Writers are an enthusiastic and passionate bunch, but when it comes to marketing, we see more confused faces, blank stares, and resistance than in any other industry. It's easy to be idealistic about writing a book, but when it comes down to it, publishing is a business, and authors who want to sell books need to be on top of marketing. To offer some guidance on the topic, here are the top five mistakes we see authors make in their marketing efforts.
#1 Not Doing Any Marketing at All
The worst thing you can do as an author is nothing. Publishers and bookstores alike are concerned about bottom lines and profit margins. They won’t risk their money on a title with no marketing support. Even if you do manage to get it into bookstores, if you don’t drive people in to buy your book, you may be stuck with hundreds of returns as the books that never sell make their way back to the warehouse (leaving you looking like a dud not worth publishing again). In many cases, you have roughly three months from the date of publication to prove the strength of your title. If it doesn’t move, you can say goodbye bookstore and hello backlist.
#2 Waiting Until They’re Published
Everyone wants a bestseller. Did you know that bestseller status is based on velocity of sales and not on the total amount of sales? That velocity is built largely on preorders from retail stores? Retail stores start making their purchase decisions as many as six months before the date of publication, which means you have to prove you have the followers before you even have a book. You need to start building your author platform now. It takes three months to get traction, six months to see results, and a good year to build up a decent platform. Don’t wait.
#3 Expecting the Publisher to Do It All for Them
Again, publishing is a business. If you go out and start a business, you don't expect the bank who fronts the loan to do marketing for you. Publishers take on titles based on the assumption that you will actively sell your book, and they are expecting you to deliver. Even though this can be frustrating, it’s your career hanging in the balance if the book doesn't sell.
#4 Automating Everything
Too many people—not just authors—think that marketing is automated content. It’s not. I’m all for re-purposing content and streamlining processes, but a constant stream of one-way ads and promotional posts is a cop-out. Today’s market demands engagement. They want direct access to the real you in real time. Don’t set your marketing on cruise control.
#5 Not Making It Professional
Last but not least, too many authors plop a DIY website with no content and a few weak profiles on the Internet and attend one writer’s conference and call that being a professional author. You have to dress for success, and your marketing materials have to be up to snuff. You need to invest in professional websites, vibrant materials, and a professional appearance so you always make a great first impression. Any author with the intention of getting into Barnes & Noble should expect to spend at least $5,000 to $10,000 on marketing.
If you are an aspiring author, I implore you to take heed and put some thought and money into your marketing. To succeed in retail, you need great marketing in addition to a great book. Don’t leave it up to chance!
Shennandoah Diaz is president of Brass Knuckles Media, an uncensored PR & Marketing firm catering to creatives and the avant garde. Passionate about education, Diaz empowers creatives by sharing articles and teaching workshops on marketing, social media, and publishing. Learn more at www.brassknucklesmedia.com or at www.shennandoahdiaz.com.
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In this series we will address one of the biggest questions facing authors today: how will I publish my book? As little as ten or fifteen years ago, this answer would have been simple: get an agent, who will then pitch the book to major publishers on your behalf. Now, with the wide variety of options available, it can be hard to decide what route to take. This is why, one post at a time, we’ll dissect each of the options in an effort to help authors better answer that question.
Today we’ll begin at the beginning and talk about “traditional” publishing. Rather than dive into a history of publishing, let’s keep it simple: traditional publishing happens when you sell the publication rights of your book for an advance and royalties on the sale of your book. This is generally the type of deal you’ll find at the “Big Six” publishing houses in New York—Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, and Macmillan.
So what does striking a deal with a traditional publisher entail exactly? We thought it might be easiest to break it down into pros and cons.
- Credibility. Since traditional publishers have been producing high-quality, salable books for quite some time, authors are afforded automatic credibility just by working with them.
- Distribution. Again, because of their reputation in the business, the Big Six’s wholesale and retail connections are very strong. You can rest assured that they know how to get your book into retail, and your agent can help you sell your translation or foreign rights.
- Low up-front cost. Generally, traditional publishers pay for all aspects of book production (which can be rather expensive), and authors are usually responsible for at least some, if not all, of the marketing and publicity. For someone looking for a lower financial investment, this is one of the cheaper options.
