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Wondering what kind of help you need with your writing?

Push the pause button for a moment to reflect on what you are doing and why. Use this reflection to discern what decision points ahead are the most important ones for you to accomplish. I’ll suggest some questions, below, to inform this reflection.

First, consider what you have done so far. What have you learned from your process? What didn’t work, and how will you know whether to try the same thing again or change direction and try something else?

Second, identify how this book publication does and doesn’t relate to other commitments, desires, senses of calling or vocation, important life experiences, key relationships, etc. How will publication of your book extend or enhance a larger purpose you are already pursuing? Is the publication goal a means to an end, or an end in itself? Make sure that any book publication goal you are pursuing is an informed and intentional decision with an acceptable risk-to-benefit ratio, however you define that acceptability.

Third, where else are you engaged in the business or hobby of content delivery? If you are not already engaging your audience in some way, seeking conventional publication is like swinging for the big leagues without spending any time on the farm teams. Publishers are no longer able to discover your readership for you, because it can’t be bought; it has to be earned. For the lucky few who manage to get a deal without their own audience, the publishing process will feel like the equivalent of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Unless you win the lottery of publishing odds, it’s not a great experience.

Content delivery methods have exploded in the online world, how are you taking advantage of opportunities to connect directly with your readers—to discover who they are, what their needs and interests are, and how they respond to your content? What are you doing, now, to create an online community that can help you, when a book releases, to promote word of mouth? What short-term strategy can you create that will help you scratch the itch to create and communicate, while building a long-term strategy to help boost discoverability when you are ready to pursue book publication?

First: be careful not to evaluate your success based upon your book sales, media hits, Amazon reviews and rankings, and whether your family and friends have read your book(s).

Second—and this may sound trite or patronizing, but it is true and critically important to recognize—celebrate that you put yourself into the world with a gift only you can give. You worked very hard to put the book out there. No doubt the process at times felt (and may still feel) miserably beyond your control, but you can affirm the results of what you did with the control you DID have.

Third, if your book(s) is still in print, congratulations. What can you do, now, to help spread awareness? Short excerpts on social media? Video clips in a series of special-interest content or comments for book groups? Photos and anecdotes of how your book has been used or read? Memoirish reflections on what the experience was like for you that could be of interest to other writers? Online communities you can participate in for other writers in your category? Begin to google ideas and you’ll discover more ideas from helpful resources than you’ll ever have time to put into action.

And finally, are you thinking about another book? Before you start prepping a proposal and looking up agents or editors (for houses that accept unagented proposals), gather wise counsel from 3-4 individuals who know you (well) and are positioned in different sectors and spheres of influence. Ask about their interest and availability in becoming part of an informal advisory board, or discernment group, for your writing life. Bring them into your process from start to finish (i.e readers of your final-draft manuscript)—every client I work with has a version of this group, and if I come upon one who doesn’t, I stress the value of this invaluable support.

You already have relationships with publishers and can get/have gotten contracts on your own—so why would you get an agent?

If that is the case, I’m glad you dropped by and go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord. Not everybody benefits from an agent.

So you can get great counsel, but it won’t be the same kind you might need across multiple houses and books and seasons of your career and life. Plus, if you don’t have an agent, acquiring editors and their pub boards are financially incentivized to get the best content from you at the lowest possible royalty rates and advance that won’t insult you or make you worry they are trying to take advantage of you. Most of them are NOT trying to take advantage of you. But at the end of the day, the numbers on their proforma are for their economic scale, not yours. (For this reason, some writers consider getting literary agents equivalent to getting real-estate agents, or retaining accountants to file their taxes.)

the fifteen percent commission should feel like an easy yes for the value you get in insight for making good decisions, in taming the chaos of the process in all its stages, in skillful handling of sales and negotiations, and in your agent’s track record with industry relationships and timely category knowledge. 

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