The One Word That Should Guide All Your Marketing

We’re having rain after rain after rain here, and that’s led to a lot of staying in and cooking and gin rummy playing. We recently got addicted to gin rummy after finally figuring out that we could play just the two of us, and now the competition has become fierce. Pepper has had to referee a few “disagreements” about the rules. I think that makes her the level-headed adult in the house.

(In unrelated news, here’s Pepper ready to hit the pavement for some job interviews. We had to stage an intervention last week and tell her that her free ride is up, and it’s time to start paying rent. Let’s hope someone else finds her more employable than we do!)

literary agent blog

We also spent a few days in Michigan this past weekend, and all the rain there brought up a crop of morels on the farm. We picked nearly 7 pounds of them, and now we’re going to cook them every which way we can think of.

literary agent blog

literary agent blog

Speaking of windfalls, I wanted to chat today about a word we don’t hear too often in the world of blogging and publishing:

Generosity.

Generosity doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s really the business we’re in as book people.

It’s the train car that’s pushed along by the engine of purpose—it’s essentially the outward expression of inward compassion for readers.

Generosity in writing means keeping a single-minded focus on bringing joy to others and feeling deeply, monumentally grateful that they’ve given a few precious minutes of their lives to your words. As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in Big Magic:

“Learn to share things with an open heart and no expectations. Live out the existence that best suits your nature.”

There’s a magic that happens when you push all your cells in the direction of serving others, even if you haven’t had nearly enough coffee yet, even if you can only eke out a few moments of big-heartedness each day, even if nobody will notice or appreciate it.

That, I think, is one of the most important traits all successful bloggers and writers have: they start with giving and they end with giving, and in between they give a little more.

Effective Book Marketing for Authors

I am so, so lucky that my authors start there. They’re already at the top of their fields, running successful businesses, and well-known for the quality of their work. They have it all, and they want to share it all. That’s the kind of heart I look for when signing an author.

Which brings me to a related and important point that few people talk about: marketing is not one-size fits all.

It just isn’t. Modern marketing is too often focused on spurring action, and the importance of giving generously back to readers has been buried beneath a pile of call-to-actions and marketing scripts. And yes, there are best practices and strategies and plans that are proven to work well, but they are utterly worthless until they’re adapted to you. Marketing has to start with your voice, and it has to start with a mindset of generosity.

Why Sharing Your Work Has to Start with Knowing Your Voice

I hear this anxiety from authors all the time: “I don’t want to sound like X person because they’re just so sales-y.” And I 100% get it. Nobody wants to suddenly switch on an infomercial announcer voice when it comes time to promote their book.

What I tell authors is: you don’t have to. What you do have to do is share your story, in your voice, and be confident in one simple fact: that the book you created is going to be a ray of sunshine in people’s lives, and it’s simply your job to guide them to the window and open the blinds for them.

We’re now in an era where everyone is trying to sell you something or other online. And there are about one trillion blogs about how to blog and blogs about how to sell. Those are helpful, definitely—it’s important to educate yourself and act on the learnings of others, rather than reinvent the wheel yourself. Yet the loudness of the Internet makes it more important than ever to speak to your audience just as you are, not as a marketing script.

Because as soon as you lose your voice and your stories and your personality online, you become just another marketer, convinced that with the right scripts, right sales copy, and right funnel you’ll sell a trillion copies of your course/book/product.

So if you ever feel that little twinge of uncertainty about sharing your book or product with the world, remember that you don’t have to do it how everyone else does it. Learn everything you can, then adapt those concepts so they feel authentic to you, and always, always start from a place of generosity and gratitude.

And if you need a real world example of someone who does this stunningly, go spend some time at my sweet author Robyn’s blog, Add a Pinch. Robyn’s first cookbook, Add a Pinch, was just released by Clarkson Potter last month, and she’s been lavishing her readers with all the love in the world in celebration of it.

Robyn has been running spectacular giveaways, sweepstakes, and more to celebrate the release of her cookbook, and it’s been such a delight for us all to see how very delighted her readers are. Not only did she create a book that’s going to be a spot of sunshine and a true workhorse in her readers’ kitchens, but she’s also generously stocking those same kitchens with great giveaways like KitchenAid stand mixers, Lodge skillets, and Wusthof knives.

Her readers are being spoiled rotten, and not just with kitchenware: Robyn also always takes the extra time to thoughtfully and graciously respond to all her reader emails, comments, and questions, and to be a voice of encouragement alongside readers as they cook.

And no, I won’t go on and on about how wonderful her book is and not give you one! That would be very rude.

Giveaway of the Add a Pinch cookbook by Robyn Stone

add a pinch cookbook book deal robyn stone

Today I’m giving away one copy of Add a Pinch: Easier, Faster, Fresher Southern Classics by Robyn Stone.

Reply to this email or send an email directly to maria @ cooksplusbooks . com by tomorrow (Friday, May 5th at 5 EST), and tell me what your favorite Southern dish is. I’ll pick one winner at random to receive Robyn’s gorgeous book.

And for those of you who don’t have your copy yet (get it here!), or who just need something to make for dinner tonight and you’re at your wit’s end (me!), here’s one of my very favorite recipes from Robyn’s book.

Robyn cooked us this shrimp and grits recipe when the photography team + me + her editor were out at her beautiful Georgia farm last August, and it was incredible. My stomach is growling just thinking about it.

So if you need a little bit of Southern home cooking to look forward to this week, add this to your dinner list. I’m hoping it fills your kitchen and your day with all the warmth and love Robyn put into it!