- Quality. Acquisitions editors at traditional publishing houses screen all projects so that the overall quality of the publisher’s line is very high. The production process includes everything from seasoned editors working on the book to dazzling design and printing.
- Lack of brand/creative control. As an author, you have little say in the titling, design, printing, or editing of your book. This may be an issue if your brand is tied to your book.
- Low royalties and advances. First-time author advances can range from $2,000 to $20,000, which you have to pay off in sales before you start receiving royalties. Royalties for paperback are typically five to seven percent, and ten to fifteen percent for hardcover. You’ll also need to account for paying a portion of your advance and royalties to your agent, usually around ten to fifteen percent.
- Slow time-to-market. Unfortunately it can take anywhere from two to three years to secure an agent, get a publisher, and actually have your book published and released.
- Ownership. Under the traditional model, authors sell the right to publish their work for a defined period of time. Selling the publication rights gives them little say in the direction, distribution, or amount of time their book spends in the market. If for any reason the author is dissatisfied, they must either buy back their rights before the agreement ends or wait for the book to go out of print (at which time rights revert back to them) before they can take it elsewhere.
How do you get the ball rolling if you think you’d like to go with a traditional publisher? Get an agent! Traditional publishers rarely accept proposals directly from the author, so you’ll need to find an agent to represent you. Here are a few resources:
- Check out the Association of Author Representatives (AAR). Members follow an ethical code, so any agent who asks for a reading fee or money up front is not included in this organization.
- Also take a peek at the Guide to Literary Agents (GLA), available in both book and blog formats, sponsored by Writer’s Digest. The blog discusses the types of work the agent represents and their submission guidelines. You can search by genre to locate agents who will represent your work.
So does traditional publishing make sense for you? If the pros mentioned above sound like what you want and you can live with the cons, perhaps it is. If what you want doesn’t quite fit what this model offers, stay tuned for future installments of the series on publishing. In coming weeks, we’ll be covering new technology, vanity presses, independent publishers, and self-publishers.
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It’s an unfortunate reality that writers are often targeted by scammers and other creeps. They come at us from all directions, finding us at conferences, slithering through our emails, and sneaking into our social media feed. As a writer you need to protect yourself.
Education is your best weapon.
It’s so important that you constantly educate yourself on the industry, who the players are, and what scams are currently in play, and this blog attempts to be part of that education process. With that in mind here are a couple of scams and traps that are popular now, followed by a few more tips to help you protect yourself (and your wallet).
Scam 1: Twitter Spam
Even after a mass outcry by the writing and publishing community, Twitter spam targeting writers still runs rampant. Tweets saying “Writers needed” or “Get Paid to Write” appear with a hyperlink to a shady website. Twitter does a great job of taking them down once you report them. Should you get this kind of spam, report it immediately to twitter by following their reporting guidelines.
Scam 2: Fake Publishers
Another thing you need to watch out for are “publishers” who send you an email, tweet, or mail advertisement saying they are looking for writers. These publishers convince writers to spend thousands of dollars to produce poor quality books that will never see a bookstore shelf. Not all “pay to play” publishers are scammers though. You can pay to be published by a credible indie house--just take note of the quality of the books, the number of awards they have won, and whether or not their titles are distributed to retail chains. Before you fork over the dough, look for the following things:
- What is the publisher’s reputation like within the industry? Look at what places like Writers Digest, Writer Beware, Galley Cat, and Publishers Weekly say about them.
- Do they belong to any reputable organizations? There are several organizations for publishers to join including SPAN, SPAWN, and IBPA.
- What does their author roster look like? You should be looking at a publisher who represents your genre, and thus you should recognize the names of the authors or the titles of their books.
- What does their distribution and marketing package look like? This is especially important if you’re goal is to see your book in Barnes & Noble. You need to make sure that the publisher has a reputable distributor with a history of getting books into retail chains. There are many vanity presses whose books would never make it into B&N because the quality of design and editorial is poor and because the design does not include key elements such as a standard trim size, ISBN, and title on the spine. You also want a publisher who will at the very least market your book to the trade through Shelf Talker, Library Journal, Ingram and other outlets.
