Guest Post: The 4 Platform Elements That Catch an Editor’s Attention

Headshot for Stonesong websiteEditor-turned-Agent Maria Ribas has a guest post for everyone today! It’s a small world in publishing and the story of how Maria and I know each other is a reflection of that. When Maria was an editor at Adams Media I sold her a cookbook called THE WELLNESS KITCHEN. She left Adams Media a couple years ago now and is currently at agent at Stonesong Literary in NYC. Maria represents non fiction and specializes in lifestyle and cookbooks. She has a great post about platform that I think you’ll all learn something from. You can also check out her site for more great information: www.cooksplusbooks.com or follow her on Twitter @maria_ribas.

I started out in publishing as an editor. And about once a week, I would get rejected. Our acquisitions meetings were on Thursday afternoon, and I’d spend much of that morning preparing a pitch for why everyone should get excited about that book I was so excited about.

The meetings would go something like this:

Me: !!!!

Everyone Else: …..

Me: !!!!!!!

Everyone Else: ????

Me: !!!!?

Everyone Else: No.

Having your excitement be met with disinterest is terrible. I know it’s something writers struggle with every day, and it’s a thing agents and editors have to battle through, too. But after some comically sad flops, I finally started figuring out what I needed to say so that people’s ears would immediately perk up.

And what got the most ear “perkage” (that’s not a word, is it?) from acquisitions teams? A platform-savvy author.

Any great agent or editor will tell you that you don’t need a platform to get a book deal as a fiction writer—a wonderful book is all you need. But any great agent or editor will also tell you that you can only avoid these platform-building initiatives for so long. A wonderful book may get you in the door, but only a strong publicity and marketing campaign will get your book back out the door and into readers’ hands.

That’s exactly why coming into the publishing process with those skills and networks in place can make you extremely appealing as an author. I’ve sat in many strategy meetings where an author’s editor, publicist, marketing manager, and agent put all their expertise together to formulate a strong marketing and publicity campaign. Yet the author’s lack of familiarity with the online landscape, and most often, their discomfort with putting themselves out there, crippled their ability to execute the campaign. The worst part is that this makes for a miserable, lie-awake-at-night book launch, because the author is forced to battle the fears and anxieties of platform-building at a time when they can’t afford to stumble.

Don’t let that happen to you! I know I sound like a scare-mongering PSA, but I’ve seen too many incredible books be completely ignored because the author struggled with the foundational skills of publicity and marketing.

If you’re overwhelmed about where to start, here are the 4 platform elements that most stand out to agents, editors, and acquisitions teams:

1. Connections

It’s true that you don’t need to be well-connected to break out in publishing, but it’s even truer that having connections will help you. Editors and agents know how hard it is to get even an ounce of attention for a debut book, so working with an author who has access to the megaphones of tastemakers is a huge advantage.

But remember that this doesn’t mean you need to live in New York City, attend all the right writing programs, or rub elbows with the literati every day. This isn’t necessarily about knowing celebrities, bestselling authors, and high-profile journalists. It’s about forming real connections with the people who are right there with you in the trenches. Get out and meet writers in your neighborhood; join online communities; reach out to that writer you admire just to say hello. Remember that it takes a tribe to launch a book, and it’s a whole lot easier to make real friends when you’re not plying them with information about your book.

2. Press

Similar to connections, press mentions are a way to get attention for a book, and they’re the foundation of a publicity campaign. So when a book comes in to an editor or agent and the author already has press experience ? That’s a big, big plus. Publishers think of it as a two pronged advantage: 1. The author already has a relationship with gatekeepers in other media (reporters, producers, bloggers, etc.) and can call on those connections to get coverage for the book, and 2. The author has already proven that he/she is comfortable with being a public figure and understands that pitching and public speaking skills are essential to the successful promotion of a book. This shows editors that you know how to position yourself and your work in a way that receives favorable attention, and that is always a good thing.

3. Analytics

Ten years ago cold, hard numbers had no place in the acquisitions conversation for a debut author. Today, they can be the #1 reason why an author and agent hears a “yes” rather than a “no” from an editor, particularly in the practical nonfiction world. Again, this is something that’s make-or-break for nonfiction, but still a big plus for fiction writers, too. These numbers are a concrete way of showing editors that you already have a readership—that you’ve spent years building relationships across different online channels, and that those people think what you have to say is worthwhile.

Analytics can be anything from traffic on a website or blog to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media followers.

