In the course of a work day, literary agents dispense many juicy tidbits of writing and publishing advice to their clients (and even to many nonclients they meet or with whom they talk or email). Few, if any, dispense as much high-octane wisdom as Steve Laube, who insists that I say things like that. But every great once-in-a-while I get in a juicy tidbit of writing and publishing wisdom, and much of the time I share it with just one person. But if I include some of those tidbits in a blog post, my time and mental energy can be magnified a little.
So, below are six recent tidbits of writing and publishing wisdom (if I do say so myself, which I just did) I’ve shared with someone in an email:
- Different agents and agencies want different things to start the conversation about representation, which is one reason it’s always a bad idea to blanket all the agents you can find. For some, a query is preferred. I begin the process only with a full proposal (paying special attention to the hook and marketing section).
- Regarding the title of your book or proposal: While publishers do often change titles (and not always for the better), I suggest never assuming the publisher will come up with a different title. We need to pitch the best possible title (and concept) we can imagine, as that’s a huge part of the pitch. Once a publisher “bites,” of course, then we hold the title loosely because they may well change it.
- Give careful, extensive thought to the hook. I get why you would want to write this, but why would a book buyer and reader want to read it? What’s the unique appeal of this book? What pressing, felt need does it promise to meet—at first glance—for the reader? The hook, the approach, the orientation toward the reader from the outset is going to be super important.
- Your whole proposal, except perhaps the sample chapters, should be in third person (“she” not “I”); include the sales numbers of your previous books in your proposal (any interested editors will look them up anyway so you’ll do them and thus yourself a favor by providing them); and make your marketing section not about what you will do but about your current (present tense) reach.
- I often tell aspiring children’s book writers that finding the right illustrator is one of the most fun things children’s book editors do, so don’t take that away from them. (Writers often include “my cousin is something of an artist” in their pitch, which is almost always a bad idea.) Though editors are always looking for the next Chris Van Allsburg (author/illustrator), the typical procedure is for the book to be accepted on the basis of the strength of the writing/story, then the publisher pairs the author with an illustrator, taking many factors into consideration.
- When seeking endorsements for your book, whether contracted or not, shoot as high as possible, in terms of name recognition. The greater the name recognition, the more value the endorsement has, simply because a potential reader might see the endorsement and say, “Oh, well, if she says this is good, I’ll buy it.” There is still some value in two or three endorsements of authors I (the reader) have never heard of because the aggregate effect may be of some help. But generally speaking, an endorsement’s value is in the fame of the name. And I have often been amazed by a person’s willingness to endorse a book of mine. As has everyone else, no doubt.