When you submit your proposal to an agent or publishing house, you may wonder how they make their decisions as to which books to reject and which to accept. Obviously there are numerous considerations that vary from person to person, from publisher to publisher. But there is a simple three-tiered approach we all use to evaluate the viability of a project:
1. The Idea
2. The Execution
3. The Author Platform
Generally, you’ve got to be strong in all three areas in order to sell your proposal. There are always exceptions: You might be extremely strong in two of the areas and get away with being a little weaker in the third. In fiction, the idea and execution are primary; the author platform is still important but not nearly as important as the writing. In nonfiction, the author platform and the idea are of equal importance, and the execution (the writing itself) becomes the third consideration.
Pretty self-explanatory, right? The concept itself must turn heads. For example, you could say your concept is “A book about communication in marriage.” Yawn. Low marks in the idea category. But consider what Gary Chapman said: “What if we could learn our partner’s love language and unlock the secret to love that lasts?” Now that’s a fresh idea. It sparks interest, it compels people to want to hear more.
Take a look at your idea, and how you’re phrasing it. Does it sound fresh and exciting—or like a hundred other books already out there?
This is all about the writing. Plenty of people can string a few words together. But when you put your words on a page, do they sing? The craft of writing is exactly that—a craft. Like any craft, it requires learning, practice, apprenticeship, dedication. Have you done what it takes to make your writing worthy of public exposure prior to submitting it for publication?
In the fiction queries I receive, the execution is the biggest reason for rejection. Some people have terrific ideas for stories that sound like they’re going to knock my socks off. But when I start to read, I realize this is probably the first draft of the first book they’ve ever tried to write, and they haven’t actually taken the time to develop their craft prior to submission. (Truthfully, it bums me out, because often the ideas are really good.)
Folks, ideas really are a dime a dozen, so it’s not all about the idea. You’ve got to be a writer. And the fact that you’ve always wanted to write a novel doesn’t mean you’re qualified for the job, any more than always wanting to play pro football qualifies you for the Broncos startling lineup on Sunday. You’ve got to get yourself to training camp first. The execution—the quality of the writing—is crucial, especially for fiction.
The Author Platform
Your platform refers to the means by which YOU will help sell your book by your presence in the media and/or the public sphere, or at least within the audience you hope to reach with your book. Elements of a strong platform can include:
a Previous books published with high sales numbers
a Numerous articles published, whether national, local or specialized
a Appearance on television or radio with significant proven audience
a Frequent or regular speaking engagements
a Regular contact with your target audience, e.g. a newsletter
a A blog or website with proven track record
a Notoriety or authority within your area of expertise
The key to platform is your target market and what you are doing to reach them. It’s smart to begin building your platform well before you hope to be published—years, even. If you’re just setting out to build a platform, you can start a blog, write articles for publication, and begin working on establishing yourself as a speaker. Teach Bible studies, lead a retreat, speak at a women’s luncheon—whatever you have to do. Establish yourself as an authority on your topic.
Look critically at your proposal and manuscript—better yet, have someone else do it for you—and make an honest evaluation as to how you’re faring on the three tiers: Idea, Execution, and Platform. Whatever is lacking, set out to improve it. And don’t worry about how much time it will take. Contrary to what some people are saying, the publishing industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
How are you doing on the three aspects of publishing readiness?