Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Breaking Big: How to Impress Big Five Publishers

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

The BIG FIVE Publishers sing a siren’s song irresistible to most writers. Granted, in the New Publishing World we now have multiple publishing options, numerous paths to take us to our goal (whatever that goal may be).

Self-publishing, indie, small press, blog-to-book, and legacy press. I’ve worked hard for my slice of success, but I’m not so “evolved” I’ve eschewed all desire to earn my own spot as a Random-Penguin 😉 .

Big Five Fever

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

All publishing paths hold advantages and disadvantages, yet nothing can beguile us like the Simon & Schuster sparkle, hypnotize us as much as the Macmillan mystique.

Big Five Publishers are the sun that burns through our ennui, revealing a mere glimpse of the literary summit. Gives us a fever burning so hot, we forget all about those manuscripts that tried and died. Ignore the frozen, forgotten dead we’ll have to climb over on the way up.

A delirious insanity propels us toward the top, no matter how much we bleed. Big Five Publishers are the K-2 for the high-achieving (okay Type A) author.

Author does start with A. It’s a sign 😉 .

Why Big Five Publishers Hold Such Appeal

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Why do so many of us crave a spot among The Five? Even though we’re well aware we might only summit once, if ever? Despite the odds, we boldly take on this mountain. We accept that, while we might lose some toes, we’ll gain bragging rights and authentic respect.

Once “in the club” we won’t have to prove ourselves by something as gauche as comparing royalties. We won’t feel the urge to reveal how much money we made on that last box set (common practice in indie and self-pub).

Added bonus? The power to instantly humble that asshat stranger who laughed when we said what we did for a living. You know him, that guy who always follows his condescending laugh with, “Sorry, I meant what is your real job?”

*growls*

Big Five Publishers give us that name brand “stamp of approval” that separates the bourgeoisie poseurs from the authentic elites. Even that clod who mocked our profession can understand the sentence, “I‘m with Harper Collins. Ever heard of them?”

Before anyone starts hating on me, I’m well aware that this “belief” that Big Five Publishers only take on works of literary genius is bunk. But, human emotions are not known for making logical sense. Intellectually we writers know Big Five Publishers are a business. As a business they represent books that will make a lot of money, plain and simple. They’re always on the hunt for A Shore Thing.

Even though Snooki’s memoir was/is hardly literary genius, it was a fairly safe bet it would sell a lot of copies and bring in the Benjamins.

Brands Have Power

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

With so much algorithm gaming and the fact the slush pile has been handed off to readers (only now with glossy covers), publishing has become hell on Earth.

It’s like living in a world of Publishing Participation Trophies. In all the electroplated garbage, how does the real gold outshine the faux? A question posited by writers and now by readers.

Five years ago no reader would have thought to look to the publisher. But times have changed and names have power. The author name (brand) sells more books than any full-page ad. An author repped by Big Five? Automatic advantage in terms of public perception.

Sort of like how designers can sell ugly shoes we wouldn’t be caught dead in…but they’re Prada. Thus instantly worth the $800 and they’re no longer hideous. They’re haute couture.

So I get it and don’t blame anyone for longing to be embraced by Big Five Publishers. Thus I am going to offer some tips.

Write a Good Book

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Yes, this falls under the “Um, duh” category but self-publishing has given a lot of emerging writers a shortcut to claim the title of “author” while avoiding mastering the craft. Remember the last post by Cait about dismemberment? There are countless red flags that light up a rookie brighter than LED. It’s why agents and editors often don’t need more than three pages to pass.

I know all a writer’s strengths and weaknesses in less than twenty pages—really five, but being generous.

Have a Platform and Brand

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember my Snooki example? NY didn’t represent this memoir because it would add to the body of early 21st century literature. No, she had a brand and a platform with eager fans willing to pay retail for her book regardless of “quality.”

Sort of like people lined up to own Jaguars in the 80s even though the Jags spent more time in the shop than on the road. Coveted brands are the only ones able to evoke that kind of blind love and loyalty.

