Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sitting in meetings discussing what it means to have a meaningful brand. If you stop and think about familiar brands, brands you know and trust, you have an immediate sense, without seeing a product or service proposition, of what you can expect of that brand.
You know what Coke is supposed to taste like.
You know an Apple product is (mostly) plug-and-play.
You know JetBlue has TVs on their planes for every seat.
You know what to expect.
There’s been some hoopla about the slip by one of J.K. Rowling’s attorneys that revealed her identity behind an otherwise closely guarded pseudonym. She’s not pleased. I don’t blame her. But more telling is that a news story my husband watched the other night cited the Robert Galbraith novel as “Rowling’s first adult novel.”
Did they conveniently forget A Casual Vacancy?
Here’s the thing: I totally get why J.K. Rowling used a pseudonym. Her name, her brand, is synonymous with Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Anyone picking up a novel by J.K. Rowling would automatically expect another glimpse into the wizarding world. And can you really blame them?
There’s a reason Jayne Ann Krentz used the pseudonym Amanda Quick to pen her Regency romances.
There’s a reason Nora Roberts used the pseudonym J.D. Robb for her suspense novels.
There’s a reason we, as readers, pick up something by Ally Carter or John Green or Danielle Steele and have an idea of what to expect. Their bylines are synonymous with their style of writing. If I want something about snarky teenage girls, I’ll pick up something by Lisi Harrison. If I want to read a story rooted in mythology, I’ll pick up Rick Riordan. Why?
Because I know what to expect.
That’s what a brand does for consumers: It tells them, without being overt or blatant, exactly what to expect by purchasing something. It’s true of retail and consumer brands, and it’s just as true for musicians, artists, and authors.
I may be talking out of my ears because I’ve yet to sell my book, but these are the kinds of things I’m already contemplating, stuff I’m ready to ask about the moment my agent calls and says, “We’ve got an offer.” It’s why I repeatedly practice signing my pseudonym like a 14-year-old girl dating her first boyfriend, why I think of how an idea should be marketed before I even write the first sentence, why I obsess over marketing case studies as if I was still in business school.
A great product will bring a consumer in.
A great brand will keep them for life.
So, if you read my last entry, you’ve already seen the best seven words I’ve read in a really long time.
I’ve kept mum on some amazing things that transpired over the last week, mainly because I didn’t want to share something that I was still unsure about. But now that this story is complete, I can share it!
It began last Friday during a Twitter event. I wasn’t entirely certain that I (or my manuscript) was ready, but I took a chance and tweeted my pitch. I mean, the worst that could happen was that no one would respond to it, right?
But I got responses – and one of those came from an agent I had been
stalking studying following on Twitter. Her name appeared in one of Chuck Sambuchino’s agent posts, and when I first read about her, I immediately wanted to send her my manuscript and hear her tell me she loved it. But I didn’t. I read more of her interviews (of which there aren’t many) and guest blog posts (again, not many of those), and I followed her on Twitter while I dutifully honed my manuscript. And the more I read about her, the more I really wanted her to love my manuscript and represent me.
No pressure or anything, but I had decided she was my Dream Agent. (Oh, yes – the big D and big A are intentional.)
So Dream Agent was the third person who showed interest in my manuscript. (You’d better believe that I freaked out.) The fourth came from a new agent at a prestigious agency who (from what I could tell from the limited posts on his blog) is passionate about good literature and who I had already decided was my #3 agent choice, so I was super excited about seeing interest from him.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I made sure I sent out all the requested materials right away – and following each agency’s guidelines. I carefully read (and re-read – and sometimes re-read) guidelines before submitting just because I knew I wouldn’t get a second chance to get this right, especially with Dream Agent and #3 agent choice.
And then I waited.
Oh, that full manuscript request that came in Saturday morning? It was from a small romance imprint that reached out to me with an offer to acquire on Monday after the agent who wasn’t at the top of my List of Agents to Query rejected me. And the offer looked good. Really enticing, in fact. But Dream Agent hadn’t gotten back to me, and I hadn’t heard from #3, either, so I sent them both gentle nudges to say, “Hi, I hate to bother you, but I’m going to, anyway because this just happened.”
Dream Agent got back to me almost straightaway with a request for a full. I think I audibly squealed, ran down the hall to tell my coworker, then composed myself, calmly returned to my desk, and submitted my full manuscript. My hand was shaking when I hit send. She replied and promised to get back to me Friday. Meanwhile, #3 was silent, and I needed to acknowledge the publisher’s offer.
I reached out to the publisher and asked if I could call her late in the week. We set up a call for Thursday afternoon, and while I waited for Thursday to come, I kept checking my In Box hoping for a message from either Dream Agent or #3.
