Welcome to the second installment of Adventures in Publishing. I know it’s been a little while since the last post on this subject, but it’s only because I’ve been working on The Roommate Book and 100 Days of Getting Started. Here I will go over some of the frequently asked questions in regards to book publishing. Note: these questions are tailored to traditional publishing, not self-publishing. Here we go!
When approaching agents, do I already need to have an online presence? Do I need to be popular?
The quick answer is yes and maybe, but not necessarily. The longer answer is this: publishers need to know that their author is invested in selling the book. You need to prove yourself. You have to show that you’re the book’s #1 fan when you’re promoting. If you don’t have a huge presence online, that’s okay, but the next best thing is showing that you’re invested in growth, or you have an audience that’s accessible to you.
When I was talking to agents about representing I’d Rather Be Short, I had 200 Twitter followers. Two agents didn’t care about the number of my followers—they said the idea was good enough to sell on its own. Another agent was skeptical. He said that in 2007 a good idea was good enough, but now publishers need to see followers and numbers. A friend connected me to a popular lit agent. This agent told me to call him when I had 15,000 Twitter followers. I said, “I don’t know how to get 15k in a couple of weeks.” He responded with, “On the Internet you can go from 0-60 in 15 seconds. You’ll figure it out.’” Needless to say I did not go with him, but he’s right. It matters. But it’s not the only thing that matters…so some would say he was also kind of wrong. My only blog readers at the time were my mom and Facebook friends. I didn’t report the readership in my proposal, but we did say that the traffic spiked whenever I posted a new I’d Rather Be Short drawing (this is true). It was sincere and it showed that even on a micro level, the project was building momentum.
If you do have a big following, that makes it much easier for agents and publishers to say yes. It shows that you’re already committed to the project and there’s already a market for your work. T-Rex Trying started out as a popular Tumblr blog and has been a wildly successful as a published book. My pal, Alida Nugent also had her work on her blog, The Frenemy before it became a book. She’s a fantastic writer (I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud while reading Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse…order it today).
Every situation is different, but as a rule of thumb I’d say this: you don’t need to have a huge following, but you do need to show that you can get your book in front of lots of eyes, and the best eyes come from your tribe.
Should I post my work online first? Or keep it quiet until I find an agent/publisher?
Again, there’s no “right answer” here. As a fast and very general answer, I’d suggest showing what you can without showing too much. You’ll hear arguments both ways. I say that because it’s safe and I think you can have your cake and eat it too. I posted a few “I’d rather be short” drawings on my blog as just a “side project” while I was looking for agents. I didn’t want people to know I wanted it to be a book because that’s way too much pressure for my tender heart. But I do think the accountability and momentum is important. I’d lean more towards oversharing than undersharing. There are plenty of ideas to go around. 1. Nobody is going to steal your idea and 2. You are not going to run out of good ideas. Tucker Max was rejected by over 500 agents, but he put his content online and it exploded. He soon had a book deal and remained on the NY Times Best Seller list for over 150 weeks.
Ultimately you know what the best route is for you and your project.
How do I know if my idea is any good?
Obviously “good” is subjective. Are you interested in every book at Barnes & Noble? No, but every book in Barnes & Noble was good enough to be published, according to at least a few people.
Just because what we deem uncool, boring, bad or lowbrow gets published does NOT mean that every idea—good or bad—is destined for publication. The question is, how do you know if your idea is good for publishing?
We’ll start with the obvious: your content is already gaining traction. Perhaps you already have a project, series or blog post that is connecting with a lot of people. This is a good sign.
What if you just have an idea that’s good, but no exposure to prove that other people think so too? Your turtle portraits haven’t gone viral, but YOU really think there’s something special to them.
It helps to ask the simple question, “Who would buy this?” or better yet, “For whom could this make the perfect gift?” In my case, everyone has a short friend. I’d Rather Be Short is a niche book. It feels unique—unique enough that a potential buyer could instantly think of a specific friend. For my second, The Roommate Book (comes out next spring), we’re shooting for the graduation crowd (hence the publication season). For the gals headed to college or leaving college to live in a new city with a new roommate, this is the perfect book. The net can be cast as wide as “friendship” and as narrow as “high school graduation gift for girls.”
Not every book is super niche. Some books have a broader appeal, and that’s okay too. Those probably connected or were sure to connect with a lot of people who thought it was really beautiful, funny, helpful or interesting.
I’ve had a lot of good and bad book ideas. One time I think I pitched an idea to my agent that was a book of quotes by famous people but on the adjacent page to the quote, the people where illustrated mermaids and mermen. It still sounds terrible and hilarious at the same time. It could have been great, but I couldn’t get past the initial question: who would receive this as a gift?
And that concludes our second installment of Adventures in Publishing. Thanks for stopping by! Do you have a book you’re dreaming about writing? Do you already have a book and want to offer further insight? Do you have any questions that haven’t been addressed? Leave a comment below or holler on Instagram or Twitter.
Want to read more on publishing? Check out the first post where I answer a few other questions.