Some notes and suggestions on selling your work


My last post promised a piece on what to do once you have your manuscript completed.

So here it is, with no holds barred, no dreams left standing and bring your own band aides.

So there you are, happy as a clam in a tidal flat. You’ve got the manuscript of your very first ever novel in your hand.

Now what?

If you wrote it just to write it, and have no intention of ever doing anything so crass as selling it, find a vanity publisher to print out a few hundred copies and ship them to you. Then just pat yourself on your back, slide a copy of the book onto your bookshelf, and stand back and admire the lovely cover. You’re done, and that’s that.

If it’s a family history, you might hand a few out every year as birthday and Christmas presents, and if it’s the history of how you built your company, make sure you give a copy to every employee when you hire them.

But if you wrote it hoping to become a successful author, your joy and pleasure in finally getting your first ‘project’ finished will be very short lived. The decisions you must make are many, and without rock-solid information, you can’t do anything.

This is what you should have done when you began to write the first draught:

You should have contacted a few professional editors, and compared quotes. Nothing will improve your chances of marketing your work successfully as a well-edited manuscript. If you lack the funds for a professional editing job, find a retired English teacher who loves to read and have him or her do the editing for you. And be sure to give your ‘editor’ a few complimentary lines on the ‘Acknowledgements’ page.

By the time your manuscript is in the hands of your editor you should also know if you are going to seek an agent to market your work to publishers (Traditional Publishing), or self-publish. In either case, you will find that you and you alone are going to be responsible for any and all promotion and marketing of your work.

Traditional publishing may or may not net you a small advance, and may or may not get you a line or two in Publisher’s Weekly, And your book might or might not wind up on bookstore shelves (for a few months). And your book might or might not sell enough copies to pay back the publishers for whatever advance they did give you.

But probably not.

There are about 75,000 new titles produced each year in the United States alone. Your novel is only one of them, and nobody knows you from Adam (or Eve, for that matter).

If you are young, believe you have written the Great American Novel, and have lots of time and money to invest in selling yourself and your manuscript to an agent, your path runs straight to your local bookstore. Look for the shelf that holds all of the writer’s guides to finding an agent.

Good luck. Agents are very busy people who know without any doubt that their time and money are far more valuable than yours. You are an author, and a potential source of income for any agent. But that potential is just that. You have to prove yourself to them, and you have about thirty seconds to do that.

But getting an agent to invest that thirty seconds of his or her time means that your ‘Pitch’ has to first get beyond the agent’s guard dogs (otherwise known as minions, mail clerks and/or secretaries).

Those 75,000 authors and their titles were selected out of hundreds of thousands of submissions to literary agents, most of which never made it past the guard dogs.

Those guides on that books shelf in that book store will tell you how to do this. Read lots of them, and when you have developed a list of agents who are familiar with your chosen genre, be sure to check their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. If you fail to do this, your pitch will not even be read by a guard dog, much less a literary agent.

You will need to invest at least a year of your time searching for an agent, and if this is your very first ever novel, probably more than a year. During that time, between mailing out (email or snail mail, depending on the submission guidelines of the agents you have selected) be sure your work is properly edited, and be sure you keep working on your second or third novel.

Publishers specialize in different genres. Some only handle sci-fi/fantasy, others handle only romance, or westerns or mysteries or erotica, and so on.

Traditional publishing houses have a big problem (well, they have a few really big problems, but we’re only going to discuss one of them here). They work on a very tight margin; fully one half of their annual book list will ever show any sort of profit. They know this up front, so they are very anxious to avoid investing a single penny in a loser title, and equally anxious to avoid paying successful authors a single penny more than they absolutely have to.

And they all have several editors, each of which has a relationship with several literary agents who try to market new titles to them on a weekly or monthly basis. And each of those editors is desperate to show a profit for their publishing house. And equally desperate to avoid loser titles.

Those 75,000 authors and their titles were selected out of hundreds of thousands of submissions to literary agents, most of which never made it past the guard dogs.

So if you do chose to go the Traditional publishing route, you need to have everything going for you from the start, or you will never make it past the guard dogs. There are lots of them, and they all have a vested interest in not screwing up.

Authors are a prey species in the jungle world of Traditional Publishing. You might actually get a publisher to sign with you, and give you an advance on your novel. It is very likely the very last money you will ever see from the sale of your work.

Whatever else you do, do not ever quit on yourself, or your dreams. Authors produce dreams for other people, and people need dreams.

You sell dreams.

Agents market dreams to publishers. They need marketable dreams, and whatever else your particular dream may be, it must be marketable, or no agent and no publisher will be willing to invest his or her time in a product they cannot sell.

Good luck.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, is like a long, drawn out cat fight. Instead of being a member of a prey species, you are a predator.  You compete directly with every other author for the eyes (and dollars) of readers.

Instead of spending a year or more searching for a literary agent, you invest your time and money in finding a publisher who will format and print your manuscript in either paperback, or hardback or eBook format, to your specifications. Right up front, you make decisions on cover art and page formatting so your book looks exactly as you imagine is should.

Once you begin to consider self-publishing, join a local Writer’s Group in your area, and join several on-line writer’s groups, as well. Listen well, ask intelligent questions and consider any recommendations very carefully. Writers are a gregarious bunch for the most part, and they are always very helpful to new authors.

Do not sign ay agreements with a publishing house until you do your research, and research very thoroughly. Let your writers groups (local and on-line) know you are in the market for a publisher who works with self-published authors and get several recommendations. There are a few very reputable publishing companies out there, and many not-so-reputable.

Ignorance can be very costly. Caveat emptor, as they say in the old country.

As I mentioned briefly above, you still have to handle all of the marketing of your work. So if you know absolutely nothing about marketing and selling books, now is the time to rectify this short-coming in your education.

Actually, this is something you should have done while you were writing your manuscript and chasing down a literary agent (and here you thought all you had to do was write the Great American Novel, didn’t you?).

What you did in those two years while writing your novel was to produce a ‘product’. Now you have to market it to potential customers.

Customers? You mean I have to deal with customers?

You betcha.

Even if you’d managed to find an agent who believed in you and your novel and he/she convinced a publishing house that you really did write the Great American Novel, you would still have to do all of the marketing and promotion and selling yourself.

Not much of a deal, is it?

We’ll go into what kind of customers you need, how you find them and how you sell to them next week. Needless to say, you have your work cut out for you. All you have to do is figure out how to fit the pieces together.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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