Word of Mouth – Who Knew?

So our poll on Friday (see sidebar) led to some spectacularly predictable results. Exciting! It appears we find out about books mostly through various recommendations, either online or from friends or acquaintances. Otherwise known as word of mouth. We also find a lot of our books through browsing the stacks (physical or virtual) and picking the ones that look interesting. Wow, who’d have thunk it?

This points back to the idea I wrote about a couple weeks ago in The Book’s the Thing. It’s difficult to buy or orchestrate word of mouth, and you certainly can’t manufacture it if nobody likes the book. Hence, your most important marketing strategy is to write the best book you can, and hopefully make it something a lot of people will enjoy and then recommend to their friends.

Easy peasy. (And um…when you figure out the formula for that, let me know.)

Another result from our discussion on Friday: Many of you wrote in the comments that you always look for books from your favorite authors. In fact, for many of us (myself included) it’s probably the first thing we turn to when looking for a new book to read. We browse to see if any of the authors we already like have a new book out.

I’m glad you pointed it out, because it can help me address something I’ve noticed lately—quite a bit of online lamenting about the lack of opportunity for debut authors in today’s publishing climate.

It’s true, the market is very difficult. Breaking in as a debut author is incredibly hard. As well it should be.

It’s not a vast conspiracy of sinister publishing mavens plotting to keep out the riffraff. It’s simply business. It’s a smarter decision to publish more books from authors who have an established readership, and fewer books from authors who have no readership at all.

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, literary agent Jim Levine said, “These days, you need to deliver not just the manuscript but the audience,” (a quote I am now using in some of my pass letters to explain the platform thing).

It makes sense. If you were a publisher, which of these statements would you rather be able to say about the book you were about to publish?

“There are at least 20,000 people out there looking for this author’s next book.”

“This author’s mother and his wife and kids are really excited for his book to be released.”

Hmm, that’s a tough one. You get my point. If you’re a debut author and you’re finding it difficult… it’s nothing personal and it’s not a conspiracy.

Wait. Maybe it is a conspiracy and the evil plotters simply forgot to tell me about it (since 78% of my book deals so far have been for debut authors). Drat! I hate being left out.

Q4U: As an author, does looking at market realities, and considering questions such as how most readers find their books, help you to be more realistic and business-minded (as opposed to negative and conspiracy minded) about publishing?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Rachelle on February 21, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    >Heather, it's unpredictable. Some books get great word-of-mouth right out of the box. Others hit their stride 6 months to 2 years after publication. However, a publisher usually gives a book about six months to show legs; if it doesn't within that time, they assume it's not going to happen and move on (even though they're aware they might be wrong.)

  2. Heather M on February 19, 2010 at 3:53 PM


    In your estimation, how long does a word-of-mouth success take to declare itself? If you were expecting that a certain book would sell well through a word-of-mouth "buzz," at what point after its publication would you say "it's going to happen" or "it's not going to happen"?

  3. Freya on January 26, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    >I think knowing where the market stands today and what makes it tick is the most important for anyone promoting their work. This applies to authors too. Gone are the days when just relying on your publisher to sell your book brought sales. Today unless you are a world renown author you have to promote yourself and books (in reality even renown authors promote their work).

    I agree with you Rachelle that 'Word-of-mouth' is one of the most powerful tools for authors today and internet and social media connect you to the world. It was with this idea that we created BookBuzzr last year. BookBuzzr helps authors share their work across networks and gives readers a chance browse books online just like at a store. Above all it gives readers the power to recommend and share books online with friends.


    Author Community Manager
    World's No. 1, Free Online Book-Marketing Technology for Authors

  4. Heather on January 22, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    >I definitely think knowing word of mouth sells books helps keep me more business minded. An author's platform has never been more important, or easier to build than now. We can have a hand in our success now, that's very freeing to me, not frustrating.

