Yesterday I was in a coffee shop. A woman sitting near me was reading a book about how to write a book proposal. In the course of a chat we'd started about something else, I said, "Say, I know all about book proposals. Want any help?"
But it turned out this would-be author had no more interest in learning about book proposals than I have in learning about how to prepare tongue. She was only perusing the book because a friend had given it to her.
She was, she told me, put on this earth to write the book she was, and God/the cosmos would take care of getting her masterpiece published. The idea of actually caring about selling the book was, to her mind, entirely too crass for consideration.
And, actually, I hear from a fair number of would-be authors who feel about their aborning books something in the neighborhood of what this woman feels about hers: that God/the cosmos has put the writing of their book on their heart, and that once it is finished, the stars will properly align, and their book will become the bestseller it was always destined to be.
Mind if I rave for a bit? You don't? Great!
If you're an aspiring book author, you should know that nobody in book publishing -- no agent, no editor, no publisher -- gives one quick puckered kiss how you feel about your book. Thinking that they should "care" about your book at all is like expecting a car salesman to be emotionally attached to the cars on his lot. He's not. What he cares about is selling the cars on his lot. That's all he cares about them. That's his job. That's how he eats.
Drive away with the four-door sedan. Put a down on a sporty coupe. Make an offer on a minivan. Do something that involves that car salesman making sure money, and you'll be the object of his care and concern. Don't, and he'll leave you so alone you'll feel like a leper in a game of tag.
It's the same with agents (the first in a long line of people who'll have to be impressed by you and/or your book before it'll ever see light of day). Look to them like someone who can bring them some money, or keep looking.
This is not to say that agents, et al, don't care about whether or not a book is intrinsically good. Of course they do. They love good books. Who doesn't love a good book? But you know what sort of book people in the book business really love, what kind makes them whip out a three-book contract faster than a car salesman can whip out his business card? A book written by an author with a platform, that's what.
Ah, the platform. Have a good one, and you'll be like Sarah Palin selling kisses at a Tea Party rally. Don't, and you'll be like Nancy Pelosi in the same booth.
Are you wondering if you have a good platform? Well, do you have a nationally syndicated TV or radio show? Do you have a wildly popular blog? Do you travel all year giving massively attended seminars? Are you the pastor of a mega-mega church? Are you famous, in other words? If so: nice platform! If not: nice platform shoes don't cost that much money, they're fun to wear and go away.
Agents and publishers want authors with a platform -- period. Why? Because authors with a platform can sell their books directly to their audience. In other words, they can guarantee sales.
Check the stupid on this. Publishers only want authors who are so famous they can sell 40,000 copies of their own book directly to their own audience. But anyone who is so famous that they can sell 40,000 copies of their own book directly to their own audience needs a publisher like Willy Wonka needs a Whitman's sampler. If I could sell my own book to my own audience, why would I give any publisher full rights, forever, to that book, ninety percent of whatever I made selling that book -- and then give an agent fifteen percent of whatever was left over for me? Why? Why would I do that? Why would anyone?
And still all anyone in the book industry cares about is platform, platform, platform. That's what they want; that's what they're concerned about; that's what matters to them. It's like a drowning man calling, "More boulders! Throw me more huge boulders!"
Which is why the book industry is sinking so fast half the people in it have already bailed into lifeboats and are frantically rowing for shore.
Oh: and e-book sales for 2011 will hit one billion dollars.
If you want to publish a book, publish it yourself. Unless you're famous, you'll have to anyway -- and if you are famous, you'd be fourteen kinds of dense not to.
Read John's (free) How to Make a Living Writing.