Creole Shrimp and Grits

Creole Shrimp & Grits Recipe
Photo by Helene Dujardin from the Add a Pinch cookbook by Robyn Stone (Clarkson Potter).

Serves 6

For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
6 medium plum tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the creamy grits:
6 cups water or chicken stock
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups quick-cooking grits
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the shrimp:
In a medium skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, and celery and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Add the shrimp. Cover and cook until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through, 5 minutes.
For the creamy grits:
In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the liquid (chicken stock or water) and the salt to a boil. While whisking constantly, slowly pour the grits into the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the grits become thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan from the heat, stir in the cheese.
Divide the grits among serving dishes. Spoon the shrimp over the grits and drizzle with the pan sauce.

Enjoy!


What I’m Reading This Week:

Annie Dillard on What It Takes to Be a Writer and Why Generosity Is the Most Powerful Animating Force of Art (Maria Popova on Brain Pickings): To stay on today’s theme, here are some heartening words from Annie Dillard on the power of generosity.

The Magic Wand of Generosity (Dan Blank on Writer Unboxed): And one more on-theme piece: here’s a great article about how we should “Be insanely generous, instead of insanely promotional.”

4 Methods for Developing Any Idea Into a Great Story (Elizabeth Sims for JaneFriedman.com): “‘Look,’ he said impatiently, ‘ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the development that puts you over the top. Do what you have to do to make it real and get it to market.'” Amen.

Cookbook Update! (Jenn Segal of Once Upon a Chef): Since we’re already talking spring cookbooks today, mark your calendars for Spring 2018 when Jenn’s wonderful cookbook comes out! Here she shares a great behind-the-scenes look at the cookbook process, which right now for us means poring over interior design concepts and getting every last detail just right.

Cookbook Progress: The First Pass (Polly and Rachel of Thriving Home): Just as Jenn and I are looking at interior concepts for her Spring 2018 cookbook, Polly and Rachel are hard at work on the first pass for their Fall 2017 cookbook. First pass is the first time an author will see the fully designed pages of her book, and it’s when things really start to feel real. Take a look at this video if you want to see how the pages look!

Damn Right: I Do Make a Living Writing About Food (Naomi Tomky on DianneJacob.com): “It’s easy to romanticize the writing life. But to do this for a living, I must take that starry-eyed dreamer and lock her in the closet, while I get down to business.”


What We’re Eating This Week

We’re off to our honeymoon in Greece in two weeks, and so I’m on what I’m fondly referring to as The Greece Diet. Here’s how it works: tell everyone that you have to eat healthy because you’re about to go on your honeymoon, drink a lot of red wine and eat carbs anyway, remain stupidly optimistic that you’ll do better tomorrow. Tomorrow’s always the best day to start a diet anyway, right?

Monday: Out to dinner, where I promise myself I won’t touch the bread basket (and therefore I deserve an extra glass of wine).

Tuesday: On the road, and we know how that goes…

Wednesday: A salad! I am so good. Extra tortilla chips on the burrito bowl salad for me.

Thursday: Pasta…with salami…but also cabbage. So we’ll call this a net neutral day.

Friday: Well, it is Cinco de Mayo. It would be a little weird not to eat a dozen tacos and a dozen margaritas. #TheGreeceDiet

Cheers!

7 questions to ask when considering a publisher

It’s a gray, rainy day here today, and it feels so nice. I especially love riding the train up to New York when it’s foggy and gray like this—if you’ve ever seen some of those Northeast corridor water views and murky woods, you know exactly what I mean.

cookbook publishing blog

We had a blast this past weekend doing things like eating too much at The Dabney and Whaley’s and making Mary Randolph’s chicken croquettes.

I was looking through one of our smaller memory boxes the other day, and I found my old business cards from when I worked as an editor at a smaller publisher. I loved working there, but it also reminded me how different the book process is from house to house. And just as importantly, how hard it is for anyone on the outside—especially writers and bloggers new to the publishing world—to figure out what kind of publisher might be right for them and their book idea.

Which, of course, launched me into a loooooong article about the differences between larger and smaller publishing houses. Phew, this one’s a doozy! But that’s because there’s just so, so much to say. There’s more diversity in the industry than most people can imagine, and even among the Big 5 publishers or the smallest of the small presses, there’s no one set way of doing certain things.

So, I thought it would be helpful to share a few key questions that you should ask when considering what kind of publisher is right for you or when negotiating a book contract, especially if you’ve been approached by a publisher already. I also tried to provide the broadest of benchmarks to help you have some context if you do already have an offer in hand and you now want to negotiate for standard book royalties or an advance. Of course, I have to insert one million caveats about how every house is unique—I promise this is not a cop-out; it’s the honest-to-goodness truth—and how every publishing contract can be its own universe of non-standard and standard terms.

But this at least should provide a starting point for anyone who has an offer in hand and isn’t sure whether they should accept, negotiate, look for a literary agent, or walk away.

A real-life case study

That exact scenario happened to one of my authors—she had been approached by a smaller publisher who wanted a certain kind of book from her. She asked around to a few author friends and other bloggers, not sure what she should do. Her asking around led to a referral to me, and we chatted about her existing offer and about what her goals and hopes were for a book.

I love the idea for her book; I thought her platform was ready; and most importantly, I loved her sweet personality and thought we’d have fun working together. We turned down the existing offer, spent 6 months refining her book concept and working on the proposal, shopped it around, and ultimately found her a fabulous publishing home, as well as an advance that was 8x more than what she’d originally been offered.

That is the kind of success story I love—seeing my authors end up with book deals that put them in the best possible scenario for a successful launch, and hopefully, a long career as an author.