Scam 3: Fake Editors/Book Doctors
Writing is a laborious process, and if you find yourself piling up rejection letters you may consider hiring an editor or book doctor to help you. Of course, that has opened up another realm for unqualified “professionals” to siphon money and energy from aspiring writers. When looking for a professional to help you with your book, you need to ask the following questions:
- Do they have a relevant degree? Editing is a specialized field. As such the editor should have a degree in journalism, English, literature or some variation of those.
- Do they have experience in the publishing industry? Freelance editors should pay their dues and get real world experience before soliciting writers. How can they know what publishers want and what sells if they haven’t ever worked in the industry?
- Do they have references? You should be able to talk to past clients to see how their working relationship is and what effect their guidance had on the writer’s project.
A real editor also will NEVER guarantee that you will get published or that our book will be a bestseller. There are so many factors affecting both that it is impossible to make such guarantees. Anyone who says they can is playing with you. Run away!
Of course, as fast as we identify scams a new one pops up. Here are a few more tips to help you protect yourself:
- Always get the opinion of a lawyer before you sign any contract. There are plenty of law offices that offer low, flat-fee contract evaluations. Yes you may have to spend a little money but its much better than getting your bank account and your favorite project tied up with a dirty deal.
- Get connected! Networking with other writers is a great way not only to find out about current scams, but to get referrals for quality products and services.
- Take a class (or twenty). Writer’s Leagues, Writer’s Digest, Media Bistro, and other outlets offer reputable classes on many aspects of writing and publishing. Arm yourself with first-hand knowledge from industry pros.
Above all, follow your gut. If something feels off it probably is. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is not true. If you’re not sure, get a second opinion, but never rush into anything. It’s your money and your creative future on the line.
Shennandoah Diaz is the President of Brass Knuckles Media, an uncensored PR & Marketing firm catering to creatives and the avant garde. Passionate about education, Diaz empowers creatives by sharing articles and teaching workshops on marketing, social media, and publishing. Learn more at www.brassknucklesmedia.com or at www.shennandoahdiaz.com.
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If you’re taking the reins on how your book is being printed, you’ve probably already come to face-to-face with the many available options. We’ve talked before on the Big Bad Book Blog about print-on-demand versus traditional printing, but we thought it might also be helpful to discuss binding style. Paperback, hardcover, mass market—everyone has seen these formats in bookstores, but how do you decide which is right for your book?
Let’s start by clarifying a few terms:
Paperback (also called soft cover or perfect-bound) books usually have a cover made from paperboard or a very thick stock, and the pages are attached to the binding with glue. When we talk about paperback books, we typically mean trade paperbacks, which are the typical 6 x 9 or 5.5 x 8.5–sized books you see in bookstores. Mass-market is a type of paperback you often see used for romance novels or thrillers. Mass-market books are usually smaller in trim size and fatter with a thinner, lower-quality stock and cover.
Hardcover (also called casebound or hardbound) books have covers that are sturdier, usually made from thick cardboard wrapped in cloth. Here the pages can be glued or sewn into the spine, making the spine more flexible so that the book can lay flat when opened. The book title and author's name are often stamped onto the cloth binding, and hardcover books typically come with printed dust jacket with artwork.
So if you’re making arrangements to have your book printed, how do you decide which format is best for your book? Here are the three main determiners.
Cost to Consumer
The retail price a consumer will pay for a book is largely dictated by the format, and retail buyers have strict guidelines about how a book can be priced. A paperback book is often significantly cheaper than a hardcover book (for more on price, see this post). Because hardcover is more expensive to the consumer, you could encounter readers who just don’t want to pay $21.95 for a book they could otherwise get in paperback for at $16.95. This bears repeating—if you print in hardcover and subsequently price your book higher, you risk losing sales because of the high price point. This consumer choice in price is also important considering the rise in ebook sales, which cannibalized hardcover sales in the last quarter of 2010, according to Bowker. That said, there are many reasons a consumer might prefer a hardcover book, including durability, style, and longevity.
Genre is one of the biggest indicators for format. Books that can be found in hardcover are frequently in the genres of business, coffee table/art, first-edition fiction, or collector’s editions of classics. Traditionally, fiction comes out first in hardcover and later in paperback. This is changing due to the economic climate, and to stay competitive many fiction titles, especially from newer authors, are coming out in paperback to entice readers with a lower price point. Penguin recently released a beautiful set of hardcover editions for people looking for that classic aesthetic that only hardcover brings. Topics with rapidly changing information, like health, technology, science, and politics, are usually released in paperback (or ebook) formats, so that new editions can be released and consumed more quickly. Of course, these are broad generalizations meant to provide a little guidance, and doing research on comparable titles can help inform your decision on the proper binding for your book.