  5. Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. on January 22, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    >Naturally, I do my homework about writing at my best and looking into the publishing world – but at the end of the day, I write the book I MUST write, not the one that sells best.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

  6. Mar on January 20, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    >Government Research / Funding Scandal

    CAMH / Brock University


    Medicine Gone Bad



    **Updated Jan 19th**

  7. Homemaker, MD on January 20, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    >I'm working through "writing the breakout novel" and this is the same thing he talks about in the beginning of the book–that word of mouth is the way the breakouts, well, breakout. And that there's no marketing that will beat just writing and absolutely fantastic book.

  8. Jil on January 20, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    >With so many diverse personalities in both readers and the agents, publishers etc. it seems that what is gold to one may always be rubbish to another. The solution for the writer, unless aiming only for money or fame, is to create what he/she believes in and a world in which she enjoys spending hours every day. And don't we always do the best we can? Polishing, editing on and on. Then, with luck, we will find an agent with the same mindset. One who also loves our world and offers it to readers of the same ilk. If we do not find this agent, our work has still not been in vain for has it not enriched our own lives in the writing of it?

  9. Rachelle on January 20, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    >Steve: In response to your 12:50 comment, publishers say EXACTLY THAT all the time! How else do you think we get so many new authors on the shelf every year?

    Surely you understand that every single book can't be that "exciting debut author."

    I guess I will have to write another post about debut authors. The truth is, publishers are putting them out there constantly. What makes it hard for struggling writers is the vast difference between the number of debut authors every year — and the number of people who WANT to be debut authors. Now THAT'S a staggering number.

  10. Steve on January 20, 2010 at 3:05 AM


    As a felloe SF addict I feel your pain. It's been hard the last couple of decades, as "our" shelves are progressively taken over by fantasy and tales of the undead. But there are a few writers active today that I still find readable.

    One is Orson Scott Card. He's something of a big name right now, and he writes SF in the grand tradition. Then there's John Varley. He's recently completed a trilogy that is a very well-done tribute to the classic Heinlein Juveniles. The most recent, "Rolling Thunder" should still be on the shelves, and the other two can undoubtedly be ordered online.

    Some reasonably decent SF aimed at younger readers can be found hiding on the "teen" shelves. I rather enjoyed Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" series.

    Among newer writers, Cory Doctorow is huge right now. I personally feel his writing could be a bit tighter, but his work is interesting and he seems to be a heck of a decent guy personally.

    And John Hemry is good, if you like military SF. He has also written a series under the pseudonym Jack Campbell.

    And I still buy my copy of Analog every month. It's better than nothing.

    Hope this helps,

  11. Steve on January 20, 2010 at 2:50 AM


    You said:

    It makes sense. If you were a publisher, which of these statements would you rather be able to say about the book you were about to publish?

    “There are at least 20,000 people out there looking for this author’s next book."

    “This author’s mother and his wife and kids are really excited for his book to be released.”

    I say:

    I'd like to hear a publisher say something like this.

    "As a publisher we have been in this business for years, and have seen the good, the bad, and the totally absurd. All too rarely we get to see the truly exciting. This writer rocks! You've probably never heard of them, but that's about to change. Because they really are that good. We are excited and proud to present this novel by our newest debut author. Because it's our business to know quality when we see it."

    (And yes, if you were wondering, I do seem to be discovering an unexpected talent for writing fantasy. 🙂


  12. Steve on January 20, 2010 at 2:01 AM


    You said:

    "It’s true, the market is very difficult. Breaking in as a debut author is incredibly hard. As well it should be."

    From the context, it appears you mean "should be" from the publisher's perspective. I think it's important to note that the publishers are playing a different side of the game from the readers, and their interest is not the same. Under the "rules of the market" the interest of the publisher is to maintain a reliable and hopefully substantial income stream. In today's economic climate it makes sense, from that viewpoint, to build in a big component of risk aversion and cost-cutting as part of their business strategy.

    This is not necessarily what is best for the reading public. Readers have an interest in being presented with a healthy flow of new and creative talent. Reading your favorite authors is fine. I do it, and I'm sure we all do. But at some point, as a reader, I feel a need to hear fresh voices.

