Feeling a little fatigued or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of publishing advice out there today? There are so many options that it can leave us creative types wanting to bury our heads and surrender. But that’s not an option. Whether you plan to self publish or to garner an agent and secure a publishing deal—small or big house—you need to get on top of your own brand, marketing plan, sales goals, and platform. It’s a new world order demanding that we balance our time between business and creating. It’s not easy for everyone to juggle. Which means that some extremely talented writers may push out a book that fizzles out with low sales, making it more challenging to publish later with traditional houses. If that’s happened to you, don’t give up until you consider all the other areas to your writing career that you may not be on top of yet. For advice, I turned to Mike Larsen, author, agent with Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency since 1972, and currently an author coach.
I met Mike at the San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) this past February. If you don’t know Mike, and you’re a writer, you need to get to know him and his work. He is the author of How to Write a Book Proposal, which is in its fourth edition and has sold more than 100,000 copies. He also wrote How to Get a Literary Agent and coauthored Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work. Mike and wife Elizabeth Pomada also coauthored the six book Painted Ladies series about Victorian houses, selling more than 500,000 copies. As agents from 1972-2015, Larsen-Pomada, sold hundreds of books to hundreds of publishers and imprints, before declining to accept new clients in 2015. As an author coach, and co-founder of the SFWC, Mike speaks at writing conferences across the country and firmly believes writers need to support and network with other writers.
Being on both aisles of publishing as an agent and an author since the 1970s—as well as currently coaching authors—Mike has a wide-range view of the industry and solid, positive advice. Today’s marketplace demands that authors do more than ever to make their books succeed—even when securing a book deal with a publishing house. For many, it’s hard to navigate time spent on business and promotion (and what that looks like or costs), verses time spent on the craft (why we are doing this in the first place). Time spent on promotion can often induce fear, thwarting, or delaying, time spent on creation. This is why inspiring writers conferences where experts such as Mike speak, are so important. (See Mike this June at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.)
I firmly believe, as Mike does, that writing is a life-long, ever-evolving career. You and I are already a success if we love what we do and have found the way to carve time out every week to create. Control what you can, with a positive mindset, and embrace Mike’s belief that “Now is the best time ever to be a writer.”
Skeptical? Fearful? Daunted? Then this Q&A is for you!
Q: Friends who self publish and have not broken even financially moan about how much money they invested in marketing, editing, cover art and design, SEO optimization, travel, promotion and printing. I suggested they teach for additional income. What advice do you have for them?
MIKE: Writers have more ways to earn money from their books than ever: movie, audio and foreign rights; a blog or newsletter that attracts advertising. For nonfiction authors, speaking, coaching, consulting, training for individuals and groups, online or off, may be a possibility. Get to know other authors in your field and see what they are doing. Maybe you can partner with them.
Q: I’m assuming that you are not just suggesting submitting to online writing contests, but are referring to crowdfunding publishing options and Patreon?
MIKE: They may be able to bring in additional funds through those tools. But an author needs to learn who his/her readers are, where they are, and reach them on the platforms were they congregate: video, podcasts, or blogging, and social media.
Writers need to go events. They can give readings or interviews, attend book clubs, in person or by phone or Skype. Whether writers self-publish or sell their books to a publisher, the challenge of promotion will be mostly on their shoulders. Big and midsize publishers expect authors to be on top of their promotion. Being as visible as possible in as many ways and places helps sell books. Writers have to look at building their platform as an investment in their career.
Q: Some of my friends cringe at the idea of using Patreon as an additional revenue stream, as if it is the equivalent of begging.
MIKE: It’s high-tech patronage. Hundreds of years ago, it was fashionable for patrons to support artists whose work they enjoyed. Patrons have a deep appreciation for the arts: for playwrights, authors, painters, musicians. One must build up a following first. Then fans will want to contribute to help you keep writing. I think it is brilliant, especially at a time when writers are often expected to write for free. Writing is a noble endeavor that takes time, skill and effort. It deserves support.
Q: As a former agent and now a coach, where do you see writers most often slipping up? What are the most common mistakes writers make?
MIKE: New writers usually have no platform or promotion plan. They have to know more and do more than ever, including building communities of fans and writers. The moment you decide to write a book, maximize your visibility platform. They need clear writing and publishing goals. How big a house do you want? Do you want to self-publish? How many copies do you want to sell? At what price? Be consistent in how you communicate, building a brand to create your identity as a writer.
Q: It sounds like you’re saying writers need to take charge of their career and treat it like a business and write a business proposal.
MIKE: Yes. And it’s also important for writers to stay visible and accessible. Go to events. Support other writers, network, stay engaged. There are so many opportunities for writers to build communities of fans. But they have to be both writers and merchants, and balance between the yin and the yang of creating and writing with sharing their passion for the value of their books.
Q: Any other advice to budding authors trying to publish traditionally?
MIKE: Agents and editors need to know two recent, successful books that prove that your book is salable. Publishers are relying on authors. Prove that you can promote the book. The bigger the house you want, the more they will expect of you. If you’ll be happy with a small house, platform and promotion aren’t as important.
Q: Parting words of advice?
MIKE: You can do anything you want. Social media can make any book sell. Be clear about where you want to go and the best way to get there. Assume it will take you five books to build an audience. Find an author to model your career after. Keep turning out books that sell each other. If you love what you do and keep doing it, nothing can stop you.