We see stories like this all the time, especially in the nonfiction world: a publisher approaches an author; the author gets a literary agent; the literary agent finds or negotiates a far better offer for the author; the author becomes an evangelist for using an agent. I won’t toot the lit-agent horn too much, but I do strongly encourage anyone considering a publishing offer to get a second opinion. You only get one debut book, so it’s worth doing the research to explore any and all options that might be right for you!

Now, let me step off my soapbox (ha!), and let’s talk about the initial questions you should ask when considering a publisher. 

7 questions to ask when considering a publisher

negotiating a book publishing contract

1. Are you being asked to pay them for production costs, or are they offering to pay you an advance?

Most commonly, publishing contracts fall into one of four categories:

  • A traditional contract, where the publisher covers all costs and offers an advance and royalties
  • A hybrid or digital-first contract, where the publisher covers all costs but offers higher royalties instead of an advance
  • A work-for-hire contract, where the publisher covers all costs, but the author is selling her writing services to the publisher for a flat fee and is relinquishing copyright
  • A publishing services contract (these publishers are often called vanity publishers), where the author is covering all costs and essentially paying to have a book printed but will receive little, if any, distribution, marketing, or publicity support

For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to talk mostly about those first two types of contracts, since they’re the two arrangements that authors most often pursue and need help navigating.

2. Now let’s get the big question out of the way: how much of an advance are you being offered? And most importantly, are you comfortable with that amount?

Just like in any industry, the larger a business, the more resources it will have at its disposal. So generally, smaller publishers tend to pay more modest advances, while larger publishers can offer a broader range of advances. An offer from a small publisher can range from a no-advance offer to $1,000 to $5,000 to $10,000 or more. An offer from a large publisher, such as one of the Big 5 publishers, can also start at no advance (most often for digital-only imprints) but range as high as the $65 million the Obamas just received for their two books.

Of course, what matters most is whether that advance it right for you. Some books, like cookbooks and other heavily photographed books, require upfront capital to pay a photographer, or to cover ingredient and travel costs, and so an author may be looking for an advance that will cover both his costs and the value of his time. For fiction, the manuscript is usually completed at the time of sale, and so an advance could be used to pay back an author’s time, to cover the value of her time during the promotion phase, or to re-invest in her author brand.

It’s also worth finding out whether you’ve received a fair offer–as in, an offer that’s on par with other comparable authors in your genre or category. For this, it’s helpful look for a literary agent who has experience in your category or genre.

However! It’s extremely important to note that the advance itself isn’t nearly the whole picture. Typically, the advance is directly correlated to the back-end numbers that can most influence the success of your book—numbers like how many books they’ll print and how much money they’ll put into marketing and publicity.

Wait, so the advance isn’t the most important number?

Yes and no. The dollar amount of the advance matters in that it allows you to invest in your business and in the success of your book. But the symbolic meaning of the advance—the level of investment a publisher is making in you, and the print run and marketing/publicity budgets that come with it—matter just as much.

Essentially, advances are more modest at smaller publishers because the print runs are typically smaller. Rather than a print run of, say, 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 copies, a smaller publisher may project a printing of 1,000 or 2,500 copies. At smaller publishers, their profit projections (the P&L) are often run using only the small initial print run, because there’s no guarantee there will be a second print run if the first doesn’t sell. (All this can be true at larger houses, too.) Therefore, a lower initial print run will always result in a lower advance. This allows the publisher to test out the market for a book in a less risky way, before deciding whether they’ll go back for additional print runs. However, this also means that your book may only have a few thousand copies printed, and that if those move slowly, that initial print run may be the entire lifespan of your book.

By contrast, if a publisher is able to project a larger total printing—and have the confidence that they can sell those copies—then the P&L will allow for a larger advance, as well as more copies of your book in existence.

Generally, a publisher won’t share the details of their P&Ls, as each house has a proprietary calculation, so you may not know what the projected print run is. But again, the size of the advance and the context that an agent can provide can help you make a good guess.

3. What kind of royalties are being offered?

Royalties can vary drastically from publisher to publisher and project to project, and so I can’t give a very accurate range and fair range here. This is another place where working with a literary agent can be very helpful, as she should be able to tell you what’s standard across the industry, what’s standard in your category or genre, and what’s standard from that particular publisher, as well as be able to negotiate the best possible rate for you.

But, what you can determine is whether the royalties you’re being offered are being paid on the retail list price of the book or on net (i.e. the author receives a percentage of the net revenue). Of course, the definition of “net revenue” or “net amount received” can vary by publisher, as can the actual percentages offered, and what is standard can also vary drastically from publisher to publisher, as well as from genre to genre. And 7.5% of list price is very different from 10% of net!

Be mindful of this difference, and in particular, look to see if there’s a clear definition (one you actually understand!) of either list price or net in the contract, depending on which is offered. If not, this could be a red flag.

4. How long will you have to write the book?

Again, the timeline for manuscript delivery varies so drastically from publisher to publisher and book to book. But very generally, smaller publishers work on more accelerated timelines, which allows them to move more quickly to get trend-driven or timely books into the marketplace. This is great if you’re not too excited about waiting 18 to 24 months between contract signing and publication, which is the timeline at many medium and large publishers.

When I worked at a smaller publisher, we often asked authors to deliver manuscripts in 2-4 months, and we were able to go from idea to finished book in anywhere from 6 months to 12 months. And while crash schedules can definitely be done at the Big 5 publishers (I did one crash-schedule book last year!), they largely look for an author to tell them how much time they need, rather than pushing for a quick turnaround.