    I'm not suggesting that I want to see your slush pile on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. I'm not advocating traditional publishing of incompetent work. What I am suggesting is that the industry should be more proactive about nurturing talent, even if that is costly and sometimes risky for them. And when I say "should be" above, I'm speaking as a reader.

    Ultimately, readers are the reason for the existence of publishers. If publishers will not or can not step up to nurture talent (as was done to a greater extent in the past), then they should look in the mirror when, not if, their readership begins to decline.


  13. God and Ponytails on January 19, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    >So would you sign with a small new publisher? Or does that spell- n o readers?

  14. Anonymous on January 19, 2010 at 6:45 PM

  15. D. Antone on January 19, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    >This is a great post and a topic that's been on my mind lately. It's fairly obvious that a published author should be aware of the market trends, but what about writers who have not yet been published? Should the market influence what they write? I don't think it should. Stick to what you feel motivated and inspired to write. I think what unpublished writers can learn from this is that it's important to market your book and generate support before you get published.

    Thanks for the post!

  16. Livia on January 19, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    >Regarding word of mouth — malcolm gladwell's The Tipping Point had some interesting observations about how trends spread. It's worth reading if you're marketing something.

  17. Amy Sue Nathan on January 19, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    >Your line about the publishing mavens? Priceless! I think the key, in addition to writing the best book possible is to collect friends, followers and supporters. Agents might not want to know about it right away, but down the road a vast network will pay off.

  18. Dana King on January 19, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    >I'm split. It helps me to be more realistic and business-minded, but I'm becoming increasingly negative, though not because of any imaginary conspiracies.

    I understand and accept what needs to be done to get published, and I'm happy to accept full responsibility for my "pre-published" state. What concerns me is what has to be tolerated after a contract is obtained. I'm willing and able to look at it as a business, and publishers need to make money; no argument from me.

    The writer is a business, too. Busting ass to break even or even lose money is not attractive, and that's where I see things headed as publishers put more and more post-contract responsibility on the author.

  19. Timothy Fish on January 19, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    >The thing with word of mouth is that people want to have the opportunity to be the expert on something. Friends and family love to tell other people about the author they know. As we move out from our close circle of friends it takes different things to make someone an expert. The book doesn’t actually have to be good, as long as it is interesting to talk about.

  20. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on January 19, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    >Rachelle, you reset my expectations long ago by your interesting and revealing articles on the publishing business.

    I do have one gripe that I want to air on the subject of books I find on the wooden and virtual bookshelves. I read sci-fi for leisure; I have for 40 years. Like everyone else, I usually read the authors I know best. However, after Christmas, I decided to look for new authors. In December, I visited an independant bookstore in California. I bought three books, one by a proven author, one co-written by a popular author with a new writer, and the third was a debut book. I had a terrible time trying to read all three. All the plots, characters, and styles were different except for one thing: they were all terrible.

    Next I tried barnesandnoble.com where I searched for debut sci-fi books. Normally, I am a proficient researcher. This time I failed to find even one book to buy.

    The result is that I have returned to the 100 or so books in my library in order to read one I enjoy. Q4U: Am I the ONLY frustrated reader around?

    Thanks for letting me vent.


  21. Liesl on January 19, 2010 at 2:32 PM

    >I'm aware of market realities but I try not to think about them too much. I like that it's hard. I want a high bar in this business. Not knowing if something is going to work out is part of the rush for me, and that applies to both writing the book and getting it published. We can hit roadblocks in both processes and some of the roadblocks are there on purpose. They make us work harder, jump higher, perform better.

    If it were easy, would it be of any value? Would it be any fun?

  22. Rachelle on January 19, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    >Ed Eubanks: Your point is well taken and of course I want authors to do all the marketing they can, in order to stimulate word-of-mouth. But please note that in my post I said, "It's difficult to buy or orchestrate word of mouth, and you certainly can't manufacture it if nobody likes the book."

    My point is that you will only get word of mouth IF people like your product, regardless of what the product is.

