How A Publisher Can Help
Writing a book is a bucket list item for a lot of people. Often times, its one that is never crossed off - typically as a result of not knowing the extensive process before, during and after writing your book to set yourself up for success. Thankfully, aspiring authors don't have to face this daunting process alone and can navigate this literary world with a publisher. Then they can focus on what maters - the message of their book.
Recently, our CEO sat down with an agent who has over 25 years experience in publishing and writing books. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how to successfully convey a message using a published book with the founder of Keller Media Inc., Wendy Keller.
A Little More About Wendy
Wendy has been a Top LA Literary Agent since 1989. She's sold more than 1,700 rights deals around the world including 18 New York Times best sellers and 9 international best sellers. Her clients include Nobel Prize nominees, leading scientists, renowned motivational speakers, politicians, self-help gurus, CEOs and prominent entrepreneurs.
Her agency Keller Media focuses exclusively on nonfiction books written for adults. Wendy is the author of 31 published books, most recently "The Ultimate Guide to Platform Building" from Entrepreneur Press. She is passionate about helping people with strong messages reach their audiences. Wendy has taught about 8,000 people to become paid speakers and she has guided over 20,000 authors how to get their book published and write a strong book proposal that will attract top publishing houses.
Interview Transcript Highlights
Question: I am so happy to have you here today chatting with us and talking about all things books, and I'm so happy too that I was introduced to you. I'd like you to start off by giving a little background about who you are and what got you to where you are today.
Answer: Oh, thank you. Well, I've been an agent for more than 30 years. I started working for another agent who was in Hollywood writing coverages, which is critiques, basically, of screenplays and books. And after about a year, I figured out that he didn't really know what he was doing, and he wasn't actually selling anything, and I thought, "Well, okay, I'm going to become an agent. I mean, I can certainly do better than he does."
So I left him one day, and I wrote to a couple agents and said, "Hey, can you mentor me?" And they were agents who were conveniently listed in the back of Writer's Digest Magazine. That's where I thought all agents were listed, and I wrote them. Two of them agreed to work with me, and teach me, and within a year I was making more money in my percentage I was paying them that they were making in their own agencies. So I cut ties and started doing this myself.
I've been an entrepreneur since I was a little kid, but the thing that I get passionate about really is that I have my own books, and my own writing, and that's kind of a hobby for me, but what I really am excited about is that because of my work I can help a lot of other people get their content to an even larger market. I'm only an expert on a few things, but by bringing in other experts and helping them connect with the millions of people, I create a bigger pie in the world, basically.
My specialty is very strictly nonfiction. Business, self-help, which can be anything from how to raise your child, to how to lose weight, to how to get over Parkinson's disease. I just sold that, not get over it, but deal with it, and unfortunately, and things like that.
Question: You mentioned if someone gets it right from the start, they are more likely to achieve their goals. So, how do you do it right from the start?
Answer: In the United States, all nonfiction books are sold to publishers of a book proposal. You don't need one if you're writing a novel, but you need one if you're writing nonfiction. So, a nonfiction book proposal is really to the publishing industry what a business plan would be if you were going out and seeking venture capital because it's the same thing, you're trying to get a stranger to invest their money in your great idea. When you write a quality, well crafted, intelligent book proposal, then you're far more likely to find an agent. And when you find that agent, they will be able to take it and represent it to publishers because most publishers won't take anything that doesn't have an agent attached, and then you'll get the deal.
Your chances go up astronomically if you write a right proposal, get yourself an agent, and then that agent can shop it. We can't shop an idea, we can't shop a manuscript, we can't shop a failed self published Kindle book, but we can shop a proposal. So it's critical to have that document in the right order.
People who just start writing a book, that is a huge waste of time. I hate saying that to people because it crushes their emotional attachment to their material, but here's why, because you and everyone else is going to be writing in an ivory tower. So what you see is your world and your desire to get the book out, but when you send it to a publishing professional such as myself or other agents, we may have seen that idea 30 times in the last month, 500 times in the last year, pretty much the same concept.
I had this conversation with an author this morning, what he's writing is something I've rejected thousands of times, I'm not exaggerating. So what the author has to do is look at the industry, my industry, publishing, and make a decision about how to differentiate the content. I call that NDBM, it's an acronym for new, different, better, or more. If your book doesn't offer something better than all those books, then as we call it, it doesn't deserve its shelf space.
42-48% of books are now sold through Amazon, so it's not really about the shelf space, but that half inch spine of your book is being put at Barnes & Noble, you have to earn that space by being NDBM than the other titles. So when you just sit down and you got this great idea and you just start typing, chances are that you haven't taken the time to really differentiate your content in a way that sounds unique to someone who's done it a million years, as opposed to your neighbors, or your friends, or the people who came to your last class and say, "Oh, you're so brilliant." Because frankly, from our side of the desk, you may not be that original or brilliant. So you just need to do the steps, and go through the proposal writing process, which is built to help you differentiate your content in a way that makes it marketable.
