First impressions matter a lot in the publishing industry.
If you’re trying to connect with an agent, publisher or successful author and want them to help advise you or give you a book deal, you need to make a great first impression.
Here are some of the most common things authors say that leave a really bad first impression. If you make these mistakes, you may be turning off the people you’re looking to for help without even knowing it.
If you want to pitch your book and get people interested enough to actually read your manuscript and give you some advice, avoid these common traps:
1. “My book would be perfect for a movie, TV series and/or broadway show.”
This is one of the most common things new authors write in pitch letters and query letters that pretty much guarantees you will be ignored. If you’ve ever been to a writer’s conference, you’ve probably heard this before too.
If you have written a novel or memoir, you’re not in the book business – you’re in the story business. Hollywood producers aren’t looking for great books. Instead, they’re looking for great stories they can immediately understand in just one sentence. ONE sentence. Not two. Not three. Don’t even think about four (Five is right out!).
You get just one sentence to create your Hollywood Logline. Your logline is the the pitch for your story in one sentence. The purpose of the logline is to summarize what the story is all about.
If you’re serious about turning your book into a movie, I recommend studying as many examples of loglines as you can and learning as much as you can about how to pitch your story in Hollywood.
In Episode #107 of The Publishing Profits Podcast, we interview a hollywood writer who has successfully pitched and sold dozens of successful movies.
What You Should Say Instead
This depends on who you’re talking to.
If you’re talking to someone in the book business who you want to help get your book published, you should just not mention anything about movies, TV series or broadway plays. When you’re in the book business, talk about the book business. The time to talk about movie deals in the book business is after you’ve sold your first million copies, not before.
If you’re talking to someone about your book who does not work in the film business, don’t talk about turning your book into a movie. Talk about the book. Sell that story first.
If your story sells, you have a chance of getting your book turned into a movie.
Instead, just share the story.
“My book is a historical romance novel set in England during World War I.”
“A young boy must fight to survive after an alien invasion leaves New York completely destroyed.”
If you’re talking to someone in Hollywood, just share your logline. If they’re interested and the conversation progresses, you can tell them about the book later. When in show business, talk about the show.
No one cares about the book in Hollywood until after you’ve sold your first million copies, and no one in the publishing industry will believe you have a chance of getting your book turned into a movie unless you’ve sold your first million copies.
Know your audience, and share your story accordingly.
2. “Millions of people will want to read my book.”
Millions of people will never want to read your book unless…
1) you write a great book, and
2) the market for your specific niche or genre is larger than a million people, and
3) you have a plan to tell millions of people in your specific niche or market all about your book and why they should buy it, or…
4) you get really, really lucky and your book goes viral after your brilliant marketing campaign kicks in.
Any author who has already published a book but did not achieve the incredible luck from 4) can tell you that, in all likelihood, maybe a few thousand people will want to read your book. That is, assuming your marketing plan can get your message out to at least a few thousand people.
What You Should Say Instead
“There are 100,000 subscribers to Golf Digest. Maybe 20% of them would be interested in reading my book on how to improve their golf swing.”
“There are 57,457 people on Facebook who have demonstrated an interest in historical romance novels. I plan to advertise to them all day every day until they buy or die.”
If you don’t know the numbers, you need to figure them out. If not, just tell the truth: “I have no idea how big the market for my book is.”
If you want to learn more about how to figure out the numbers and do market research for your specific genre or market, watch the free training videos on how to become a full-time author.
3. “If only a publisher would market and promote my book, it would do very well.”
Books that sell millions of copies often do so well despite the publisher’s marketing efforts, not because of them.
The number one reason readers used to buy books in the past, still buy books today, and will always buy books in the future is word of mouth.
When a reader buys your book and loves it so much that they tell other people about it, word of mouth happens and you get more sales. That’s how you will get the vast majority of your book sales if you sell more than a few thousand books.
Yes, you need a good marketing campaign if you want to sell more than a few thousand books. Good luck finding a publisher who will create your marketing campaign for you.
Most traditional publishers require YOU to create a marketing plan and present it to THEM before they will even consider offering you a book deal.
Even if you do get a book deal without a marketing plan, you’re still going to need to create one if you hope to actually earn out your advance, because traditional publishers don’t do much marketing except for the top 5% of their authors (and the top 5% of traditionally published authors almost all have solid marketing plans).
What You Should Say Instead
“I am fully prepared to market and promote my book to my ideal readers who are 35- to 55-year-old women who love reading contemporary romance novels with strong, aggressive male characters.”
My marketing plan includes…
[Include Your Marketing Plan Here]
Don’t have a marketing plan yet?
Check out The Book Marketing Bible: 39 Proven Ways to Build Your Author Platform and Promote Your Books On a Budget.
4. “My book is just like _______ (Insert: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or any other runaway bestseller) so everyone is going to want to read it.”
The fact that your book is similar to a bestselling book is pretty much meaningless. This is especially true when the book you’re comparing to your book is a unicorn (AKA a runaway bestseller with 10+ million sales).
Everyone with some serious experience in the publishing industry is very cautious about publishing “me too” books. No one wants to publish a crappier version of Harry Potter or Think and Grow Rich. Instead of selling hundreds of millions of copies like J.K. Rowling, a “me too” Harry Potter book would greatly underperform.
