If you have been wondering about how to get a book deal on a small platform, you will love this conversation between Kathi Lipp and Niki Hardy, author of Breathe Again. Niki candidly talks about how she was able to fit into what publishers are looking for, even without an abundance of previous knowledge and specific skill-sets.
In this episode you will learn:
- Seven things publishers are looking for
- The two things that will get a publisher more invested in you as a creator
- How knowing these things makes it easier to build your platform
- There is a science to the art of writing
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Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Niki Hardy is pastor’s wife, cancer survivor, and teller of terrible jokes. As the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart she’s all about helping you discover that with God, life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full, then living it. You can find her at www.nikiHardy.com and https://www.instagram.com/niki.hardy/
Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the Podcast!
Writing at The Red House Podcast # 199
What are Publishers Looking For?
Welcome to the Writing at The Red House podcast, where we gather at the table to break bread, and tell tales with some of our favorite writers and speakers.
Kathi – Well, hey friends. Welcome to Writing at The Red House Podcast, where our heart is to equip men and women to become the communicators that God has created them to be. I am very excited with our brand new format. Instead of doing one-offs, or one-two series, we are going to be taking each month and delving deep into a topic. For our very first guest, I’m so pleased to have back to the podcast, Niki Hardy. Niki is the author of Breathe Again. When she approached me with this topic, I said, “Yes please. Yes please. Yes please.” How to Get a Book Deal on a Small Platform. Niki, welcome to Writing at The Red House.
Niki – Thank you. It’s a delight to be here.
Kathi – This was so interesting to me, because I get asked this question all the time, but not necessarily in those words. “If I’m not world famous, if I’m not the leading expert, if I’m not on Sundays with Oprah or The Ellen Show or a New York Times best seller in the past… I’ve just got this great idea and I’ve got this small platform, how do you actually get a book contract?” Tell me why this is a topic that is resonating with you? Tell me a little bit about your journey.
Niki – Yeah, the reason it resonates so much with me is because I’m one of these people who got a book deal on a very small platform. I’m even one of those people who, kind of, didn’t really set out to write a book. It’s not like I grew up writing and journaling and wanting to be an author.
Kathi – I was not that person either. No. Writing was punishment for me.
Niki – Exactly. I can’t spell. Even Spell Check. We’re good friends, but I think even Spell Check gets annoyed with me.
Kathi – I have to ask you. Do you write the same word five different ways and then just decide to use a different word, ‘cause you can’t figure it out?
Niki – Oh yes. And even Spell Check goes, “No. I still don’t get what you’re trying to say. Try again.” So, I’m not a natural writer, but my story is one where I lost my mom and my sister to cancer, then was diagnosed myself. I went through this journey of being determined to survive. That was all I was doing, merely surviving, because with all the treatment, the chemo, the radiation, the surgeries, and all that jazz. I thought, “Oh my goodness. Where is the abundant life God has for us?” So, out of this came a story of learning to thrive and not just survive, and how to do that. As I was sharing my story, at first, purely on Caring Bridge, the website where you can update friends and family. It went from sharing medical updates to “This is the ridiculously funny story that happened.” Because my type of cancer has ridiculously funny stories happen, so I would share those. Then I would encourage people. Afterwards, people said, “Don’t stop. You should write a blog.” And Kathi, I was probably the only person in 2014 who said, “What’s a blog?” I had no idea. The reason I’m so passionate about this topic is because if I can do it, you can do it. Anyone can do it. I have gone from not knowing what a blog is, and not knowing how to spell, to having a book published traditionally. So, everyone can do it.
Kathi – Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to break this into four sections. Today we’re going to talk about what publishers are looking for. Next week, How to Maximize your Small (but Mighty) Platform. Week 3: Common Mistakes for First Time Authors, which, between you and me, we can cover all of them. Then, Ten Lessons from a First Time Author. So, I love that you’re going to give a road map. So, here’s what I want to talk about today. What are publishers looking for? I think that’s the golden question. I want to understand what they’re looking for, but also, how you were able to fit in. So, let’s go over this. The first thing you say that publishers are looking for is writing talent. Now, you said you’re not a writer. I did not start off being a writer. Are you saying you are not a traditionally trained writer but you captured an audience on Caring Bridge?