So I spoke to the publisher on Thursday. And I really like her. I made a mental list of pros and cons of the offer, and I decided that was my fall-back option, my “safety school,” if you will. I asked my cousin to (re)introduce me to colleagues who were familiar with intellectual property law in the event that I didn’t get accepted by my first choice (Dream Agent) or second choice (#3 – but that’s because I didn’t query the agent who would have been in the #2 slot). I made sure that I had everything properly set up so I would be in the position to accept an offer and sign a contract or agreement fairly quickly.
No matter what, I was poised to win. Either I would sign with an agent who would be my advocate and help me navigate through the crazy world of publishing or I would sign a contract with a small publisher so that I could get some published titles under my belt and use that as something that might later entice an agent to represent me.
Obviously, my preference was to have an agent.
Agent #3 emailed me last night apologizing for not responding sooner and requesting my full manuscript. As I promised the publisher a reply no later than Saturday morning, I sent him my manuscript and let him know my deadline.
Well, it wouldn’t hurt, right?
And then early this morning, I got The Offer from Dream Agent, and I bolted upright and accepted immediately even though she had even written a post saying that’s precisely what not to do. But she was kind and suggested we speak before she has to leave the country for about ten days, and we set up an appointment to speak via Skype.
The call lasted about 80 minutes. She knew my manuscript as well as I did. She loved my characters as much as I did. She suggested tweaks that no one had ever mentioned before. She called out areas that needed tightening and others that needed some expansion. She noticed that most of my extraneous characters’ names began with the letter C. Plus, when we talked about ideas I have for forthcoming manuscripts, she was enthusiastic and so eager to read my work. I felt the need to write the best possible manuscript just so she would (a) enjoy reading it and (b) have fun selling it.
It was incredible. It was exhilarating.
It was complete affirmation that she was DEFINITELY the right agent for me.
And so, it is with great enthusiasm and pride that I am ecstatic to announce that yours truly is now being represented by Julia A. Weber of J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH.
Now, I’m certainly in no position to host big events like other authors have done to help their fellow writers find agents, but I do feel the need to pay it forward. When I think of it, I’ll share it.
In the meantime, I have another story to plot.
I was reading a rather intriguing article today on the Huffington Post site. In it, Steve Gottlieb, a fairly well known player in the music industry, talks about the need for publishers to embrace the digital platform when reaching consumers.
And as I read it, it occurred to me that there is another message within this article, but one meant more for authors.
What do I mean? Well, allow me to explain.
Bands don’t write songs and seek out agents and labels right away. Well, maybe some artists wait for their chance to be on X Factor or American Idol or something, but even factoring in those shows, musicians don’t just put something together and say, “Ooh! I know! Why don’t I find a label to audition for!”
And yet that’s what so many authors do. We write these fantastic books and try to get them out in front of people who can make or break our dreams, often without letting anyone besides friends and family read our work.
Struggling musicians try to find places to perform, seek out that feedback, work hard to build a fan base and interact with anyone and everyone who comes to their early shows because – hey! If that guy liked our show, maybe he’ll tell two of his friends, and they’ll tell two more, and they’ll tell two more, and the next thing you know, you’re filling tiny clubs to capacity and have A&R guys tripping over themselves to see why there’s so much buzz about you.
So, shouldn’t authors do the same?
(Allow me to make a shameless plug now for my own recently completed NaNoWriMo project tentatively called Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?, the second chapter of which is now up on Wattpad for your reading pleasure and feedback.)
I’ve currently sent out four copies of my first draft to friends with another going out this weekend, and I fully expect two of those copies to come back covered with red marks as I’ve sent them to teachers. (It’s feedback – I welcome it.) Two other copies are being read by my target audience and their mothers; I fully expect feedback there, as well. And the fifth is being read by my bestest friend from high school, mostly because she’s awesome like that but also because she’s the mom of middle school boys and can provide some feedback, as well, but from a slightly different perspective. (Note: No family has read this. Yet.)
What’s my point? Well, I’ve written something I think is pretty good, even if it is just a first draft. Yes, it needs some polish. But it’s kind of like a musician writing a new song. Is it going to sound exactly right when you play it for the first time? No. Is the crowd going to love it as soon as they hear it? Maybe, but quite possibly no. But that’s when you welcome criticisms and take them to heart and transform what is pretty good into something amazing.
And those people helping you along the way with criticisms? Maybe they’ll tell two friends that they like your work. And those people will each tell two of their friends. And the next thing you know, you’ve got a book that’s clawing its way up the Barnes & Noble and Amazon charts, and agents and publishers are now tripping over themselves to see what the buzz is about you.
So it’s not just publishers that can learn from the music industry. It’s authors, too. And while I can’t very well stand up and read the entirety of my 195-page novel (still can’t believe I wrote a novel) at an open-mic night, when I’m satisfied that my novel is ready, I can at least share copies in hopes that someone thinks it’s good enough to share with their friends or (gasp!) even post on Facebook about what an awesome book they just read.
Hey – a girl’s gotta dream, right?