Not only do “me too” books underperform, they’re also just plain uninspiring. Contrary to popular opinion, most people in the publishing industry actually care about creativity and originality. While you can never come up with a truly “original” story, you can create something unique that stands on its own merits.
J.K. Rowling didn’t start out trying to write the next Harry Potter. She wrote the first one. She wasn’t copying; she was creating according to her own unique vision. You should aim to write the first of your own unique book.
All that said, it is common practice to include a few comparison titles when writing a query letter to a literary agent. I would simply caution you to avoid using comparison titles that have sold over 10 million copies if you want people to actually believe you.
What You Should Say Instead
Readers of Book X and Book Y will want to read this book. I plan to send a free review copy to everyone who left a review on Amazon for those two books, and I’m going to target those exact readers with ads that speak directly to them.
Note: Book X and Book Y must not have sold more than 10 million copies.
5. “This is my first book. It’s going to sell a lot of copies.”
Any author who has been writing consistently for more than a few years will tell you that their first book was pretty terrible. Your first book is not going to be a great book unless you spend an enormous amount of time on rewriting, editing and working with several highly trained editors to fix structural problems and improve the manuscript.
Come back to me after you have published ten books and tell me whether you think your first one is still good or not.
If you still think it’s good and there aren’t major edits or rewrites screaming at you when you read it, I’ll give you a cookie. On the house. And then I will refer you to a good therapist.
Not only is your first book most likely NOT going to sell a lot of copies, it’s not the ideal situation if it does. As Hugh Howey wrote on WattPad, it’s far better if your 10th book goes viral and sells millions of copies than if your first book does.
If your first book sells millions of copies and you become famous, you’ll have to deal with all the distractions of fame and money and it will be a lot harder to invest the time required to write more books and hone your craft.
However, if your 10th book breaks out and sells millions of copies, you already have a backlist in place which means you can sell more copies of your other books to your new readers. This allows you to better capitalize on your good fortune.
It also means that you have had some time to develop your writing skills and create good writing habits, so you can continue doing the work you love even with all the distractions from becoming rich and famous.
What You Should Say Instead
“This is my first book. I think it’s pretty good, but I’m willing to learn more and do whatever it takes to make it great. If you have any feedback or criticism for me, I’d love to hear it.”
Then all you have to do is prove that you mean it, not take the criticism personally, and work on more edits and rewrites until other people think your book is pretty good too.
6. “I need you to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before I let you see my book.”
No one signs NDA’s in the publishing industry.
If you ask an author, agent or publisher to sign an NDA, you’re basically saying that you don’t respect their time and you have no idea what you’re doing.
Asking someone to sign an NDA in order to review your manuscript is like punching someone in the face so that you can kill the mosquito on their forehead. It’s going to give them a headache, and it proves that you have no idea how to handle the situation.
Not only are NDA’s not used, they are completely irrelevant because nothing in your book is new. There are no new stories, only new ways to tell them. Your story and your idea are not unique. No one is going to steal your story or idea because stories and ideas are a dime a dozen. Actually, they’re not even worth a dime a dozen – they’re worthless!
Ideas are only valuable when you put them into action. Your story is only valuable when you tell it in a way that is unique, compelling and precise.
You could give 1 million writers the same story idea, and they would each write something completely different. The idea is not what matters. It’s all about what you do with your idea.
Smart agents and publishers aren’t looking for ideas or stories to steal. They’re looking for well-honed books to sell.
What You Should Say Instead
“I’m happy to send you the manuscript to review if you’re interested.”
7. “I just need the right partner to make this book wildly successful.”
A lot of authors think they need the right co-author, ghostwriter, publisher, agent, publicist, or marketer to make their book successful. This is nonsense.
Can a good partner help? Absolutely!
But a good partner will never guarantee your success. If you want to be successful, you have to take responsibility for your life and realize that it’s up to you to make it happen.
No one is going to care about your book as much as you do. Period.
If you’re not willing to wake up early and stay up late to write your book, rewrite your book, edit your book and proofread your book, why would someone else?
If you’re not willing to promote your book like it’s the cure for cancer and everyone on the planet needs it, why would someone else?
If you’re not willing to build your author platform, connect with your readers and share your story far and wide, why would someone else?
No one wants to enter into a business partnership when they feel like the other partner isn’t really committed to making it work. And that’s exactly how people feel when you place the responsibility for making you successful on their shoulders instead of bearing the responsibility with humility and fortitude.
Authors who are wildly successful become successful because they’re willing to do the work. They’re willing to put in the time and the work and the edits when everyone else is asleep or on vacation. If you’re not working harder on your dreams than your publisher, your agent, your editor and your publicist, then you are the weakest link, and you will get fired.
You can’t outsource success. You have to find it within. Success starts with you. The choices you make and the work you do will determine the results you achieve.
What you do today matters. You can choose to focus on your dreams and do the work, or you can shirk your responsibility.
You can do the work yourself because it’s your calling and it’s what you were meant to do, or you can try to find someone else to do the work for you because you’re afraid of stepping up and taking charge of your writing career.
Which path will you choose?
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.