In my last post I laid out the myth of traditional publishing and began to share reflections on a recent podcast by Jeff Goins. In the podcast Jeff interviewed Chad Allen, the Editorial Director for the Baker Publishing Group (one of the “Big Five” publishers). Click here to go back and read the post.
In the podcast, Mr. Allen explained there are three things he looks for in a book when he is choosing works to publish:
- a great concept,
- an influential platform,
- and terrific writing.
WHAT IS A GREAT CONCEPT?
Wisely, Goins’ asked Chad Allen to give examples of “a great book concept.” In reply Chad referred to a business podcast in which the podcaster asks, “How do you know when a business idea is a good idea?” Chad went on to explain that unique ideas, totally new ideas are not successful ideas. If your product is in a family of other related products, but is distinctive within that family, then you maybe on to something. But if you’re producing something no one has ever thought of, the chances are your idea may not be such a good idea.
To translate this into the publishing world: if your book has competitors but is offering something distinctive, then you might be on to something. If you are saying, “There has never been a book about this!” then publishers aren’t interested. Zombie stories, for example, are popular right now. Zombie TV shows, novels, and movies are abundant. If you can figure out how to enter the zombie genre in an interesting way, then publisher will give you a look. But if your idea is completely unique and new, publishers probably aren’t going to be interested.
Modern writers need to understand the market. If we want to attract publishers to our work, we need to understand the trends and grab them by the tail while they are hot. We don’t want to compete in over crowded markets, but we also don’t want to be in non-existent markets. Our books need to enter ongoing conversations and do something interesting within them. In essence, our books need to be the most interesting people at a cocktail party.
Don’t be 100% original. Don’t create something out of nothing. Take something that is there and do something unique with it.
This is a problem for authors like me who are generally out of touch with contemporary trends. I’m a 37 year old dad. There is nothing cool or hip about me; but my head is full of stories I want to share. Hitting a cultural conversation wave at the right moment would be absolute luck for me.
WHAT IS AN INFLUENTIAL PLATFORM?
Goins went on to ask Mr. Allen about platforms. Jeff asked what are publishers looking for? “Is there a magic number when you see it you think, ‘Done deal. I’m signing them’?”
Chad replied, “Your email list is the most important metric. Not just the number of subscribers but how engaged is that list. What percentage people are opening your emails?”
A “warm” list that would get his attention?
10,000 engaged email subscribers.
To give you an idea of how difficult this number is to attain, I’ve been told by other writers that I’m “aggressive” and “prolific.” Here is what I’ve been able to build:
- I blogged for five years at “You See Kids.” Through that blog I gain roughly 100 email subscribers.
- I published two books and gave copies away in exchange for email address. I aggressively marketed the second on and added another 120 emails to my list.
- This summer I launched a fiction website I share with ten other authors. That has gained about 140 subscribers.
- For the past two years I’ve contributed regularly to “The City that Breeds” (a Baltimore focused humor blog) and a several times to “The Write Practice” (a blog for writers).
- Add to this the close the 300 personal email addresses of friends and family I’ve accumulated in my email address book.
Five years of active writing = 660 email address. That’s 6% of what I need to attract the attention of a publisher like Mr. Allen. At my current pace I’ll achieve 10,000 email addresses in 83 years.
THE CONCLUSION I’M LEFT WITH
Please understand, I’m not criticizing Mr. Allen. I don’t fault him for the system he lives in. It’s simple supply and demand economics. Large supply of authors + decreasing supply of readers = highly selective traditional publishers. Publishing is a business. That doesn’t make it evil. It’s just the reality.
So where does this reality leave me?
I could take my measly 660 person email list and my unproven ideas, join the mob at Mr. Allen’s gate, and hope to be noticed.
And there is a chance that, with a lot of luck, someone on the wall will look down and give me shot. People win the lottery. It happens. They win it enough that authors like me keep buying tickets hoping we will be one of the lucky ones.
Maybe it’s how I’m wired, but trying to stand out in a mob isn’t attractive to me. I tend to be the guy who tilts when he should yield (to quote A Knight’s Tale). I’d rather break convention and forge my own way.
So I publish my own books. I just put out my third. It’s better than the first two. My fourth will come next month. It will be better than the previous three. Onward and upward, learning from my mistakes as I go.
Each step forward comes with new challenges. Recently I began feeling the need to bring a team around me. I’d love to have a graphic designer to create professional covers for me. I’d love to have an experienced editor to work through the novel I’ve been hammering out over the past two years. I’d love to have a web designer take a look at ShortFictionBreak.com and make it more user friendly.
All of this is going to cost money. The projects are too big for me to expect people to do for free. In an attempt to raise funds, I launched a Patreon site.
Patreon is a place where people can financially support the work of artist they love. It was originally created for people who make YouTube videos. I’m attempting to re-purpose it to meet my needs.
Like patrons of the past, in return for their support these people receive art. Last week I sent an email to everyone who gave to my Patreon account containing seven articles, one short story, and a book I published. To those who gave $7 or more, I put a paper back copy of the book in the mail.
And I loved it.
That’s the thing about writing. I write because I want to share my thoughts with others. Sending out the email and packages of work gave me great joy.
Shameless plug: I’d love it if you would consider becoming one of my patrons. Go to my page and sign up. For a $1 a month you will get a monthly email full of great stories and essays that will challenge and feed your soul. Click here to get started.
I don’t know many other authors doing it this way, but it feels right to me and I’m having fun.
In my next post, I’ll reflect on some bad advice I recently read.