PART SEVEN: Understanding and Using Professionals to Help Build Your Career
Here they come! The Professionals. You know who they are, they’re all over the place, on your Google searches, in your email inbox, in the grocery store, your church, writing class and even in your friendships, because someone always knows someone who knows someone who can – you fill in the blank. Some are pounding at you on twitter either to get your business or tell you how hard their job really is.
They’re recommended by your critique group, your writing/author group and often they pop up when you least expect it. (You mean you didn’t know that the woman who walks her dog past your house every morning is a marketing expert? The paperboy heard from the neighbor’s kid who baby-sits your niece that you’re writing a book and told his auntie, Margie Marketing.) News travels and there are days when these connections seem opportune. At times these professionals seem like gods, at other times, we imagine them to be money-sucking monsters. One thing is sure, there is a need for them. Gird your loins, here they come!
- Literary Agents
- Author’s Liaisons
- Promotional Agents
- Marketing Experts
- Consultants and Advisers
- Published Authors
All experts, all professionals … and all over the place. How can you, the author who’s just about to be either published or discovered, really and truly know who to use, who not to use, who you need and how to control your project through all the craziness ahead? How much of their services are strategic enough to make or break your success? What does YOUR career require, as opposed to that other writer over there with a different book in a different genre? How much can you really do on your own and how do you know it’s time to hire a professional?
Instinct. Sorry, but it’s true. Let’s take the above list of wonderful professionals and run through their benefits or downfalls.
- Literary Agents – if you’re seeking traditional publishing you need one, unless you’ve chosen an independent publisher. You don’t hire an agent, you sort of woo them with your query, then they woo you back with their interest and it isn’t until they say they’d like the represent you that it’s time to take a serious look at their services and success rate. Literary agents are the backbone for the traditional publishing industry as it has been for a very long time, but as you know, the industry is changing and so is this particular part of it. Be sharp, keep an eye out for scams and never pay a literary agent a dime for any service. An agent earns their payment through a percentage of your success … this is why they’re so careful about the authors and books they choose to represent. Only with success will they be financially rewarded, thus, only the cream of the crop get represented – those genres or styles the particular agent has seen success with. These professionals need to back the right horse. Don’t forget – just because you weren’t Agent X, Y or Z’s right horse doesn’t mean you can’t be represented by a literary agent. Seeking out, contacting and connecting with the perfect agent for you is a challenge and takes serious, committed effort. Do your homework, be realistic about your work, never give up. When you’ve made the perfect bond, they’re ready and you’re ready, then you’ve made a major step toward your success. Read contracts carefully and ask questions.
- Author Liaison – This is something new and exciting for those seeking self-publishing. These professionals know the self-publishing arena and can connect you with the perfect publisher for you and your project. There are things you need to know. Author Liaisons often will charge for services, and in most cases, they will also contract for a percentage of book sales. The Hiring Professionals Strategies below is vital here.
- Promotional Agents – Do you know what these people are? Often even I’m not sure, this kind of service often smears in with Publicists, Marketing Experts, Consultants and Advisers. You seriously need the Hiring Professionals Strategies below to field through this group of pros.
- Editors – Don’t even think twice – you need editors. Don’t wonder, don’t look back and don’t pinch pennies. Often the editing is part of a publisher’s standard service. A good author’s liaison will recommend one or more. Many writers hire editors to do an edit on a manuscript about to go to a literary agent, and all self-published authors must have a full edit or risk looking like a fool. If you find yourself in a position where you will choose or hire an editor, the Hiring Professionals Strategies below is for you.
- Published Authors – How wonderful is it when a successful, published author is willing to share his/her trials and tribulations with you? These are the warriors who have conquered the dragons, found their way and continue to venture onto the battlefield! It’s not easy to find, you can’t just walk up to a successful author and ask for advice, but if you find yourself in a situation that smoothes that path, don’t be shy, slip and slide along. At a writer’s conference, sitting at the bar, munching peanuts and Mr. Author is sipping a beer on the next bar stool? By all means, smile and talk. Don’t bombard him, just be friendly. Another place to learn amazing, valuable information about the process and life of an author is on twitter, by following author blogs, or friending and following authors on facebook. Don’t be a nuisance, just absorb. An author won’t be charging you for his or her advice, but you do need to take it all with a grain of salt. Be smart about your choices because your time is valuable too. Follow or chat with authors who write the same genre you’re writing or authors who have approached the market with interesting twists or bold strokes. Be inspired or seek someone else.
