How NOT to get a publishing deal, part 2...

"How can I find a publisher?"

Wrong question, Grasshopper. I hear it all the time, but that doesn't make it any more right. 

Backstory: I spend a fair amount of time each month on the phone with prospective authors who don't want to self-publish and so badly want to get a publishing deal. I don't charge for these consults; I consider them a way of a) establishing relationships with potential future ghosting clients and b) giving something back. Plus, it's fun to talk about the nuts and bolts of publishing. 

Most of the conversations tend to revolve around the author's lack of a marketing platform. Statements like, "You need to take twelve months and build your audience" drop from my lips like stray onions when I'm eating a street taco. (Mmmmm, street tacos...) But for the aspiring author, the focus is exclusively on publishers. What do they have to do to get one? What are publishers looking for? How big are advances (to which you might say, "How long is a piece of string?")? How much marketing do they do? 

Whoa, slow your roll, Malcolm Gladwell. You're forgetting a HUGE part of this whole equation.

The LITERARY AGENT. 

Agents catch a lot of hell from authors who don't know what they're talking about. They're The Man. They're parasites who take commissions for doing nothing. They reject really good books that are sure bestsellers (by which the complaining author means, they rejected my book). It's all nonsense. Literary agents (good ones, anyway) are essential to getting you a decent publishing deal...or any publishing deal, for that matter. They are a crucial part of the vetting process. An agent is driven by one concern above all others: will this book sell and make me money? After all, they make their living off commissions! Book no sell, they no get paid.

If you're on a track where writing a book and finding a publisher (and there ARE major advantages to striking a deal with a publisher, large or small, corporate or independent, which I will discuss in another post), then the question you should be asking isn't, "How can I find a publisher?" but "How can I find an agent?"

First of all, you won't get a deal with any major publisher without an agent. Period. Game over, go home, thanks for coming. Second, submitting your manuscript or book proposal to agents will provide you with some valuable feedback on making your work better. If the book or proposal isn't market ready, then nobody's going to take it on. Some agents will give you advice on making it better. I've had numerous occasions where great feedback from an agent has helped me redirect a book's theme or make the content more salable. These people know the business like no other. 

An agent rejected your book or proposal? Good. That's their job: to reject something because it's not commercially viable, has a weak platform or the writing is crap. Look at the rejection as evidence that you need to get over being lovestruck by your book and start looking at it with a critical eye: How can I improve my platform? How can I make this fit more clearly into a genre? How I can tighten the writing? 

Good agents will make you a better writer...even before they take you on as a client. So forget about finding a publisher. Make your work attractive to a great agent and let him or her do the work of finding you the right publisher. For more info about finding literary agents, check out AgentQuery.com or Publishers Marketplace. Also check out Noah Lukeman's wonderful blog, Ask A Literary Agent.

Now, go write.