Printing hardcover is more expensive than printing paperback, so if you’re on a tight budget, you might get more books for your buck by printing paperback. The margins for hardcover books are usually better than for paperbacks because the cost to consumers is significantly higher than the cost difference in printing—it only costs a little more to print hardcover than paperback and you can charge a lot more in retail. If you do have a strong platform or fan base, or if you have direct sales opportunities, hardcover may be a good way to go. Your clients and fans may be more likely to buy your book even at the higher price point that hardcover commands since they are already interested in your content.
One other point to consider is the sale of paperback rights. If your goal is to be picked up by a traditional publisher, you may want to release first in hardcover (again, depending on the genre). If your hardcover sales catch a traditional publisher’s eye, they may inquire about the rights to your paperback version. It doesn’t really work the other way around, though, so if this is important to you, hardcover may be a good choice.
There is no magic formula for deciding what format to print your book in, and there are a lot of factors to consider. The first step is establishing what your price point will be for any format you are considering. Making sure you have an appropriate price point is imperative for accurately running the numbers on your margins. Once you have looked at printing cost versus retail cost, taking a close look at your genre and comparable titles is a good next step to making a decision on format.
Have Questions? Thoughts? Let us know!
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Whether it's the upward trend of e-book sales, the growth of indie publishers, or the changes surrounding brick-and-mortar retailers, one thing is for certain--times they are a-changin'. Our very own Clint Greenleaf speaks to WritersCast.com about the current conditions and how things may change in the future. Read the article or listen to the broadcast here.
Are e-book trends sustainable? Will you ever part with your print books? Are authors starting to favor alternative publishing options over the traditional deal? Let us know what you think!
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When it comes to building a brand as an author, there is one asset that can’t be measured in dollars: brand equity. The power that comes from building a personal brand that dovetails seamlessly with the book releases can turn perception into profits. While there is no single secret to success when it comes to building a brand as an author, here are ten New Year’s resolutions that you can make in 2011 to strengthen your own personal brand:
1. BE COURAGEOUS, OFTEN
Take bold steps to stand out from the crowd. Reflect on 2010 and look at what you did well, and what you could have been different. Take courageous steps to help your brand stand out in 2011.
2. REVISIT AND REFINE YOUR PURPOSE
Take the time to look back at your mission and vision and ask if you were living it in 2010. Look for places to bring it to life with your team and explore whether you need to refine it. Remember: the words aren't set in stone. If they're not resonating, rewrite and revise!
3. SHUT UP AND LISTEN
There's a lot to learn if you just take the time to listen. Make sure you ask your team for feedback, ideas and suggestions. Listen to your consumers and pay attention to research. Listen to what they have to say and act on what you've heard. Honest, unfiltered feedback is fuel for change.
4. FIND AN ENEMY
An enemy gives you and your team something to push against–something to challenge. An enemy inspires passion! This year, define a clear enemy and rally your team. It could be a competitor, a trend or an element of your internal culture. No matter what it is, create a plan to beat it, share the mission with your team and go forth!
5. STRETCH AND SET SOME BIG GOALS
Set at least one wild and audacious goal for 2011–something you've never tried before. Outline the goal, share it with your team and challenge them to play their part in achieving it. Just don't forget to celebrate the small victories and successes on the journey.
6. BUILD A PASSIONATE AND ENGAGED TEAM
Your most valuable resource is your people. This year, weed out those who don't contribute and aren't engaged. Replace them with active, passionate and energized people who will make a true difference to the rest of your team and your brand.
7. INJECT FUN INTO THE EVERYDAY
One of the best motivators for your team is a great work environment. This year, start doing small things that make your employees happy. A monthly massage for a those who have put in extra hours or a weekly pot-luck for the team. Small gestures or events can make a big difference. And the benefits won't just stop with your team - they will show through everything that your brand does. Happy people equals happy brand.
