With so many people seeking attention from agents, publishers, and other publishing professionals, it could seem like anything you can throw at them can potentially build your case for being published. You can stand out in the crowd if you show them research about your book’s potential market, and all of the great ideas you have to reach that market. This will show you off as a professional, diligent author, right?
Showing your marketing ideas to a publisher as part of your pitch will likely hurt your chances of being taken seriously more than anything.
But how can this be? Wouldn’t the publisher want to know that four million people bought your kind of book last year, and that you have over a dozen ideas of how the publisher can find those people? Aren’t they interested in knowing that you want to be part of the solution?
A lot of would-be authors I’ve spoken to or whose submission materials I’ve reviewed speak to how big their potential market is and how they have all sorts of ideas for getting their book in front of readers. They might suggest that they could go on a nationwide book-signing tour, or that they could have a Facebook party, or that they could have some straight-up traditional advertising plastered all over media. Some of them even include these ideas in their book proposals – in fact, most people include marketing ideas in their book proposals.
While doing market research is great, and having ideas is even better, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding the act of selling content to consumers. When a publisher offers a deal to an author who isn’t in any way established in the book-related marketplace, they’re taking a tremendous risk. Remember, a publisher has to invest not only an advance but the workforce and resources necessary to make that book a reality. They would have to pay for the book tour – which is usually a losing proposition anyway.
This is why presenting a bunch of ideas of what could happen if the book deal was made is a sign that the author hasn’t actually taken the publishers’ needs into account. There is an insinuation from the author that they’re very happy to have the publisher invest all sorts of resources into supporting their book, even though that hardly even happens in traditional publishing anymore.
Publishers don’t want to know what could happen. They want to know what already has happened.
In other words, for an author to make a case that they are a viable commodity – that there is a demand for their content in the marketplace – it is imperative that they don’t just have ideas, but they actually implement them before making their pitch. Not only that, but the ideas have to have worked. Has the author built their own extensive email list of people who has bought multiple products from the author in the past? That’s very good to know. Has the author successfully driven traffic through digital marketing efforts that has successfully converted browsers to customers? That’s very good to know as well. And of course there’s great value in having already made media appearances and taken other significant strides to demonstrate a shrewdness for self-promotion.
Perhaps the only exception to this idea is when an author is writing books for an exceptionally niche market. In the non-fiction world, an author might be writing a book on largemouth bass fishing in eastern Oregon, and a publisher would be interested in knowing that there are half a million people who do that. There might be nearly a million people who participate in a cosplay re-enactment community surrounding fantasy novels, and so a publisher might be curious to know that a novel is going to resonate with that market. But if the author says that the self-improvement industry is over $10 billion per year, that’s nice to know, but it doesn’t in any way demonstrate the author’s ability to access a piece of that.
Publishers want results, not ideas. And your value as an author is defined not by what might happen, but what will happen. The better you can instill that sense of confidence in a publishing professional, the better your chances of becoming a legitimately published author will be.
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