September 02, 2009

What I learned from my agent

Jan Miller is my literary agent.  She found me working at broadcast.com, put me with Gene Stone (my writing partner) and got me my first book deal (Love Is The Killer App).  She's a super-agent, with a star studded stable of best selling authors, celebs and gurus. 

For the last few months, I've worked with her on my new book proposal.  If you follow me on Twitter, you likely know what I'm thinking/tweeting/writing about.  Along the way, she's share some pearls of wisdom, gleaned from her work in the industry.  

For aspiring authors, here's a few solid takeaways she's recently given me: 
1. Write for Betty in Boise - She learned this working with Dr. Phil McGraw.  It sounds simple, but most authors cannot pull it off.  Instead, they write for Marie-Claire in Manhattan or Cindy from Seattle. The key is to have a broad appeal from rurual to surburban to urban and beyond. 

2. A great book is a presentation given a thousand times - Stephen Covey Sr. told her that, probably reference his master piece (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  His training company conducted hundreds of seminars prior to writing the book.  The value here comes from audience feedback.  Each presentation gives you a chance to discover what works, and hone the bits and stories into gold.  Don't write, then speak about it ... like most modern day authors.  You get weaker books that way. 

3. A book must work, promotion just gives it a chance to work - She learned this working with all of her authors over time.  Her point is that books must connect deeply with readers, so the reader tells all of his friends to buy the book.  Without word-of-mouth or BIG media, books languish in obscurity. Marketing and promotion places the book into enough hands for the resulting word-of-mouth to make a big difference.  To write a book that works: Write what you know and then show us who you are: 
More on this in my previous post on this subject

4. Words that sound good don't always look good on paper - To understand what will work, you need to look at the words and imagine you are a reader in a bookstore or online.  She shared a few stories about authors who had a killer seminar, but when it was transposed into written format people didn't get it. 

5. You are as valuable to a publisher as your last book - This is the cold reality of publishing.  The biggest advances usually go to unknown quantities or bankable authors.  Most editors create a P/L to calculate an advance.  When there's a known sales figure from the last book, it becomes the driver of that formula. If you have a track record, and it's mediocre, you'll get mediocre offers for your next book. Yes, the timing might have been bad, but that doesn't really matter - you are still only as valuable as your last book.  There are, however, 2 ways out of author jail if you publish a book that doesn't work:  A big/unique idea that's formulated into a kick-butt proposal OR you get famous/infamous.  

Read: Write The Perfect Book Proposal
Posted at 11:57 AM in Writing  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)  |  TrackBack (0)

Comments

Commentor

I believe I briefly met Jan in Pittsburgh during the taping of the PBS debut of "The Likeability Factor". Someday I hope to have her working on one of my projects.

Commentor

Great post! I am fortunate that Jan is my agent, too.

Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
Author, "Is It Still Cheating If I Don't Get Caught?" (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, 2009)
BusinessWeek.com's Ethics Columnist
TheEthicsGuy.com


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