breaking away from the pack

Every day, the publishing industry is becoming more like Hollywood in every way

By on January 17, 2010 in Publishing Revolution

Think about this: The publishing industry is becoming more like Hollywood every day. It didn’t used to be this way. The fragmentation of audiences through multiple digital media and a troubled economy causes the pipeline to shrink down to the sure bet and increase the fear and loathing of making the wrong decision. In other words, very much like Hollywood. So, if you accept that premise, and you are an established author with one of the big publishing houses or aspire to be published by one of them, what do you do? To be successful in the publishing industry (we’re talking New York), you look at what it takes to be successful in Hollywood.

1. You gotta be great, not just good, but great.
This means you leave no loose ends, your craft, your networking, your brand, EVERYTHING has to be perfected to within an inch of its life. The first thing that decision makers in Hollywood look for when they consider product (a crass way to look at artistic work, but there you are) is a reason to say no–ANYTHING that falls beneath their self-set standards of excellence/perfection, no matter how small or insignificant.

It’s their way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Get your format wrong on the cover of your screenplay, and FZZZAAAAAAHHTT! Like a bug hitting a electric zapper light on a hot summer day, you’re toast. Does this arbitrarily eliminate product that could make them a lot of money? Of course it does, but that doesn’t factor into the equation. It’s the self-justifying paradigm that is important.

So by exercising your due diligence and going the extra 500 hundred miles to be absolutely the best you can be, craft your product to the industry and the market, and produce transformative work, you give yourself at least a fighting chance. Be careful–one of the most common comments editors are giving manuscripts these days is “I’ve read this before”. They are looking at fresh takes on established themes. Don’t default, go on to the second choice or third choice or beyond in how you treat your materials.

2. Hone your brand.
If you don’t create and define your own brand experience for other people, other people will either wonder what the heck you’re all about or decide for themselves something about you that could completely miss the mark and spoil your chances.

This starts with who you are, your work, and positioning it so that it creates an experience for others that YOU want them to have. An experience that creates affinity, loyalty, and yes, love. If you don’t understand branding, better study up.

3. Begin with the end in mind.
(with apologies to Stephen R. Covey)
Total follow through. Visualize the book as published, as the publisher supported it from acquisition through preproduction, marketing and PR, through the sales chain until it arrived on the shelves, well-positioned and with a high level of awareness among the buying public and achieving break out sales. Then back it out to the agent, who that person is, how they really “get” the book, how it needs to get sold, to what publisher, and how it needs to get marketed successfully.

Your choice of agent may be the most important decision you make–everything flows from there. Then back it out to the hiring process—hiring the agent and researching the pool out there so that you understand the relative merits of each agent, their strengths and weaknesses and how that relates to you and your work and your ultimate goal, networking with friends and other authors to get more information and referrals that give you more ammunition and strengthen the power of your choices.

Back it out to the query letter where you position yourself and your work to give yourself the best chance to engage your chosen agent prospects in an interview process. Then …..

4. Start from the beginning.

It starts with Word One. Every page, every sentence, every word must have integrity. Integrity with your self as an artist, integrity with the marketplace.

Airport fiction.

A book that the weary traveler can pick up from the airport gift shop rack and settle back for four hours (or until it’s time to deplane) for a totally engrossing read that causes that reader to pine for that very next opportunity to sit down and continue reading.

And when the reader finishes the book, the reader feels longing for the story to go on, but it cannot, because it’s over! (“when’s your next book coming out???”).

This may not be enough, believe it or not. As the publishing industry abdicates its traditional marketing role, the base of marketing research that informs acquiring editors of what will sell becomes more porous by the day — you’ll likely need to demonstrate that there is an audience for your book, but that is fodder for another article to come.

5. Do your Research and Self-examination.
Yes, you have to figure out what you can write that will resonate with a diverse, large audience out there (who actually still reads). Know yourself, know the market, and learn from the very best in any way you can. And then transform yourself. And again. And again. Go the extra five hundred miles.

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