  23. Jacqueline Windh on January 19, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    >People write for different reasons – but I think that anyone who is writing with the aim of publication has to pay some attention to the economic realities. It is the difference between a person who writes for him/herself (can follow any artistic or personal path they want… but their writing is really a hobby) and one who writes for a living (and so is stuck balancing their purely artistic aims with the economic and market realities… unless the two miraculously coincide). So, yes, I find this information very useful.

    Regarding your poll, Rachelle, I just want to add that I did not do it because the choices you gave didn't seem very relevent to us here in Canada. We have CBC Radio – public-run national radio – and it actually gives quite a lot of publicity to books and authors. There are two weekly book shows, as well as a daily arts show (called "Q", that is going to debut in numerous major American cities including Chicago, SF, Seattle (PRI stations) next week).

    We also have an annual "Canada Reads" series on CBC, that goes on for a month or longer, where 5 writers select a work of fiction, then discuss and defend their choice. Many other CBC national and local shows also interview authors regularly. CBC Radio would be the main way that I, and I suspect many Canadians, hear of the books that we end up reading.

    You can get CBC on Sirius satellite radio (I don't know how, I just know that you can), and you can listen to it live online in various time zones at http://www.cbc.ca/listen, and you can download podcasts of most shows. The shows that regularly feature books and authors are:
    So, rather than newspaper or online reviews, this is how I hear of most books. Then I ask my friends, to see who has read it and what they thought.

    Thanks for the great info on your site.

  24. Jennifer Crews on January 19, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    >What a great post! This is very helpful information as I finish up two business books and start a novel.

    To answer your question, understanding the market realities is supremely helpful, although I am not sure I am the typical writer because I am a business advisor with a strategic marketing background. But for those who find this information disheartening, I would think of it this way…

    Publishers cannot stay in business unless they can turn a profit on the books in which they invest (at least the majority of them!). So, thinking about ways to help a publisher turn a profit, such as building an audience and marketing your book, gives you more power in the system, not less.

  25. Ed Eubanks on January 19, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    >On "word of mouth"– there are some good books about this subject. Right now, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are some great, active authorities on word-of-mouth marketing; check out their book, Creating Customer Evangelists, as well as their blog, Church of the Customer Blog (forgive the overzealous title) where just yesterday they posted about book marketing. Or go way back to the late 80s, where the original corporate "evangelist" Guy Kawasaki wrote Selling the Dream. (Guy's still actively talking and teaching about this topic, as well.)

    It turns out, Rachelle, that you can, in fact, orchestrate word-of-mouth marketing, at least to a point.

  26. T. Anne on January 19, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    >The bottom line is don't write a good book, write an excellent book. Pray extra hard. Hope for the best. Trust God to direct your path in life.To me, there is no other formula to follow. I've had many miracles in my life. I don't pin my hope on reality, I pin my hope on God. I trust I will finish this race exactly as he planned. As for negativity and conspiracy? It's the wrong place to expend my energy.

  27. Paula Wiseman on January 19, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    >If it was easy, anybody could (and would) do it. If business and marketing savvy are another skill set that will help my book succeed, then I'm going to dive in. Besides, learning something new is a good break from editing.

  28. Southpaw on January 19, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    >Oh sure, but some of my favorite authors I follow started with me just picking up a book that "looked interesting" from an unknown author.

  29. Sheila O'Kelly on January 19, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    >I know, I know. But wouldn't it be nice just to write! Sales of my novel, Love Knot, are creeping up on Amazon and now I need to know how to capitalise on that? Do I point it out to would-be publishers? Meanwhile, I want to focus on writing the next novel I'm writing. Yours in frustration.

  30. jesusangelgarcia on January 19, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    >This is the reality. Gone are the days when authors could focus full-time on their creative work. Now we have to nurture our platforms, build an audience, keep said audience, and so on.

    I understand this, and I'm okay with it, mostly. I like meeting people, and I love getting reader feedback. So far I'm using Twitter, blog communities, readings, and lit mags. Fanbase is growing. Feels good to be read.

    Big questions, though: Will this platform-focused use of time bring more readers to our debut novels once published? Absolutely. But will it provide the necessary space and freedom to write a worthy follow-up? I'm guessing… no.