Now that we’ve covered the professionals, it’s time to talk about how and when to use them.
SERIOUSLY GOOD HIRING PROFESSIONALS STRATEGIES
- The “Hope is Not a Good Strategy” Strategy – Authors are writers who love writing and in most cases, don’t want to do anything but write. Hoping the perfect champion will simply come along and stumble onto your doorstep to whisk you to success is lame. If you build your author’s platform early and reinforce it all along your journey, you have inadvertently pushed the tentacles of your project out into the world and now you have a better shot at grasping the interest of the right professionals. I have a client who caught the eye of an independent publisher simply by chattering on twitter and having his novel excerpts on his author site. The indie-publisher Googled the author, found his website, liked the concept and, voila. That’s not hope, that’s action, and a strong author’s platform is the flip side of just wishing victory into being.
- The “Just Like Magic Doesn’t Mean Real Magic” Strategy – Wow, I’ve heard a hundred of these stories. Authors have met author liaisons in grocery stores and publicists at the dry cleaners. They’ve discovered cool promotional avenues over a glass of wine at a club or overheard an editor talking on the train and struck up a conversation. How serendipitous! Or is it? Serendipity is a twist of fate, but is it destiny? I’m not saying that the publicist you met over cocktails is a fraud or incompetent at all, what I’m suggesting is to step back, take a breath and think it through. Too many writers just finish a manuscript and suddenly have a chance meeting with a professional perfectly poised to catapult them to heaven. It could be a golden opportunity or just a red herring. Be a writer, if this plot twist came into your character’s life, what would they do? A little research at the least. Take some time and learn all you can about the professional, be sure they’re right for you. Ask to talk to their other clients. Have them do a presentation and explain what they can do for you.
- The “Comparing Apples to Apples” Strategy – Now that you are finished with your novel or non-fic book proposal, maybe you’re ready to hire a professional to help get you to the next level. It may be an editor, it may be a marketing expert who can assist in building your platform, it might be a publicist who knows what you should be doing now to assure a serious attention later. You might be at the point where you want to hire a consultant to guide you toward which steps to take next. Be sure to look deep when hiring anyone. After all, you don’t hire a plumber who arrives without his tools, or a doctor without a diploma. Your lawyer and dentist have credentials and so should your career professionals. Compare value for your buck, and compare quality based on success rate.
- The “Do I Really Need that?” Strategy – Oh the bells and whistles are so exciting! Everything calls to you from fancy-dancy book-videos to imprinted tee shirts. Time to be logical. 1) Do you really need it? 2) Does your budget allow for it? And 3) will it advance your visibility or make you look like a goof. Sorry, but I laughed my butt off when I saw that an author with a serious novel about addictions had his book cover printed onto a massive coffee mug. One the other side it said, “Coffee, my addiction of choice”. I am certainly not saying you should ignore all the bright sparklies out there that might get your book the attention it deserves, I’m just suggesting you think it through first.
- The “Down and Dirty” Strategy – So maybe these magical appearances of professionals everywhere hasn’t happened to you, so you have to plan, think and choose for yourself whether you need a professional and what kind will serve best. Do your homework. Check out websites, compare expertise and price. Know what’s out there and understand what kind of professional can truly guide YOU. There are a lot of cookie-cutter plans and services available and a hundred how-to books on the subject, but remember … the industry is changing. You need to determine the kind of professional you need for this shifting landscape. Locate one who moves with the changes and sees these vacillations as opportunities. It’s a lucky time. Just because things have been done one way or another way for years does not mean it’s the only way to do it from now on. Look for professionals who are willing to break new ground and personalize their service to YOU and YOUR BOOK.
- The “Careful, Careful, Careful” Strategy – It’s one thing to look at websites, but another thing altogether to really get a grasp on a professional. These are people. Some of them have amazing websites and work out of their small home office. Some have large staffs and corner offices in high-rise buildings. Is one better than the other? You will need to keep one thing in mind at all times. This process isn’t about getting the absolute best of the best, word renowned “name” professional to handle your progress to success … this is about getting the absolute best professional FOR YOU. After checking out all the online information you can get and asking around about a particular professional, it’s time to take the next step. Contact that person and ask for a phone chat. Yes … a phone chat. A conversation where you can hear that person’s voice and they can hear yours. A thousand things can be learned by the inflections in their voice, the passion in their words and the questions that they ask. Don’t forget to have your questions ready too, because this isn’t a one-way road, it’s a relationship where both parties will benefit. Trust your instincts and know when the discussion is over. Don’t get railroaded into agreeing to anything until you’ve had time to think. And above all … do not ignore your pocketbook. No matter how great a professional and their service sound, if you don’t have the budget for it, it’s not a good match.
