Friday, December 30, 2005

The Editor's Search

It’s not rocket science to know what a book editor is looking for from an author. The manuscripts and book proposals and pitched ideas pour into the mailbox and email of various editors in publishing.  Many of those pitches (often the majority) are rejected quickly. For whatever reason, the author didn’t do their homework or the editor has already got another similar idea in the works or any number of other reasons. Yet the editor is constantly looking and open to new ideas. It’s why they take the time and energy to travel to writer’s conferences — some of which are way off the beaten path. They are looking for something different that will work for the needs of their particular publishing goals.

I’ve written about platform in these entries about the writing life. There are different ways to look at platform and one of those innovative concepts I’ve seen is called PyroMarketing. (If you haven’t heard about PyroMarketing, follow this link to some great insight.)  I was fascinated with an article in the December 19, 2005 issue of Publisher’s Weekly called “Who’s the Next Biz Guru? by Marcela Valdes. The article looks at business, personal finance and investing books in particular but some of the statements apply across the board to a much broader selection of books.  I recommend you read the full article and you have to be a subscriber or read the magazine at the public library. It isn’t available online except to subscribers.  I’m going to pull a couple of the universal thoughts from this article for you.

It’s almost like a mantra inside the publishing boardrooms and the editor’s search: platform. Here’s what Valdes writes, “Reading over the numerous articles on the topic, one could easily believe that platform alone unlocks the door to bestsellerdom. But for publishers looking to create bankable stars—the kind of mega-authors who stand at the helm of not just one, but a series of bestselling books—it’s time to recognize that platform isn’t enough.”  That’s my emphasis on the sentence underline. Then the article continues with some examples where a publisher believed an author’s platform was enough and invested in a book which didn’t perform as expected. As an editor and as a writer, I’ve been involved in several of these types of projects.  At the initial stages of a writing project, the publisher had high expectations. In some cases, they invested substantially in the author, the design of the book and marketing yet the book didn’t catch on and quickly faded into the out-of-print category.

Here’s the two sentences in Valdes article that stood out to me, “Add it all up, and you realize that any author who wants to compete in the financial big leagues needs a great, fresh idea; a proven track record; and a big, charismatic personality. Oh yeah, and one of those things called a platform.”

OK, I’m not writing this entry to discourage anyone.  The editor is searching for something more than visibility and an audience. They are searching for that fresh idea. Admittedly after you have been in this business for a while, you’ve been pitched the same idea over and over. Then when you hear something with a different spin or different insight, it stands out as something fresh.  To find one of these fresh ideas, you have to put some solid creativity into your book proposal and your pitch.  You may also shy away from the phrase “big, charismatic personality.” Most of writers are in the introvert category. We’d much rather curl up with a good book some where than stand out in front of millions on television or on the stage. (Did you notice how I categorized myself in that category? It’s true.)  Yet there is media training and coaching and skills to be taught in this area. I’ve seen any number of bestselling authors who when you meet them one on one are quiet and shy. Then when it comes time to walk on the stage or handle an interview, they reach down inside and come forward with that charismatic, attractive personality which draws readers to their message.

I believe in a creative God who will give us these fresh ideas and the ability to bring them into the marketplace in a creative way. It’s part of the optimistic spirit which I face each day—and hopefully something that will help each of you in your pursuit of excellence.

4 Comment:

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Shelley L. MacKenzie Left a note...

You mention about fresh ideas, something that is the same old story idea that has been pitched over and over again. How do you come up with this sort of thing when you are writing for a particular genre? For example, if one is writing a romance novel, how can you come up with fresh ideas since it seems all the ideas have been used over and over in the thousands of romance books available? Is it the story itself and not the main "girl meets boy, girl and boy end up together at the end of the story" plot?

Just wondering if you can expand on this a little to give us new writers some ideas :o).

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


You raise some good questions. It is difficult to find a fresh idea in genre writing--but it is possible. Writers are doing it successfully all the time. You do keep the same basic elements but the setting, the dialogue and the way the details come together will be in a manner that will spring from your pen as the writer. Hone your writing skills in the short story market is one suggestion I have for you in genre writing--and read, read, read.

I've never said I had the answers to these questions, Shelley. I'm just telling you what most editors and literary agents are looking for and thinking about when they look at manuscripts. I hope the insight is helpful. From my perspective, just knowing the questions helps you search for the answers.

The Writing Life

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Camy Tang Left a note...

I like the point about media coaching for introverts. I am naturally an introvert, but my mom forced me to join the speech team in high school. It gave me such good training in public speaking that I lost my fear of it.

It also helped me when I had to go to conferences and meet people. I'm not outgoing, but if I utilized the training from my speech background, it made it so much easier for me to interact with strangers.

I guess my point is that public speaking and being more outgoing can be learned. I'll never completely be comfortable with it, but I'll hopefully never show it.


At 2:38 AM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller Left a note...

I like your last paragraph, Terry. We can't leave God out of the mix. He's the hand that weaves it all together.


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