Sara O’Connor asked me to answer a question that authors ask her all the time – what is the dream package in terms of an aspiring author and how does that influence a marketing team’s opinion during acquisition?
It’s a bit of a million-dollar-question, but I’m going to do my best to try to answer it from our point of view…
So, what’s the secret formula we’re looking for? Is it 1000 twitter followers? A well-trodden event schedule? Do you need to be a celebrity? A YouTube sensation? A self-published author with a proven online fanbase?
Sure. Sometimes those things work. I’ve seen and worked on many books and authors that might have started off that way. But I can honestly say that nothing excites a marketing department more than A FANTASTIC BOOK. A book that while reading it ideas spark off in every direction about fun things to do with it; you are scribbling things down on receipts in your bag while reading it on the bus, or highlighting sections on your iPad. Your heart starts to beat a little faster, you cannot stop thinking about the characters, the world, the story and can’t wait to get to work the next day to discuss it with your colleagues. I’ve had submissions where you start reading it on your way home, and feel so passionate about it you send an email to everyone in the team telling them you love it so much. At midnight. It’s THAT feeling that cannot be beaten, or recreated, ever, by twitter followers, facebook friends or any other hype.
In the same way, there is nothing more disappointing than reading about various accolades that an author has achieved already, in whatever field or medium, but then reading a book that doesn’t excite you. Because I know that when we’re selling it to other people – booksellers, librarians, parents, teenagers, reviewers, bloggers – that is exactly how they will feel. If something doesn’t live up to it’s hype, it’s a big let down, we all know that.
There are publishers I’ve heard of that will only consider acquiring authors that have already built up a following online before they get published. In my view, this is pretty much our job. You have to start with something brilliant and then work with an author to take it to an audience. So having an author that is open to working with us is definitely a bonus. And if they have done some of the groundwork already, plus written a fabulous book, then that does help. But, on the other end of the spectrum I’ve worked with authors that don’t want to do any events, tweet, blog or have a website and it doesn’t mean we would turn them down if we loved the book.
There are a lot of people out there who think that marketing departments love books in a ‘trend’. I’ll say for the record, we don’t really. A trend is set by a special, original book that then a lot of people think they have to copy to become successful. You wouldn’t believe how many ‘a-twist-on-The-Hunger-Games’-type submissions we read every month. While I’m not saying these books don’t, at times, have a place – it’s a fallacy to think that marketing departments are seeking them out. To try to sell a book that is like a lot of other books is tough. There are only so many ways you can spin ‘It’s a bit like this, but different…’
So if you can, write the story that’s in you, not what you think we want to read.
So, what am I saying? A ‘dream’ author for us: Great, original writing, mixed with an openness to work together with us and not balk at our crazy ideas (too much!).
And at the heart of it, HAS to be a good story. That’s what we’re looking for every time an editor sends us something to consider for acquisition. Something that stays with you, when other things pass by. Something that keeps you awake at night thinking about the characters or what might happen next. Something that you just can’t wait to tell other people about.
So writers, you concentrate on making your story the best it can be, and we’ll concentrate on all the other stuff.