A QUICK OVERVIEW OF PUBLISHING: The Importance of a Marketing Plan

Never has getting published been more difficult than it is today. With computers, more people working at home, and the use of digital, lap-top, electronic, print-on-demand, and self-publishing, in addition to traditional publishing, manuscript submissions are at an all-time high. Publishing houses are inundated. With competition being at the level it is, less than 3 percent of all submissions are accepted for publication. This is astounding! Because of this, it is absolutely imperative that writers do everything they can in order to create their own edge. That includes preparing a workable, realistic marketing plan.

Whether a writer is approaching an agent or a publisher, professionalism is a must. This means clean submissions, properly formatted, carefully edited, and sent to the correct editor or agent with an appropriate cover letter. It also means following the specific guidelines requested by the agency or publishing house you are submitting to. It is like going to war with defined rules of engagement, beginning with the elements that must be included in a good cover letter: title of manuscript, word count, background information on the author, brief synopsis. Attach sample chapters and, of course, your marketing plan. This is such an important “first impression” step to getting a manuscript read that many times a writer will pay a professional editor to write the cover letter.

It used to be that once a publisher contracted for a work, he took on the responsibility of also marketing that work for the purpose of gaining the most sales. The most an author had to do was occasionally show up at a book signing event that had been arranged by the publisher. Today, most publishers reserve the bulk of their marketing budgets for their big-name authors already under contract. All of the other authors pretty much have to fend for themselves. This means going out and beating the bushes for book signings, speaking engagements, attending book events, writing news releases and anything else you can do in order to sell your book. Creativity is a definite plus.

I first got the idea for my novel, Shyla’s Initiative, when I read an article about a little-known offshoot from the ancient religion, Santeria. The story explained how even today it is practiced throughout the country, especially in South Florida. I immediately began visiting all of the botanicas I could find, interviewing Santeria priests who would talk to me. This background paved the way for Shyla’s Initiative, my story of a writer who was starting to feel trapped in an unhappy marriage. The fact that she had married outside of her culture contributed to the problem, among other things. Throughout the story, there is an underlying, mysterious thread that eventually connects my protagonist, Shyla, with Santeria that eventually reveals her purpose in life. In doing my research, one Santeria priest in particular was helpful and invited me to one of their services that included animal sacrifice. I even offered to pay him for any inconvenience, but he adamantly refused, saying he would be punished by the orishas if he accepted money. He asked only that I give him a copy of my book when it was published.

When my book was published, I returned to the botanica several times in order to give him a copy of my book, but he was never there. Weeks passed, and with the passage of time I began to get an overwhelming feeling of apprehension that I had failed somehow. Perhaps I had even angered the orishas.  I needed to get my book to that priest!

Eventually I did, and even though it had been several months since I had spoken with him, he recognized me. He smiled when I gave him a signed copy of my book, then he spoke in the ancient language of Santeria. I believe it was a blessing and not a curse since my feelings of apprehension quickly disappeared. After that I went back to all of the botanicas I had visited when gathering my research and left books for them to sell. It turned out to be a wonderful marketing tool.

So how do you go about preparing a marketing plan to include with a submission—either to an agent or to a publisher?

BE SPECIFIC: What can you do, personally, to promote your book? For example, if you are a school teacher, perhaps you can promote in the schools. What about business connections? Your activities in the church or synagogue? Does your best bud belong to a book club? Will the owner of the little gift shop you like to browse in be willing to display some of your books and sell them on consignment?

My novel, The House of Kane, is a mystery that takes place inside a major New York publishing house. Aislinn Marchánt, a writer and editorial consultant, is hired by the major New York publishing company, Kane Publishing House, to help determine why several submissions sent to them have mysteriously disappeared only to be published later by another publisher. Are the editors at Kane simply not being diligent enough with the in-coming manuscripts, or is there something more sinister going on? Because of my work within the publishing industry both as a published author and a literary agent, I was able to realistically portray what actually goes on with submissions behind the closed doors of major publishing houses, and because of this realism and the story itself, The House of Kane was considered for a Pulitzer nomination. Two years later, my novel The Gospel According to Prissy was also considered for a Pulitzer.  I didn’t win a Pulitzer, but the fact that both books were submitted for consideration has been a useful marketing tool.

