This past Monday I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at Nova Southeastern University by Peter Miller, a literary agent who’s worked in the publishing and producing industry for thirty years. He is the founder and CEO of Global Lion Intellectual Property Management, Inc. Can’t say I heard of him before, then again, I’m the new guy in this business. (I have heard of one of his clients: turns out he’s Sir Ken Robinson’s literary agent. Check out Sir Ken’s TED Talks, he is a game-changer in education who will make a paradigm shift in how we approach education in the future.)
Peter Miller calls himself a literary manager as opposed to a literary agent and I like that. Which brings me to the first thing I learned about the publishing business (what, you wanted a longer introduction?):
1. You cannot be a Good Author anymore. You must either be a Genius Author or a Genius Marketer.
Rebranding himself as a Literary Manager distinguishes Peter Miller from the rest of the field. He doesn’t just try to sell your IP (Intellectual Property), he will give you the tools you need to succeed: platforming, marketing, negotiating film deals, international marketing, and book production. He works with you every step of the way. By doing this he proves that it’s beneficial to be different, and present yourself as providing a product or service that no one else can provide.
It begins with a vision of “The Package”, as Miller calls it. Basically, it’s what you’d sell to a publisher. It’s not the just idea, but all the possibilities within the idea. Is it saleable? Is it a solid money-maker? Is there a possibility for sequels, prequels, side stories, any other add-ons? Publishers want to know what they can do with your product. Entice them from the pitch all the way down to the print.
2. Relationships not only open venues, they spark creativity.
Miller struck me when he said, “There are hundreds of people working to sell a single book.” He goes on to say that it is difficult to self-publish because all the work is on you. The experts in the publishing industry are going to publish a saleable book (not salad bowl book, those are boring). They are not going to go through all that work if they didn’t think they could make money.
A good team of editors, agents, managers, and producers will ensure your book is in top form. It’s important to listen to their advice. Like any relationship, if you’re not willing to accept the trust the other’s contribution, it will crumble. Miller told us that friendship, passion, and trust are the foundation for any healthy relationship. You can be friendly and passionate with someone, but if you don’t trust them, any collaborative effort will die. This extends to the relationship between artist and audience. Say you create a character and he suddenly disappears, leaving a loose plotline. The reader will not trust you and drop the book. Similarly, if a reader cannot understand your writing that’s either the fault of one or both of you. You need to work that out. It calls back to my high school basketball coach who would always tell us, “I’d rather you trust me, than love me.” It’s okay to trust someone enough to let them take you off the rails, as consumers we do it all the time. Work your neocortex, it’ll help your entire sphere of influence. The limbic and reptilian brain can only take you so far.
3. Come with a Fanbase. Platforming is everything.
You all probably received an invitation to like my new Facebook page. The decision to make that page was a direct result of the seminar. Platforming and blogging creates the greatest opportunities for gathering your fanbase. While we are inundated relentlessly by blog posts and social media everyday, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. We just need to be more selective in what we choose to follow. Those who are building their platforms need to target their followers. I choose you. Or rather, I desperately clicked down my list of friends. If you accept, I hope you do so to open a channel of trust between us. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Henceforth, YOU, my followers are part of my product’s “Package.” A publishing company wants to know that I already have potential buyers. Get the word out! If you love an artist’s work, support them! I will keep up my role in this relationship by writing for myself, the fellowship you provide will help to expand what I can do.
4. Know Thyself. Know Thy Art.
Someone could be hungry for your story, but if you can’t sell it to them, they’ll never buy in. Making a deal requires deep reflection of yourself, your art, and your audience.
What are your strengths and weakness? When you speak, are you confident? Do you stutter? Do you sweat or have nervous ticks? Do you sway or wave your hands unconsciously? Do you get overly excited and your voice gets super high-pitched when you go on a long-winded explanation of something you’re really passionate about and by the time you notice your desperation it’s too late because the person you’re talking got distracted by your hysteria? Meditate on yourself. In everyday conversation, take note of your body. Mindfulness is cool now, dudes and dudettes. Slow down. When you’re interviewing for a job, or making a proposal to your boss, or practicing a speech, take note. The next time you speak, focus on avoiding those habits. Project strength. Make every movement, every change in tone, every word purposeful. They are all part of selling yourself. That’s all we can sell.
Know what your product is and what it is not. Focus on the specifics. What is the premise? In John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, he states that “the reason you must have a good premise is that it’s the one decision on which every other decision you make during the writing process is based.” But this can be extended to any medium. Communication is nothing but storytelling, isn’t it? However exciting or mundane, there is a narrative (or disjointed narrative) within the information, right? Understand what you’re trying to say. Strategize how you will convey the pitch. Make it simple and easy to understand. How can you explain your idea in the simplest way possible, while driving all of your points home?
Finally, know who you’re presenting to. Your potential audience may come from different experiences and backgrounds, and your potential publishers may be looking for different ideas. But they all have one thing in common: they are closed to you. They are ready to say “No” until you convince them to say “Yes”. Find and use the connections between you, your readers, and your publishers. Tailor your presentation to their desires and interests. That’s why we enter relationships right?
5. Defy Expectations
When I play Magic: The Gathering, my playgroup snaps to attention when I think too long. Often, it’s when I’m backed into a corner. Sometimes, I think I can break a stalemate for the win. I shuffle the cards in my hands, lean over to look at the table. Sometimes I look away, to the side, or up at the ceiling. My friend Christian will say, “I don’t like it when he thinks.” Then a smirk creeps across my face. Mischief, my friends, I’m up ready to strike. Nine times out of ten, I destroy the other players. When my plan is foiled, I still get high-fives. Either way, I’ve done what seemed impossible.
When it came time for questions, I sat silent for a while, shuffling the potential questions I could ask. Towards the end of Peter Miller’s seminar, I asked him this question:
“What is the best advice you can give to a writer?”
Miller didn’t have a ready response. He leaned back in his chair, told me to give him a minute, finished his water, and carefully thought what he wanted to say. My telltale smirk spread across my face. Miller told us, “Practice your craft and be passionate about it. If you can redefine a genre, or create your own genre, you will go far.” I snickered as he said this, like some mad scientist reveling in his master plan. He asked me why I’m laughing. I only tell him, “A light bulb moment.” But I didn’t spoil it then and I won’t now. It was born of mischief, after all.