Most agencies now will google our name when we submit. The platform/brand is now as, if not more, important than the book. We could have a novel so incredible angels weep, but if search engines don’t even know our name, then potential buyers don’t either. This makes us a risky investment and in these slim times, Big Five is not interested in Russian Roulette.

Do YOUR Work

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

These are publishers not daycare centers. It’s our job to know our craft and understand the business of our business. No one is going to hold our hand and do our work for us. There is no Publishing Sugar Daddy. If we suck at grammar, improve or hire someone to fix the mistakes. If we don’t know how to plot? Learn. Practice.

No agent/editor is going to baby us along from a typo-infested plotless nightmare “with promise” to a gleaming gem mega-seller like in the movies.

Being able to spell, punctuate and um, write is sort of expected with the profession. I appreciate that some people have dyslexia, or are terrible spellers. I’m severely ADD and often my sentences go off the rails…which is why even I hire pros for the polish. We need our work at its best before even thinking about an agent.

Speaking of agents, we need to do our homework. Research who represents what genre. Pay attention to what they’re in the market for. Agents are open about their “wish lists.”

Good writers are always avid readers. If you love a book and yours is similar, who’s the agent?

Another angle is to research an agent you believe would be a good fit, then read what they’ve represented and sold. This a) solidifies if it really WOULD be a good fit and b) is professional and flattering to the agent that we took time to do some work. You know, like a professional 😛 .

Follow %$#@*$ Instructions

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

This is a bugaboo that makes my left eye twitch. FYI, Big Five Publishers (actually all traditional publishers) have submission guidelines. Remember they are actively looking for a reason to NOT read our work. Sometimes the hoops are ludicrous, but they are there to weed out those who can’t follow directions.

If they ask for a 5000 word sample (20 pages) and instruct a Word doc double-spaced, one-inch margins, and 12 point Times New Roman font, then just do it. Because when they open a single-spaced, 10 point Courier font with three-quarter-inch margins, it doesn’t fool them.

It ticks them off.

Maybe by fudging the “rules” we squeezed in thirty-three pages instead of twenty but it won’t matter, because that agent won’t even read ONE page let alone thirty-three. An agent will take a single glance, then send the appropriate form letter about how our work not right for their agency.

Which is code for: We don’t have time for amateurs who can’t follow instructions.

Sell A LOT of Books

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember in the beginning I mentioned the numerous ways to attain our goal? If our goal is Big Five, nothing sweeter than fat sales figures to get our foot in the door.

Money is a universal language.

Impressive sales numbers take out all the guess work of what readers want to buy and offer evidentiary support our books are a solid investment. This dovetails into two earlier points about writing a good book and creating a strong platform/brand.

“Good” is subjective, the reader voting with purchases. No it isn’t fair, but fair is a weather condition. There are more than fifty shades of why it’s important to write books audiences want to read.

Write What Consumers Want to Buy/Read

Maybe you possess a burning desire to tell the story of a luchador who is mocked for his passion to write haiku. Instead of teaming up with his brothers in the ring, he longs to travel to Japan and unravel his inner demons. Go for it. But who would be the audience? A clue is in the reason for writing THIS story.

Perhaps, your reason for writing this is you lived in Mexico and found the luchadores fascinating and witnessed many others did as well. You yearned to tell this story, crafting it for an ignored audience with no voice.

Maybe upon submission you’re rejected. Self-publish and if it sells a gazillion copies, then Big Five will come knocking.

Yet, if you chose to tell the story of a luchador shunned for his love of haiku and the ONLY reason was to be “different” or “clever”…then have fun storming the castle. Cherry-flavored lutefisk is different, too, yet don’t foresee any long lines forming to consume it.

We can write for ourselves, sure. But if we fail to also consider our audience, then we are writing for ONE. Publishers have no interest in audiences that small.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Hard truth, I know. But in reality? Pretty simple stuff here. We CAN do this.

What are your thoughts? Do you long to be a Random-Penguin, too? Do you think it is harder and harder for writers to find ways to demonstrate authentic “success” with all the Amazon gaming, algorithmic alchemy, and the deluge of books not ready for public consumption?

