Aspiring writers are poor souls trying to break into an industry that doesn’t want them – that’s a preposterous statement to those unassociated with the business of publishing. Suffice to say it makes sense that publishers would rather publish the next John Grisham legal thriller than take on an unknown. Is it any wonder literary agents shun the endless piles of queries and manuscripts from unpublished authors?
One thing is certain — there won’t be a publishing industry a hundred years from now without new voices. Already there are cracks in the traditional publisher armor. Young-adult paranormal author Amanda Hocking decided to take the route of digital self-publishing. USA Today reports she sold 164,000 e-books in 2010. I hope Amanda’s success is a wake-up call to the old school. The fact that less than 1% of all newbie writers break through the traditional query slush pile is seemingly enough to motivate the rest of us to keep trying. There is more to getting an agent or publisher’s attention than superb writing and story-telling. Non-fiction writers require a ‘platform’, a means of marketing to an audience. A literary agent would look more favorably at a book on the workings of the human brain from a notable brain researcher than from John Bell. Although a platform isn’t mandatory in fiction, positioning the author as a brand can have immeasurable advantages.
My positioning shtick is my background as a former CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Frankly, that doesn’t do much for my proficiency as a novelist. But as a unique ingredient to a human interest story about a retired grey-hair finding contentment in words, there’s a spark of intrigue.
Figure out your point of differentiation. You don’t have to make yourself better than everyone else. All you have to do is find a word or phrase that establishes your particular niche. This might be in your background or the way you write or how you view the world. In the political arena, John McCain positioned himself as a ‘maverick’. That differentiation resonated with many. But McCain was already branded. To the public he was an American war hero. That branding could not compete with Obama, the ‘change-maker’. Other examples: Literary agent Kelly Mortimer is ‘diabolically diligent and maniacally moral’. I’ll forgive Kelly for not being single-minded. Lady Gaga is the ‘over-the-top’ entertainer. Donald Trump is the ‘big, bold and boastful’ capitalist.
Now it is over to you. Identify your differentiation and market your positioning with consistency in everything you do.