by Steve Laube
“There are a lot of good manuscripts out there. What we want are those which are great.” I’ve said this may times but thought I should elaborate. Please note the following applies mostly to non-fiction projects.
When it comes to the non-fiction books that attract the major publishers I believe the author must have at least two of three “great” things:
Let’s look at the various combinations to see how this plays out.
Platform + Writing
These books are well written by a highly visible author. They get published but have modest sales. It may be that the concept or idea doesn’t resonate with the readers. It may be the author’s constituents are the only ones who buy a copy. I may be the topic is too academic for a commercial audience. But if you are great writer with a great platform, there is no question you will find a publisher who partner with you.
Platform + Concept
These books are often celebrity driven. The publisher and the author brain-storm for the right package. Or the author’s material is based on a great title from a sermon series or a particularly popular talk. Unfortunately the writing is weak for whatever reason. They converted a sermon series without much editing. Or they hired a ghost-writer who did their best under the time constraints they are put under. You get the idea. And you may have bought a book like this. Famous author with a great book title…but then you tried to read it and it felt forced or manufactured. (Disclaimer: That is not to say that all Platform+Concept books are poorly written. My attempt here is highlight great writing versus good.)
Concept + Writing
This is where most writers land. They aren’t famous, yet. They have a great concept and are an amazing writer. The combination can overcome a lack of platform in the right circumstances. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. We’ve frequently sold unpublished authors to a major publisher because the book idea is tremendous and the writing is stunning. (Our agency has dozens of fiction and non-fiction clients whose first book was sold by our agents.) And that should be an encouragement to anyone who is working on their first book. It is not easy but it can, and still does, happen.
Platform + Concept + Writing
There are those magical books where all three elements come together and create a bestseller that outsells even the wildest projections. Can you name a couple that, in your estimation, fit all three criteria?
Is there a broad stroke area that is missing in this overview?
Is this a helpful way to think about platform vs. no-platform?