Publicist Joanne McCall on Literary Agents & Social Media

A great conversation ensued on a LinkedIn group when I posted on the topic of what literary agents expect from authors using social media based on what I wrote in a previous blog post.

There were over 40 comments on the post in the LinkedIn group. Many authors were not very happy that I said literary agents expect authors to have a solid social media presence if they wanted to get noticed.

  • If an author must do their own marketing, why should we pay a literary agent? Isn't it their job to market the book?
  • If an author needs to have their own marketing plan, what will the agent do for me? Isn't marketing supposed to be done by the traditional publisher?
  • Most agents don't care whether you have a website, a blog or a social media platform . . . because publishers have their own marketing departments.

There were many comments also from authors who do understand the need to have a solid social media presence.

  • If you want your book to shine above the rest, you need to put in the hours and do the leg work. The good news is social media is basically free. It just takes time & persistence. 
  • There are over 4,500,000 titles on Amazon. To get your book noticed, it must be excellent and have excellent marketing and promotion backing it along with social media marketing skills. This does not guarantee book sales, but it helps.
  • Agents need to have a strong pitch to publishers. Publishers spend little to promote books and authors unless it's expected to be a best seller. The author needs to show they can fill in the gap with social media and promotions.

I read an article by Jane Friedman (she has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry) where she states, "The most common problem leading to rejection: no author platform." She goes on to say, "An agent or editor is going to evaluate your visibility in the market, and will want to know the following:

  • The stats and analytics behind your online following, including all websites, blogs, social media accounts, e-mail newsletters, regular online writing gigs, podcasts, videos, etc.
  • Your offline following—speaking engagements, events, classes/teaching, city/regional presence, professional organization leadership roles and memberships, etc.
  • Your presence in traditional media (regular gigs, features, any coverage you’ve received, etc.)
  • Your network strength—reach to influencers or thought leaders, a prominent position at a major organization or business
  • Sales of past books or self-published works

Joanne McCall, publicist to literary agentsAll of this inspired me to reach out to Joanne McCall, who represents a group of New York literary agents. We had an extensive phone conversation on this topic. I asked these questions with the nonfiction author in mind and asked her if she had information that might differ for a fiction author to please share it. Joanne reminded me that all the information she provided is valid at this point in time. Things are always changing.

What is the first step an author needs to take to find a literary agent?

Joanne explained that it’s really a two-step process. First, before looking for the agent, start building your platform: social media and blogging, if it makes sense to have a blog for your book. Second, approach literary agents who deal in your genre. Some specialize in fiction versus nonfiction. Others might even just specialize in business books or health and wellness books. Do your research and find out exactly what each agent wants from you when you approach them. Joanne recommends Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents.

You’ll be sending a query letter to an agent and Joanne says, yes, you will get noticed more if you mention your marketing plan, including your social media plan, in your query letter. Most literary agents will look at your social media platforms even before they respond to your letter. Your query letter is sort of a short book proposal and this applies both to fiction and nonfiction. The difference is that with fiction your book is already written. With nonfiction, your book may not be completed. You may only have sample chapters or a Table of Contents when you send out your query letter.

Does an author need a literary agent to get a traditional publisher?

Joanne said it is possible to get a publisher without an agent, but not many do that. It’s better to have an agent since they have industry contacts and know what to look for. An agent can help you write a proposal that gets noticed. They also understand contracts and rights. If you don’t get a literary agent, she suggests you at least hire a lawyer who deals with literary contracts so you don’t give away things such as ebook rights. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction authors. For fiction authors to get media attention, most of your focus needs to be on reviews, unless you have a really strong nonfiction angle.

Does a literary agent expect the author to already have in place the following: website, blog, social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn?

Their job is not to get you on social media Joanne says. It already needs to be in place. Too many other authors are already embracing all of this and if you don’t, your book may not get noticed. There may be an exception. An agent might be willing to start without all of that if they really love your topic, for example, but as a general rule, they will reply to authors who already have those things in place versus ignoring those who don’t. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction authors.

The literary agent’s job is NOT to market your book. Their job is to find a publisher. 

Publishers will be looking at your social media platforms and numbers and these things need to be included in your book proposal. That doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere on social media. Joanne and I agree that you need to be where your market is and then go deep. Pick just one or two social media platforms and then really engage. Pick something you like. The main thing is to be consistent. Joanne says video can be very important. But if you hate it, then trying to force yourself to do it means you’ll probably not come across well and you will resent it.

How often should an author blog? Are book excerpts good blogs?

Joanne advises authors to be consistent. If you can blog three times a week, great. If not, then at least blog once a week – consistently. Don’t do it and then skip a couple of weeks.

Book excerpts can be good blog posts, particularly if you can show it causes engagement. This will show publishers that there’s already interest in your book.

Is a larger social media following a factor in whether a literary agent or publisher accepts an author's manuscript over another?

It used to be the norm that bigger numbers won. Since some authors are buying likes and followers, this doesn’t apply as much. Now they are looking more at engagement. Do your posts and messages engage people? Are they sharing your posts and commenting?

Joanne advises authors not to be too self-focused. Reframe your messages to show how others can benefit from what you are sharing. Don’t be afraid of sharing your competitor’s messages as well. She calls competitors “niche-mates”.

Is a book proposal necessary to get a literary agent?

No, but a query letter is necessary to find literary agents, and it should include some information on how you plan to market your book.

Is a book proposal necessary to get a publisher?

Yes, particularly for nonfiction authors. Even fiction authors should consider writing a book proposal to help define their target market, know what the competition is, help determine what you need to write, and to plan your marketing and book promotion.

