Friday, August 27, 2010

Approaching a Major Publisher

Lynn Serafinn shares her thoughts on her shift from a “die-hard indie” artist to an author approaching a major publisher.

Some of you who know me and my work might be surprised to find out that it was only a few months ago when I wrote my first full book proposal. It’s true I was a ghost-writer for another author and my work has been published (anonymously) in several books by a prominent New Age publisher. But I never needed to write proposals for those books. And it’s also true I’ve written loads of business and project proposals in my time – especially when I was the head of a college department – so I know what it takes to write a proposal to land a contract. But I had never written an actual book proposal for my own writing until this contest.

Why? Because most of my life, I’ve been something of a “die-hard indie.” It comes from my background as an independent musician/label owner in the 1990s. Since the 80s, our band had tried to get our recordings heard by major labels, but learned quickly that it was virtually impossible to get a big label to listen to an unsolicited demo. So we started our own label, and gradually built up a following by getting our titles into major independent distributors in the US and the UK. We reached a level of success when our release, entitled “The Imagine EP”, hit #1 on several club charts in 1994.

It was then we had a brief encounter with a major record label – one of the top 3 in the world. The A&R (the person who signs artists to the label) had been given our record as a “buzz” title from the owner of an underground record shop in Boston. He called us from New York saying he wanted to come down and meet us in Arizona (where we lived at the time), as he was interested in signing us. Had they done so, it would have meant worldwide distribution, MTV videos, and a tour with some of the biggest names in electronic dance in the world at that time. It was every musician’s dream come true.

Or so we thought.

When we actually met the A&R face-to-face, it became very obvious he had clear intentions of changing our image and sound into something we were not, and did not want to become. Our band was an electronic trance group, but he proposed a long list of “improvements” for us, including bringing in big rock drummers and sexy young female vocalists. Because we were in our late 30s, the A&R more or less said we were “too old” for MTV and we would have to do something to make us “saleable.”

But the truth was, in spite of the A&R thinking we were “too old,” we were actually “too young” as artists to move into the arena of working with a major label. We weren’t used to working with deadlines, accustomed to having the luxury of taking as long as we wanted to complete projects. We were still finding our “voice” and creating our sound; bringing in professional producers who would impose their own “spin” on our embryonic sound threatened to stop our creative growth altogether. And from a marketing standpoint, although we had managed to get a #1 club hit, we were still building our following and didn’t really know our target audience fully, or how to reach them at a global level. If the A&R changed our image as he intended, we were likely to lose the audience we already had, and not appeal to the audience he would be targeting.

We started to realize we simply weren’t ready for this leap. Believe it or not, I used to wake up at night with panic attacks at the thought of it! After all those years of thinking this was what I wanted, I realized something wasn’t right about it. As a result, our connection to the label dissolved after a couple of months, and our label continued on with our own independent enterprises.

My experience in the music industry certainly colored my decision to self-publish when I was getting ready to release my book, The Garden of the Soul, in 2009. I figured big publishers are probably like big record labels in that you needed to know the right time to approach them. And now that I have been self-published for the past year, and have since created successful marketing campaigns for many other authors, both published and self-published, I do think my reasoning was correct.

In my experience, there are seven main factors to consider in your decision to approach a publisher:

1. Discipline. Could you make a commitment to meet writing deadlines if given them? Have you transcended the trap of only being able to write when you are “inspired,” or can you sit down and get into the groove when you need to?

2. Stylistic maturity. Is your writing style “mature” (well past the embryonic stage)? Could others easily talk about your style and your message as compared to other books? Is your style powerful and developed enough that editors would not want to change it significantly?

3. Emotionally prepared. Are you ready to “show up” as a public image? Are you ready to be seen and critiqued? Are you ready to speak transparently on a global level? Are you ready to release your vision, regardless of whether people like it or not?

4. Identity. Do you know who you are as a writer and as a person? Do you have a clear idea of your “public image” (i.e. who you are to your readers, fans and audience)? Can you stand calmly within the wisdom of your own identity when dealing with a publisher?

5. Platform. Do you have a well-established platform (i.e. a large fan base of people who know your name and your writing)? This is undoubtedly one of the major factors publishers will consider when you approach them, and something that will make it much less likely for them to try to “reshape” your image.

6. Marketing. Do you know how to reach your audience? Do you understand principles of marketing? Can you explain how you would market your book to publishers in a way that would make them say, “Hey, this one has some great ideas”?

7. Time commitment. Are you ready and able to commit LOTS of time to promoting your book? Is your life free or flexible with regards to family or other work commitments? Could you travel frequently without disrupting the rest of your life?

Speaking for myself, I couldn’t give a 100 percent “yes” answer to any of these things when I first met the A&R back in 1994. In 2009, when I went to publish The Garden of the Soul, I’d say I had these covered about 75 percent. But, in my opinion, 75 percent wasn’t enough for me to approach a publisher at that time. Before I approached a publisher, I wanted to be able to give my full 100 percent. Then the time would be right . . . at least for me.

When I wrote my proposal this year, I felt it to be truly a transformative process. I realized when I was writing it that I had finally reached my “100% Ready” place. I knew who I was. I felt I could write at the drop of a hat. I had a platform. I understood marketing. And most of all, I had already written my book and I completely believed in it.

Being a self-published writer was absolutely the best thing for me when I had chosen to do so. The experience helped me develop as a person, as a writer and as a businesswoman. But now that I have firmly established my platform and really know who I am as a writer, I feel confident about making the shift to working with a publisher over the coming year. At the same time, I also have the confidence that I am able to flourish as a proud indie author, and enjoy the ride on my own as well.

I hope you found these reflections and pointers to be of value in your own journey as an author. Please do leave a comment below to share your own thoughts and experiences.

Lynn Serafinn is a transformation coach, book promotion coach, radio host, and bestselling author of The Garden of the Soul: lessons from four flowers that unearth the Self. She also works as a campaign manager for mind-body-spirit authors and has produced several #1-selling book campaigns. She is the founder/creator of Spirit Authors, a virtual learning environment and community that offers training, coaching, business building and inspiration for mind-body-spirit authors. She also regularly hosts large scale online virtual events with world class speakers on a range of mind-body-spirit topics. Subscribe to her Spirit Authors blog at to receive more useful tips and news about upcoming online events. While you are there, check out the excellent and affordable online courses for authors available.

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