Monday, May 4, 2009

Making Baby Steps Toward Publishing Success

Last time, I briefly mentioned the idea of building success rather than having a defining event to catapult us to success. The story is told of a man and his wife entering a hotel on a story night, looking for a room. The night clerk told them that all the rooms were booked, but they could have his room. When the couple departed the next day, the man thanked the clerk, saying he was the kind of person who should be managing a hotel. Months later, the clerk received a letter from the man, inviting him to come manage a hotel the man had built, the Waldorf-Astoria.

I tell that story because that is essentially the model for the publishing industry. Writers tell their success stories. “I received fifty [insert whatever number you like] rejection letters and then I received a call from an agent and the rest is history.” Some bristle when someone calls them an overnight success. “But I spent years perfecting my craft.” Every aspiring and wannabe author is looking for an agent or editor to give her a chance.

As intriguing as the story above sounds, huge jumps in success like that are rare in business. I once had a man offer me a job at a Mailboxes Etc. he owned as a result of some work I had don’t for his, but that was a small step from what I was doing at the time. That is how most business success comes, one step at a time.

I’m reminded of my very first job interview. I had put in an application at a restaurant. The manager and I sat down at one of the tables. He first asked me what position I wanted. I thought it might be fun to be a waiter, so that’s what I told him. “What experience do you have?” Experience? What do I need experience for? It isn’t like this is rocket science. It quickly became clear that about the only thing he would hire me for was to clear tables, and those jobs were already taken. He was looking for people following the path to success, not people looking for a jumpstart on success.

What if the publishing industry were like that? Is there a path that we can follow that will get us to success eventually? As it is, all of the unpublished authors are sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the literary agent bus driver to come pick them up. Yeah, they’re all trying to improve their craft, but they aren’t going anywhere. Is it possible just take off walking instead of waiting for the bus that may never come? Maybe there’s another bus stop where the bus comes more often.

Build That Platform

I know you thought I’d tell you something new. Sorry, there’s no way around it. We have to have a platform. Michael Hyatt tells us that having 500-1000 unique visitors per day to a blog is significant enough to get notice from the publishing industry. Unless you have an inherent following, achieving that many visits doesn’t come easy. Actually, it is probably easier to sell a romance novel to Harlequin than it is for a novelist to achieve that many unique visitors on a blog. With non-fiction, if you have information that people need but no one else is putting on the Internet, you’ll gain readers quickly. Either way, you don’t need to wait for the publishing bus before you start taking steps toward 1000 daily visitors.

Become the Go-To-Guy/Gal

I say Queen of Suspense; you say ___? Just tell me that Mary Higgins Clark didn’t come to mind. Murder Mystery – Agatha Christie. Military fiction – Tom Clancy. As readers, if we want a specific type of story, we know which author will give it to us. Big names, right? Not always so. Here’s one for you: Queen of Edgy Christian Fiction – Michelle Sutton. She has a book out now, but she was the Queen of Edgy Christian Fiction before she had a contract. How is that possible? Essentially, she told everyone that publishers were rejecting her book because it was too edgy. Now, if a publisher wants edgy, Michelle Sutton is the first name that comes to mind. Is it good? How should I know? I haven’t read it, but it must be the best that edgy Christian fiction has to offer.

My point is that you don’t have to be on the publishing bus with contract in hand before you begin building your reputation as the go-to-guy for whatever it is that you want to write. You don’t have to try to be the Queen of Suspense. Maybe you are the Queen of Romances Between Preachers and Nuns or whatever. Find your niche in what you want to write, focus on that and tell people what you write. In time, when a writer attends a conference and hands an agent a manuscript about a preacher and nun falling in love, the agent looks at it and says, “I don’t think you’re ready, but I’ll tell you who you should talk to. She’s the Queen of Romances Between Preachers and Nuns.” When the market demands romances between preachers and nuns, you can be sure that you will be considered for a publishing contract.


If you don’t care if you get on the publishing bus at all, we have to consider self-publishing. It doesn’t provide the quick success that most self-published authors hope it will be, but neither is it as expensive as many people in the publishing industry imply. It’s possible to lose your shirt in self-publishing, but many self-publishing enthusiasts make money at it. How many golfing enthusiasts do you know who can say that? There are pros and cons, but in an industry in which the authors are putting in a lot of work for no pay, it is nice to have something we have to pay taxes on come April 15th.

Team Up With Other Authors

I’ve noticed that several well known authors have teamed up with their children. That’s a great way to give their children a leg up on the publishing industry, but most of us don’t have bestselling novelist parents. Besides, that is just another form of taking the publishing bus. That doesn’t, however, mean that we can’t do something similar while walking the publishing path. Got a critique group of four people? Write a book together, put everyone’s name on the cover and you’ll be able to leverage each other’s fan base.

I have given some thought to trying to hook up with nine aspiring authors and producing a book. If each author brings a fan base of 100 readers, that would mean that every author would have at least 1,000 people reading her work. And if that fan base also translated into 1,000 books sold, each author could expect over $400 in royalties. It wouldn’t make anyone rich, but it could help move the authors involved as few steps down the publishing path. I just haven’t settled on a good selection criteria.

Nothing I have mentioned here is a silver bullet that will guarantee an author publishing success. What I hope you can see is that there are more options available than just putting your work in a slush pile or spending a ton of money on conferences, hoping that some agent will love your work so much that he’ll call every acquisitions editor he knows. There are ways to make progress toward publishing success that don’t require us to be an overnight success.

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