think he may have even pointed at me.

Another response: “Like, in the ads where you see ‘Meet Christian Singles’?”

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Agents and Proposals: What to Expect

Last week I left you with a question: How do editors/agents get through all the proposals they receive. For me, as an editor and now as an agent, the answer was to hire someone to be my first-pass reader. In my case, this person is someone I’ve worked with now for over fifteen years. She knows me and my tastes well, and, as an avid reader and a skilled writer herself, she knows quality writing. She reviews my proposals and, based on a list of criteria I’ve given her, determines if said proposals are at a level that I should review them.

Here’s a hard truth about proposals: roughly 95% of the proposals my first-pass reader reviews, she rejects. And that percentage is fairly common for many editors and agents. When my reader determines the manuscript isn’t ready for me to review, she sends the writers something very similar to the noncommittal response most writers dislike. Honestly, I’m not that crazy about it when I receive it from editors! But I understand and accept it, because I know it isn’t the editors’ jobs to to critique the proposals I—or others, be they agents or writers–send them. Just as it isn’t my reader’s job to do so. What she’s supposed to do is determine whether or not the proposals meet my clear criteria.

So what, you ask, are my criteria?

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Juggling Agent Interest

Whether you have been sending queries simultaneously through email, the Post Office, or by pitching at conferences, you may be among the select few authors who garners interest from more than one agent. Congratulations! While interest from more than one publishing professional doesn’t guarantee a contract, the consensus is that you have a strong proposal and a good shot at success. For the sake of clarity, I am confining this post to writers who are pitching to agents. The agent would manage interest from editors.

Hiring agents isn’t something writers can practice. At least, we hope not. Don’t earn the reputation as a writer who flits from agent to agent. So this decision is extremely important. You want a good fit for the long term. The agents want the same. As you go through the process of choosing, I have a couple of ideas that may help minimize unnecessary work and trouble for all concerned:

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Five Reasons Why You May Never Get Published

by Steve Laube

 

There are many factors that go into the acquisition, development, and sale of a new book. But the majority of ideas never get to that point. I thought it might be helpful to review some of the most common issues we’ve run into.

1. You Won’t Do the Work
Writing a novel, a non-fiction work, or even a short article isn’t a casual enterprise. It takes hard work to do it well. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, has made popular the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of work before finding success. While it isn’t an exact formula there is truth to this assertion. Do the math.

If you work at your writing craft for 2o hours a week for 50 weeks it will equal one thousand (1,000) hours x 10 and the calculation reveals nearly ten years of hard work to feel like you have a chance.

Unfortunately we run into writers who have dashed off something during a lunch break and think it is worth millions.

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Choosing and Courting Your First Choice Agent

You’ve done your homework, including:

visiting agency web sites talking to author friends about their agents interacting casually with agents on social media reading agents’ blogs attending writers conferences as your time and budget allow

This is part of the process in helping you choose the agent you most feel you want to work with.

When deciding, think about:

agency’s reputation agent’s reputation authors the agent represents (demonstrated success with work similar to yours) personality (this is where social media helps)

Reputable agents welcome being researched because we stand on our record. Of course, every agent and agency who has been in business more than a day and a half has a few detractors. Most of the time, detractors are made either because the client and agent were a mismatch from the start and/or because of an unhappy situation complicated by misunderstanding. Good agents conduct themselves in an ethical manner and your research should reveal that the overarching agreement in the writing community is that their clients are well served.

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Book Industry Trends

by Steve Laube

Publishing is partly an exercise in guessing what might be the next surprise bestseller. Some of it is an educated guess based on certain trends we see in the industry and in society at large. Any exercise in naming these trends bears the risk of expressing the obvious or being out of date the moment they are stated. So bear with me as I tinker with some of the things that are either influencing trends or are trends within themselves.

The Blockbuster Mentality

If it was your money you would likely “bet” on those book ideas that you know are going to sell a ton of copies. And only those who already have a track record are assured of a ready-made buying audience. In addition, for the non-fiction writer in particular, there is a demand for the author of have a visible or quantifiable platform from which they can launch their book ideas. Much ink has been spilled on defining platform and how to build one, and for good reason.

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The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

Karen Ball

Okay, okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is hyperbolic. Kind of. But let me explain why it’s not that far off the mark to say you really can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t–live without it. Also, let me explain why I’m addressing something that Tamela addressed a mere 3 months ago.

So far this week, I’ve had no fewer than seven conversations with writers, agents, and editors, all of which hit on the same topic: finding out important information long after they should have. The conversations covered a broad range of information:

An author calling to say s/he was going to miss a deadline—a week before the deadline. A client receiving an extension on a deadline from an editor A publishing house moving a pub date without letting the author know A book arriving with a cover that was completely different from what the author approved

My response in every case was utterly profound:

“Are you KIDDING me??”

So though Tamela addressed the following in March, let’s talk about it again. Because friends, this is important stuff. (And because you know who will address it next: Mr. Steve. And he won’t be as nice as Tamela and I are! <insert evil grin here>)

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A Bit of Blogs, Just for You!

I’ve recently discovered a couple of new blogs that I really like, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is by Jeff Goins, at http://goinswriter.com. I like his perspective on writing, not just the craft, but the work of it. And he has a sense of humor, too. That’s always nice.

The second is The Creative Penn, by Joanna Penn. I love the diversity of topics she addresses, and her knowledge of publishing is really broad. Plus an added bonus: she’s got a lovely accent!

Last but not least, here’s a blog on, you guessed it, blogging! Anytime you’re struggling with keeping up with the bloggers, or if you want to feel as though someone is walking the blogging road with you, just hop on over to Successful Blog (http://www.successful-blog.com) with Liz Strauss. She’s got great counsel and ideas that can help not just with blogging, but with your writing as well.

How about you? Any blogs you can’t get through the day without reading? Well, other than the Steve Laube Agency blog, of course! (And those already recommended in the right hand column under “Industry Blogs.”) But share your discoveries so we can all benefit.

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