The important thing here is to figure out what’s right for you. You want to make sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to write a book that you’re truly proud of. I’ve seen book contracts where the author is given 4 weeks to turn in a manuscript—and that was for a manuscript they hadn’t even started yet! This means that the author had to set aside nearly everything else in her life to work full-speed on the book for a month. And some authors love this! It’s entirely about knowing yourself and how you work best.

But typically, unless an author tells me they like to work on a condensed schedule or we have a strategic reason for rushing the book into the marketplace, I recommend authors take between 6 – 12 months to write their book. That’s because I don’t want my authors to lose their minds during the process and to be so burned out on writing the book that they have no energy to promote it.

It’s important to remember that everything else that makes up your daily work—the platform-building, the business-running, the speaking, the social media—is also laying the groundwork for the success of your book. If all of that comes to a screeching halt as you write the book, your platform will be weakened when you most need it. Also, your family will miss you a lot.

Luckily both small and large publishers may be open to negotiating the timeline, so don’t immediately take their proposed date as the final word.

5. What will the publisher do for publicity and marketing?

Many authors don’t realize it, but the publicity and marketing budget for a book is typically integrated into its P&L. It’s helpful to think like a publisher (or any other business owner) when trying to understand the way publishers make bets on books. If you spend a greater amount of money acquiring project, then naturally, you’re going to spend more money promoting the project so that you can recoup your investment.

A great advantage to working with a traditional publisher of any size is that your book will be assigned to an in-house publicist, who will write a press release, send review copies of your book, and do everything in her power to get press for the book.

But small differences may exist in the process, depending on the publisher and the publicist herself. Some campaigns may include a mailing of finished printed copies; others may only send digital copies of the book in order to cut costs. Some publicists have personal connections with magazine and online editors and producers; others may be cold-pitching. Either way, this is essentially free publicity for you and your book, and it can go a long way in helping you grow your business.

The same principle applies to marketing: campaigns will differ, but generally, the bigger the budget, the more they can do to spread the word about your book. Smaller publishers may only do limited campaigns with standard practices like SEO-optimizing the online retailer metadata and including the book in the publisher’s catalog. Other publishers may buy space at tables at bookstores, run multi-platform ad campaigns, or create landing pages and shareable assets. While a publisher likely won’t tell you exactly how much they’ve budgeted for marketing and publicity, they should share the details of their campaigns and how you can support them.

The most important thing to remember is that you can, and should, take the lead on the marketing and publicity for your book. The publisher’s role is to support your efforts and share best practices, but it’s ultimately the author who should be the driving force for brainstorming ideas and executing them. After all, publishing a book is a masterclass in learning how to convert fans into customers, so don’t miss any opportunities to experiment and learn about what works for your particular audience.

6. Where will the book likely be distributed? Where will it be pitched?

This is another extremely important point to discuss with a potential publishing partner: where will the book be distributed? As I mentioned, some book deals are for digital-only editions, or they’re for digital-first. Make sure you understand both where the book will be distributed digitally, and if there’s potential for a print edition later on, which metrics will be used to determine whether your book will be published in print.

If your book will be published in both print and digital, ask the publisher which accounts they almost always distribute to and which they will try for, but can’t guarantee. Most publishers can get most books into the main bookselling outlets, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million.

Most publishers will also pitch the books that they think are a fit to the non-bookstore outlets, which can include the mass merchandisers (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.), the warehouse stores (Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.), the specialty retailers (Anthropologie, Williams Sonoma, Whole Foods, etc.), but there’s never any guarantee that an account will take them. The same is true of independent bookstores—because they’re typically smaller stores, it’s much more difficult to have a book picked up by an indie bookseller.

Of course, the stronger of a track record a publisher has with a particular account, the higher the likelihood they’ll keep ordering new books from that publisher. If seeing your book in a particular store is very important to you, I highly recommend visiting a few of the stores in that chain and seeing which publishers are represented there. As always, the more research you can do on the market, the better you can craft your own book to succeed in that space!

7. How much creative control will you have over the look of the book?

This is so important. It’s one of the key concerns writers and bloggers have when I talk to them, and I totally understand why. There’s nothing worse than pouring your heart and soul into a book only to have the final package leave you feeling deflated.

Unfortunately, this is also the area that can be most difficult to navigate without an agent. But a good place to start is to look at the existing books on the publisher’s list and determine if you like those. Are there any you don’t like? Any you do? Try to engage the publisher in a conversation about how much creative control you’ll be given.

Yet, even in cases where there are specific creative-control clauses in a contract, it can be helpful to have the leverage of an agency behind you when discussing the tricky matter of design. We can step in and make sure the author’s feedback is taken seriously. While no publisher wants to print a book the author hates, it can sometimes be helpful to have a little extra nudging for one more round of revisions or a few more tweaks that the author might want.

But the most common scenario I see is authors who don’t love the design of their book, but they’re not sure why. That’s where we can also step in and help them pinpoint what they like and don’t like, as well as translate those feelings into the kind of design terms that designers can best act on.

 

While I don’t want to portray that this is a comprehensive list of everything you should discuss with a potential publisher, I do hope it’s a good starting point for thinking through your goals and priorities. And as you can see by how incredibly long this piece is, this stuff is complex! But that’s why I love what I do–it feels good to help authors have the best possible shot for making a difference in the world with their books.


What I’m Reading

How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher (Jane Friedman): To tie in to our conversation about comparing different kinds of publishers, here’s a fantastic run-through by Jane Friedman of how to evaluate a small publisher. Definitely read this piece if you’re considering an offer but want more insight and another perspective!