Does a book proposal need to have a section about social media marketing?

Yes. According to Joanne the marketing section is the biggest part of the book proposal – both in its importance and in the number of pages it takes. The marketing section shows the publisher how you’re going to help sell your book. Are you going to speak, do webinars, hire a publicist and a social media expert to amplify your efforts? An agent and publisher may have a catalog of books and may include your book in it. Publishers may market your book on various media outlets and on their website. But most of their marketing dollars will be spent on books that are expected to do the best. You can help them see your book will sell by showing them what your marketing efforts will include. 

Joanne McCall is a media insider, veteran publicist, and adventure athlete who knows how to capture the attention of national, regional and local media for authors. On a first-name basis with hundreds of top-rung producers, editors, writers, and journalists, she secures coverage for clients including Brian Tracy, Ken Blanchard, Dave Ramsey, Geneen Roth, Andrea Lee, The Deepak Chopra Center for Wellbeing, and the founder of NLP, Dr. Richard Bandler. Her Media Strategy Sessions helps those on a budget to learn how to become a Media Darling.

By the Time You Finish Reading This Post 15 More Books Will Be Published

That unwieldy title is the fact behind yesterday's post about literary agents and your social media platform, and today's follow-up.

Depending on who you ask or where you check, each year between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published. That's more than one every minute, 24 hours a day.

If you only take away one thing from Sue's post and today's, this is it:

#1. If you don't stand out, agents, publishers, and readers will choose someone who does.

When Sue posted some of her thoughts from that blog post on other social media platforms, there were always a few who quibbled about how agents don't necessarily require this, that, and the other thing. Perhaps. However, see large note #1 above.

A second note which seems, still, to escape far too many authors:

#2: Publishers do not do marketing. Authors do marketing. If you won't, they'll find someone who will.

This shatters the dream of so many authors who, apparently, still hope they can simply write their book and have someone else do the hard work of earning the money for them. After all, writing a book is hard enough already; I know this well and understand the frustration of those who, having typed The End are dismayed to discover that it's just The Beginning.

If you're still secretly hoping someone else will make this easy for you, see large note #2 above.

A third note:

#3: Reputations are hard-earned currency. No one is going to lend you theirs without good reason.

Yesterday's post touched on the quagmire of guest posting. The entire point of guest posting is to share reputations, to find mutual benefit.

If you have a brand new blog about entrepreneurship, having Richard Branson write a guest post is a great idea, right? Doesn't hurt to ask, right?

What earthly reason would Sir Rich have to lend you his reputation?

Bringing it down to more realistic levels, what reason does mid-level blogger Jane Doe have to lend you their reputation, giving you access to their hard-earned network of fans? By writing a guest post for you, or allowing you to write a guest post for her, Jane is endorsing you, telling all and sundry "I trust and respect Billy Bo Bob Brain and you should, too."

Why would they do that?

Flipside: why would you do that? If you have a worthwhile blog and a total stranger, entirely unknown, wants to post on your blog, why would you share your reputation with them? Do you really want to publicly endorse the views and ethics of a total stranger?

A final takeaway:

#4: If you intend to sell your book or use it to promote your business you are not just an author, you are an entrepreneur.

You may already be marketing your business. Your book is part of your business, and you have to invest the same marketing effort and savvy as you would any other new product or service launched.

A solid social media presence is vital to getting noticed as an author and should be in place long before your book is published.

Your Social Media: What to Include in Your Book Proposal

Today we're delighted to share a guest post from editor, proofreader, writer, and writing coach Candace Johnson.

You have a unique idea for a nonfiction book, and you’re writing a compelling proposal that you’re certain will knock the socks off an agent and then a publisher. And then you get to the part where you illustrate author platform, including your social media footprint.

Your Platform as a Nonfiction Author

If you’re confused about what you should include in your proposal to illustrate your platform, you’re not alone.

… more … "Your Social Media: What to Include in Your Book Proposal"

Cultivate Your Readership with Your Blog

cultivate your readership with your blogWherever you are in the process as an author (fiction or nonfiction), whether you have published your book or are just beginning to outline it, there are tremendous benefits to having a blog. They include:

  • Regular communication with your readers or prospective readers
  • Establishing a personal connection with readers
  • The opportunity to get feedback from your readers on your ideas, characters, what they want to read next
  • Exposure to media outlets such as online magazines, radio and TV shows, literary agents & publishers
  • Building a mailing list of people looking forward to your book – and your next book! Readers can subscribe to your blog and sign up for your mailing list and be the first to know when your book comes out.

Media outlets, literary agents, and publishers will expect you to have a solid online presence, including a blog. Other opportunities such as getting online interviews and podcast interviews are much more likely when you have an established online presence. That’s not just a blog. A solid social media presence is needed as well.

Your blog is your marketing foundation. From it all the social media stuff, Facebook, Twitter, etc., just comes from what you’ve posted at your blog.

Think of your blog like the trunk of a tree and your social media as the branches coming from that one trunk. The foliage is the result of all your hard work – sales of your book! And to get the best foliage, you must cultivate.

So what do you blog about? You could write about the details of the research you are doing for your book, your character development, any of those milestone moments when you’ve finished another chapter. Include short book excerpts to engage your readers into wanting the whole book.

It’s never too early to start marketing your book. Even if you’re just getting started, NOW is the time to start blogging and cultivating your readership.

If you’d like help with social media, we specialize in helping authors manage their social media presence. Contact Sue now for a consultation.