Niki – Yes. I think, really, it’s not about, necessarily, about being a beautiful writer. I am no Ann Voskamp. You know, she’s just poetic. But that’s not who I am, but I think it’s possible to learn how to be clear, how to be concise, how to connect with your audience, how to show, not tell, how to craft sticky statements, or power statements. I’m a logical, scientific person, and I’m like, “Okay, there’s an art, for sure, but my voice is much more chatty and relatable.” So, there are some formulas I can put into that. So, that’s what I think what I mean. You’ve got to be able to write.
Kathi – I love that you took a scientific approach. I’m all about the science right now. Don’t tell me about politics. Don’t tell me about opinion. I want to know the scientific facts. I love that you took a scientific approach to what most people would consider an art, but I do believe there is a science to this and I think that part of that is discovering what your writing voice is and becoming the best at your unique voice.
Niki – Exactly. And it does take time. So, I wrote a book proposal, originally, that was terrible, Kathi. The sample chapters swung from hilarious to angry to unprocessed. One minute I was trying to Ann Voskamp, and the next minute I was trying to be someone cool and funny. So, writing enough to let yourself be seen and known on the page, in terms of your voice, I think, is needed. But you don’t need to be a literary master.
Kathi – Okay, I feel like your first two points here are Writing Talent and Strong Execution of a Unique Idea. I feel like those are the one-two punch that often authors are missing. So, talk about that strong execution of a unique idea. I think this is where most people fall down because they have a cancer story, or they have a mothering story, or they have an idea of how people can do something better. It feels unique to them, but it’s not. So, talk about that.
Niki – Yes. In a nutshell, mine is a cancer story. Nothing unique about that, unfortunately.
Kathi – Sadly.
Niki – But, what we need to do is figure out the unique angle. The unique way you’re coming at it. I’m writing into a market that has loads of books on coming through suffering and how to deal with pain, and finding hope, and all those things, but it’s finding a kind of angle that’s unique. A slant on it that hasn’t been tackled before. I would say that even goes through how you want to format the book. So, I talk about how life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full. It’s possible to thrive, not just survive. Then, what I did within the book was lay out seven practical tools that people can do that share my story, somebody else’s story, the often forgotten women of the Bible. There are questions and there are prayers. I wanted it to be a how-to roadmap that was, kind of, part spiritual cheerleader, part coach and 100% BFF. So that was my unique angle on something that has been done a hundred times before, and much better. It’s finding that angling.
Kathi – I don’t want to give away too many secrets from editors and publicists and agents that I know, but here is one thing that I know. If you have a unique writing voice that is well developed and full, and you have a unique angle on, maybe a very classic topic, but a unique angle, an agent or an editor, they may not be able to get you past Pub Board, but they will hang with you until and maybe offer suggestions and say, maybe, “Bring this back to me.” When you have somebody say that, you can safely say that your writing is good and your angle is unique. If you don’t have those two things, it’s very hard to get a book, for anybody, especially a first time author. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s the powerful one-two punch that will get an editor or agent more invested in you as a creator.
Niki – Exactly, and when you have those two in place, it’s much easier to grow your platform. You have that unique hook, and you’re able to speak with your unique voice into the audience. So, you know where they are. You know what they’re feeling. You know how to help them. So, then it’s much easier to build your platform.
Kathi – I released my first book on a small platform, back in the dark ages. Really, back before Facebook. I’m not the best writer in the world, but I do have a unique voice that connects deeply with people. It’s very self-deprecating. It’s fun. It’s flirty. Then, I had this idea about putting your marriage on Project Status, so it’s all about loving your husband. They hadn’t seen something like that before, so that’s how I got everybody’s attention. Trust me, I had tried a bunch of things and nothing was working. This is the project where everybody said ‘yes’. The agent said yes. The editor said yes. It all came together. I love that. Okay, so a couple other things you say publishers are looking for. Strong selling topics, or upcoming cultural generational conversation topics. Talk a little bit about that. How is an author supposed to dig out their crystal ball? Now, I just released a book called Ready for Anything. As we’re recording, we are launching today. Preparing Your Heart and Home for Any Crisis Big or Small. It doesn’t get much more topical than that, because, guys, right at this moment, we’re all in self-isolation. It’s just craziness. How can you see forward and see what people are going to want? ‘Cause it’s going to be a year, two years, before a book hits the shelf. Share your crystal ball.
