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David Baldacci’s 8 Tips for Navigating the Publishing Industry
In the words of David Baldacci, New York Times-bestselling author of 38 novels, “No one in the world will care more about your career—not your agent, not your publisher, not your best friend—than you.” Here are some tips for navigating the publishing industry.
1. Stay in Control of Your Career.
David says that one of the most important things you can do for your writing career is to stay in control of their business. For a writer, it’s easy to let your agent or publisher handle the business side of things—in David’s opinion, this is almost always a mistake. Start informing yourself now about how publishers operate, how agents work, and what to expect from the industry in general, and you’ll be better positioned to stay in control of your career.
2. Be Part of the Writing Community.
Networking with other writers, publishers, agents, and even readers is a great way to propel your career forward, get helpful advice, and keep yourself up-to-date on the industry. Conferences are an invaluable resource for networking that will usually provide educational programs geared toward specific genres, as well as some kind of pitchfest where you can pitch your novel directly to an agent or an editor.
Here are a few thriller, mystery, and crime conferences that David recommends:
- Malice Domestic
- Killer Nashville
Also consider joining a writers’ association, which can provide similar networking benefits to its members through online connectivity:
- International Thriller Writers Association
- Mystery Writers of America
- The Authors Guild
3. Find an Agent You Can Trust.
If you want to sell your novel to a traditional publishing house, you’re going to need an agent. Most big publishers won’t look at manuscripts unless they come from agents, so finding the right person to lobby on your book’s behalf is going to be a critical step in your career. An agent will handle numerous aspects of your business: They’ll help perfect your manuscript, they’ll sell it to an editor, they’ll negotiate your contract with a publishing company, they’ll handle all the finances, and they’ll keep an eye on the publisher throughout the publishing process. David recommends finding an agent with whom you have chemistry. Much like with an editor, you need to be able to trust the person who’ll be handling such major aspects of your career.
4. Take Publicity Into Your Own Hands.
So you’ve found that great agent and you’ve sold your novel to a publisher—congratulations! You may be tempted to let the publisher take over from here. But don’t do it. You are a partner in the publishing process, and you should start preparing for the upcoming challenges. Your publisher will undoubtedly market your book, but when it comes to publicity, you have much more power than your publisher. You are the one who will be speaking to crowds, talking to interviewers, and getting readers interested in your book. You’ll be creating a social media presence, blogging, vlogging, and creating a stir online. Traditionally, publishers would send authors on book tours. Today, new authors are more likely to go on a “blog tour” and not much else. Negotiate with your publisher about marketing plans, then pick up the slack for the things they won’t cover. It’s in the best interest of your book sales and your long-term career.
5. Keep Your World Rights.
After you’ve sold your rights to your publisher, you may think that you’re done thinking about your book’s rights—but that’s not correct. In fact, every country has the right to purchase your book, which means you could see contracts from multiple territories for a single book. These world-publishing rights are yours to sell. Sometimes your American publisher will want to buy the world rights from you, but David recommends that you keep your world rights. While traditional publishers can be good at selling novels overseas, typically they will try to sell your book for only a few months before they turn to their other books.
6. Connect With Booksellers.
For writers, booksellers are an often-overlooked aspect of the marketing process. These are the men and women staffing bookstores who talk directly to readers and have the power to recommend your book to people who want to read it. In David’s words, “The best thing about booksellers is they hand-sell books.” They’re a valuable resource for any author. Whether or not your publisher sends you on an actual tour, you should look for opportunities to connect with booksellers. Go into local bookstores and introduce yourself to the people behind the counter or to the people who manage events. Tell them about your book and strike up a conversation about the store. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about their sales, their foot traffic, or their attitude toward book signings. Most bookstores have time and space set aside for readings, and you can often arrange those yourself.
7. Build a Fanbase.
One of the things you’ll be doing during your career is building a fanbase—developing relationships with readers who are devoted to your work. David attributes his success in this to two things: First, he has multiple series going at once, which keeps a wide variety of his fans interested and engaged. Second, he takes marketing seriously, going to readings, signings, and other events. But the most important way to build a fanbase, in David’s opinion, is writing: “There are lots of ways to build a fanbase. The best way to do it is to write really great stories consistently.” A good rule of thumb is to try to write a book every year.
8. Keep Writing.
Once your book has been published, plan a celebration and be proud of your success—but be careful. In David’s words, “A lot of first-time novelists get swept up in all the cool, exotic stuff of being published for the first time, and they forget what got them there: thinking about what you’re going to write.” It’s important to avoid getting distracted. Follow David’s advice and stay focused on your writing. For instance, when David went on a 15-country book tour, he took his laptop and worked on his next novel during that time. Continuing to write will not only keep you grounded in your craft, it is also the most important tool to keep your career going.
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