Will Your Book Sell?by Patrika Vaughn
The Internet Writing Journal, March 2001
Today's agents are more likely to treat you like a paycheck than like the sensitive creative person you are. You won't get your hand held when you're blue. You won't have your manuscript lovingly edited. Even worse than this cold, business-like treatment, you're unlikely to get your works placed with a publisher by an agent today if you are a budding author.
- 40% won't read manuscripts by unpublished authors (those who do usually charge)
- 80% won't handle professional books
- 90% won't handle regional books, satire, reference or technical works
- Only 2% have a special interest in literature or quality fiction
Ironically, the best way to get their attention is to turn your back on both agents and big publishers! The large publishing houses now rely on their sales reps to scout out self-published and small-imprint books that are selling well. They then approach the authors about printing a second edition of their self-published books. This often results a lucrative book contract if an author decides to go for the deal. But many authors are saying no to the Big Boys. Why settle for 6-15% royalties when you can keep up to 80% of the profits from your book sales and retain the rights to TV and video productions, foreign rights, book clubs, etc. ? Especially since you're going to have to do most of the marketing work yourself anyhow.
No, authors have too many other options today to accept whatever big publishing houses offer. And you don't need an agent to pursue them. There are niche publishers and co-op publishers (they will work directly with an author); there is self-publishing and/or electronic publishing (you become your own publisher). There are also lots of traditional ways to get out the word about a book without spending a dime, and the Internet has added a whole new dimension to cost-free marketing.
The problem is that few authors have the information they need to successfully maneuver today's brave new publishing world. They need advise on each step. That's why I gave up being a Literary Agent in favor of becoming the world's first Author's Advocate. I found that most writers don't start thinking about marketing until they have a finished manuscript -- which often means a complete rewrite is needed to get a marketable manuscript. I like to work with authors from concept to sales, helping them make the essential decisions that lead to publishing success.
To write a book that will sell today, you have to be very clear about:
- What you want to write (and what will sell)
- The most appropriate writing style for your targeted audience
- Your best publishing option
- How to get your book out before the book-buying public Armed with up-to-date information on buying trends and publishing options, you can save yourself a lot of time and grief.
Patrika Vaughn used to be a literary agent. She quit because, she says, "Agents can't serve the true interests of authors these days."
And what are those interests?
"To get published, to achieve recognition and to make money," she declares.
Patrika now wears another hat. She functions as the world's first Author's Advocate. She explains:
"The publishing market has gone through huge changes in the past decade and book agents can't do the wonderful things they used to do to help a writer get published. According to Literary Agent's Marketplace, about 40% of today's agents won't read manuscripts by unpublished authors. Those that will usually charge for it. Eighty percent of agents won't represent professional books; 93% won't touch reference works; 99% won't handle technical books, and 98% won't handle regional books, satire, musicals or other specialized manuscripts. Although most agents will handle novel-length fiction, only 20% are willing to take either novelettes or short stories. Most amazing of all, only 2% have a special interest in literature or quality fiction!
"This creates a Catch-22 for writers: agents won't look at many types of manuscripts and the larger publishing houses tend to only consider works that come through agents. This results in fewer and fewer books by new writers on their lists. Most bestseller authors were already well established. An unknown author is probably wasting time and money by hiring an agent to pursue this market. Midsize to small publishing houses are more receptive to new writers. Most of them will read manuscripts submitted by authors, without agent intervention. So why bother with an agent? In my opinion, the agenting function is passe' in today's changing market."
Asked what's new and different in publishing today, Patrika replied:
"The big news is niche marketing, electronic publishing and self-publishing. Encouraging good literature to promoting a healthy Bottom Line. The rising costs of paper increased their conservatism and unwillingness to take a chance on new voices. Small to midsize publishers sprouted up, taking over some of the functions the big boys used to fill, and then the electronics explosion made self-publishing a respectable and affordable option for a lot of frustrated writers.
"Writers today are finding that they have to be marketers, too, in order to successfully publish a book -- and this is true regardless of the publishing option they pursue. All publishing companies are placing increased emphasis on market analysis in book proposals. More and more, authors have to be willing to do anything and everything that will help to promote their books.