    Fortunately, I'm not there yet. So I'm enjoying this part of the ride (and still looking for ideal print-publishing partner).

  31. Kelly Combs on January 19, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    >“This author’s mother and his wife and kids are really excited for his book to be released.”

    This quote made me laugh out loud.
    Plus, I'm estranged from my mom, so I only have my spouse and kids to be excited for me! That's probably too much information, but I couldn't help but laugh.

    Great post, you didn't sound negative to me.

  32. Anonymous on January 19, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    >As an editorial assistant at another literary agency and a non-published scribbling novelist, I consider marketing considerations for a novel–but stellar writing absolutely has to come first. If we fall in love with the story, characters and language usage, credentials seem much less important.

    In six years, however, I've only seen a handful of truly astounding writing.

    In terms of marketing realities–I've given up writing too many times to count. But every time, God sends a nudge of encouragement my way. So I return to the latest manuscript and continue crafting stories. Maybe my grandchildren will publish my work some day!

    That's why understanding your motivation for writing is so important–and being realistic about your expectations. Your worth and value are not tied to a published novel in hand.

    And a lot of times it breaks our heart to have to say "no."

  33. XDPaul on January 19, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    >My positive affirmation has always been the slightly morbid:

    "Wells run dry and established authors die. They somehow did it, so why can't I?"

    Debut is probably the most well-known publishing bottleneck. There are plenty that follow debut, but the masses of the unpublished gather at the gates of debut, scrambling to find an opening.

    The "conspiracy" is that there are lots of us, few openings and a drought of patience.

    And then, once you make it through debut, the real work starts!

    But readers always need new content, and even the most prolific and popular authors can't satisfy the small portion of readers seeking novelty – a novelty which can be cultivated into a growing readership in its own right.

    Grab an axe and get in line. Your turn will come. Just don't swing until the space is clear and you've got a tree in front of you!

  34. Mira on January 19, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    >Well that interesting that some folks think there's a conspiracy. A conspiracy against what? To keep debut authors out of the business? That's sort of funny – I just got this image of a bunch of business people gathered in a conference room, talking about the debut author 'problem'. 🙂

    Well, I think it's wonderful that you support debut authors, Rachelle. And I'd bet that publishers have mixed feelings about debuts. Yes, they don't have a following, but on the other hand, they could be the next breakout, the next Harry Potter.

    So, I think it's actually easier to be a debut author than a mid-list – one of the reasons I'm going to wait until I have something completely terrific before I try to get published.

    Why rush? I'll wait for right timing and the right book. If I write a terrific book, hopefully, somone will want to take a chance on it – if not, I'll e-publiish.

    I think the times are very good for debuts (and mid-lists, too). We have so many options now.

    Interesting topic, Rachelle – thanks.

  35. Tim Sinclair on January 19, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    >I hear a lot of frustration from new authors about having great ideas and a solid book, but no platform (or no time/energy to develop one)… thinking they are entitled to a book deal anyway. I understand the frustration. Personally, I'd love to be President or a U.S. Senator. I have plenty of good ideas, but I don't have the time to build a support base. Shouldn't I get the chance to serve our country?

    Well, there is a CHANCE…but it's a longshot. I think the same goes for getting published.

  36. Cynthia Schuerr on January 19, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    >Absolutely! My belief is this: Anything worth having, is worth waiting for and working hard for it.
    When I read and learn about the business end of writing, I tell myself that the need to write and to love writing, really love writing, must be stronger than the fear of the business of writing.

    Rachelle, please keep us enlightened!

    Thank you,

  37. LilySea on January 19, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    >You know, it's not unlike the squeeze in the academic job market–at least the corner of it I know best. That is, grad students are expected to "professionalize" ie: publish, give conference presentations in ways that might have, in former years been considered the domain of assistant professors. If you're "just" a great grad student, your chances of getting a job are reduced considerably.

    As a hopeful debut novelist, I am well aware that I will need to persuade the Powers That Be that I have a plausible reason to expect my first book will have a decent audience.