Do you resent having to part with sales numbers or rankings to garner a smidge of respect? I know writers and creatives have always had a tough time being taken seriously, but these days it seems far worse.

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU!

And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of NOVEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th (TONIGHT!!!), 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

42 thoughts on “Breaking Big: How to Impress Big Five Publishers”

  1. Angel PayneAngel Payne

    OMG…I don’t know whether to love you or hate you for “cherry-flavored lutefisk”. NOTHING BEATS YOUR METAPHORS!! All the things, woman!

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  2. Theresa TherrienTheresa Therrien

    Great advice!I’d love to see a post specifically about ways to build brand.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  3. Carl D'AgostinoCarl D'Agostino

    I have tried to impress them by sending grocery store coupons with my submissions. It has not worked so far. Do you think sending a nice fruitcake with my submissions during this holiday season would be more effective ?

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  4. JanJan

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your posts. Very informative, fun, and easy to read.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  5. Cheyenne StevensCheyenne Stevens

    Building a brand is the only part that seems hard. I’m a great writer, but I’m only okay at taking pictures and designing etc.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  6. Karen MarcamKaren Marcam

    I found the first part of this blog to be just as helpful as the tips in the latter half. Being able to articulate why I want to be traditionally published with the Big Five is a powerful thing.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  7. Jed DiamondJed Diamond

    Kristin, You give good solid advice. I’ve had 13 books published since 1983, #14 comes out next year, some with the big 5, others with smaller publishers. I recommend your work to those who want to get serious about their writing and publishing prospects. I’ve read your books and enjoy your lively articles. I posted your article on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Keep on delivering. I love it.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  8. Richelle A Gillcrese-BeyRichelle A Gillcrese-Bey

    Please help me I really what to be best selling author or food blogger can you help….

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  9. Phyllis GaddisPhyllis Gaddis

    Really good blog that attends to our fantasy but gives us some info on the reality. “Following directions” was great about publishers looking for a way to make you disappear.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  10. Jessie AndersenJessie Andersen

    This article is great! Thank you. One of my goals is to publish with a big five pub. I realize sometimes it means moving up the ladder. I’m working hard on craft and learning ask if can about marketing. One day, it will happen.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  11. Elizabeth DrakeElizabeth Drake

    I’d love to get a gig with Avon. Maybe I could if I wrote Regency or sweet contemporary romance. I know those sub-genres are popular, but they aren’t what I want to write right now.

    I figure if I have to hold down a day job, I might as well do what I love with my writing. Fantasy romance may not be a big thing, and for the moment, I’m okay with that. I love reading it when I can find it, and I love writing it.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  12. Saralyn RichardSaralyn Richard

    The Big Five publishers also have the deck stacked in their favor when getting shelf space in bookstores, and their authors have some automatic entrees into marketing, but there are disadvantages, too, such as long production schedules. That said, I think your advice is excellent for all writers. Improving our craft, enhancing our websites, following guidelines, targeting a broad audience–all doable. Thanks, Kristen!

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  13. Kendolyn FisherKendolyn Fisher

    Hi,
    A very good article; one that I saved, which I usually don’t. Well written and informative as a help for new writers. Just trying to get through a first Nanowrimo. I hope my name comes out of the hat!
    Thank you.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  14. Kendolyn FisherKendolyn Fisher

    Sorry, I didn’t realize the first one had gone through.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  15. VickiVicki

    Good post…along those same lines, it’s only fair to recognize the fact that agents have to turn around and pitch to publishers. I hate when celebrity junk books take up spots, but we have to recognize the bottom line business of publishing. Doesn’t mean give up, just keep your eyes open.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  16. AdamAdam

    Well said. I think there’s an almost cyclical desire to find “the secret”, this idea that there must be some “secret” to breaking through as a writer. But at the end of the day there’s just a lot of work, and a lot to learn. Of course there are also many victories to savor along the way.