- The “Follow Your Gut” Strategy – Okay, you found the perfect pro to get you where you want to go. They have the right attitude and your instincts tell you that you can work well with this person. You like them and they like you. Now, take a day or two, set it all aside and see what happens next. If you’re still sure, explore any concerns. Is the cost a bit pricy? Perhaps you can negotiate. Is the timing perfect but the market soft for your particular book? Toss it out as a challenge for answers. Test yourself and the pro to assure everything is up front and clear. Your gut knows more than you think.
- Avoiding The “Wannabe” Strategy – Dan Brown’s last book was released in the American and the European markets at the same time. You want that. Barbara Kingsolver was interviewed in several cities and spoke live in Los Angeles when The Lacuna was released recently. Oh, you want that too. Charlaine Harris makes appearances at many conventions that features supernatural or paranormal stories in print, television and film. Yes! You want to do that too! An aspiring author you met online has created a dynamic, powerful and exciting website with all the bells and whistles to expose her work-in-progress and … you want that too. Let’s take a moment and look in the mirror. You’re not Dan Brown or even the hopeful writer with the fancy website. You are YOU and you can’t lose track of it. How and where and when you get your exposure simply can’t be based on what another author is doing. Be sure you’ve outlined your goals and the path to attaining them is purely based on you and your book.
- The “Back Up and Punt” Strategy – Everyone has setbacks. Not every professional we think will be perfect for us, is. Sometimes we just have to bite the bullet, say “uncle” and move on. Be careful. As you move along in this visible world, many people will come out of the woodwork to give you advice, free or for a cost, and that unsolicited advice isn’t always necessarily right for you. If a person states that your author’s liaison, agent or publicist should have done “this or that” for you, take a moment to think on it. Was “this or that” considered and determined not the correct strategy for your project? Has your pro never suggested “this or that” and why? Ask. You’ve been working with this pro for a while and should be on the same page, should have gained respect for each other and found a comfort zone for exploring things … even “this or that”. If in that exploration it’s determined that there’s no longer a good match, shake hands, share a hug and move on. Burn no bridges because now you’re back where you started and the last thing you need is a reputation for being too difficult or hardheaded to work with. Use a line I use about one of my ex-husbands (and yes, I have two, long story). Simply say that the professional was really a good publicist (or marketing expert or author’s liaison or whatever), just not good for you. This way, no one looks bad. This time you should be armed with even more important questions to ask as you search out a new professional relationship.
- The “Track Record” Strategy – This one is just a warning, it should help raise a red flag. Keep a sharp eye on your track record for success with any professional you hire. Set up a monthly telephone conversation to discuss performance (in fact, if your pro is a good one, they may have already begun this practice as a standard performance check with you, the client). This is an honest, up front way of keeping an eye on your path toward success. Things should be moving ahead in increments acceptable to both you and your professional. Another track record to keep track of is your own. How are you doing with the professionals you’re working with? Are you meeting they’re requests for information or materials? Are you compromising their efforts by implementing suggestions some of those unsolicited experts gave you? Are you firing and hiring a new editor or marketing expert again and again? Are you imagining you are the victim? Or can you do what it takes to streamline your focus and truly move to success. What’s your track record?
Which strategy works best? Sorry … all of them. Together. Print this out and tape it on the wall. Remind yourself to seek out and hire professionals who listen to you AND who you are ready and willing to listen to in return.
But don’t forget, there are many things you can do without professional help … but that’s another blog series altogether. *wink* Stay tuned, same time, same channel.
Platform Building, One Plank at a Time
Lesson one, The Rhyme and Reason
Lesson two, Creating Your Book Business Plan
Lesson three, Developing Your Unique Hooks
Lesson four, Getting Attention
Lesson five, Knowing Your Market
Lesson six, Planning an Effective Pre-Launch