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.