BE PREPARED: Once your book gets published, marketing takes a great deal of time and preparation. Remember, the publisher is saving his marketing money for his big-name established authors, so it doesn’t hurt for you to plan a budget as well. Know in advance how much you are willing to invest in marketing your book. Personally visit the bookstores in your area and outside of your area if you are able to travel to let them know you are available to do book signings. Show the bookstore managers your book and leave information that they can review later. Send out news releases. Send out announcements. And get involved with social media on the internet.

BE CREATIVE: Think outside the box. One of my own personal favorite things to do in marketing is to introduce myself to the directors of libraries locally as well as regionally. I do this in person whenever possible thereby building a relationship with the people who work in the library. Then, when my next book is released, I take a copy by to donate to the library or to their “Friends of the Library.” Invariably, that leads to sales.

You will be able to come up with your own ideas based on what is going on in your life. Organize those ideas into a good plan that you can include with your submission to an agent or publisher. You will be surprised how this one element of your submission will contribute to your getting an offer of a publishing contract.

Good luck!

Barbara

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT AGENT

I have just returned from speaking at the Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference on Saint Simons Island, and I wanted to share some of the things I brought back with me.

The conference was held at the beautiful Lodge at Sea Island Resort , and some of the amenities included “butlers” (several), a rose petal bubble bath, and cookies with milk at bedtime. As if that weren’t enough to make me glad I had been invited to be a guest speaker, the people who were responsible for organizing the conference couldn’t have made me feel more welcomed. Without doubt, this was one of the better conferences I have attended.

Partial View Of Lobby, The Lodge at Sea Isle, St Simons, GA

I have discovered over the past sixteen or so years that I have been giving talks on writing, or being an agent, or on the publishing industry in general, the make-up of each audience is different, and because of that, the questions following my talks seem to take on different patterns. At the Scribblers’ Conference, the room was booked full, so I had the opportunity to answer several excellent questions that fell primarily into the category of how to find an agent. I will briefly summarize some of my comments here.

There is no question that if you have a manuscript ready to submit, you are much better off if you have a good agent to represent you. Most publishers now only consider manuscripts that are agented.  Another big advantage is that an agent takes on the responsibility of keeping track of submissions thereby freeing up your time to write. With the right background and experience, a good agent will know which editors in which publishing houses to approach with your work.  If you are fortunate enough to receive an offer of a contract, your agent will know what to negotiate in that contract and can advise you on the things you should accept.  Once the contract is executed, a good agent will follow your manuscript through the publishing process and offer advice on such things as cover design and marketing.  When the book is released, an agent will continue to work with you on marketing ideas, keep track of royalty payments, investigate subsidiary and foreign rights as well as film and television opportunities, and be the go-between for you and the publisher should any problems or disputes arise.  I have overly simplified the work of an agent here, but this gives you a general idea of what an agent does.

If you decide that you want an agent to represent you, it is often just as difficult to find the right agent as it is to find a publisher.  Do your homework and work up a list of agencies that work with the type of material you have written.  Writers’ Market and Literary Marketplace are two excellent resources that list agencies, what they represent, and how they wish to be contacted.  Once you have a list of potential agents, look at their web sites. What books have they placed?  Do they charge fees?  How long have they been in

Colonnade, Golf and the Sea at The Lodge

business?  Do they give the appearance of professionalism?  Do they look like a company you want representing you? Once those questions are answered, you should have a good feel for which agencies you want to contact.  Each agency has its own submissions policies, and you will need to follow those guidelines.  Response time can vary from one week to three or four months, so be patient.  If you are contacting several agents at once, mention it in your cover letter.  (I will talk more about what makes a good cover letter in another blog.)  If you receive an offer of representation, is that agent someone you feel comfortable with?  Do you feel that person shares your passion for your writing and will work hard to find a publisher?  If so, you are on your way toward getting published.  Keep in mind, though, that having an agent doesn’t mean you will automatically receive a book contract and a huge advance.  It is only a tool to help you get published.

Barbara