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.
Thanks for the tidbits! I’ve changed my hook three times though I’ve yet to share it with anyone. I wrote it once the rough draft was complete. Midway through the first round of edits, I read over it and decided it needed some tweaking. Now that I’m nearly complete, I went over it again yesterday and tweaked it some more. I’m very close to pitching this story, which is as exciting as it is foreboding.
I sometimes draft several hooks and “field test” them. I’ll put one in front of an insightful book reader/buyer and say, “What does this do for you?” Then (like an optometrist), I’ll switch it to another and say, “Is this better? Worse?” Then, again, “How about this one?” It’s almost always enlightening.
I like that. Sounds like what the eye doctor does to get closer to the real solution. Great idea.
What if that friend (not a cousin) has written AND illustrated a children’s book? She’s actually good at both. Any chance she’d get it past a slush pile?
Sure, there’s always a chance.
Gosh, Bob, this is a tough one for a sonnet!
Some agents want a query;
for others proposal’s vital,
and now you say (oh my, oh dearie!)
that someone will change my title!
Imperiously you demand a hook,
and to demonstrate how far I reach,
but it’s tough, fishing with a book
when you’re casting from the beach.
Artist-cousin Vinny’s quite annoyed
that he’s not wanted, no threat, just sayin’;
as for endorsements to be employed,
God said,”Write this!” ; how’s THAT name?
Trad Publishing’s not a place for fools,
an asylum run on inmates’ rules.
Alas and alack, my liege, I know not any business,
Whether law or hostelry or medicine,
Without its share of dizziness
Great tips! I’m in the midst of penning my first book and I appreciate every tidbit of information about the process. I have often wondered, though, how a new, unknown writer is able to get an endorsement from a recognized author. I’m just a tiny guppy in the gigantic sea of writers.
Swimming, swiming, keep on swimming…
Guppies have nothing to lose for trying, Sharlene. Shoot for the stars. Wait, that’s a mixed metaphor. Doggone, this writing thing is hard.
Rene` Diane Aube
Thanks for the sweet, juicy bites to savor as I move forward with my work! 🙂 So much to digest!!
As always, I appreciate your words of wisdom. I’m looking forward to seeing you in Collierville!
“Orange” you kind to suggest a hook
As we swim like guppies in a sea of books.
We need this stuff; please don’t give up.
The hook is oh, so needy.
My meter’s off, but that’s okay;
Your POSTS are always meaty.
–Bad poetry but kind thoughts, anyway. :}
Any poem that can use the unrhymable and metrically nasty word ‘orange’ is genius, Roberta.
And it’s fun!
Damon J. Gray
That’s good stuff, Bob. Quite valuable.
Where do I send the check?
Damon, you can’t fool me. No one uses checks any more.
It’s so easy to write a book
All it needs is a stunning hook
A platform as wide as it is high
A query you’ll toss with a weary sigh
A proposal that jolts you out of your chair
Give us JK Rowling, make us care
First chapters that grab your cynical hearts
Endorsements that tell you we’ve got a start
All this work, and if it’s any good
You call me as any agent should
You expect me to leap up to the moon
Because I’ll be an author soon
In two years you say? Can it be?
And then you want commission from me?
I understand, I really do
You need to make a living too
An advance is wrung from reluctant fists
The royalty check is shrouded in ifs
A million sales or you won’t get in
Why so sad? Lift up your chin
You’ll be an author, yes it’s true
But keep on writing, write book two
And three and four, at least ninety-two
Of course you will, now don’t be a dick
Do you think you’re going to get rich quick?
Louisa, it hurts to laugh, but this was worth it! 😀
Great tidbits. In regards to # 6 and as an author seeking a high profile endorsement, would you recommend sending the person a file or hard copy of your book to review? What is your process for requesting a book endorsement from a person with a high name recognition? Thank you.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Bob, would you say that “Unexpectedly Unmarried” is more pleasing to the eye than “Suddenly Single?” I may have been pitching the wrong book….