On January 25th, the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) presented a panel discussion on this topic. You may not like the shocking answers. Moderated by Telly Davidson, a TV and film consultant and author of Culture War (due out in 2017), the panel consisted of David Gonzalez, events manager at Skylight Books and author of several short stories; Gerald Everett Jones, author of Bonfire of the Vanderbilts, his sixth novel; Monica Faulkner, editing and publishing consultant; Tom Benton, sales representative for Penguin/ Random House; and Megan Close, associate agent for Keller Media.
Most writers are aware that, these days, to sell a book through an agent, they must have a platform: expertise, a website, social media connections, and a blog, newsletter, or video channel. What they may not know is that the number of followers is also critical. Authors must demonstrate, said Megan Close, how they will make money for the publisher. In addition, they must be among the “beautiful people” (look like movie stars), a bias most attendees found disconcerting.
When pressed, Close admitted that the major publishers won’t consider taking on authors who aren’t famous outside their own circles. A preference for non-fiction authors is for them to have TV shows on news channels like FOX, CNN, MSNBC, etc., so that they can bring in large audiences. The large audience issue applies to fiction writers, also, however. This factor, in essence, eliminates most unknown or new writers from ever getting published by a major house. Davidson stated that the rejection rate of new authors is ninety percent. For this reason, he advised unknown writers to seek out a smaller or small press.
Regardless of the mode of publishing or whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, Monica Faulkner stressed the need for writers to act like “CEOs” of their own “companies” when it comes to marketing. All writers must have a marketing plan, she said. Gerald Everett Jones stressed the need for a self-published author to be cross-platform: audio, print, and e-book.
Jones also discussed a new free service: Pronoun. This company publishes video e-books, and he predicted that it will either compete with Smashwords or buy it out. It offers an author dashboard that will show sales on all e-book platforms. A requirement is that the author must use Pronoun’s ISBN.
The trends are definitely not encouraging. While new authors can have expertise and a platform, their audiences may not be large, and having a TV news show or movie star looks isn’t possible for most.
What can they do? Considering everything that these professionals discussed, one can conclude that perhaps the best approach is to build a platform and publish through a smaller or small press, or self-publish the book then approach a major publisher or agent once a sales track record has been established. The marketing plan must play a central role, however, no matter which route the author follows.
So, writers, what are your plans?