It’s been two years since I left traditional publishing, but I’m still very much in it in my day-to-day. First, my wife is a publisher at a traditional house—so there’s that. In my coaching practice, some 60%-70% of my clients come to me because they want to get traditionally published—and I support them whole-heartedly to pursue that path. Then there are the aspiring authors who think they want to try their hand at alternative publishing, but they’re still not sure because they really really really want the legitimacy of the traditional publishing world telling them their work is good enough. So they’re spinning their wheels and keeping other options on the backburner. (I support this wheel-spinning only to a certain point—see golden rules below.)
Last week, just as I do every week, I had a conversation with one of my coaching clients (always prompted by them toward the end of our work together) that went something like this:
Client: “Do you think my book is good?”
Me: “Yes, you’ve worked so hard on this project. It’s very good.”
Client: “Do you think my book will get published?” [When posing this question, the implication is always “traditionally published.”]
Me: “Ten years ago, your manuscript would get a publisher behind it, but today’s emphasis on author platform means you have an uphill battle ahead of you.”
Client: “Yeah, you’ve said that before.”
Me: “So we’ll still try, and see what happens. And then, if you don’t get an agent or an editor, maybe you’ll consider other options.”
Client: “Yeah, maybe.”
Sometimes a client responds more enthusiastically than this. Sometimes it’s a “Hell, yeah!” But for most it takes a while to come around to the idea that they’ll have to green-light themselves, and it’s an understandable letdown when agents and editors don't bite, when they’re left to decide for themselves whether they think (or believe) that their work is worthy of being published.
I recently had a conversation with a friend, an executive editor at a medium-size house, who told me that she can no longer acquire any authors who don’t bring a national platform to the table. Yes folks, she said NATIONAL. A national platform means radio (beyond local), network television, speaking engagements across the country, major social media numbers, a website that drives major traffic, and a solid database of followers. A national platform is not easy to build, and it’s impossible to build without—yes, you guessed it—a book.
A lot of my clients think they’re paying me to get them out of this conundrum faced by this Catch-22, but they’re not. I can’t convince someone to publish their work outside traditional channels, and I don’t even want to. Writers must come to a decision on their own. All I can do is provide the evidence that it works, and try to support writers to have a back-up plan. I don’t hide, however, that one of the greatest travesties I witness on a regular basis is writers who put not only their blood, sweat, and tears but their time, money, and resources into a manuscript that they personally love, and then put it in a drawer (or, more aptly, a folder on their computer) to be forgotten after it gets rejected. Only it’s not forgotten, because I meet these people all the time and their projects are nagging at them—begging to be published, to see the light of day, to be read.
The Catch-22 you face if you’ve been rejected by the traditional world (and I assure you, this is most writers—and many of you have beautiful, well-written, and smart books-to-be) is that you cannot build the kind of platform you’re supposed to have if you don’t publish. But you can’t get published unless you have this big platform. While this is crazy-making, I selfishly see myself and She Writes Press as being wonderfully positioned to catch all of you in your downward spiral and save you from yourselves. Do not despair if you do not get agented, or if your agent can’t sell your book. There is another way!
Here are my golden rules, and you can feel free to adopt them as your own:
A national platform is daunting, but becoming an author doesn’t have to be. It’s a not-so-secret secret that you can work toward your long-term goal of getting traditionally published by publishing—and you might just discover once you’re on the other side that you no longer need that validation because you’re doing just fine, thank you very much.
*Book platform staircase image courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com