Pitch

How Do You Know It’s Something That Will Be Published?

A common question we agents get is “How to you know?” Or as Bob Hostetler put it, “When you know, how do you know?”

The answer is extremely subjective. And each agent, just like a consumer, will see an idea or read a book differently.

After thinking about this question, I believe it comes down to three things.

Instinct

For me it is an instinct that comes from reading voraciously for many years. After a while you start identifying the markers of which books were worth the time and which ones were not.

Instinct can be described as an innate impulse, something that cannot necessarily be taught but is something that can be learned.

Can I describe it? Not really. It is truly a gut feeling.

Am I right every time? How many LOLs would be too many to write? Ask any editor or agent about the “one they let get away.” But that’s part of the industry.

Once I sent a proposal I thought was marvelous to a variety of editors. One wrote back within an hour saying, “There is nothing new here. Pass.” An hour later a different editor from a different publisher wrote, “This fellow is the best writer I’ve read since Philip Yancey!” Guess which one contracted the book?

Experience

My experience, even that instinct, has been bred through many decades of working within the bookselling industry. Back in my bookstore days, it was that feeling when I held a new release in my hands and the title, cover, and description all shouted, “Bestseller.” The Beginner’s Bible was one. I was the national buyer for the chain at the time. I had only ordered a few copies for each store initially. But when I saw it? Wow! I immediately ordered hundreds of copies for the chain, enough to build a small endcap stack in each store. It quickly became the #1 bestselling children’s book in the industry.

After a while you begin to know, from experience, which topics, genres, titles, etc., have that special “snap” to them. The feeling, nay, the knowing, that this is the one.

Today that “feeling” happens at the proposal stage. It happens with clients all the time since they, too, have the experience and the instinct of what works, which is why they are published regularly. It also happens with the occasional unsolicited proposal.

In fiction it is a combination of brilliant writing (the kind where I don’t realize I’m reading anymore but am inside that world painted by the words of the author). This is a high threshold for the debut author. If the author is already established and coming to me for new or first-time representation, their sales history and network comes into the discussion.

In nonfiction I react like a consumer:
Does the title grab me? It’s that quick. Is the topic a salable one?
Does the author bring something special to the table?
At the same time, I’m thinking of our publishing partners, which ones would find this of interest?
Which marketing team and editorial team could get behind the project?

If all those cylinders are firing at once, then my interest is piqued.

I also look at whether this author is a one-book wonder (nothing wrong with that!) or if there is potential here for a long and successful career.

Blind Luck (or Providence, depending on your theology)

I don’t mean to be cavalier about God’s providence. I hope you understand the point. Sometimes a book is successful without people having anything to do with it.

There are cases inside our agency where I thought a proposal from another agent’s client was unlikely to find a home, only to be proven wrong by a tremendous new contract for that author’s project.

Or there have been times where I thought something might have a modest response in the market only to end up selling over 200,000 copies in less than a year.

Think of some of our industry’s bestselling books. Left Behind was thought to be an okay idea, but no one predicted 70 million in sales. The Shack was rejected by everyone, so was initially self-published. Who could have predicted that Jesus Calling would still be on the bestseller list over 10 years since it was released?

For that matter, did you buy Microsoft stock when it was trading for less than $20 a share in 2009?

This is an old saying: “Even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while.” I’m not sure whether I’m the squirrel or the nut. I’ll let you decide.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is to be right more often than not. And our agency’s longevity and successful authors have been humbling to watch. (That’s where God’s providence and provision are on display.)

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Would You Buy Your Own Book?

When I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw it on the shelf at a major bookstore I am met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls. How would you answer that question?

But the question is meant to ask if your book idea is unique. Whether it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.

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What Makes You Click?

Below is a visual representation of some astounding statistics regarding Internet usage. A little more than twelve years ago I wrote a chapter for a writing book on how to use the Internet for research. I re-read that article recently…umm, Google didn’t even exist back then (founded in September 1998), much less Wikipedia (where the jury is still out if is a reliable source for verifiable facts).

210 billion emails sent per day? I think I get half of those. <!>
20 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute?

We swim in a sea of data. So how do you discern what to read or view? In other words, what makes you buy or click?

Take that same mindset and apply it to your next book idea or article. What would make the consumer buy or click it, especially when faced with a plethora of competing options? If your idea, your novel, your insight, can withstand competitive scrutiny then you have a chance to impact this world. Obscurity equals no audience. That is why publishers are pushing agents and authors to make their “platform” bigger.


Via: OnlineSchools.org

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That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

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Write for Narcissists

Every reader is a narcissist. Hold on, there. Don’t get all mad and sassy yet. Let me explain I often tell developing writers, “No one reads about other people; we read only about ourselves.” Go ahead and quote me, just be sure to give me credit and send me the …

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Resist the Urge to Explain Your Title

For fiction writers, there is an important self-editing technique called RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain). The problem occurs when an author overwrites a scene and explains every thought, movement, etc., or fails to allow the reader to fill in the details, thereby ruining the reading experience. The concept is …

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Lessons Learned As a Literary Agent

Dan is leaving the agency at the end of this month to focus his attention on the work of Gilead Publishing, the company he started in 2016. Here are some parting thoughts. _____ I’ve been a literary agent for about 2,000 of the 13,000 total days spent working with and …

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