Question: Okay, so you've done the book proposal, signed on to Wendy Keller, you're going, going, going. Woo hoo! Book proposals done, she's giving you flying colors. What happens then, whether they're working with you, or they work with another agent, what are the next steps? How does it play out?
Answer: You're welcome to go on vacation once you've got an agent. So here's why. So once the agent has the proposal, and one agent said, "You tell Wendy," because I know him, he said, "You tell Wendy this is a great project. It's one of the easiest proposals that's come in." Because it's already done, which agents love, because then we don't have to work on building a proposal. What the agent does is we take this proposal, and we think about which editors we know personally are going to be most interested. So you as a consumer might go, "Oh, here's are the houses that handle business books." But we're thinking, "Yeah, but there's nine editors at that house. One handles leadership, and one handles entrepreneurship, and two of them handle personal business finance." So I'm going to choose a handle business finance and, which one wants this kind of project, and is she in the office this week, or is he going to be the person who's most excited about working with this kind of an author? Do we have the personal knowledge of the editors?
We're going to select usually 10 to 16 editors, that's all there exists who can afford to pay a good advance in America right now, there's only 12 to 16 people who are going to be interested in your book. So we're going to send the project simultaneously to all of them and say, "Hey, this is what we got." And then we start the work. So it's phone calls, and emails, and if think you're going to sell for over a hundred thousand dollars, even over two hundred thousand, I'm going to ask you to take a day out of your life and to meet me in New York, and we're going to go around the circle, and we're going to meet everybody's who's interested in you. All this stuff is going on. This is what agents do. This is where we earn the first part of our money.
Then you get to a place where at least one of those editors has made an offer, right? So could be a small offer, doesn't matter, any offer counts. Then I call all the editors who still have it and I say, "Oh my God, you're going to miss out on it. Poor you, it's already got an offer, you're slow." I scare them, and this is how all agents do it. We scare the poor editors, and we make them read it on their lunch, or on the weekend, or whatever, so they don't miss out on this wonderful book that we're trying to sell them. Then we have hopefully more than one offer, you negotiate amongst the publishers. There are different things than the amount of the advance. There's terms, and there's sub-rights, and there's all kinds of parts to a contract. Hundreds of details to deal with. Then your agent will come back to you, and call you, "Well guess what? I've got something happy to tell you." Then you make a decision.
Question: So, you've written your book. Now it's been edited, it's even gotten down to being line edited, and it's off to publication. What happens after that?
Answer: Well, it kind of depends on the agents interest in marketing. So if you're a Keller Media client, you will get at least an hour with me where I'm going to tell you long before you've even started writing the book, here's how to shift the content if you're looking to become a speaker, because there's specific things you have to do. Or here are the specific ways you should change the way you're writing the book, the actual process of writing it, if you want to get more consulting. Or if you're only interested in growing your social media platform, here's how to do that. Whatever your thing is, so we work backwards from your goal. I don't know what other agents do because I'm not an author for another agent, but I would hope that you would have an agent who's more interested in marketing than book selling because we can sell the book in our sleep after, it's not rocket science.
It is for authors, but it's not for us. So now you have this agent who's helped you work backwards on it. Two to three months before the book comes out, if you're going to, you're going to retain a publicist, if you want, to work in conjunction with you, your staff, and the publisher's publicity department, whatever, to create a master plan to make this book as successful as possible. Then you're going to continue with that publicist for 90 days after release because really that 90 day window after release is critical. If you sell a lot of books in that space, you will sell a lot of books doing forward because there are triggers in the industry. If your book comes out and it does well, those triggers will be clicked and you will find a momentum happening that will hopefully exceed your wildest dreams.
If you only do marginally well in those first 90 days, you may still get your goal, it may just take a little longer, and the industry isn't going to be putting as much resource and attention behind you as you would've got. I don't mean me as an agent, but I mean the publisher themselves. So a lot of it depends on how well you're setup and how good your marketing plan is executed, and how seriously you're paying attention to it. If you say, "Well, I took off a year to write my book and now I'm going to go back to speaking because my book just released." You won't succeed. You need to keep that growing, the platform needs to keep growing so that you have, we call them pre-sales, before the book comes out. Which will queue up sales after the book comes out. Then you just keep turning the crank.
That's how you become Gary Vaynerchuk, or Brené Brown, or Jeffery Hayslett, or any major author. That's how it really works. You pay attention to the marketing before and after publication.
Check Out The Podcast!
When it comes to book publishing, Wendy is among the best of the best. If you've ever considered writing a book, then you don't want to miss the full episode! Or, if you know of someone who's mentioned writing a book you should send this episode their way!
Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned in their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year, linked below!
- Building Culture In Your Company
- Developing Smarter Marketing Programs
- Amplify Your Brand Through Cause Marketing
- Gender Bias And Female Targeted Marketing
- Convert Connections Into Customers
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