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Bestseller Wisdom

Books It's hard to beat insight from someone who's been there in the trenches, dealing with the same issues you face.  That's why this short article in The Chicago Tribune caught my eye today.  And as reporter Ann Meyer rightfully states, "creating a bestseller involves more than crafting good content."

She also notes that "attracting an agent or publisher's attention can be trying."  But here's the kicker...  The #1 reason why authors often get frustrated trying to connect with a publisher?  I believe it's because they (the author) don't bother researching publishers to learn about their focus, series, etc.  I've been pitched all sorts of ideas by authors for books that not only wouldn't fit my program, but wouldn't make sense anywhere else at Wiley either.  It's clear these authors were just taking a shotgun approach and sending their idea to as many publishers as they can.  I can't think of a better reason to quickly lose interest in a project.

Meyer nails it when she says "Entrepreneurs can increase their odds by researching which publishers are most likely to be interested in their book idea."  Absolutely, and the same goes for agents.  I'll bet agents get quite a few inquiries about projects that are way outside their areas of expertise; the author could have figured this out by simply visiting the agent's website in advance.

Finally, here are a couple of interesting stats that show the ratio of author proposals to actual publications:
"Agate receives about 800 proposals a year, yet publishes just 20 books annually, Seibold said. Sourcebooks receives more than 1,000 proposals each year, with more than half coming from agent-represented authors, and publishes several hundred."

If you're an author with a proposal in hand, what are you doing to stand out from all this noise generated by the rest of the crowd?



Hi Joe,

I totally agree that the burden lives with the wanna-be author to educate themselves about publishers and agents, but I wonder if publishers are doing everything they can to be open, public, and findable in regards to their core business -- finding, cultivating, and publishing new authors.

Years after the "naked corporation" was vogue I would guess publishers rank in the bottom half of companies on the transparency index.

You are a publisher that blogs. That is awesome, but how many of your counterparts do the same? Better question -- how many editors are on the internet building a relationship with wanna be authors?

Chris Webb is one of the few I can think of. Kudos to him, but shouldn't every editor be there? Wouldn't make sense to have that be part of your job as an editor? We expect it of authors????

True. True. Blogging isn't for everyone, but publishing houses don't typically buy adwords on searches relevant to being published for the first time. Most often the big five houses don't even appear in the top ten natural search results. It is as if they don't want to be found.

Yes the incoming requests-to-be-published can be numerous and overwhelming for an agent/publisher, but I think it is alot like email, a soft-skill you have to learn to manage. Great inbox managers know how to educate their consitutents before anyone sits down to write anyone else an email. Publishers/editors need to do the same. It is the recipients responsibility to educate the sender.

A gigantic FAIL to those who refuse to manage the inflow efficiently. In that case it is not the authors fault.

As an acquiring editor, if you declare inbox bankruptcy your company might as well declare real bankruptcy.

I know things aren't as black and white inside a publishing house, but I thought I should bring up these points to spur discussion.

Hopefully, I am successful...

Joe Wikert

Hi Mark. You make quite a few valid points. I'd like to think more and more publishers and editors will jump into the blogosphere, for example, but I realize it's a big commitment. Quite frankly, I doubt I would have ever done so without Robert Scoble and Shel Israel nudging me.

I also wonder how many publishers and editors feel like they're sinking in a pile of proposals that they already can't get to, so why bother trying to drum up more? I think that's the wrong way of looking at this, but I'll bet it's top of mind for many of my publishing colleagues. They better way to think about it is that you're helping provide a clear message about who you are and what you're looking for; so while the poor fit submissions aren't likely to go away initially, one would hope they'd drop at some point and you'd also see a measurable increase in the incoming high-quality proposals. Then again, maybe I'm just way too optimistic on this (for a change!), but that's one of the reasons I've kept at it.

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