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Top 3 Ways to Turn on Any Agent, Publisher, or Distributor

By Meg LaBorde Phenix

1. Flaunt a big platform.
Size matters in our industry because a big platform is one of the few things that can minimize the risk all publishers and distributors assume when they pick up a new title. In the book trade, a platform is defined as any means that can be used to reach readers directly and pull significant sales. An author with a big platform may have a syndicated column in popular publications, a speaking network that reaches tens of thousands of people every year, a database of newsletter subscribers, or a large base of clients or contacts that can guarantee a notable number of sales. Platforms not only ensure a base number of sales, but also give books word of mouth power that keep sales through other channels moving faster and for longer periods of time. When you submit a proposal to an agent, publisher, or distributor, be sure to highlight your current platform and what you plan to do to make it even more powerful. This should be a huge part of your proposal—it is the number one way to attract interest.

2. Get people to watch.
Open your mind, even if you’re an introverted writer. Since media coverage can propel books onto bestseller lists and into mass public consciousness overnight, agents, publishers, and distributors are looking for media savvy authors with big publicity plans. Let me be more specific: radio interviews are fine, but we want authors with good publicists who have big contacts and a clear plan to land solid reviews and print features, as well as big, national television hits. When you create a proposal for an agent, publisher, or distributor, consider offering details. Specify which publicist or PR firm you plan to hire, budget details, and strategy information: What are your primary media targets? Will you tour? What are your strongest media hooks?

3. Show me your “marketing” package.
Come on, don’t be shy. To sell books into our key accounts, publishers and distributors need strong support for every title, so let us see what you’ve got. Three simple ways to prove that your book has a hungry market waiting for it are to (1) cite comp titles—books that are similar to yours—with wild sales and loyal readers, (2) offer a notable marketing budget in support of the publishers and distributors’ efforts, and (3) propose a marketing plan that is diverse. At the end of the day, even the most connected publicist is at the mercy of reviewers, producers, and reporters to get exposure for your book. Build in some guaranteed results: maybe an online marketing campaign that includes Google Ads and banner advertising on sites that reach your target market, animated book trailers (like movie trailers) to be distributed via email and broadcast in alternative outlets such as airplanes or movie theaters, or creative seeding campaigns to generate pre-publication buzz.

You may have noticed that all three turn-ons relate to marketing. That’s no coincidence. Though most unagented proposals focus almost exclusively on content, marketing is the best way for writers to attract agents, publishers, and distributors, and it is often the element that determines whether or not you get a contract. These three tips assume, of course, that your book is marketable. Publishers and distributors operate in a consolidated industry with an oversupply and underdemand for its products, so we are looking for books that will sell big numbers in a mass-market retail environment. To compete, we need books that will get readers’ attention, and often it comes down to the marketability of the content and the author. When you position yourself in your book proposal, keep this in mind and you just might get lucky.

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