Stacking the Publishing Deck in Your Favor

Print publishing is still a long shot for many writers. So many factors have to come together at the same time to get a publishing contract.

  • Writer must write a good story.
  • Writer or agent must connect with the right publisher for the book.
  • Publisher must like the book.
  • Publisher must think the book will sell.
  • Publisher must have an open slot for the book.
  • Publisher must not have just published a similar book or have one scheduled for release.
  • Editor, art department, marketing and the executives must all agree on and support the book.
  • Schedules for art, galleys, printing and shipping must all align.
  • Mercury must be in retrograde with Jupiter.
  • Seven fireflies must fly in three concentric circles in Central Park.

Okay, so maybe the last two don’t have to happen, but sometimes the entire publishing process can seem to be a mystical ordeal that depends on butterflies in Kansas lighting on a specific flower to see a book published.

There are things you can do though to stack the deck in your favor and encourage a publisher to take a chance on your book.

You can bring your own audience to the table with the book.

Okay, I can hear the groans from here. Yes, that means doing your own promotion. But it’s becoming more important for writers to do their own promotion if they want to continue selling books to Big Publishing and actually have a writing career.

Demonstrating that you already have people who like your writing and are potential buyers for your books is strong proof that your book sales may be better than the average author’s. That’s a big plus for a publisher who’s always looking for better sales and a sure thing. You’re doing some of the hard work for the publisher and they may look on your novel a bit more favorably because of that.

Bringing the Audience

There are lots of options for bringing an audience to the table when you’re submitting and in book negotiations. Some are more favorable than others. I’ve listed some of them here in descending order of importance.

Previous Sales

If you’ve self-published your own print or electronic book and have sold 10,000 copies, that’s a huge amount of social proof that readers already like your writing and are willing to spend money on it. And yes, self-pubbed authors sometimes get picked up by publishers.

Remember Christopher Paolini? He’s the teenager that wrote a fantasy novel, printed copies and then sold them from the trunk of his parents’ car at libraries and schools. Carl Hiaasen’s stepson read a copy of the self-published book and Carl brought Eragon to the attention of his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. The publisher made an offer to publish the first book, Eragon, and the rest of the Inheritance Cycle series. To date, the series has sold 20 million copies. Eragon was also adapted into a film by the same name.

And then there’s Boyd Morrison. He released three books on the Kindle last March and within three months, had sold 7500 copies of them. By the fourth month he was selling 4000 books a month. His agent, who had previously tried to sell his novels and had them turned down, took his electronic sales numbers to Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. The publisher offered him a contract.

If you can demonstrate sales numbers like these, either print or electronic, you have a much better shot of getting a publisher to look at your novel.

Start a Newsletter

If you can write in your query letter that you have 5000 subscribers to your monthly newsletter, what do you think a prospective agent or editor is going to think? You have a built-in audience of people who have opted in to hear from you on a regular basis. Odds are much better that those people are already disposed to buying any novel you write.

Social Media Numbers

This metric includes Facebook friends or fans, Twitter followers, MySpace friends, etc. A similar caveat applies here as to the website visitors. Having a lot of friends or followers is terrific. But what matters most about your social media numbers is not how many people follow or friend you, but how many of them you can mobilize into action–say to buy your book. A Twitter follower may be following you because they like what you say, or simply because they had auto-follow turned on. If you’ve been engaging with your friends and followers and they actually respond to you, then your numbers are a lot more valuable as an indicator of potential book sales.

RSS Subscribers

RSS subscribers use a feed reader to have your blog posts delivered to them, rather than having to visit your website each time you post something new. This is great for your readers, but not so great for you. It’s easy to skim and skip posts in a feed reader, so a subscriber may not be reading everything you post, like your announcement about your latest book release. But it is a higher level of engagement than just a website visitor, so the numbers do count for something.

Website Visitors

This is probably the least compelling number, but it can still be useful. In this case, visitors to your site might read your writing and be interested in it, but they might also visit once and never return. For them to count more heavily in your favor, they need to sign up to hear more from you on a regular basis, like joining your newsletter or subscribing to your RSS feed. However, if you can truthfully report that you get 10,000 visitors to your website each month, that’s a lot better than a site that gets 10 visitors a month. Again, there’s sales potential there.

Ultimately, you want to focus on raising the numbers in all of these categories, but you don’t have to tackle them all at the same time. If you’ve just started your website, start writing the most interesting posts you can and focus on getting visitors to your website. If your website is established, try to increase your RSS subscribers or start a newsletter. Start working on your social media outreach and set up an account on a site you haven’t tried before.

Everything you can do to increase the numbers of people who are aware of you and your writing is another way to stack the deck in your favor in the publishing world.

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