Publishing a Cookbook: How We Got Started (Thriving Home): And in one more tie-in, here are my authors Polly and Rachel sharing a bit about what it was like being approached by a smaller publisher and how we ended up working together.

How to Land an Agent for a Self-Published Book (Jane Friedman): This is a must-read if you’ve self-published, but you’re also interested in working with a traditional publisher. Every last bit of advice is spot-on!

5 Ways to Expand Your Platform for a Book Deal (Nicole Gulotta on DianneJacob.com): Stonesong author Nicole Gulotta shares fantastic advice for growing your platform so you can get a book deal. And take a look at her book, Eat This Poem! It is so, so lovely.

Richard Bolles Dies at 90; Wrote ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ (Paul Vitello for the New York Times): I was sad to see that beloved self-help author Richard Bolles passed away this week. If you’re looking for a self-publishing success story, here’s one for the record books: “Mr. Bolles (pronounced bowls) originally self-published his manual in 1970 as a photocopied how-to booklet for unemployed Protestant ministers. In 1972, he recast it to appeal to a wider audience and found an independent publisher in Berkeley, Calif., willing to print small batches so that it could be frequently updated. Since then, “Parachute” has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and has never been out of print.”


What We’re Eating This Week

Travel, travel, busy, busy, what’s a gal to eat? Well, here’s the real and true story of a cookbook agent eating not much of anything worth reporting. Ha!

Monday: So tired, so Monday! I added more butter (hahaha, oh yes I did!) to Mary Randolph’s tomato sauce and tossed it over some spaghetti, with some sautéed green beans on the side. It was simple; it was easy; it was all the things you want on a Monday.

Tuesday: Dinner at my Yaya’s, aka, How Much Rice and Beans Can One Human Eat in One Sitting: A Novel.

Wednesday: Eating out, or takeout, or desk dinner, or another form of #survivalfood.

Thursday: If I’m lucky, soup from my favorite soup spot in the Garment District. If I’m not lucky, something vile from the Amtrak Café Car.

Friday: I don’t know! But it’s Friday, so mealtime angst can be easily cured by a gin and tonic or twelve.

Cheers!

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How to get a second book deal

Guys, my new coworker is a bad influence.

how to get a book deal

Look at how she shamelessly propped her little snout on my trackpad and pinned my hand down with her paw. Because my typing was getting in the way of petting. And because she hasn’t put it together yet that typing = work = money = more treats for her. Pretty shortsighted, if you ask me.

Speaking of shortsighted, I thought it would be fun to take the long view today and talk about second book deals. Since you all have been loving my post from a couple of weeks ago with case studies of debut book deals, I thought it’d be helpful to also talk about what comes next: the second book deal! A second book deal is the real holy grail in publishing. Yes, receiving a book deal at all is an enormous accomplishment, but it’s that second book deal that cements an author as an expert in his field.

A second book deal means an author has proven that she can sell books, and therefore, that she’s making an impact on the world with her work.

That right there is why I do what I do. And I know it’s also why authors do what they do.

So as exciting and motivating as it is to hear about top-line numbers like advances, it’s even more important to focus on back-end numbers: namely, copies sold. (To learn more about the pros and cons of 6-figure and 7-figure book advances, read this.)

Focusing on copies sold as your key metric is the best way to take the long-view of your own career, as that’s the number that ultimately determines whether you’ll be able to get a second book deal, and therefore, more opportunities for you and your business.

I thought it would be most helpful to illustrate the path between a first book deal and a second book deal by telling you about one of my lovely clients who successfully made that leap. And lucky us, Becky was generous enough to share a few tidbits about the differences between her two publishing experiences, as well as some great advice on how she made her business stand out in a crowded world.

Becky rapinchuk clean mama how to get a book deal

Becky Rapinchuk is the writer and creator behind Clean Mama, one of the most successful homekeeping blogs and brands online today. Becky and I first started working together when I was an editor working at a medium-sized nonfiction publisher, and I was lucky enough to acquire her first book, The Organically Clean Home. Becky was working a day job at the time but putting in long nights and weekends building her blog, which had just gotten started.

At the publisher, we were encouraged to brainstorm book ideas in-house and then scout bloggers or other experts to pair them with the project. I still remember when I first stumbled across Becky’s blog—it was so much more beautiful and professional-looking than everything else out there! It was also immediately obvious that Becky was so passionate about cleaning and committed to sharing that with readers. That’s what struck me most: Becky was that perfect mix of passionate and committed that I always look for in authors.

Back then, Becky’s readership was small but growing, and so she was the perfect fit for a concept-driven book like The Organically Clean Home. The book deal that resulted also meant that she was finally able to quit her day job and work on her business full-time, which helped solidify her as an expert in the cleaning space. Over the years, the book sold very well, largely driven by Becky’s marketing savvy and her commitment to making it a success.

As Becky’s brand continued to evolve and she began experimenting with selling other products to her audience (have you seen her adorable cleaning goods line?!), her traffic and social media numbers kept growing.

When she was at the point where she was one of the leading voices in her space, we started chatting again about what a second book could look like. I was a literary agent by then, so I knew Becky’s platform was strong enough that larger publishers would be interested in working with her.

We put together a proposal for the book Becky had always dreamed of writing: a comprehensive manual on her signature cleaning routine, which shows readers how to clean their homes in just 10 minutes a day. We took her proposal out wide to lifestyle editors, and within a few days, had received two fantastic pre-empts from Big Five publishers. Becky decided to work with the Touchstone imprint at Simon & Schuster, and now we’re just 2 short weeks from welcoming that dream book, Simply Clean, into the world!

To be clear: there wasn’t any secret shortcut to getting that level of excitement from major publishers. Editors loved the project because Becky had earned her place as a leader in her category, and we had done the research and brainstorming necessary to offer a unique concept in the marketplace. Becky had spent the years between her first book and her second book doing the hard work: writing blog posts, scheduling social media, guest posting, connecting with other bloggers in her space, promoting her first book so it had a strong sales track record, creating new products, and earning the trust and goodwill of her readers.

Now let’s hear from Becky herself about what it was like to write her second book, as well as what one thing most helped her build her business and platform (I hinted at it earlier!).

Becky Rapinchuk of Clean Mama on Writing a Second Book

How was the publishing experience for your first book different than for your second book?

There were a lot of differences but the biggest one was that I understood the process from the first book, making the second book easier from the beginning.  I was able to plan backwards because I understood the big picture and process.

I did not have an agent for my first book and I would never have thought that I needed one until I actually had one.  This was probably the biggest game-changer from the first book to the second.  Having an agent eliminates so much stress in the process – there’s no guesswork, the agent has your best interest in mind and knows the ins and outs of the entire process.  It was so much smoother of a process.

I had different publishers for each book and while there are a lot of similarities, the differences are also there too.  Make sure you are looking at all your options and if you have the opportunity to offer your book to multiple publishers, take it.  You’ll be working very closely with an editor and a large or small team of people for a while – make sure you work well together and that the editor is excited about your book too!

What was special to you about your first book?

It’s something that I never expected to do. My first book really launched my platform and authority in the online cleaning space.  I grab it all the time and mix up recipes from it – it’s a resource that I am so proud to have brought into the world.

What’s special to you about this new book?

 Simply Clean is the book I was searching for when I started on my own homekeeping journey in my early 20s. It’s different from any book out there – complete with challenges and how-tos with a dose of realism. I truly loved writing Simply Clean – it was so much fun to put my ideas to paper and think of the homes that would be a little cleaner too!

What one thing–if you had to pick just one!–do you think most helped you build your business and your author platform?

Branding – having a cohesive and recognizable brand sets you apart from everyone else, and it solidifies your voice in the noisy online world.

What advice would you give to other bloggers interested in writing a book?

Find your own voice and don’t just write a book because it seems like it’s the next logical step or because everyone else is writing a book.  It’s a long, difficult process – make sure you’re up for the challenge!

What’s the most important thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Cleaning doesn’t have to be complicated, and a clean, organized home in minutes a day is possible!

Simply Clean Becky Rapinchuk book cover

I love Becky’s book because (I know this is hard to believe), she actually makes cleaning cute and fun. Really. Her cleaning routine works no matter your work schedule or house size, and it takes all the stress out of thinking about when and how to clean. (Which is the part that always trips me up!) But I love that Becky takes you by the hand and shows you how to clean each part of your home in only 10 minutes a day, so that you can build habits that become automatic and effortless. And if there’s one thing I never want to stress about again, it’s cleaning. 🙂

Simply Clean is in stores on March 21st, but you can preorder it here! (And if you preorder, you’ll get great free gifts from Becky, like The 7-Day Simply Clean Kick-Start, a 1 month subscription to her Homekeeping Society, and over $30 worth of products from Grove Collaborative, including Mrs. Meyer’s soap, a cute kitchen towel, and beautiful walnut scrubbers. Just don’t forget to enter your receipt information here to receive the gifts!)

By the way, next week I’ll be sharing an in-depth post on how the publishing experience differs between small publishers and large publishers and what questions authors should ask when considering working with any publisher. If you don’t want to miss it, make sure to sign up to receive new articles below!

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What I’m Reading This Week

Add a Pinch cookbook on QVC (Robyn Stone on In The Kitchen with David): This was such a highlight of the week! My lovely author, Robyn Stone, had so much fun sharing some of the recipes from her cookbook with David Venable. If you need a giggle today (and who doesn’t?) watch as David near loses his mind over Robyn’s Sweet Cream Cheese Biscuits at the 5:15 mark!

You Don’t Have to Finish Every Story You Start (Jane Friedman): “How often do you abandon an early draft? I have abandoned far more drafts of personal essays and short stories than I’ve ever completed. In fact, the ratio is rather embarrassing—maybe twenty starts for every finish. … Writer David Ebenbach discusses the wisdom in abandoning a draft—in not seeing it as wasted time, but as an inevitable part of the creative process that produces great work.”

The Art of Storytelling As Explained by Pixar (Pixar Directors and Story Artists on Khan Academy): If you want a hands-on, free, and short course on how the masters at Pixar craft stories, then ta-da!

How the Internet Changed and How Our Lives Changed With It (Young House Love): It’s tempting when you’re building your platform to stay laser-focused on the immediate tasks ahead: building traffic, securing brand partnerships, writing posts, maybe getting a book deal. But once you’ve arrived–once you have that massively successful blog and that New York Times bestselling book–what does that look like? What’s on the other side of the mountain? Sherry and John Petersik have been answering this question, and this retrospective on their careers and the way the internet has changed is fascinating.

Deep in the Weeds of Publishing Economics (Mike Shatzkin): A great and wonky look at the economics of publishing P&Ls–worth a deep read if you like this sort of thing, too!

When Your Launch Fails–How to Avoid It and How to Recover (Kirsten Oliphant of CreateIf Writing): I love this post from Kirsten–it’s brave of her to share her failure so that others can learn from it. And all of this advice is spot-on! This article is a must-read for anyone planning, or even dreaming, about launching a product, whether it’s a book, a course, or anything else.


What We’re Eating This Week

Certain unnamed parties in my household have said I’ve gotten out of hand with slotting in too many new and multi-step recipes for us during the week, especially when we have volunteering shifts or Pepper’s training classes to run off to. While I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of this accusation, I have benevolently agreed to plan us a week of Just-the-Favorites. Nothing fancy here!

Monday: Burrito bowl salads and guacamole with chips

Tuesday: Lemon thyme roasted chicken with cruciferous crunch fritters and roasted cauliflower (Ha, ha, I snuck this one in, convinced that it would “be a snap!” to roast a chicken and two separate sides after a busy workday. Oy.)

Wednesday: Repentance: the sausage and kale penne recipe we’ve made a thousand times.

Thursday: Lemon chicken noodle soup, another recipe I’ve made a zillion times and which was originally inspired by this recipe.

Friday: Yaya’s Tortilla de Patata (read: fried potato frittata) and a simple green salad–very restrained for a Friday night, if I do say so myself!

Cheers!

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how to get a book deal–3 case studies

In case you missed it on Instagram, we got a dog!

literary agent blog

Meet Pepper, the newest addition to our little family. She’s a blue merle Australian Shepherd we adopted through the great folks at City Dogs Rescue, and she loves pets, couch-laying, and Breakfast Jacs. She was rescued from southwestern Virginia (where we visited her in January!) and spent the past two months making, birthing, and mothering 8 beautiful little pups who also went to their forever homes last Sunday.

Pepper’s a hard worker who naps next to me while I work from home. Anybody know of a part-time job I could sign her up for?

literary agent blog

In publishing news, we’re right in the thick of submissions season, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of authors I want to help grow. I mentioned in this post how important engagement and voice is for getting a book deal—it’s not enough to just have a huge platform anymore.

But the trickiest thing for me to explain when I’m chatting with potential authors is the exact configuration of attributes I want in a client. And that’s because (of course!) there is no one answer. Which brings me back to the standard publishing answer: it depends.

So, instead of rattling off a long list of things I like to see in potential authors who are ready for a book, I want to talk today about how diverse—wonderfully diverse!—the paths to success can be. There is such a complex interplay of platform, concept, storytelling/perspective that makes a project attractive, and my job is to help authors see where they can most shine.

Lately I’ve been thinking of a well-rounded book as:

platform + concept + storytelling = a great read.

Each of those three elements, while always present, can step into the foreground or recede into the background depending on each author’s particular talents.

But the only way to make this concept fully come to life is to tell you the stories of a few of my first-time authors and how they got their book deals. My hope is that these case studies will bring into the light something we don’t talk often enough about:

There is no one path to success.

There is no one right way to get a book deal. There is no checklist or step-by-step plan that will guarantee your success (and often, one-size-fits-all approaches can stifle the uniqueness that’s vital to success).

And though we do build deep reservoirs of best practices over many years of working with authors, every one of my authors has different goals and therefore deserves a different strategy. After all, not every book exists for the same reason, so why should every author get a book deal for the same reason? That’s what I hope these case studies will show—how to get a book deal that fits your particular strengths.

How to get a book deal

A few things to keep in mind about these book deal case studies:

  • All three books sold at auction with advances in the $75,000-$100,000 range.
  • All three authors were first-time authors who built their platforms, from scratch, on their own—they were regular people who, day in and day out, started to share their work, build an audience, and earn the respect of their communities. No celebrities here!
  • All three authors received very different proposal treatments—again, one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work!—which highlighted their particular strengths and helped them get their book deals.
  • All three book deals were cookbooks sold to publishers in 2016. I wanted to remove the variables that exist between different categories and from year-to-year as the market changes, so that those fluctuations wouldn’t interfere with illustrating how these projects were valuated.

Book Deal #1:

This author is a talented photographer whose photos dazzled editors. She also has a fascinating, unconventional life story and wrote a proposal which one editor told me brought her to tears. It was a visually beautiful, highly personal proposal that showcased the author’s strength as a forward-thinking recipe developer, a skilled photographer, and a rising star in food media. The editor that acquired this project told me that she fell in love with the author’s unique perspective and story, and that it was this unique point-of-view, rather than platform metrics, which ultimately won over her team and allowed her to offer competitively on the project.

Traffic: 100,000-200,000 page views per month

Social media reach: Around 50,000 followers across platforms

Press: Heavily buzzed about in top-tier food media; writes regularly for a major-market newspaper

Speaking engagements: Regularly invited by colleagues to speak on food culture panels and at conferences

Awards: Recently received 3 high-profile, national awards

Connections: Very well-connected and has real friendships with movers and shakers in the food community; foreword contributed by a top food writer

Takeaway: This author’s storytelling and unique voice are what pushed her project over the top, but she had the necessary foundation of a strong concept and critical acclaim to back it up.

Book Deal #2:

This author has an incredibly popular blog, where millions of readers come again and again because they love her practical approach to home cooking. Her readers love her recipes because they work every time, and they know they can trust her with their time and their ingredients. The concept was highly practical yet elegant, and it offered a new perspective and new insight on how to cook more easily at home. The book is also targeted to the average home cook—a very broad audience. The author’s large and engaged platform was a clear sign that she was already winning the trust and admiration of readers—readers who would be eager and excited to buy her cookbook, just as editors were excited to buy the cookbook proposal.

