Agency Lessons: What do you need to get published

I ran across this guest post on LiveHacked recently titled Indie publishing versus Traditional publishing.

Naturally, I want to talk about it.

I like reading posts like this because it helps me to see what writers are thinking. I also get a taste of the misinformation being shared and then I can help to dispel any myths. I was about to leave a comment on this blog about those myths, when I realized I had too much to say and I'd be better off writing a post instead.

The author suggests that while you used to just need 1. a query letter, 2. synopsis and 3. a stunning book, that's not enough anymore. Here is what he now suggests you need (in his own words) to get an agent's attention.

4. Other books and/or published work. (He suggests mentioning everything, relevant or not.)
5. A Blog.
6. Social Media Presence.
7. (And I’m reading between the lines here but) an Indie Published attempt.

My first reaction was to shake my head in resigned disappointment. No, you don't need any of these things. I have authors on my list with no previous publication, no blog, zero social media and certainly no indie publications.

So let's go through these one by one.

If you  have other publications, by all means mention them. However, having your poem published in your college monthly literary journal is not relevant to your YA fantasy novel. Neither is any non-fiction publications, journals, freelance work, or really anything that isn't a fiction publication. I wrote a non-fiction short story for a charity anthology about quilting. Is it relevant to my goal of a YA fiction publication? Nope, so I don't mention it.

Let's skip down to any indie publications. First, if you have one, don't hide it. You need to list it (if it is fiction). Your agent can't tout you as a debut if you aren't and they will not be happy if this information is hidden from them. You want to start this relationship out on the right foot. If you don't have one, then please, for the love of all that is holy, please don't rush out a book into the marketplace thinking you need an indie pub to get attention. There is not a single good part of that idea. If you have a book out, you are no longer debut. Debut is a powerful word for publishers. While low sales won't kill you with traditional publishers, they certainly aren't going to help. If you have a great book you want to put out, then go for it. But don't put out a book that isn't ready in the misguided hopes that it will help you get an agent.

I'm going to talk about blogs and social media together since they basically tick off the same box. It's the 'how are you going to connect to your readers' box. I have two responses for this so stick with me.

First, no, no, no, no, no. I can help you create a social media presence. If you want to blog, I can help you with that, too. Once you've signed with me, we can discuss which areas would be the best use of your time and go from there. I can't write your novel for you. Period. So which do you think I need for you to bring to the table? A stunning novel or a killer social media presence?

Second, I want to refer back to the original blog post. The author said this about the burden of social media:
I want to make writing my career. I am ready to invest the time and dedication because I know in the long term I will get the payout.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Do you need to have an awesome platform walking in the door? No. But shouldn't you want one. A platform shows an agent that you are dedicated to being a career author. Agents want clients who are going to write lots of books. I want clients who are in it for the long haul, because I am, too. This book that we both love may not sell. I want to know that you're going to write another book and another. A platform is a bit of insurance that we are on the same page.

It also says you know that no one gets to crawl into their hole and only do what they love.  No one. My dad is an electrician. He loves the wires and current of it all. But that's not all he does. Over the course of his career he's had to learn computer systems, new diagnostic tools and the intricacies of wind turbines. Not to mention all the non-electrician related skills like supervising others, dealing with management, giving oral instructions, crafting clear written instructions, and driving company trucks. He'd much rather be installing junction boxes than any of that other stuff, but he had to invest some of his time learning those other skills for his career.

I could give you examples for every job out there. It's why I say that every job needs math. No one is able to only do exactly what they love and nothing else. And that includes writers.

I think the author of the LiveHacked post get most suggestions wrong. All the extras he mentioned are optional icing on what needs to be a rocking cake (your manuscript). Sadly, misinformation happens a lot in the free information age. Anyone can put anything on the internet. It's one of the reasons I still have Agency Lessons every Monday. But he did get this last point right. If you want to be a career author, you need to act like it.