"Since authors have to get involved in marketing and promoting even with a publisher, many writers are opting to self publish. They figure that if they have to do all that work, they might as well keep up to 80% of the profits rather than settle for a 6-10% advance on royalties -- especially since their book's shelf life in bookstores is probably going to be only three to six months if they go through a major publisher."
What if they self-publish?
"Shelf life is much longer. If your book is selling, bookstores and superstores will keep it on the shelf. And strangely enough, that's bringing new writers full circle. Books such as The Celestine Prophesy and The Christmas Box were originally self-published. It was only after they generated large sales that Warner and Simon & Shuster bought the rights to them. The larger publishing companies are now asking their book reps to scout out locally successful books. It seems they no longer know what the changing public wants, so they rely on tried and true writers and add new writers only after they've proven successful!"
But what, I asked, does all this have to do with Author Advocacy?
"Everything! Writers today are wandering around in a confusing publishing landscape. The sands keep shifting under their feet and they have no signposts to guide them out of the desert into an oasis. Agents and large publishing houses won't touch the majority of new writers. Few writers are marketers or financial analysts....they just don't know how to go about matching up subject matter, writing style and audiences. New writers don't have a reliable way of finding out if what they've written is any good and if a buying public for it exists. They don't have enough publishing savvy to determine their best route toward publication. They don't know how to select a publisher or, if they want to self-publish, how to choose a printer; how to get a copyright, an ISBN number and a bar code. They don't know how to keep self-publishing costs down by correctly scheduling the essentials of printing, marketing and promoting. They need advise -- a knowledgeable advocate -- who can inform them on each step, from conception to sales. Properly planned, there is little financial risk in self-publishing.
"To be a successfully published writer today, writers have to know what they want and what their audiences want. They have to know why they want to write, who they want to write for, what they want to say and what effect they want to have on those audiences. Because there are so many publishing choices today, each with predictable outcomes, writers need clearly focused goals. They need to be clear about their primary goal: is it to educate, entertain or inspire their audiences, or are they primarily interested in fame and fortune? Specific approaches work for specific ends.
"Writers also need to know a lot about their readers in order to write a book that will appeal to them. My job as an Author's Advocate is to help writers determine what they want to write; to choose the most appropriate presentation style for their audiences; to select the best publishing option for each work, and to show them how to get the word out to their book buying public. All these things are required today whether a writer self-publishes or works through a publishing house, and few writers have the background to take these steps."
What qualifies you?
"Well, as you know, I used to be a literary agent. But more importantly, I'm also a writer, ghostwriter, editor and teacher of creative writing. I've been up against today's market from both ends. Actually, from three ends, because I've also marketed and publicized other people's books."
I understand you're an APRP, an accredited public relations professional, is that right?
"Yes, I'm a marketing and public relations consultant and serve on the Board of Directors for the Central West Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association."
So what advice do you have for hopeful writers today?
"Choose your subject, audience and approach thoughtfully. Research before you write, even if it's fiction, to find out what people want to read today. The public is fickle and may no longer be interested in what excited them a few years ago. "Then write the best book you can. Determine your publishing method based on the size and targetability of your audience, then get news of your book out to them, in as many new and creative ways as you can."
What about writers who don't have the time or skills to do these things?
"They should either acquire those skills or hire an expert to help them."
If they were going to get your help, at what point should they contact you?
"I can start working with a writer from the concept stage, helping to clarify the project and the best approach to it. I can help with the writing, I can critique an existing manuscript and make publishing suggestions, and now, through Advocate House, I can even see an author's book through to publication, even working with the author on marketing and publicizing. The point of being an Author's Advocate is to offer whatever assistance an author needs to achieve his or her publishing goals."
**Patrika Vaughn is the world's leading Author's Advocate. Over the past 25 years she has served as a professional writer, ghostwriter, editor, publisher, literary agent and teacher of creative writing. She is also a marketing and public relations consultant, serving business, industry, non-profit corporations and individual authors. Her works have appeared in more than 100 national publications and she is listed in The International Authors and Writer's Who's Who. The above article is an excerpt from her book, Everything You Need to Know to Write Publish & Market Your Book.