Monday, June 27, 2011

What Publishers are Looking for Today and Tomorrow

On the weekend I attended the 6th Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival run by the NSW Writers’ Centre. I had a fantastic time and met so many people. One panel discussed what publishers are looking for today and tomorrow. On the panel were Lisa Berryman of Harper Collins, agent Brian Cook, Zoe Walton of Random House, Sue Whiting of Walker Books and Angie Schiavone, a YA literary reviewer. Below are some of the points I’d like to share with you:

A good story: It was universally agreed that it comes down to a great story. There’s little point looking for trends because once you’ve identified one it’s too late. For example, one publisher said no more vampire stories. If you have a vampire story then it would have to be exceptional with a strong voice, fantastic characters and freshness to the story. In other words, if you have something special you’ll make your own market.

A career author: Publishers aren’t looking for one story writers. They spend a lot of time and effort on an author and their work so they want to know they are investing into a career. Initially they may commit to only one book but they want to know if that book could be used as a series. You don’t have to have written that series, but it would be advantageous to include a brief synopsis of future books along with the completed first book. Even if the book you’ve written isn’t a series, they would like to know you have other stories in the works.

Marketability: Show you’ve researched the market, that your book has a place in the market. Network. Get involved in social media, writers’ events and writers’ groups. Writers should come out of their cocoons and show they can make a connection with their readers.

What are some things you’ve done to become more marketable? What else do you think publishers are looking for?



  1. I never planned on a career, so I've had to scramble fast to fulfill the role of multi-book author. And I just read another post on the possiblity of agents changing or dying out, so I know there's a lot happening in the industry right now.

  2. Sounds like you had fun - I'm booked in with Sue Whiting for a workshop later this year, really looking forward to it!

    Good to hear the comment about career authors. Makes sense.

    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  3. I'm hoping to make a career of it. I actually have four stories in a series outlined (kinda) for tweens. Getting them finished is my challenge.

  4. Good info. Thanks. A good story should always be what agents and editors are looking for. :)

    I've debated working on a sequel to my current novel, but I can't seem to get my mind off of it. Might as well go with it.

  5. Yeah, a good story... they are always looking for something great and unique.

    I have read/heard conflicting thoughts on the series thing. Some say we don't want to know if you have others written - only interesed in what you are submitting... others say let us know what you have in the pipeline.

    It does make sense they they are looking for career authors.
    x x

  6. Wonderful insights as always, Lynda. Especially on writing a good story and going in for the long-haul. I can't think of any better career choice than to be doing something you truly love. At home. In your pj's. Write on. ;)

  7. I've heard that if a MG book is popular, the readers always want to hear more about the same characters, so it's a good idea to keep brainstorming for a series to follow the first book.

    It makes sense that publishers want a long-term relationship with good authors. It's always interesting to hear what the editors have to say. Thanks!

  8. What a conference! So, I guess we will have to write more than one great story and be willing to market ourselves.

  9. Alex, definitely, there's heaps of change in the industry.

    Charmaine, yep, it was great fun. Sounds like a good workshop. She's a great speaker so I think you'll learn a lot from her.

    Cinette, finishing a novel is the biggest challenge of all.

    KarenG, Yes! That's part of what makes a good story (usually).

    L G Smith, I think an outline is enough for a sequel if you're worried. Of course, if you can't get your mind of it, well, go for it.

  10. Michelle, same, that's why I think a synopsis after book 1 is enough for any potential series. If they don't like book 1 then there's no hope for book 2.

    Alyssia, absolutely! A writing career is the best ever. Hard work, but so worth it.

    LynNerd, MG is popular for series because a series takes up a lot of shelf space which is a good thing for marketing -- especially when MG books are so little ;)

    Clarissa, yes indeedily :)

  11. Thanks for the sharing this information with us, I was just reading elsewhere that you have to build your platform first, which in turn becomes a platform to sell your self and your books.

  12. Thanks for sharing this info. I've been working, slowly but surely, on the platform thing, but I'm not focused on getting as many followers as I can--I'm focused on connected with other people, and that's been really nice. It's cool to hear publishers are looking for career authors, too.

  13. I love conferences! You get so much information from them. You get to listen to some great talks and mingle with people of the same craft. Thanks for sharing!