8. PLAN FOR LEARNING
This year, make a commitment and ensure your company is continually learning and is inspired by the word at large. Create a program that allows your team to take classes. Host a "learning lunch" monthly with guest speakers. Injecting new thinking into your organization will energize your team and, ultimately, benefit your brand.
9. MAKE FRIENDS WITH OTHER BRANDS
Partner brands can be your best ally–whether they're in your space or not. This year, chart a "circle of love," identifying brands with similar values that you'd like to partner with in 2011. Set one member of your team with a potential relationship and have them explore how to collaborate. You'll be surprised by the results, even just the initial conversations you'll have about your own brand.
10. SAY THANK YOU AND SHOW THAT YOU REALLY MEAN IT
And, lastly, do what your mother told you! Thanking people goes a long way to creating valued and appreciated fans–internally and externally. This year, find new ways to show you appreciate your team, your customers and your partners, in ways that truly make a difference in their lives. You'll be surprised and delighted by the results.
Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, a design and innovation consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients include Starbucks, Pepsi, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, Virgin, Disney, Nike and American Eagle Outfitters.
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BBBB Readers Cast Your Vote for Us!
With the seemingly limitless options in publishing today, getting some good advice or an expert opinion is more important to your success than ever. Whether it’s peer reviews of your writing, marketing tips or information about how to publish your book—there is a wide variety of excellent online resources for writers, authors, and small publishers.
Writer’s Digest provides a great service by compiling and releasing an annual list of the 101 best websites for writers--you can see last year’s list here. At the Big Bad Book Blog, our aim is to provide authors with educational resources that make sorting out the publishing world a little easier, so if you have enjoyed our site this year, we would love it if you would vote for us!
To vote for us to be included on the list:
- Just send an e-mail to: email@example.com with “101 Best Websites” in the subject line
- In the body of the e-mail list our blog, www.bigbadbookblog.com and feel free to include any information about why you’re voting for us, although this is not required
- Deadline is January 1, 2011
Thank you and we appreciate your support!
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How a book can expand your client base and establish you as an expert
How do you stay competitive and differentiate your company or brand at a time when cutting through the noise is harder than ever? To get consumers to take notice of you over your competitors, you have to not only demonstrate your knowledge and expertise—you also have to broadcast it.
A book is a great medium to integrate credibility and intellectual capital into your current branding and business development efforts. It acts as a persuasive advertisement for your business, your consulting services, or your personal expertise. When you pick up a good-looking book on management (or sales, or health, or leadership) that’s sitting on the shelf at an airport bookstore, you automatically attribute a certain amount of credibility to that author. A book helps speakers, consultants, and business owners differentiate themselves and their brand from all the other companies out there doing the same thing.
Is a book a good next step for building your brand or growing your business? Here are a few factors that may point to “yes”:
- You’re a consultant in leadership, management, sales, or customer service, and you have years of experience in the business and want to make yourself more visible to potential clients. A book may be a good way to share your take on best practices or new approaches based on your experience.
- You’re a health professional, MD, dietitian, or fitness expert, and you want to publish your winning methods, breakthrough research, or health plan while simultaneously building a wider platform for your services and products.
- You’re a marketer, publicist, or social media expert, and you already have a following online. A book is a logical extension of the platform you’ve already built, and you can pass along your knowledge to other marketers while opening up a new channel of communication for your brand.
These are not the only folks who may consider becoming authors, and there is a wide array of circumstances that may prompt someone to write a book. Other alternative options for sharing your expertise that you may consider are
- Creating white papers or case studies
- Starting a blog or a newsletter
- Producing booklets, workbooks, or pamphlets on your industry or topic of expertise
Though these type of products won’t have the reach of a book, they all provide useful content that you can distribute to current and prospective clients.
For more on books as a branding tool, check out this article from the personal branding blog.
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When you’re deciding how to print your book, you have two main options: print-on-demand or printing on an offset press. What do those two options entail exactly? Print-on-demand, or POD, allows you to digitally print a single book at a time, often using a large laser printer. Offset, or “traditional,” printing involves a huge press that transfers the image from an inked plate to a rubber blanket and then to the paper, and usually necessitates a print run of at least 1,000 units to make economic sense. So which is right for your book? It depends on several factors you’ll want to weigh before making a decision.