    Reply
    November 14, 2017
  17. Virginia BlackVirginia Black

    I’m not yet interested in Big 5 publishing (too new, too much work ahead of me, no brand yet, no back catalog), I *am* interested in becoming a better writer.

    If there’s a post somewhere on the big turn-offs you might find in the first three pages of a work (e.g. dismemberment, which I should have learned about *before* self-publishing my first novella), I’d love to know about it! And if it’s covered in one of your books, let me know that, too, so I can go buy it and get back to work.

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  18. SylviaSylvia

    Interesting post, I find it difficult to understand why anyone wouldn’t follow instructions but I understand agents get more submissions that don’t than do. Madness if you want to be taken seriously.

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  19. HeatherHeather

    I would like to point out that agents may not want to represent something like an author genre they’re already carrying because it might divide their focus. So always look at their wish list and have a look at other agents in the same firm because they might want you too.

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  20. Tam FrancisTam Francis

    The reality of writing to sell, is kind of depressing, but I get it. If you want to be successful (make a living at–maybe quit the day job), you have to write what people want to read.

    And even if people like/love what you write and it’s too small an audience, it does nothing but stroke the ego. I still think there’s room for discoverability, but man, that’s the rub: how to find readers.

    Some good hard truths today. Thanks. (sigh)

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  21. Robert KirkendallRobert Kirkendall

    I’m working very hard to create a serious, literary work, but I’m not above including a graphic sex scene if I can fit it into the story and it helps sell copies.

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  22. jorgekafkazarjorgekafkazar

    Sell a lot of books? Dang. Why did nobody tell me this before? If they had, I’d certainly have tried it. 🙂

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  23. Cecilia DominicCecilia Dominic

    Not gonna lie, my self-pub career is starting to take off, but I’m also querying agents because of the reasons you mentioned above. Definitely working on the brand, too.

    Thanks for the wise words and encouragement!

    Cecilia

    PS 20+ query rejections so far. Could probably use that critique. ?

    Reply
    November 15, 2017
  24. Kolin MofieldKolin Mofield

    Hey Kristen! It’s been a while since I commented, I read everyone of your articles just have been busy editing, editing, editing and now Nano, Nano, Nano. However, This last article was awesome. I am constantly asked why I choose to submit to publishers and it is nice to see something about it. For me, it is also about validation. Thanks again for all you do for us!

    Reply
    November 16, 2017
  25. Katie DaleKatie Dale

    Kristen,
    The points are well made. I’m struggling with platform. Is this something that only takes time to build or is there a magic formula to get visibility? I know who my audience is, I have some connections to bigger household names, but how do you establish that platform without wasting my time tweeting every hour? I’m still waiting for something to go viral…I take it it’s more work than that.

    Reply
    November 17, 2017
  26. LucindaLucinda

    This blog raised some ghosts. Back in the 90s when I was first published with Heinemann and then my commissioning editor moved me over to McMillan when he changed company and I was asked to represent them at a training workshop … and … and … I thought nothing of it. In fact, I turned down another contract as I couldn’t live for long on the advance they offered. I needed to go back and write for radio and TV again as they paid quickly and my children had the annoying habit of wanting to sleep under a waterproof roof and eat real food. But I wonder, just maybe …? But I’m a lowly indie writer who is too old now even to try and reconnect with the great literary giants. I need to be content with what I have.

    Reply
    November 21, 2017
  27. SeleneSelene

    Yes, I would rather go with the big 5, for two main reasons:

    1) They have more reach than I could hope to get myself as a debut author
    2) They pay for everything to do with producing the book and I would not have to cough up the considerable cost of e.g. good editors up front

    I personally don’t really care what anyone thinks of my prestige as a writer, but I need to make money off of this thing (else I do not have time to pursue it as much as I would like).

    Reply
    November 30, 2017
  1. Breaking Big: How to Impress Big Five Publishers – written by Kristen Lamb | Writer's Treasure Chest
  2. Tips to Publishers “Old School” – Kolin Mofield, Author
  3. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 11-23-2017 | The Author Chronicles

Leave a Reply to Elizabeth Drake Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *