Yes, it’s true: they want you. They really do.
But are you ready to be wanted?
Having Something to Offer
At first glance, it may appear that the publishing industry only wants what it already has. Anyone who has already hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list is going to find a publisher, if he doesn’t already have one. Someone who has never published before is not so lucky.
But that’s just it: every one of those #1 authors already has a publisher. They’re not usually looking for new people to work with. Putting it another way: an A-list author is like a stock that’s too expensive for most people to buy. You certainly wouldn’t turn down any buying opportunities if they suddenly appeared, but you don’t hold out hope for what you know is unlikely.
As with any investment, the most profitable strategy is to buy a fresh, untested vehicle (but one that shows great potential) and ride it as it rises to the stratosphere.
And make no mistake: you are an investment. You are the product being sold. When you write the book, you are the one who assumes all the risk, putting your heart and soul on the page. But when you publish the book for profit, the publisher is the one who assumes the risk, because they are not buying your book—they are buying a piece of your success. If your success is large, their investment is returned many times over. If your success is small, then their profit is meager.
(Of course, their slice is always bigger than yours, but that’s a topic worthy enough of its own post.)
The Quest to Obtain New Authors
As I said before, A-list authors are hard to acquire.
They also die. Like, 100% of the time.
So no matter what you may hear from the drunk, unpublished author sitting on the bar stool next to you, publishers are always, always looking for new talent to replace the old.
It’s just practical.
The bias against unproven authors, though real on a industry-wide scale, all but disappears once you get down to individual publishing teams. They know they won’t be in the business for long if they don’t make at least a few bets on promising upstarts. These people are looking for you. It is their job to find you.
The only question left is: are you ready to be found. Because it’s not unthinkable that a publisher will choose wrong. Like other kinds of investing, sometimes they pick up a promising-looking asset, only for it to go nowhere. Even the best imprints still put out a lot of disappointing books.
So it’s not inconceivable that you could get chosen before you’re ready. You could be a terrible writer and still end up with a publishing deal (and this happens many times every year all across the publishing industry). Too many fledgling authors view publication as proof of readiness—that there’s some objective measure of how good you are and you only get published once you cross that threshold.
But you may find yourself in a situation where people are already taking chances on you, and your craft is not yet where you want it to be.
Make Sure You’re Ready
When you hear professional authors tell you not to rush into publication, they mean it.
However, you can’t put if off until the end of time, either. And as much as I’d like to give you a magic formula for determining how ready you are, there is no advice better than the basics that you’ve heard a thousand times already:
- Polish all the roughness out of your manuscript. You want to hit the ground running as soon as you’ve got a contract.
- Don’t leave loose ends. You’re going to lose some of your control over it once it lands in the hands of a publisher, so make sure it already has all the things you were planning to put into it.
- Build a backlog of books. Don’t put all your hopes on just one book that may or may not be ready for prime time.
- Learn everything you can. The more knowledge you have about the craft of writing and the business of publishing, the more confidence you’ll have as the process unfolds. And confidence is paramount for any entrepreneur, which is what you, as an author, are.
- Be a good human being. The less of a headache you are for these people, the more they will be able to help you.
In the end, you are responsible for your own success or failure. Also remember that your career as an author is a system, not a goal. Every success you manage to pull off is one you’re going to have to repeat, reentering the cycle of writing, editing, contracting, and publishing again and again. You will have opportunities, with each cycle, to tweak the engine to find your maximum efficiency, but that means you will have to pay close attention to what is working for you and what is not.
After all that, and a little bit of luck, you should be ready for anything.
[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…when the time is right.”]