Today’s publishing industry operates in an incredibly dynamic environment. The “Big Six” publishers (Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, and Macmillan) are finding themselves on rapidly changing ground, most notably with the appearance of the game-changing e-book. While many in and outside of the industry continue to speculate about “the death of the publishing industry” – here’s a recent piece in the New York Times — chances are that, at least for now, large conglomerates aren’t going to keel over and die.
So, while we enjoy what is perhaps the “old age” of traditional book publishing, what does it take today to work with a major publisher and are they a viable option for you?
As a non-fiction literary agent, I receive several hundred queries from writers every month. Maybe one or two are publishable by a major NY publisher. And yet most of these writers are hoping for that very thing. Clearly, there’s a disconnect.
What aspiring authors often don’t know is that large publishers are working on a rather, well, large scale. They expect book sales to be in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of copies. Furthermore, today’s publishers are typically providing less marketing and publicity support for their books. That means the responsibility falls on the author to sell their book, and to sell it in droves.
For many writers, perhaps particularly those that are right-brained creatives (for example, memoirists), figuring out how to promote their book can be a rather distasteful aspect of publishing. For some, it’s as if their brain doesn’t quite grasp the world of business or marketing, while others simply don’t want to “play the game.” It’s important to note that pursuing a large publisher isn’t for everyone. (And that’s okay! There are many options available in publishing today.)
Having said this, aspiring business authors are often uniquely positioned to work within the model of commercial publishing. They already operate in the world of business, so it’s not such a far stretch to understand how to develop the business of being an author.
If you’re thinking about pursuing a large publisher, consider the following questions:
- Do I have a developed platform? If not, am I willing to develop one before seeking an agent or publisher? Ninety-three percent of published books don’t sell more than 1,000 copies. Major publishers know this and are extremely skeptical about the size of authors’ platforms and the likely conversion into book sales. An editor at HarperCollins told a colleague of mine that they can’t consider an author whose audience is less than 10,000 people. This actually struck me as quite low for a major publisher.
- Do I have a truly unique idea? Hint: Get some feedback about your book concept. Your polling audience should include several people that are well-read and understand the dynamics of commercial publishing, such as published authors, publicists, and editors. Seek the advice of people who operate in the world you want to be in.
- Do I have the passion and determination to work on this book for at least two to three years? It takes an average of one year for your book to hit the bookstores from the time you sign a contract with a publisher, sometimes longer. Authors wear many hats pre- and post-publication, from writing and editing, to promoting their book in a variety of ways. Once the book is published, you’ll want to stay with your efforts to promote the book.
- Do I have financial resources to help me write and promote the book? Some authors can do a lot with a little money, so don’t let a lack of money alone stop you. However, things like creating your own website, traveling for media opportunities, or hiring a publicist or social media consultant, do cost money. Don’t depend 100% on your advance to pay for these expenses. Have your own funds to contribute as well.
If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you may be in a great position to be published.
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Kristina Holmes is an agent at Ebeling & Associates Literary Agency, where she represents a range of non-fiction.
For more insight into what it takes to work with an agent and land a publishing deal, join Highspot for a free teleclass with Kristina on October 28. Full details and registration here.