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5 Questions to Ask Yourself After Hearing: We Can't Sell Enough to Justify Publishing It

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I'm often asked what to do if editors/agents love your work, but
respond with a rejection saying that the market is too small. Here are
5 questions to ask yourself.

1. Is there a smaller publisher that
would be interested because they have a lower threshold of sales to
meet? Big houses may want to sell as many as 10-20K copies in the first
year to justify publication; smaller presses may be fine with 3-5K
copies.

2. Is it possible to make your subject/topic/book more
marketable by employing a sexier hook? Many times, writers aren't
looking at their work with a marketer's eye, which is understandable,
since most of us aren't marketers. But think about how you might
interest a perfect stranger in your topic. Have you really tapped into
current trends and interests when it comes to your book project, and
are you framing it in an exciting way for a publisher (or agent)? Just
because you're fascinated by your subject doesn't mean other people
will get it. You have to know how to sell it.

I heard some excellent advice from Lisa Earle McLeod at the Foothills Writers Guild workshop last weekend, which she heard at the beginning of her career: Many
talented writers will never be successful due to mediocre marketing
skills. Many mediocre writers will be successful due to marketing
talent.

Need to brush up on your marketing skills and talent—in a way that's authentic and makes sense for the new media world? Look to Seth Godin and Chris Brogan.

3.
Do you have the platform to market and promote your book to the target
audience? If a publisher can be convinced that you have the power to
sell your book based on your reach to the primary readership of the
book, they'll be more likely to take you on. What does a platform
consist of? Primarily:

  • Your online following (via your
    websites, blogs, social networks, newsletters, regular online writing
    gigs, podcasts, videocasts)
  • Your offline following (via
    professional or personal organizations, speaking engagements, events,
    classes/teaching, city/region presence)
  • Your presence in
    traditional media (writing that you do for newspapers/magazines, any
    coverage you've received, gigs with radio/TV)

You can find out more about platform building in Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz.

4.
If the market is truly too small for a publisher to be interested, then
does it make sense to publish and market the work yourself? Especially
if you have a following or a way to reach your intended readership,
sometimes you can profit more by going this route. You can make work
available digitally through services such as Lulu and Smashwords, with little or no starting cost.

5.
Does your work really deserve book or print treatment? Some nonfiction
topics actually work better when presented on blogs, websites, or
communities/forums—where an interactivity and ability to freshen up the
content at a moment's notice has more appeal to your audience.

Traditional
houses will only become less and less likely to take on very
niche/specialized work, because producing anything in print is a
significant investment and a significant risk, without knowing there's
an audience waiting to buy. Even university presses, known for niche works, are moving their efforts to digital-only platforms.

Authors
will have to change their thinking about what it means to have a book
in print. It is not the first goal or the end goal, but merely one
channel, and not usually the best channel.

Photo credit: Zevotron

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