Tag s | Get Published

When Your Proposal Doesn’t Sell

It happens. Despite all efforts and good intentions, not every proposal we shop will end up being contracted by a major publisher. Of course, our agency tries our best to keep that from happening. We carefully choose which projects and authors we represent. We work with our clients to create and develop top-notch proposals. And our success rate is extremely high.

But that success rate is not 100%.

Here are four examples of projects I represented in years past that did not sell to a major publisher (but great projects nonetheless):

  1. The autobiography of a well-known, former NFL coach who became a follower of Christ late in life. In his later years, he devoted considerable time to prison ministry. The story gave deep background into his time in the NFL.
  2. An extraordinary graphic novel series. It was ahead of its time, but no publisher was willing to take the obvious risk to produce and distribute the project. The author-artist later found his own backing and formed a company to create the material. They found a nontraditional distributor and ended up selling more than 250,000 units.
  3. An already self-published book on the importance of character in a person’s life, what it is and how to cultivate it. The author was a judge and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his state. His credentials were impeccable. He was media-ready and spoke regularly on the topic.
  4. A supernatural fiction manuscript that caught my eye for its great story line and wonderful storytelling. The combination of being a debut author and having a thinly veiled science-fiction thread caused it to be rejected by everyone. The author shelved it and wrote another novel, which didn’t sell. The author shelved that one and began writing nonfiction where the author has become quite successful.

So what do you do if your project doesn’t capture a major publisher’s attention?

Try Again
See the fourth example above where the author did not give up, even switched to a different discipline entirely and found the perfect outlet for his talent. This is the most-common solution for professional writers. Tears of frustration may be shed, but they step back and come up with a new idea.

There’s more to this story! After developing a following as a nonfiction writer and a platform, I sold that original novel to a publisher nine years after the original attempt. Then seven years after that the author was able to publish yet another novel.

Do It Yourself
Let me reiterate that self-publishing is always an option if (a) you have an audience to which to sell the book, (b) you have the gumption to be an entrepreneur and sell your project successfully, and (c) you have the money to invest in making it an excellent final product. The first example above is what this author did. He was well loved in his community, even did local TV commercials, and thus had a ready-made market for his story. (He passed away a couple of years after publishing his book, but it remains in print to this day.) This is a perfect example of where self-publishing makes a lot of sense.

Find Another Way–Anything Is Possible
The second example above illustrates this strategy. The author did not take no for an answer and ended up with a company behind his work.

The judge, example three above, retired from his position and continued to speak and influence those around him. He continued to sell his self-published book to his listening audience. He was no worse off than before he approached me for representation. He gave it a shot, and it didn’t work out.

Or do as one lady did at a writers conference. During her 15-minute writers conference appointment, she asked me point-blank, “Do I have what it takes to be a successful writer?” I stammered a bit, not wanting to hurt her feelings. “You have the foundation of a good story, but it is going to take a lot of work to get it ready to be competitive.” She thanked me and abruptly ended the meeting. Later that afternoon she came bounding up to me full of smiles. She proclaimed, “I quit! I called my husband and told him I’m quitting this writing stuff and taking up knitting instead. I’m so happy! Thank you for telling me how much work it was going to take. I’d rather spend that time doing something I know I will enjoy.” The moral of that story is to ask yourself the ultimate question of whether you are willing to continue to work hard in order to overcome any objections to your next idea.

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[A version of this post ran in February 2013. It has been thoroughly revised and updated.]

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Coming Full Circle

by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Today’s guest blog is from Kim Vogel Sawyer a best-selling author whose books have topped the sales charts and won awards since 2005, when she left her elementary school teaching job to write full time. Her books have won the Carol Award, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and the Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Her stories are designed to offer hope and encouragement to her readers. Kim sees a correlation between the writing of a good story and God’s good plan for every life, and she hopes her stories encourage readers to seek God’s will in their own personal lives. Bestselling author Tracie Peterson says: “Kim Vogel Sawyer is an exceptional storyteller who is sure to please fans of historical fiction. Her attention to detail and love of God shines through.”

In addition to writing, Kim Vogel Sawyer is a popular speaker, freely sharing her testimony of God’s grace and healing-both physical and emotional-in her life. She and her husband Don reside in Hutchinson, Kansas, and have three daughters and four grandchildren. She is active in her church and loves singing, acting, playing handbells, quilting, and chocolate!

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In 2002, as my health was crumbling to the point that full-time teaching was no longer a possibility and I didn’t know what I was going to do, my dad–feeling as though I needed a major lift–took it upon himself to make my publishing dream come true. He sent a story I’d written, titled A Seeking Heart, to Steve Laube, who, at the time, owned a self-publishing company called ACW Press. And Steve agreed to help me get it into print.

Thus began a journey beyond the scope of my wildest imaginings.

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Ten Commandments for Working with Your Agent

By request, here are my Ten Commandments for working with your agent. Break them at your own peril.

Thou shalt vent only to thine agent and never directly to thy publisher or editor. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s success. Be content with thine own contract. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs.
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Letting Go of Your Babies

One of the worst mistakes writers can make is being too possessive of their words. They fight for each adjective, adverb, and conversation tag.

My early writing suffered from too many words. I once wrote an artist didn’t “really” understand the difficulties of making a living in his profession. The editor kindly cut all instances of “really,” “just,” “so,” “very,” and other weak words experienced editors call “weasel” words.

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Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

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Always Be Learning

During the Summer of 1978 the #1 hit on Christian radio was the classic “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (click here to listen). That same Summer I attended a Christian music festival in Estes Park, Colorado and decided to take a class on songwriting being taught by Jimmy and Carol Owens. I settled into my chair near the back of the room with notepad ready.

Just as the class was about to start a bearded man slide in the chair next to mine….notepad at the ready. To my astonishment it was Don Francisco. (I recognized him from his album cover.)

Here was a singer/songwriter who had the number one hit in the nation…taking a class on songwriting! What did he think he needed to learn?

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Book Manufacturing

If you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.

The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.

The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.

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