Probably the biggest misconception I see with first time authors is that a great idea and great execution can guarantee a book deal. Maybe ten years ago this was the case, but today the key question from most publishers is “what’s your platform?”
What the heck does this mean?
Well, it’s publisher and agent slang for visibility. And visibility _really_ helps. With so much competition for shelf-space, advertising space, and reviews, publishers have found that they need authors with pre-existing public platforms to help promote the book. A platform can be as grand as a day-time talk show — as evidenced by the bestseller list — or it can be as modest as a newspaper column, but whatever you do when you plan to launch your book you need to think about how you’re going to sell it.
In the old days they say that editors edited, and publishers marketed books. But with some 75,000 books a year being published, there’s too much going through the channel for publishers to give more than maybe 10% of their titles a proper sending off, if that, and the slack in promotion falls to the author.
This really hurts mid-list books across the board. Some publishers fight this by creating strong brands that can help to ensure shelving: so you see the “for Dummies” guides from Wiley or the “Everything” guides from Adams Media, series that capitalize on a consistent look and feel and selling proposition, and that reap the advantage of marketing dollars spread across many titles to make the economics work.
For almost all mainstream non-fiction titles, publishers demand that the author is already a nationally recognized expert. As a new author, or an author who wants to branch out to doing different kinds of books, that’s your biggest hurdle. I’ll share some ideas on how to deal with this soon.