I was contacted this week by an author seeking advice. He is in his 70’s, and is shopping his very intriguing book to literary agents and publishers. (I can’t wait to read it! I wish I could tell you what it’s about!) He’s had a few nibbles but what he sent to me was a bit disturbing.
A literary agent advised him to:
1. Re-write his autobiography with a different focus.
2. Shorten the book by almost half.
3. Write another “academic” book on the topic in the future if the current one is successful.
4. Build a platform, pre-arrange speaking engagements, and create a website.
Most troubling of all, the agent then told him memoirs don’t sell big, “so don’t expect to make any money.”
Nowhere in the letter was there any hint of an offer by the agent to represent the book, nor anything about any interest from a publisher.
Worse, why in the world would this agent recommend all of these time-consuming, potentially-expensive tasks to an author in his 70’s without even knowing if a traditional contract is possible?
I have to wonder, after all of that, if the agent was making things seem too difficult for the author so he or she could later offer expensive pre-publishing services to the author.
While I would never discourage an author from accepting a (fair!) traditional publishing contract, I would also never encourage an author to embark on such an arduous rewriting and promotional journey for a book that “won’t make any money,” and without even a hint of interest from a traditional publisher.
Here’s my response to the author:
Four things really disturbed me about what you wrote –
1. He/she said don’t expect to make any money on the book.
2. Yet, he/she still asked you to rewrite and shorten the book.
3. He/she also asked you to go through a LOT of effort to pre-promote it. That will take significant time and money.
4. He/she wants you to arrange a speaking tour. At 77, I’m not sure if that’s something you want to do. I’m 51 (Wait…I’m 52! The more years that go by, the harder it is to remember my age!) and I positively detest traveling, dressing up for a crowd, etc. Frankly, I’d rather sit at home and write and promote my books online. I can do that in shorts and a t-shirt with zero travel expenses.
All of these tasks would take months or years to accomplish with, again, not even a hint of interest from a traditional publisher. And, don’t forget. This author is in his 70’s.
I vehemently disagree with the agent that a book won’t sell simply because it’s a memoir. There have been many critically acclaimed memoirs by unknown authors in the past. There’s a list of some of them RIGHT HERE. A book’s sales ultimately depend on the book itself and, of course, the promotional efforts of the author. Pre-scheduling a speaking tour is not necessary and neither is slicing your book in half to see if there’s a market for it. You also don’t need to spend thousands on pre-promotion…nor spend much money at all. There are plenty of great book promotion ideas that cost nothing at all.
What it all boils down to is how much time and money is the author willing to invest in a future book when he can start selling his book as early as next month? Publishing it now will at least give the author an idea if it’s worth investing more time to expand (or slice) his book’s content later, at the request of a traditional publisher.
BookLocker can get a book on the market in a month and, if it’s successful, it’ll then be much easier to land a traditional contract. Authors don’t have to go through months or years of work to get an agent or publisher interested if their self-published book has a successful sales record. BookLocker’s contract is non-exclusive and authors can terminate at any time, especially if they get an offer from a traditional publisher.
Also, BookLocker gives all of their authors a free copy of 90+ Days of Promoting Your Book Online. It’s a simple, day-by-day plan for online book promotion and almost all of the items in the book cost nothing at all.
Angela Hoy lives on a mountain in North Georgia. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the President and CEO of BookLocker.com and AbuzzPress, and the author of 24 books.
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I agreed, that agent is not being helpful. At 77, he’s got a story to tell, but probably isn’t after fame and fortune, so all those demands that agent laid down make no sense.
What might make sense is what you could provide, someone who could assist him with readying the book for publication. And print-on-demand is a perfectly legit way to publish. Anyone who’s interested can easily find it online. And if it happens to take off and a traditional publisher comes knocking, he can pull that POD version and go with them. There’s no reason to demand that he put in untold hours revising and shortening when that might lead nowhere.