Author Insights from Literary Agent Elizabeth Evans
This year, we’ve asked several of our faculty to answer some key questions to offer more insights to PubSense Summit attendees. Enjoy these answers from literary agent Elizabeth Evans of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. Elizabeth will join top literary agents and editors on several panels at the 2015 PubSense Summit!
1) Many of our attendees want to be traditionally published, and part of the purpose of PubSense is to help folks make sense of the changing landscape. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the traditional model that offers the best opportunity for writers wanting to be traditionally published?
Elizabeth: The nonfiction marketplace has been relatively stable the past few years. The mega-shocks the internet unleashed on book publishing a decade ago (or more – eek!) no longer seem new or scary, and the industry continues to favor authors who cultivate a strong web presence.
The continued rise of celebrity authors in the trade marketplace makes it more difficult for “regular” nonfiction writers to get published, but the silver lining is that for those who know how to work the web, there’s more opportunity to become celebrities in their area of interest.
For example, the home chef who can take professional quality food photos can use Instagram and create a food blog that could land a book deal, or the travel blogger who amasses 50k Twitter followers can prove to a publisher they already have a built in audience for their work. I see lots of opportunity online, but it’s not necessarily the key to a successful book.
2) We hear all the time — “Write a quality book. Make sure it’s pitch perfect when you submit it or publish it.” And then there’s the rise of freelance editors, who are stepping in to offer help in this arena. But who do you trust? How do your find the best editor for your book? You’ll be addressing this in our “Finding the best book services, from editors to book formatting to cover design” panel. An early comment or two?
Elizabeth: I recommend writers dip a toe in the marketplace before hiring a freelance editor. Freelance editors can be expensive, so why not test the waters by submitting to agents first?
If you work hard on revisions, including multiple rounds of self-edits, you should arrive at a place in which you feel confident enough about your work to send it out. Start by submitting your work to a short list of 5-8 agents. If they all pass for similar reasons, and you don’t know how to address their concerns, that’s a good time to consult with an independent editor.
It’s also a good time if you get rejected and you don’t know why. Maybe an outside perspective will be able to shed light on the matter. If your goal is to get your book published, consider hiring an editor who has previous experience in book publishing. They will know the market and be able to give you a realistic sense of the work that needs to be done.
Ask for a list of authors they’ve worked with, or titles they’ve worked on previously. Most editors will be only too happy to provide this information. Many already include it on their websites.
3) Oh wow — the almighty platform. We hear it all the time — Build your platform, especially if you write nonfiction, which you mostly represent. We’re excited to hear what you have to say about how to do that, especially since most of us are not celebrities.
Elizabeth: My first recommendation is to be realistic when it comes to nonfiction. If you don’t have an appropriate professional or academic background in the subject you’re writing on, the likelihood is you won’t be able to sell your book to a publisher. For example, you should probably be a doctor, dietician or trainer if you want to write a book on weight loss.
There are always exceptions, but your best bet is to write what you know (really well). You should be considered an expert within your field.
Once you have that foundation, the next step is to be relentless about networking and submitting your writing out. It takes work and time to build your platform, but the key ingredient is persistence. Identify where people in your field get their information – is it newspapers? specific magazines? specific websites or blogs? – and familiarize yourself with the writing.
What can you offer these places? What topics get the most play, and what do you have to say about them? You might reach out to the editors and offer your services as an expert, or perhaps pitch op eds or ideas for articles. The more you can get your name out within your field, the bigger your platform will become.