Niki – Well, I wish I had one. I’m sorry. This is something I was chatting with my editor about, so this comes from her a little bit. The strong selling topics are timeless. So, like your book, like my book, living through hard times, that kind of stuff. So, those are strong selling topics, if you’ve got the right hook. What I’ve heard, in regards to cultural and generational conversation topics, what is coming more and more to the forefront, that people are looking for, are unique angles on the racial conversation, on mental health. Things like that are also needed. If there’s something that is hugely timely, I do think some publishers will not take the two year lead gap. Rush something through quicker because it’s so timely to the current conversation. Maybe a traditionally published book isn’t the best medium to get your message out, if something is so timely and needs to be out. There are other ways to get that message out.
Kathi – Yes. You can get that message out on a blog, doing a podcast, something like that. Also, by the time it’s time to write a book, there may be a new, fresh angle. I think the best way to find that angle is to already be talking about it. It’s not some surprise you’re putting out there. Okay, Credentials. This is for non-fiction books, obviously. Now, you didn’t have the credentials.
Niki – I didn’t have writing credentials. I didn’t have a PhD in creative writing, or a masters or anything like that, but my credentials are more, I’d lived the story. I was already talking to people about it, and they were already responding. So, it was evidence that there was a need and a desire for the way I was talking about it. It’s that kind of credibility.
Kathi – When I talk about clutter, my credential is, my dad was hoarder. What you may think is a deficit, is actually an asset, because if you’ve overcome something, that is a credential. Okay, connections and networking. I think this freaks authors out.
Niki – It freaked me out and to a little extent, it still freaks me out. I feel like everyone knows each other. You read the endorsements in the front of everyone’s book and you’re like, “How do they all know each other?” It’s very easy to feel like you’re on the outside. I think the important thing to remember is that it’s not just author connections that publishers are looking for. Yes, those people are influencers, but they also want connections and networking. That can be speaking events. That can be ministries and places where your audience already hangs out. Are you related to some of those places in some shape or form? That’s where you can speak into and get your book into the world. I think we’re a lot more connected and networked that we think.
Kathi – Also, when I started all this a million years ago, I wasn’t connected to anybody. I didn’t know anybody. So, now I’m connected to a lot of people, but you have to find your own connections, because you’re coming up in a different time. Okay, Tenacity. I love this one. I think this is so underrated. We all think it’s this lucky connection, or sitting next to the right editor at the conference, or something like that. But, just showing up again and again? Here’s where I’ll say Tenacity, with an Attitude of Servanthood. When you’re showing up and serving your audience over and over again? They will keep coming back for more. What is your tenacity angle?
Niki – I think, partly, it’s that. Willing to serve my audience, to keep speaking about it, to keep serving them. Also, willingness to show up and serve other writers and influencers. Support them in that connection. Then, being willing to fail and start again and learn. It’s so hard. When I was told, really, how awful that first proposal was? It was really hard to hear, but there were some nuggets in there where I was like, “Oh! I can fix that. I’m willing to do that. I’m willing to make the changes to figure this out.” I’m so glad that original book was never published. It would have been terrible. Having a track record of that can help.
Kathi – Then, finally, you say Platform. I love your point on here. There is a way to have a small platform, but it has to have something added to it. What is that?
Niki – It is much better to have a small and engaged platform that you are in communication with, that you know the names of the people that you are helping and serving and connecting with on many different levels. Whether it’s social media and email. All sorts of different ways. They are the ones that are going to be buying your book, putting up reviews, cheerleading it, asking you to come and speak. Having a platform that is compact and bijou is so much better than having a bajillion followers or on your email list that don’t give a hoot about who you are and what you’re talking about.
Kathi – What is bijou?
Niki – It’s like a jewel.
Kathi – Oh! Okay! I’ve heard that, but I’ve never known what it meant. Now I have new and fabulous word.
Niki – That’s a little phrase. Compact and bijou.
Kathi – Compact and bijou. Oh, I love it. Okay, so I want to run over these one more time, Niki. What you say publishers are looking for: One, writing talent. Next, strong execution of a unique idea. Third, strong selling topics. Credentials, and they may not be what you think they are. Connections and networking. Tenacity. It’s one of my favorite words ever. Platform. Remember, small and engaged is better than big and uninterested. It’s so true. Niki, this is so great, and I can’t wait for next week, when we’re going to talk about how to maximize your small but mighty platform. Your compact and bijou platform. Did I say that right?
Niki – You said it wonderfully, yes.
Kathi – Perfect. I’m so excited. Okay, guys, I can’t wait for you to join us next week. You’ve been listening to the Writing at The Red House podcast. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go live it.
You’ve been listening to the Writing at The Red House podcast. Thank you for spending a little time getting better at what God has called you to do.
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