  14. It all boils down to three things--the break-in book, the ability to write more, and marketing them. Great post!

  15. I think they put marketability ahead of a good story. I've seen and read so many truly bad bad stories which got published and even became bestsellers, so I think publishers just try to feed the appetites of certain less demanding readers as their prime goal.

  16. I've got a plan to get involved with some of my local book clubs. You know, let them read so many chapters of my works and let them tell me what they want.

  17. I have written and published a couple of books and hope to write many more. I agree that editors and agents are looking for long term writers in whose careers they can invest time, money and effort.

  18. That makes a lot of sense to me. I have to be friends with a small publisher and his "want" is networking.

    He says that writers with networks make marketing a lot easier so I'm really glad that I spend so much time on my networking. I've always believed that it would be an investment that would pay off in the future. And I seem to be right.


  19. I have a powerful distaste for the word 'marketing.' I fully understand publishing is a business but the whole focus on marketing, for the creative, is just such a freaking killjoy. The muse and the salesperson do not hang out at the same corner at parties.

    But I'll tell you what, if the salesperson does his job and quits pestering the muse channeler to do it for him, the muse channeler will come out with a hell of a lot more satisfying bit of virtual real estate for the salesperson to pitch.

    And you know what, if we as writers are being asked to do the jobs of publishing industry professionals, such as researching the market and coming up with target demographics and the like, we may as well be getting that cut of the pay ourselves! Publishing houses and agents alike get more than the author in the final figures-- what are they being paid to do, now, if we as artists are being asked to act as though we have marketing or business degrees under our belts?

    Writers should be free to write the best stories they can and the publishing industry needs a wake-up call with all of these snarky, rejecting, slush pile hell, gatekeeper blogs that are being projected out into the
    cultural consciousness.

    NEWS FLASH WRITERS-- they needs us as much as we need them!

    *** This has been a rant. ***

    Thank you, Lynda, for being gracious enough to host it.

    Good day.

  20. All really good points. I'd be curious to know more about the marketability factor. That seems to be the most often missing element. Most writers make great stories and want to write more, but making a work marketable seems to be the trick.

  21. Gorgeous photo, Lyn! I dunno about a series--does it have to be a series? I can see, though, how beneficial it would be for a publisher to take on an author who has a history of writing, or a few books in the works that could be his/her next book to contract.

    Yep, cocoons are cozy, but it's good to connect with the world, too!

  22. Thanks for sharing what you learned.

    I read blogs, attended conferences, and keep making connections through blogging and other social media. I have fun doing it, so I don't think of it as marketability, but that's what it is too.

  23. Great post!

    The idea of a writing career is a double-edged sword for me. I would give my left arm to be able to write for a living, but it's taken me two years to get to where I am at with my current WIP.

    Dang bills.

  24. Platform. They want to know we'll work to help sell our books.

  25. Nas, yep, a platform takes a long time to establish so it does help to get that started ebfore youstart querying.

    Sarah, I think connecting with people is more important than numbers although I guess a publisher might disagree.

    Maeve, yes exactly. They are great!

    Jill, yep. Thanks

    Dezzy, it is unfortunate that you'll likely see more of that too with the current economical market. It's a shame.

  26. Shelly, sounds great!

    Rachna, I love to write so the career side of it is the easiest one for me ;)

    Misha, the next question would be how much time is worth putting into networking. Should we do equal amount of networking as writing?

    Suze, Awesome rant. In Australia I don't think there is currently as much focus on the social media. The panel emphasised that the writer has to be comfortable with what they are doing and not all writers are comfortable with social media. They just have to show they can make a connection with their readers.

    However, there is an advantage for new writers who want to get published to show initiative and show an active knowledge in the marketing side of things.

    Also, the best stories are ones where the writer has kept the audience in mind and that requires research.

  27. Mark, it's not only about marketability of the book, it's also about marketability of the author. I think it's different in many cases so it's not an easy thing to define in absolutes.

    Carol, Nope it doesn't have to be a series. You just have to show you have more than one book -- which I believe is easy for you ;)

    Theresa, yep, I'm the same. I too don't think of it as marketing because it's too much fun :)

    Bryce, I think with each novel you write the process happens faster. My first book took me 9 years (lol). My 2nd book took me 3 years. My 3rd book took me only a few months.

