2 Types of Flawed Thinking That Are Getting in the Way of Landing a Book Deal

how to get a book deal
thought patterns that hold you back

I was thinking about the last batch of queries I caught up on last week, and I was trying to pinpoint why I passed on so many of the nonfiction projects.

On the surface, it’s easy to quantify the most common reason for passing—around 350 of the approximately 500 rejection letters I sent were because the author’s platform wasn’t strong enough yet.

The “yet” is the crucial part of this. I was so happy to see so many well-written queries and proposals with sound market research, unique concepts, and strong sample material. But when I looked at the marketing and publicity section, there were too many instances of “I will do this…” rather than “I have already done this.”

Which leads me to believe that the deeper issue is more about timing and perspective than hard numbers. I think two things are happening:

  1. Potential authors are looking for book deals too early in the process of their platform-building.
  2. Potential authors see publishing a book as the best way to launch their platform, when it’s actually a way to grow an already robust platform.

The only solution I see? Patience and prolonged effort. Building a platform is about more than building a website. It’s about building an audience—a tribe of true fans who appreciate what you do. When you focus on creating a conversation with the people you’re trying to help, then the traffic numbers, the social media numbers, and the press hits will happen organically. This takes years, not months. As literary agent Carly Watters explains, the myth of the overnight success is just that: a myth.

So don’t beat yourself up if building your platform is taking a lot longer than you expected. You can bet everyone else is struggling, stress-eating ice cream, and glaring at their stats, too.

If you’re having a hard time opting out of the impatience/comparison game, treat yourself to this gorgeous print by Emily McDowell:

I Will Not Compare Myself to Strangers on the Internet


6 thoughts on “2 Types of Flawed Thinking That Are Getting in the Way of Landing a Book Deal

  1. The thing that is interesting in today’s publishing marketplace is the very fact that authors have to have a platform already built before even being able to get a book out of the stable. This was not always so. And frankly, it is the result of the current fall of publishing. Authors did not always have to have a strong platform already built. This is a new phenomenon and it is driving writers (real writers) bonkers. I am not sure where I saw it but it was some kind of infographic or blog post about this same thing in regards to imagining Van Gogh trying to tweet. I think building a platform takes away from the core essential — writing a book. With self-publishing sweeping through the industry, many authors are publishing their own books. And what is lacking in some of those self-published books are the wonderful elements that make traditional publishing so wonderful — great editing, amazing design, exceptional and insightful marketing, and vision for the business side of the author and their presence.

    I appreciate your post though and stating what you are looking for. I just sympathize with the writers who are just trying to get the idea on paper so they can write the book which is the most difficult part of the process. Instead writers have to do everything and then have agents and publishers cherry pick them. There used to be a time when writers could actually write. Now they have to live in the world of the left brained (which is hard for most and some don’t even speak the language).

    Publishing has changed so much. Since I am writing a book that is bookended by the Great War and WWII, I wonder how publishing shifted during that time. I know my grandmother was working at General Foods during a time that advertising was just taking off (she was the executive chef that prepared Birdseye vegetables for advertising photography) and Madison Avenue was not even in existence, or perhaps it was. But my point is that publishing was soooooo different back then.

    1. Are you talking about fiction or nonfiction in your comment here? I ask because platform and everything discussed in this post applies only to nonfiction; agents do not require an author build a platform before taking on fiction projects. Also please be careful when you reference “real writers” versus… “fake writers”? I’m not even sure who you would be applying the “fake writers” label to, as anyone who has written a book is by definition a writer.

      But your point that publishing has changed in the past hundred years or so is of course valid. I don’t make the same negative value judgement as you do here, but that basic statement is 100% true, which is why I find posts like this one to be very helpful for authors trying to navigate the changing waters!

      1. Megan, you’re totally right that publishing has changed so much in the past 10 years. And it’s still changing. It’s tough for writers to navigate the huge shifts, just as it’s tough for agents and editors to have to re-align what works and what sells from year to year.

        And yes, Kurestin’s right that I was primarily talking about nonfiction authors in this post. But honestly, my guess is that a platform will become helpful for ALL writers as the industry continues to change. You can already see how having a strong platform is helping big authors like John Green and Maureen Johnson.

        I think it’s helpful for authors to think about a platform not as a way to push sales of your book, but as a way to have a conversation with your readers. I think you might find that it’s actually fun and incredibly rewarding to get to know your readers.

        Loved hearing both of your perspectives–thanks for stopping by!

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