You might consider POD if…
You’re planning a limited release and just want your book available online or for order.
If you’re not planning on national marketing or distribution, POD is an easy way for interested parties to find your book and order a copy online. This may be the case if you just want the book available for friends and family.
You don’t want to pay for a large print run upfront.
Offset printing requires a comparatively higher investment since you’re essentially buying 1,000 books (or more). If you’re not in a position to pay for a run of that size or don’t want the risk of not selling all the units you print, POD or a smaller digital print run may be a better fit. With POD, you print just the quantity you need, when you need it.
You have content that needs to be frequently updated.
Books on current events or anything technology related will likely require frequently updated content. With print-on-demand you won’t have old stock lying around once you’re ready to release an updated edition, and it’s easy to add or change content.
You might consider offset printing if…
You’re planning a national release and will be widely distributing and marketing your book.
If you already have a strong platform (link to platform article), have direct sales opportunities lined up, or are planning a big publicity push, an offset run might be a better choice because of the lower price per unit and the higher-quality printing required for retail.
You are willing and able to invest in print run of at least 1,000 books.
As mentioned earlier, there is a larger upfront cost when you print offset, since you’re potentially paying for the printing of several thousand books instead of a few dozen. That said, the more books you print at once, the lower the price per unit—1,000 books is typically thought of as the minimum number of books you’d need to print to reap the benefits of an offset run.
You want or need higher-quality printing or flexibility with printing specifications and technology.
POD printing is restrictive when it comes to your choices in trim size, paper weight, color inks, and printing technologies like embossing, debossing, cut-outs, or foil. Offset presses offer the widest variety and highest-quality printing choices if you are planning on a uniquely sized book or a book with color images or photos.
A few additional notes…
- Shipping and warehousing is something else to consider—with offset printing you’ll need a place to store your books.
- Technology in digital printing has advanced rapidly and there are more choices now than there were just a year or two ago. Options in digital printing will probably continue to increase.
- While print-on-demand is a type of digital printing, it’s important to mention “digital printing” as a separate entity all its own. Digital printing is an option for small print runs (around 25–500 copies) and has fewer printing restrictions than POD. Like POD, you will still typically encounter a higher price per unit than offset, but unlike POD, you will have to arrange for shipping and warehousing.
- POD and digital printing have a quicker turnaround time, usually about 2 weeks, whereas offset printing usually requires 4 to 5 weeks for paperback and 6 to 8 weeks for hardcover.
These are, of course, not necessarily the only points to consider, but they are the most commonly debated issues. As with almost any part of the publishing process, when considering your printing options, one of the most important things you can do is to clarify what your goals are and what resources you’re putting towards your book to help you determine the best option. For more information on printing options, take a look at this FAQ from BookMobile.
Have questions? Leave us a comment on this article and we’ll be happy to answer them.
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One of the most frequently asked questions in publishing is “Do I need a literary agent?” Well, that depends on your goals, genre, resources, and which publishing option you choose.
If you are pursuing a traditional publishing deal, an agent is essential. Most traditional publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning that they only accept manuscripts they’ve commissioned or that are represented by a reputable agent. Not only does the agent act as the middle man—and the first line of defense for the hundreds of slush submissions that publishers would otherwise have to sift through—the agent also acts on your behalf in the negotiation process when a publisher is ready to purchase the rights to your book.
Now, if you are either self-publishing or going after an independent publisher, an agent is probably not necessary. If you are self-publishing, there is no advance to negotiate and no submissions process to get through, eliminating the need for a middleman. Independent publishers often accept submissions from authors and contract directly with them. They typically don’t require a third party to represent you in any part of the process—though you should always have a lawyer take a look at all contracts before you sign.
If you’ve decided a literary agent is the way to go, you need to do your homework to learn the best way to approach the agent and how to identify which ones represent your genre. Start by checking out the Guide to Literary Agents blog and Querytracker.net. We also developed a one-sheet that covers the basics of getting an agent and another on how to craft the query letter, which is the first hurdle in the process.
One thing you have to remember about looking for an agent is that it takes time to find one who is the right fit for you. Publishing is as much about personal preferences as it is about quality writing—which makes it essential that you take the time to find an agent who truly “gets” you and who will be a fervent advocate for you and your work.