Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
If you’re a writer trying to wrap your mind around the business end of publishing, I hope you’re watching ABC’s Shark Tank. The show has nothing to do with publishing. But it has everything to do with understanding exactly what you’re doing when you put your query or proposal in front of an agent, editor or publishing committee. You’re going into the shark tank.
The program features venture capitalists looking for businesses in which to invest. The contestants are entrepreneurs with small businesses needing capital. Each contestant stands before the “sharks,” pitches their business, specifies the amount of money they’re asking for, and what percentage of their business they’re offering for that investment. So a guy might ask for $65,000 in return for a 15% stake in in his business; or $150,000 in return for a 30% portion of the company. The sharks get to decide whether they want to invest in the business, and they’re free to negotiate any way they want.
I love this stuff! I’m constantly noticing all the ways the whole scenario resembles publishing. When you’re trying to take your writing out of the personal realm of art and into the public realm of commerce, you’re just like these entrepreneurs asking for others to invest in them.
You’re asking a publisher to invest in you. You’re asking them to put their time and money on the line, to share the risk, and you’re also offering them the opportunity to share in the reward. (You’re asking an agent to do the same thing.)
The entrepreneurs seeking investors are, like you, creative people. Many of them are inventors of incredibly unique products. Most of them have spent years developing their product and their company. They’ve also spent money, a LOT of money, to develop the business. Like you, they had an idea, and they worked hard to execute it. They’ve reached the point where they can’t go any further on their own. They need a partner.
Once they make their pitch, the sharks grill them. How many have you sold? Are you sure this is a good idea? Exactly who will buy this product? What are you doing to market this product? How will people get to know your name in this competitive market? What previous experience do you have in this business? How many hits do you get on your website? How can you possibly compete with the gigantic names that dominate this particular niche?
After the investors ask all their questions, they’ll either say “I’m out” or they’ll make an offer.
“You’ve done a fabulous job. But it’s a tiny market. I’m out.” (“Your book is terrific but the potential audience is too small for us. We’ll pass.”)
“This is strictly going to be catalog, direct mail, Internet sales. I’m out.” (“You may want to try self publishing or POD. We’ll pass.”)
“I just don’t think this is a good idea. I can’t see anyone buying it. I’m out.” (“Your book simply doesn’t appeal to us. We’ll pass.”)
“There are five big brands that dominate your category and I don’t see how you’re going to compete with them. I’m out.” (The genre you’re writing in is glutted, not to mention dominated by household names. We’ll pass.)
One of my favorite exit lines from a shark was: “It’s a unique idea but not an investable concept.” I see this problem with manuscripts, too. Countless unique ideas come across my desk, but trying to determine which are sellable and therefore, worth investing in… that’s the trick.
What’s really fun on the show is when more than one shark makes an offer to invest in the entrepreneur’s company. They’ll play off one another and even compete; the entrepreneur can then negotiate a better deal. (Like an auction in publishing.)
Sadly, many of the entrepreneurs go home without an investor. The sharks tell them that this product on which they’ve spent all that time and all that money isn’t worth an investment.
Some of these people will go on to find a way to make their business a success without the sharks. Others will cut their losses, quit that business or that product, and go on to something else. Each person will find the path that’s right for them. But I have to think that the chutzpah that got them this far will keep serving them well.
I have to think the same about you, too. The guts and courage that makes you sit in that chair and pound out those pages word by word, day by day… it will serve you well, whatever happens.
Watch Shark Tank! I promise you’ll gain insights and maybe view this publishing journey differently.
How do you approach the business aspects of publishing? Do you enjoy learning about it? Would you just as soon pretend it doesn’t exist? Tell us.
Watch Shark Tank for a crash course in publishing. Click to Tweet.
Writers approaching agents are like entrepreneurs entering the Shark Tank. Click to Tweet.