Traffic: 4 million page views a month

Social media reach: Around 800,000 followers across platforms, as well as an email list of over 100,000 with extremely high engagement

Press: A long list of print and online outlets who had featured her work

Speaking engagements: None

Awards: None

Connections: Had a great list of high-profile connections who were willing to review an early copy of the book for possible endorsement

Takeaway: This author’s very large platform clearly shows that she is already producing recipes and writing that readers think is worth their time. Yet it was crucial that we still come up with a concept that did something new, without going so niche that we created a book only a segment of her readership would like. The author’s emphasis on telling engaging stories with her recipes and sharing snippets of her life also brought the world of this cookbook (and cookbook proposal) to life.

Book Deal #3:

This author is very well-known in his particular niche in the food blogging community. His writing is personal, authentic, and vulnerable, and therefore his readership, though on the smaller side, is highly engaged and supportive of all his new projects. He was also able to identify a significant trend in the food blogging world that hadn’t yet been explored in a full-length cookbook and to make a very convincing argument as to why he was the expert in this particular niche. Ultimately, editors were excited about this proposal because it offered something new—it had an entirely unique angle that both filled a hole in the marketplace and fulfilled a real need in people’s lives.

Traffic: 500,000 page views a month

Social media reach: Around 45,000 followers across platforms

Press: Some online press, but particularly strong brand partnerships that were relevant to the book concept

Speaking engagements: None

Awards: None

Connections: Well-connected to other bloggers within his niche

Takeaway: For this project, concept was king. It’s so rare to find a real hole in the marketplace, especially because we also need to show that it’s a hole people actually want filled! Yet this author was savvy enough to carve a niche for himself in this space and to use his great personality and real-life stories to build a small, but mighty audience for himself.

 

As you can see, all of these authors had one leading strength (platform, concept, or storytelling), but they had to exhibit all three of those elements to be well-rounded authors. And even though their paths (and stats!) were incredibly different, they all received fantastic book deals with great publishers, and even more importantly, they’re all well-positioned to make their books successful.

This is why it’s pointless to compare your path to anyone else’s, and it’s also why I hope you never forget that:

Your book is unique. Your platform is unique. Your path is unique. Don’t try to change that. 🙂

 

Want more? Read this case study of how one author had her second book pre-empted by a Big 5 publisher! 

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What I’m Reading This Week:

Organized Enough is here! (Amanda Sullivan): We celebrated the release of Organized Enough last week with my client, Amanda Sullivan, at a packed reading and book signing at The Corner Bookstore! This is the book to buy if “get organized” was one of your New Year’s resolutions. Amanda is equal parts wise and gracious, and her advice is that gentle kick in the tush you need to finally get organized enough. (And if you think I’m just being biased, watch her in action yourself on WPIX!)

A Brown Kitchen (Nik Sharma): A huge congratulations to my client Nik Sharma whose San Francisco Chronicle column, A Brown Kitchen was just nominated for an IACP award! If you don’t already follow his blog, why not start now?

The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists (Tim Grahl): Tim Grahl has updated this essential read to reflect new changes that are happening with “The List,” as we call the NYT list. This is exactly why I always hesitate to let authors get too attached to “hit the NYT list” as a goal. There are just too many variables, and the hard truth is that it does matter who your publisher is, who you are, and whether your book is being “watched”–it’s not just about copies sold.

How to Read More and Internet Less (Danika Ellis for BookRiot): “At some point–usually while taking Buzzfeed quizzes–I know I’m no longer even enjoying myself and would benefit immensely from just picking up a book instead, but I can’t seem to resist the siren song of the internet. Maybe you have amazing self control and never find yourself in that mess, but just in case, I thought I would share some ways that have worked for me in limiting my internet use and maximizing my reading time.”

7 Useful Insights for Savvy Book Marketers from Digital Book World 2017 (Goodreads Blog): Graphs, charts, and snippets of takeaways: all the DBW nerding-out you could want!

Where to Find Opportunities to Teach (and Supplement Your Writing Income) (Eric Maisel on JaneFriedman.com): Teaching others is a fantastic way to both build your platform and help others along the way, but just like with anything else, it usually takes starting small to grow this facet of your portfolio and platform.

A Vanderbilt Library Comes to Life (CJ Lotz for Garden & Gun): We adored visiting the Vanderbilt library when we were there in January, but we just missed this fantastic exhibit: “A new exhibition at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, ‘Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics,’ opens February 10 and pays tribute to George Vanderbilt’s love of literature by presenting a selection of his favorite tomes alongside more than forty costumes from their screen adaptions.”


What We’re Eating

Monday: We were off work for President’s Day and focused on settling in with Pepper, so naturally, all three of us ate a lot of hot dogs and not much else.

Tuesday: We received our extra-early air freight copies of the Add a Pinch cookbook, and so we’ll be eating Robyn’s delicious food all week! This book is so full of heart and good food and sweet stories, and your home will be a little happier if you add this book to your collection. (Not to mention the fact that we had THE BEST of all time short rib tacos on Tuesday night using Robyn’s slow cooker short rib recipe. There were words had at the dinner table over the last scraps of meat–even Pepper was drooling all over the floor over them!)

Wednesday: Robyn’s Jambalaya, also from Add a Pinch. And you know because it’s Wednesday that this is an extra-easy, one-pot recipe.

Thursday: I’m at a volunteering shift, so leftover Jambalaya it is. (The crowds rejoice.)

Friday: Baked Chicken Spaghetti from Add a Pinch. I’ve never had Southern-style Baked Chicken Spaghetti, but you know you can’t go wrong when something like spaghetti is South-ified.

Cheers!

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