    That's sort of okay with me, except that I am sad for the books that are good but not particularly popular. I am no anti-popular-books snob, but I also personally LOVE a lot of books no one has ever heard of, but that are brilliant and well-reviewed and award-winning and all that.

    I wish the poor publishing industry (and frankly, no one is to blame but late capitalism) wasn't so squeezed as to be less and less able to publish books that are terrific but won't sell much.

    I wish there was room for both.

    But I also appreciate the Harry Potters and the Twilights out there that fund a few more small books in their block-buster wakes… So, gogogo established best-selling writers! Support the rest of us, ya know?

  38. tracey solomon on January 19, 2010 at 10:16 AM


    And I feel much less conflicted about my time spent building platform and social connections.

    It's an investment!

  39. Jaycee Adams on January 19, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    >As you note, it's very easy to forget how to step into the other guy's shoes. I'm convinced that most of the things we gripe about, if we were able to get a proper perspective on and put ourselves in the other person's situation, there would be a lot less complaining and a lot more work getting done.

    But somewhere along the line, we stopped allowing our kids to grow up, and now the country is run by a bunch of children who want only to take without giving anything back or sharing.

  40. Beth on January 19, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    >Of course it's always best to know as much as you can about the market. In the end, you'll write the book that you have in you and use your skill to make it the best it can be. But knowledge is power, as they say, and knowing how people choose what they read is very important.

  41. Dominique on January 19, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    >I think remembering how I shop for books helps me know if my book is ready. When I buy, I read about half the first page. That's all the writer gets to hook me. If I cannot hook a reader that fast with my MS, it's not ready.

  42. MZMackay on January 19, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    >Having the knowledge about the market difficulties at this time, should give aspiring authors (like me)a good reminder to truly hone their skills and present the best product possible. Publishing is a business, the book is the primary product.

    I try to keep as positive an outlook as possible when thinking about the realities of this chosen profession. If we all succumb to the doom-and-gloom attitude, the market will never improve.

    Thank you for your generosity with all the insight you share.

  43. Anonymous on January 19, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    >If it's up to the author to deliver an audience, and if an author has 20,000 waiting for the book; then why does she need a publisher? Why not self publish and make 5 times more money?

  44. Steph Damore on January 19, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    >I agree with so many of the comments already posted.

    It seems that everyone's written a novel these days, and maybe those people are the conspiracy-minded folks. But those of us who are career writers know the realities and really have to be business-minded in order to make our careers work.

  45. Rachelle on January 19, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    >Hey everyone: Sorry if this post sounded negative… you KNOW that isn't my intent! I work my tail off everyday trying to get debut authors published, so I'm living in the same world you are. I couldn't do it with a negative or hopeless attitude. We just keep working!

  46. Matilda McCloud on January 19, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    >I read mostly debut authors–not deliberately–I only realize later it was the author's first book. I don't really look for specific authors when buying books. Often it seems that the debut book is better than subsequent books–maybe because of the pressure now for authors to churn out one book after another so quickly because of two- and three-book deals?

    I do think about market realities. But if I thought about this too much, I'd stop writing. It's a weird balance…

  47. Rachelle on January 19, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >Anonymous 6:33: In a fiction query, no one wants to hear your marketing ideas. It's all about the book. If you're a debut author, then all the marketing ideas in the world are not going to get you that built-in audience the day your book released.

    In a non-fiction query, yes, it's important to give a feel for your platform and marketing ability.

  48. Marla Taviano on January 19, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    >Negativity takes too much time and energy. I don't have enough in me to let it suck me dry.

    Here's to thinking/being positive in 2010!

  49. tamika on January 19, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    >Due in part to following agent blogs I've learned the important truths t publishing stats. I need to write great material and in the process build strong audience.

    I attended an ACFW chapter meeting this weekend and the facilitator Thomas Umstaad offered two questions for every writer to consider.
    1. Who is your audience?
    2. How can I thrill them?