4. Email List

Yes, you could put this under analytics. But I’m breaking it out for a reason—it’s a breakout number. That means that even if your social media numbers are middling, having a significant email list can get an agent’s or editor’s attention. This is because sending an email is the most direct way to reach potential readers, and it’s also the only way you can (nearly) guarantee that the recipient will see an important announcement. With so many changes to social media algorithms lately, it’s hard to guarantee that important updates (like a launch announcement!) will actually make it to the people who want to know about it. That’s why I preach the gospel of the email list to all my authors—it’s the best thing they can focus on building, because it’s the only channel they can themselves own.

I know platform-building can be overwhelming, fraught with emotional pitfalls, and overall more pleasant to ignore than to face head-on. But the business of publishing, in any genre, always hinges around sales, and the sooner authors can build marketing and publicity skills, the sooner they’ll find their readership. And the less often that their exclamation points will be met with a cold, hard “No.”

Maria Ribas began her career on the editorial side, first at Simon & Schuster and Harlequin Nonfiction, then at Adams Media, where she was an associate editor before moving to the agency side in 2014. At Stonesong, she specializes in practical and narrative nonfiction from authors who understand how a thoughtfully produced, proudly promoted book can grow their brands and their businesses.

She also writes about writing, platform-building, publishing, and cooking her way through books at www.cooksplusbooks.com

 

The 6 reasons why you *must* write a non fiction book proposal

pages-freestockphotosYour platform might be obvious to you, but it needs to be obvious to others.

You’ve built your career to be an expert in your field. You know all the gains you’ve made and what you’ve accomplished, but you need to lay it all out in your proposal. The more about your platform you can include in your proposal the more marketable you’ll seem to agents and publishers. Agents and publishers see proposals every day, so how is your expertise something that’s a bonus to you and the project?

It will show the gap in the market.

How are you going to be unique and say something different? By showing us that no one else has done this before and if they have why you are going to do it better, more comprehensively, or with a different angle. If you aren’t saying something unique, why would a publisher want to publish you? Publishers have experts in many field writing books for various non fiction imprints, how are you going to crack that list? By doing something that no one else has, or if they have doing it more uniquely with a fresh angle.

Unlike fiction authors, you haven’t finished your book yet.

Fiction writers can show their voice and style through the manuscript they submit, but non fiction authors sell books on proposal so you need to use your voice in your proposal writing and sample chapters. The more comprehensive your proposal, the more your voice shines through.

This is your promise to publishers about what you can and will accomplish in your book. Continue reading The 6 reasons why you *must* write a non fiction book proposal

Ask the Agent: Your Questions Answered! Part III

Question from Karma:
When an agent asks for a brief synopsis as part of submission process, is it safe to assume they’d like more than the paragraph that lives in the query letter? A 1-2 page breakdown?
Thanks so much!

When an agent asks for a synopsis they are looking for the bones of the plot to be laid out from start to finish. For some they use it to remind themselves of why they requested in the first place and jog their memory to the project at hand. For some they like to know the outcome to see if it works structurally before they delve into committing to read the whole thing.

Question from Maria: Continue reading Ask the Agent: Your Questions Answered! Part III

Non Fiction: What pushes a proposal to the top?

Non fiction is a hard market to break into right now. It is heavily based on platform and figures from TV and radio. The reason publishers are investing in these projects is the large and defined market that the authors bring with them. So how can you use this to your advantage?

There are a number of problems with the non fiction queries and proposals that come in to us:

Lacking Numbers.

Publishers want to know how many people you reach with your existing platform: blog stats, Twitter followers, website hits, speaking engagements, networked connections, endorsements and more. If you fail to provide these numbers a) it won’t catch anyone’s attention b) we’ll assume the worst and c) we’ll think you haven’t given adequate attention and commitment to your project.

Vague, vague, vague.

Generalizations and vague statements are a major downfall of proposals. Non fiction proposals and content have to provide information in a relevant, controversial, or meaningful way. Edit yourself to find out what you are really trying to say. Find your hook. Give yourself the ammunition to be successful.

Dated content.

Publishing is a slow industry. Non fiction needs to think ahead. Timing with anniversaries (ie. Titantic anniversary books have been in the works for years) and up to the minute scientific or business information are crucial. Non fiction books are commissioned and acquired 18 to 24 months before publication. ‘Crashing’ non fiction still takes 12 months. If you have something to say that is time sensitive, why not publish a short article, start a blog or publish an ebook. Think about whether the timing of traditional publishing is right for you.  Continue reading Non Fiction: What pushes a proposal to the top?