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.
2. You are Hard of Hearing
In other words you won’t listen to critiques and suggestions and are unteachable. I cannot count the number of times I’ve made the effort to provide a few suggestions in a letter to a prospective author only to have them fire back with an angry missive questioning my intelligence or my Christian faith. Or there are those who simply refuse to accept editorial input claiming that the editor is incompetent, or worse.
The other day a writer cold called me by phone and pitched their idea. I gently suggested the title needed help and they bristled a little. Then they unveiled more about their story and I had to suggest that is would be a tough sell to base a novel on a 6th century Egyptian copper scroll that claims that Jesus was married and had children. The writer got angry and begin defending the authenticity of this scroll and that I needed to open my mind. Let me suffice it to say that the call ended quickly thereafter.
3. You Aren’t Ready
I thought of titling this section as “You Aren’t Good Enough” but that wouldn’t be fair. See number one above. It is a frequent error to submit a book proposal and sample chapters before it is well crafted and critiqued.
This is a danger of taking a first time project to a writers conference and pitching it before it is ready. A “false positive” (an editor or agent saying to send the proposal after the conference) gives the impression that it is ready when the agent or editor is really offering the opportunity to look at it outside the pressure of a conference. It doesn’t mean they are offering a contract. That doesn’t mean you don’t attend that conference! Instead it means that you view your pitches as “practice” not as a “sales exercise.” At least not until you’ve “done the work.”
For a non-fiction author especially it can be that while the idea is good, the platform from which they speak and minister is not “big enough.” It takes time to build that visibility but the publishers aren’t going to wait in most cases.
4. Your Idea has Already Been Done
This can be painful. You may not realize that your story line is already in a forthcoming publisher’s catalog. Or your non-fiction idea which filled a niche, has just been published by a well known author.
For example, earlier this year I was looking at a marvelous proposal (well written from an author with a modest but relatively successful platform) on the topic of the Grace of God. That same week the new Publisher’s Weekly came out with a front cover ad for Max Lucado’s new book called Grace. That is what is called a “category-killer.” The popularity of Lucado makes it very hard for another book on that topic to come out for a while.
Or to refer to the example in #2 above…there was a novel called The DaVinci Code that made the same suggestions about Jesus. In other words, “It’s been done.”
5. Agents and Editors are Blind to Your Genius
I have readily admitted in earlier blogs that there are some that got away. This business is more an art than a science. We have to learn to trust our instincts. And most of the time those instincts are spot on. However, a few get away for whatever reason.
The bottom line is that if you do the work, have a teachable spirit, are fully prepared, and with a unique idea…number five on the list shouldn’t be a problem.