    He gave exquistite biblical points. My favorite was that Jesus knew exactly who his audience was, and He never missed an opportunity to WOW them.

  50. Sarah Forgrave on January 19, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    >Since I work in corporate America for my day job, it makes complete sense to look at the market. As an unpublished writer, the trends discourage me sometimes, but it just motivates me to focus on writing something that people will want to read (and that I enjoy writing). A win-win for everyone, I hope.

  51. Linda Banche on January 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    >Everything worthwhile in life is hard. Much depends on how badly you want something. If you want it badly enough, you'll put the effort into it. And you still may fail.

    But we have to know how things work. Write a good book before you query, or you're setting yourself up for failure.

  52. Author Sandra D. Bricker on January 19, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    >Every business- and market-related observation made here is completely true. However, in response to David Todd's comment about doing all the right things and still swimming upstream … There is also the intangible variable of God's timing on your life. I believe with all my heart that this is a key factor that we business-minded folk often overlook. I WAS READY a long, long time before the ground had been prepared and the time was "right" for me. I think this is a part of the bigger picture that we must come to terms with along with the other factors about lottery odds, publishing trends and business savvy.

    Just my humble (and often poo-poo'd) opinion. 🙂

  53. David A. Todd on January 19, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >"realistic and business-minded (as opposed to negative and conspiracy minded) about publishing?"

    I'm certainly not conspiracy-minded. No one has established a conspiracy to keep me or other unpublished authors out.

    I'm just sad. Sad that, if I write an incredibly good book, in a genre that just happens to be right at the time, if I go to a national writers conference (or two) each year and learn tons and meet people, if I keep making contacts in the industry, my chances of being published are about the same as winning the lottery. If I can develop an audience numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands then the odds are slightly better than winning the lottery.

    At least that's my view from the trenches.


  54. Anonymous on January 19, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    >When (not if) my novel gets published, I plan to market the heck out of it–and I have the background as well. But how do you tell an agent that without coming off as pushy or desperate? No one wants to hear marketing ideas in a query–do they?

  55. Richard Mabry on January 19, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    >As usual, you haven't hesitated to bring out some hard truths. Yes, publishing is a business, and it's tough. And getting published is equally difficult. It's a matter of talent, persistence, serendipity, building a platform (whatever that means to each of us) and so much more, all viewed in the framework of the will of a Sovereign whose plan often eludes us as we struggle on.

  56. Sharon A. Lavy on January 19, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    >Thank you Rachelle for being willing to keep telling us until we "get" it. When I was growing up I had people (boys) beg to be my friend. It doesn't work that way. We either clicked or we didn't or if they gave it enough time without being pushy friendship can happen.

    I liken that to my writing. I keep trying to improve and wait for the agent writer click.

  57. Jeff on January 19, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    >I played football in high school. I would have loved to go pro, but I knew the chances of making it and kept my grades up in school.

    It is the same thing with writing. I would love to have all of my income be from my writing, but when I look at the market realities I stay in school and pursue my degree.

    Being realistic about the business of publishing keeps food on the table and the electricity on.

  58. Jason on January 19, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    >It is what it is…(I hate when people say that). But really, it's the same way in anything worthwhile. It's hard to make it to the top. Try starting your own retail business. You'll find it hard going to compete with the giants. But if you stick and out, work hard, and have a LOT of luck, you just might make it.

    I like the fact that getting pubbed is darn-near impossible. It'll be that much more awesome if and when it happens.

  59. Timothy Fish on January 19, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    >Which reality?

    I think most authors find it easy to accept that a writer with 20,000 people looking for his next book is going to have an easier time getting a publishing contract than one who hasn’t told anyone but his wife, his mother and his kids that he is an author. But there is another reality—a personal reality—and being the skilled authors that we are, we know that the personal reality is much more important than the general truth. The personal reality for the author is that I have written a book that I believe is good. It is better than some of the books I see on the market. I’m not just saying that, since the people who’ve read the manuscript agree, but the publishers won’t hardly look at it, they just say it isn’t good enough. Yeah, I know I would do better if I had a platform, if I happened to be writing in today’s hottest genre or any number of other things, but I am what I am.

