I was on a panel at Nationals. I called it the “Hate me Now” panel, as I literally could not make myself say the title aloud. But I will type it out now, even though it’s very difficult to do so: “It’s not the Hottest Genre, so How are Debut Historical Authors Getting Six-Figure Deals?”
*cringe* please don’t hate me!
I don’t think we answered that question at the panel. I’m not even sure we could answer it; as Tessa points out, the panel was essentially about “How to be an Anomaly” and face it, if there were a six-step process, you wouldn’t be an anomaly. As always, luck and timing play huge parts. There are people out there who I think should be getting six figure deals (if they aren’t already). Those may come in time to those authors, or they may never get a six figure deal. Heck, their career could be ruined by a bad cover on their next book. Luck. Timing. These things play a huge role. But all the luck and all the timing in the world won’t help you, if you don’t have two other things. They’re necessary, but not sufficient.
Are you ready?
1. Have a damn good agent. No, really. You’re looking for someone who is the complete package–someone who not only is savvy about editors, but who knows how to sell and who to sell to. You’re also looking for someone who is good at shepherding authors through publication, who will make sure the author is on target for promoting herself, and will make sure that the publishing house knows about the author’s efforts, who will stand up against bad covers or talk the author down off her ledge if the cover isn’t bad–and in fact will sell a ton of books. A good agent makes the publishing process easier for everyone–author and publisher alike. Who wouldn’t want to work with her?
Do not ever sign with an agent you are not excited about, who you don’t think is going to aggressively champion you and your career, on the theory that at least it will get you past the unagented barrier. If your book is good enough to sell, it’s good enough to get an agent who will do you right.
2. Act like you’re going to get a six-figure deal, even if you don’t think there is any way in hell you can. I wasn’t sure my book would sell. In fact, I basically thought it was unmarketable until I talked to my agent. But in the beginning of 2008, I made a resolution–one of those resolutions you are told never to make, because you have no control over the outcome. I resolved I was going to sell my book at auction. It was a completely brazen, foolhardy thing to set my sights on, especially since I couldn’t final in half the contests I entered, let alone get an editor to request the manuscript.
I ignored all that boring reality stuff and acted like this was the kind of book I could sell at auction, if I just worked at it enough. When I didn’t think my sex scenes were working, I picked up an author who wrote damned good sex scenes (that would be Elizabeth Hoyt) and I read hers over and over, with multi-colored highlighter in hand. I deconstructed them until I figured out what worked for me from her scenes.
The whole time I was writing, part of me was screaming, “Just go to sleep! What does it matter if you don’t get this black moment right? Nobody’s going to even get past the first chapter when they find the heroine is a con artist.”
If you find, as you write, that you tell yourself, “It doesn’t matter if I don’t get this right,” you’re selling yourself short.
Huh. Turns out I don’t have two necessary conditions. I just have one: You can’t sell yourself big if you’re too busy selling yourself short.