    M Pax, yes absolutely

  28. Hey Lynda, your post is balanced, judicious and fair-minded. My rant was ... charged. :)

    I think social media is something that can be used to the advantage of anyone who wants to broaden their reach, but also feel it is much more than that. Social media is a way of evolving as an artist with the rich interactions that spark something not unlike (al?)chemical reactions with other writers and readers.

    Initiative is something required for success in any field, you're 100% correct about that. The only thing I disagree with you about is that the best stories are the ones where the writer has kept the audience in mind. The best stories defy all marketing angles. Marketing is just a grasping effort at channeling lightning after it's already struck.

    Again, just my two cents. I love your blog, girl. Thought-provoking, consistent and among the best. You've earned every follower. ;)

  29. I love when I hear they're looking for a really good story and someone in it for the long haul. The story should be what it's all about! :)

  30. It's posts like these that make me feel better about the future of publishing! It's not all about trends and predicting the next big thing. It does all have to do with good stories and authors who want to stick with it.

    Thanks for sharing what they had to say!

  31. Suze, hehe. I agree that the best stories defy the market. They make their own place in the market. However, when I say we need to write with the audience in mind, I mean we still need to write for ourselves. We need to find that balance so we aren't just copying everyone else. We need to be brave enough to write the stories in our hearts. And when we aim those stories towards a specific market, I don't think we have to cheapen those stories, but give them a greater chance for publication. I guess it comes down to degrees. How much do you write for yourelf? How much for others?

    I love your thought provoking comments :)

    Jemi, totally agree

    Meagan, exactly :)

  32. At the moment I'm just working on writing good stories and blogging to get my name out there. I think publishers are looking for a story that stands out to them, something that really knocks them off their chairs. Hopefully I can produce that something one day :)

  33. 100% agree with all the points you made - especially the one about trends. Figuring out what the "new vampire" is far less important than finding your true voice.

    p.s. Thanks for the feature in your sidebar! :-)

  34. Lynda, I'd say we should write first and then worry about networking. Still, I don't think it's smart to completely neglect networking (like blogging and tweeting) while working. I read a blog the other day where someone was all:

    "Well, I'm writing now, so I'll be back when I'm done," in a blog post. It put me off, because I'm assuming that that same person will expect us to jump to the blog once he/she wants to market the book. All that I can think is that I won't be the only one.

    Neglecting social networks like that could be damaging in the long run. Even if it gives more writing time now.


  35. My spouse didn't intend to be a multi-author but has three childrens books under her belt. To be more marketable she has a 500 member E-mail list for her newsletter ("Movement and Rhythm") which continues to grow.
    Not to be cynical, but I think publishers are looking for books that will be popularly received, therefore the author has to be attuned with the market, and have a unique story that is told well.

  36. Very informative as usual, thanks for sharing.

  37. Stephanie, yes exactly right.

    Samantha, hehe anytime. I loved your book trailer so much. I'm looking forward to the release.

    Misha, yep, I agree. Sometimes we need a break from blogging, sometimes our deadlines get too much, but I think as long as keep the breaks short and show we're not just about promoting ourselves, it's not a problem.

    Anthony, I don't think that's being cynical. It is a business after all.

    Toyin, thanks

  38. In answer to your question, I guess I would say it's a 100/100 proposition, rather than 50/50. I thoroughly enjoy every minute of sojourning through the world of my stories. (So far, I've completed three novels, and they're all set in the same world-- a medium-sized desert town inspired by the city in which I grew up.)

    But I'd by lying if I said it's enough to just write for me. I love sharing my work. I love the idea of my work finding its niche. And blogging, which has been one of the most incredible boosts to me as a writer in a very personal sense, has helped me define my 'target audience' quite without intending to. It's very simple.


    Women of all ages and stages of life. I thrill to write about love, loss, parenthood, friendships, vocation, sex, ambition, recovery and identity.

    I write Contemporary Women's Fiction.

    Thank you for prompting me to articulate this and for so graciously giving me a little spot on your cool-gal blog to say it.


    Thought this article might be of interest. I like the angle, surprisingly. :) It makes very good sense to me.

  40. Suze, That means a lot to me to hear you say that. And it's so wonderful to hear your revelation. How cool!

    Thanks too for the article. I'll have a read of that this arvo :)


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.