Greetings! I was looking through some interesting articles and blog posts that I'd written years ago. I thought I'd share this one, which my fellow author Brandon Massey asked me to write for his blog. This was written 10 years ago, in 2007, just after Dr. Feelgood was released by Kensington Books. I listed the 7 steps that I took to go from being a self-published author, to being offered a book deal by a major publisher in 2001.
I thought I'd share it today. Some, if not all of the 7 suggestions are still relevant today. Social media is much more of a factor now, and self-publishing is way easier and more prevalent now. New authors, see - there is so much work to be done in order to get signed by a major, before and after you've penned your book. Enjoy!
SEVEN STEPS I TOOK TO GO FROM SELF-PUBLISHED TO A BOOK DEAL
By Marissa Monteilh
Author, May December Souls, The Chocolate Ship, Hot Boyz, Make Me Hot and Dr. Feelgood
First, it is important to note that while many authors secure agency representation, and/or sell their manuscripts without self-publishing first, self-publishing proved to be an important avenue that led to my two book deal with HarperCollins in April of 2001, and opened the door to my full-time career as an author.
You should determine whether or not self-publishing is an option you’d like to explore. Being that I had shopped my manuscript for nearly six months and only received offers from small publishing companies who first wanted upfront fees (a big no-no), and after attending Michael Baisden’s book signing where he suggested that I self-publish first, it was pretty much a no-brainer for me. Michael suggested that I purchase a copy of The Self Publishing Manual by Daniel Poynter. Not only did I run out the next day and pick up the book, I followed every suggested step book like clockwork.
Once you decide to take this step, do not make any excuses that will block your blessings. The steps outlined include a time frame that is extremely easy to follow, and the entire process took me eight months. Before I knew it I had my first shipment of 3000 books delivered to my home office. Holding that bound book in your hand will surely make all of your hard work well worth it. Stay disciplined and follow through!
1) PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE:
Joining the PMA – Publishers Marketing Association, and other organizations, allowed me the opportunity to participate in various wholesaler programs for self-published authors like Baker & Taylor and Ingram. Wholesalers are invaluable because most bookstores purchase from wholesalers as opposed to going to each author directly. And, being a member of a particular organization can entitle you to receive big discounts from printing companies, etc.
Invest in marketing materials like bookmarks and flyers. Make sure prospective readers have something in hand to remind them that your book is out there.
Thank goodness for the Internet!! Search the Internet for book club contact information and send each contact person an email, offer to send review copies, etc. Book clubs are an invaluable tool toward spreading the word.
Search the Internet for bookstore listings. Call the owners, visit the stores, request book signing dates, etc. Bookstores are very accommodating and they are usually willing to distribute your marketing materials as well. Also, list your title on Amazon.com and other online listings.
If you can afford to, plan a book tour, if possible, so that you promote your title in person. If money is an issue, sign locally in your area. Research book fairs and other events. Focus on spreading the word. And always bring a sign-in sheet for readers to jot down their email addresses. Very important!
Come up with marketing angles such as giveaways, hair salon contests, free gifts with proof of purchase. Contact various companies whose products match well with your book title and with the target age of your readers and ask them to donate their goods or services. Also, offer a free book to readers who will in turn write a review on www.amazon.com
Contact radio stations and newspapers and request that they do a feature story on you and your book. Most people like to hear about the author's journey or how that book relates to the world or the life of the author. Find an angle that ties in and promote it. And always research how to write a good press release. You can email the release or fax it. Last but not least; GET A WEBSITE. I recommend www.pageturner.net, an awesome company that creates websites for most AA authors.
2) TRACK SALES AND PREPARE A DISTRIBUTION SUMMARY:
One reason to self-publish is to prove that your title will sell and that the subject matter is in demand. I prepared a Marketing and Distribution Summary, which the agents found very helpful. My agent used the information in his cover letters to publishers. It should include your target market, genre, sales history, list price, distribution strategy, reviews, media outlets, and other avenues of promotion.
3) RESEARCH AND CONTACT AGENTS WHO HANDLE AUTHORS IN YOUR GENRE:
Once I felt the title was circulating fairly well, I decided to submit the self-published version to agents. I compiled a list of agents based upon various agents I’d noticed mentioned in the acknowledgment sections of authors in a similar genre. I scoured the Internet for agency listings. I flipped through the Literary Marketplace by R.R. Bowker for specific agents who were accepting submissions. NEVER PAY AN AGENCY FEE and check out agents to make sure they're reputable.
Once I narrowed down my list to eight agents, I contacted each agency via telephone to see if they were accepting submissions and if so, what the guidelines were. I also inquired as to which agencies were accepting email queries.
I decided I would submit via email on the first round. I included the cover image and a brief query letter, maybe three paragraphs. The first paragraph indicated that I was seeking representation on my newly released, self-published title, (include word count) and mentioned a precise one-liner as to the plot. The second paragraph was a brief synopsis about conflict, about the ending and lessons learned, and the third paragraph covered the fact that I was hard at work on my next novel. I briefly covered the success rate of my first release. The closing sentence was simply, “Please let me know if you would like me to forward the perfect bound novel, May December Souls. Thanks for your time and consideration.”
4) CREATE A COMPLETE AND PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATION PACKAGE:
Once four of the agents contacted me and expressed interest in my complete submission, I prepared a presentation folder, which included a cover letter, news release, more detailed synopsis, marketing summary, marketing brochures bookmarks, reviews and reader comments. Obviously, I included the bound book and a stamped, self-addressed envelope for their convenience. The Self Publishing Manual also covers information on preparing these items.
5) LET GO AND LET GOD:
Make sure you give an agent sufficient time before you call to follow up. I’d say four to six weeks. And sometimes, like in my case, they may even call within the first week. If not, repeat Steps Three and Four again. Be persistent.
6) ONCE AN AGENT EXPRESSES INTEREST, CONDUCT FURTHER RESEARCH ON THE AGENT:
I contacted another author who was also represented by the particular agent I felt expressed the most intense sincerity and confidence in their ability to sell my title. My agent asked me to give him one month and within one month, we were involved in auction. Make sure the agent is a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives or other professional organizations.
7) DO NOT BE AFRAID TO REQUEST CHANGES TO THE AGENCY AGREEMENT:There is a book called How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. Educate yourself on all aspects of the agreement, ask other authors for advice, or hire an attorney to review the contract before you sign. Most agency contracts are fairly brief. It is the publishing contact that is quite lengthy.
Some publishing companies are accepting submissions directly, i.e., HarperCollins, particularly for African American authors. Skip the agency submission if you choose to go this route, however, if you’re starting out, an experienced agent can prove extremely valuable. And don't be unrealistic about the deal amount offered to you. Most times we hear of dollar amounts for book deals and the amounts are TOTALLY exaggerated. Walk before you run, and then take time to crawl, too. Understand that getting to the point of quitting your job takes time.
Once you decide to sign (yeah!) I suggest you let your agent handle the business of submitting your title. It is very important that the two of you build a rapport based upon mutual respect and a fiery passion for your title. There has to be a level of trust. Inform him/her as to which houses you would like to approach, however, follow their lead and be patient. Know that the final decision as to which publisher you sign with is yours.