    I don’t think there’s an author out there who wouldn’t love to go to a publisher and say, “I’ve got 20,000 people waiting for you to publish the book,” but look at the people who follow this blog. The reality of publishing is that most of us authors don’t have 20,000 people anxiously waiting for our next book. Not only that, no one seems to be able to tell us how to remedy the situation. How do you take a soccer mom who barely has time to help her kids find their socks for the next soccer game, but who manages to find time to write a book in what little time she has left and turn her into the idol of 20,000 people? Having a blog isn’t going to do it, but it’s all she has time for. That’s the reality of publishing and the reality that is the cause for the frustration that causes authors to include statements about their family liking the book in their query letters.

  60. Laura Pauling on January 19, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    >I find that encouraging. Word of mouth is the best. And it's so good to know that it really is about the writing and the story.

  61. Krista Phillips on January 19, 2010 at 6:24 AM

    >To be honest, I think I'm always a little more realistic and business-minded about it. I think it comes from being in–even a non-writing–business job since I was 18. Not that I'm this master business genius by ANY means, but I've never thought about there being any conspiracy or the like.

    Obviously publishers are out there to make money. I think where the waters get muddied are for Christian writer's who view their books as a "ministry" and get frustrated by the publishing world wanting to treat their book as they would another business venture.

  62. Rhys Milner on January 19, 2010 at 4:29 AM

    >To answer your question in a word:


    I've been wrestling with a 'realistic' view of what I as an attempted author should really do. All sorts of crazy stuff has been reccommended or given as gospel depending where I look.

    What I keep coming back to, and what this post reinforces is:

    Ignore all the distractions, shut up and write.

    Of course I'm still experiencing variable success with this. 😛

  63. M.B. Sandefur on January 19, 2010 at 3:25 AM

    >I think I've always been business minded, because I know its hardest for new authors to gain a following. I know its going to take a lot of work on my end to get my stuff out there and across as many eyes as possible. But I'm willing to do the work. And that is where a lot of authors differ when it comes to success in sales. Are they willing to do the work to gain the success? Its not as easy as it seems.

  64. Roxane B. Salonen on January 19, 2010 at 2:41 AM

    >Yes, it helps. But just as you said earlier, in the end, in sorting through our most important obligations, we need to start with the best book we can offer. Everything else is a secondary consideration. So, I'd say, yes, it helps eventually, but not so much initially, beyond the fact that knowledge is power and will help us navigate the eventual waters to traverse.

  65. Ronda Laveen on January 19, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    >Ronda Laveen said…
    It's harsh to look at the truth in the glaring light of day. The good stuff gets talked up, the not so good stuff gets little attention.

  66. Karen Collum on January 19, 2010 at 2:26 AM

    >Absolutely! I love being informed about the realities of the industry. In the three years I've been seriously writing (although I dabbled for a decade before that) I've gone from knowing literally NOTHING to having a reasonable handle on the way the publishing world works. I figure we newbie authors have a choice – wail and moan and complain about how unfair/hard/unreasonable the situation is or use that energy to make our writing the best it can be, get informed about the protocols and proactively engage with the writing community at large.

    Just today I got a rejection from an agent I desperately wanted to hear a 'yes' from. Sure, I was disappointed, but at the same time, I've learned enough to know it's not personal. It wasn't ME she was rejecting and my work isn't rubbish just because she didn't take it on (in fact, she said some lovely things about my writing). It was a business decision on her behalf and I respect her judgement. Maybe someone else will fall in love with my work. Maybe I need to spend some more time honing my craft.

    I've chosen to be a writer so therefore I'm choosing to 'play the game'. Just like everything else, there are rules that govern the publishing world and although I am the first to try and negotiate my way around some of them (I rang a publisher today who gave me permission to send through manuscripts even though they have a 'no unsolicited ms' policy), I am not going to lament and whinge about the situation. In the words of a writing teacher I know, "Writing is hard work. Suck it up, Princess." 😛