Regina Brooks is the founder and CEO of Serendipity Literary Agency LLC. In November 2010, Brooks co-founded and launched a new publishing imprint under Akashic Books called Open Lens. Regina shares the one thing all successful writers have in common and what writers should do to build a readership.
What do you do if a book by one of your clients gets a cover that you find really ugly, but the publisher and the author love it? Do you hold your tongue or do you put in your 2 cents? – Lucy Silag
This has happened several times in the last several months. When evaluating covers, I use the following criteria as my first line of communicating my hesitation on a design.
- Does the author’s name appear clear and strong? Sometimes the title or other features can overshadow the author’s name on a cover. I’m always sensitive to making sure we build the author’s brand and the name is showcased prominently.
- Does the cover incorporate a color palette that will resonate with the audience appropriately? For example, business books often use black, red, or blue. Girl books for younger audiences typically incorporate purples, pink, or yellow. Of course, covers can certainly veer from these conventions, but many years of research and theory have gone into selecting colors that work. One of my authors Elizabeth Harper has taught me a lot about colors and how they are received.
- Does the cover show up well in a thumbnail size? There are often wonderful fonts and illustrations that work well in the print version but get lost in the ebook format. These days many consumers will first discover a book online, so it’s important that the title and author’s name are readily visible.
- Does the cover speak to the core demographic? There might be confusion as to whether the book is for women, millennials, academics, etc. The cover needs to strike a chord with the target audience.
I’ve been in the business for 20 years, so I’ve seen my share of ‘ugly’ covers. Aesthetics are very subjective, so I tend to table my commentary unless I have something clear and focused that speak to the questions I’ve mentioned above. If it’s just a matter of taste, I will certainly tell my author, but I will often acquiesce to the author and editor if they are in sync.
You’ve worked with successful writers. Is there one thing they had in common that made them successful? – GD Deckard
Yes, I think the one thing successful authors have in common is malleability. The publishing world is always shifting. Things that worked in the past no longer work with the same impact. Authors who are willing to move with the times seem to do best. Ten years ago the idea of an author having to focus on Instagram and Twitter was unheard of. A few years back there were books written entirely of instant messages (oh, how passé today). And changes don’t just take place in technology. Who would have thought we would ever do away with the serial comma? There are changes all around the business, and those who can go with the flow are the most successful.
He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. Harold Wilson
I plan to self-publish, but I don’t want to close the door to other possibilities. If I post excerpts on a website, possibly even a few teaser chapters, does that destroy any chance of being traditionally published? – Mimi Speike
There are so many schools of thought when it comes to self-publishing as an entry to traditional publishing. We have many examples of books that were self-published and have gone on to critical and commercial success. To directly answer your question, I think it is extremely important to try to develop an audience. Often times, sharing small snippets from your book can entice potential readers to your work. I’m not a fan of posting your entire work, though. Who wants to pay for something they can get for free?
Keep in mind if you do get a traditional publisher to pick up your work, they will likely ask you to pull down the material you posted online.
Is it acceptable to query more than one agent about a manuscript at a time? Unless an agency specifically requests otherwise, is it all right to query other agents? And if so, what’s the etiquette involved? In the query, should the author mention they’ve contacted other agents and are waiting for their replies? Or is it better to query only one agent and wait for them to either reject or accept you before moving on? – Amber Wolfe
You should definitely query more than one agent at a time. Today, agents assume that you are sending your book to more than one agent. Agencies can take a while to get back to you on a query or submission, so if you attacked the process one agent at a time, it could take you years to find an agent.
Also, agents like to know if your book is competitive. If there’s more than one agent interested, it gives your project more cache. You might find situations where an agent asks you for a three-week exclusive. It’s ok to agree to offer this time frame for an agent if this agent is high on your list. You would then have to circle back to the other agents you have sent your project to and tell them that you are giving an agent a three-week exclusive to read.
Let’s say dreams really do come true and I land an agent. What would be the most productive use of my time while you’re trying to sell my book to a publisher? Also, how long would you try to get a book published before you would feel that it just isn’t going to work out? Thanks! – Audrey Greathouse
This is a great question. While I’m pitching an author’s work, I ask them to do a series of things to eliminate the frustration.
- Build your social media platform. Social media can be extremely time-consuming and building it while you wait can be an excellent use of your time.
- Work on another project. Is there a follow-up book? If not, work on something totally different to stretch your literary creativity.
- Seek out people to endorse or blurb your book.
- Become a literary citizen. Read other authors’ works and write reviews. Get to know other writers and go to their readings. Comment on their social media platforms. Join a book club. These are all things that you will eventually want writers to do for you.
- Get to know your local bookstore owners. Find out who their events person is and volunteer to help. Again when your book comes out you couldn’t have a better advocate.
- Go to literary festivals and book fairs and assess what consumers and readers respond to.
- Get media training.
Knowing when it’s time to put the manuscript back in the drawer and start anew is really a decision you and your agent will make together. The cool thing about the publishing industry is that it’s very cyclical and what might not work today may work in two years. Also, editors are constantly moving from house to house. So after a few months you may have another editor you can reach out to at the same publishing house as long as an editor never took it to an acquisition meeting.
The key is to evaluate why your book is being rejected. Are their craft issues that need to be addressed before going out with it again? Does it need a new frame or a new title? Do you need to switch POVs, add a character, eliminate a character, change the setting, etc?
There are so many stories of successful authors who had their books pitched and rejected by more than 30+ editors who went on to commercial success (FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, HARRY POTTER, etc). So I’d say hang in there.
About Regina Brooks
Regina Brooks is the founder and CEO of Serendipity Literary Agency LLC. Her agency has represented and established a diverse base of award-winning clients in adult and young adult fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature including: three-time National Book Award finalist, Newberry Honor Winner and the Coretta Scott King Honor and the 2006 Michael Printz Honor Award-winning author Marilyn Nelson; winner of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award, Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids author Sundee Frazier; Stonewall Book Award Winner, Bil Wright. Connect with Regina on Twitter.