Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Love in an Elevator

copyright 2011 by Ron Adams

Most big publishers won’t accept or even look at unsolicited or unrepresented manuscripts. According to many experts in the field, the best way to get a major publishing house to read your work is to work through a literary agent. But, before approaching an agent to represent you, you should finalize the presentation of your book. Remember the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Nowhere is this more important to the new writer than at this stage of the game.

Before approaching an agent, prepare what’s called an ‘elevator speech’ describing your project in less than it takes for an average elevator ride. If you can’t, neither you nor your project are ready yet. Your elevator speech must answer four major questions:

- What is your book about?

- Who is going to buy it?

- How does it differ from existing books on the subject?

- How are you going to promote it?

1. What is your book about?

Finalize your book’s title and contents before contacting an agent. The title is crucial to your book’s success. It must attract the attention of acquisition editors, book reviewers, bookstore managers, web surfers and readers. The title may be your best first chance to make a sale. Prepare three sample chapters and hire a professional editor to fine-tune them. It’s better to show three perfect chapters than a finished manuscript filled with spelling errors. Some say you don’t have to write your whole book before approaching agents. But for me, I would never approach an agent or a publisher without having the entire manuscript as ready as I can make it.

2. Who’s going to buy your book?

Next, show that there is a reachable market for your book. Know your audience, and read the types of books in the genre you are writing. By knowing the market you wish to sell to, you show the agent you aren’t just another dreamer

3. How will your book be different?

Next, position your book relative to existing books on the same topic or in the same genre. Existing books on the same topic are a plus, not a minus. They prove there is a market for books on the subject. Don’t forget to point out what makes your book unique, as well as what makes it similar to other successful titles.

This section also offers you an opportunity to describe your background and how it contributes to your book. Remember you are selling yourself as well a your book.

4. How will you promote your book?

Promotion is your responsibility, not the publisher’s. Your ability to promote your book is as important as your ability to write your book. Start by identifying book reviewers and editorial contacts who can help promote your book. List publications that might run an extract from your book. Research producers who book guests for radio and TV interviews. Discuss your speaking experience and willingness to travel to support your book. Describe how you will promote your book on your web site.

Agents are busy. To the extent you can sell your book idea as a realistic possibility in thirty seconds and can support your answers with research and strong sample chapters, you are well on your way to success. After you’ve been successfully published, you may be able to sell a book on just the basis of an email. To start, however, the more prepared you are, the better your chances of success.


Charmaine Clancy said...

So much information. Thank you. I think the promoting and building platforms are so essential. Writers have to be speakers - who knew?

Kim Smith said...

Fantastic advice Ron!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Right on, Ron! Excellent advice. This reminds me of the elevator speech we were taught to develop when I was looking for a new day job in 2009. There were so many parallels between job search and agent/pub search that I almost thought I could write a whole book on it. Great piece today, thanks for your expertise!

Bryce Daniels said...

This is great stuff, Ron! Thanks for sharing.
May I ask a sidebar question of the group? Would like to get a few opinions on this.
In the past few months, I have noticed a few agents offering contests of sorts, the big prizes being offers of representation.
Am wondering if this is indicative of the change in publishing going on right now. With the advent of e-publishing,(and a few HUGE success stories to go along with it) do you think agents are trying to "get to the source before the source signs himself or herself up?"
Maybe they feel some writers who are totally frustrated with the "normal" channels will end up putting their work out there without the middleman. And just maybe, just maybe, (I can dream, can't I?) this is a way of snagging that loose diamond in the rough.
Not saying I am that diamond, by any stretch of the imagination. And the thought of e-publishing seems daunting when it comes to marketing and the logistics of publishing. Heck, I can't balance my checkbook.
At any rate, it will be fun to watch, and participate in, the changes that are sure to come in this fascinating industry.

Kim Smith said...

In my most humble opinion, I don't think so. I think agents are trying to keep a foothold in the industry, but not really trying to snag authors like that. I would think rather this is a nice thing to do for the authors. Unless things have changed A LOT over the last few years, agents get way more than they ever could handle through the transom.

my 2 cents :)

Bryce Daniels said...

Good point, Kim. Your statement about agents "doing a nice thing for the authors" rang a nice bell. A great gesture, considering the influx of queries and proposals that must land on their desk daily. Not to mention the day-to-day grind of trying to keep those authors they already represent on the shelves.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Great information Ron. Now... to get over the claustrophobia enough to get into an elevator.