Jana Burson is an acquisitions editor with FaithWords, which publishes books for the growing inspirational market as part of the Hachette Book Group – along with Grand Central Publishing; Little, Brown and Company; Little, Brown Books Young Readers; Center Street; Orbit; Yen Press; Hachette Audio and Hachette Digital.
Her advice to authors is to be your best advocate, warning that writing a great book is only part of that book’s success.
“Being a full-time writing professional is really hard work and takes time and dedication,” she said. “No one will be as passionate about your project as you are, and no one will work as hard as you do.”
She said that your job as an author is to research, write, build your platform (audience), speak to your platform, interact with them and partner with other people (e.g., agents, editors, bookstore managers and other authors).
Jana specializes in non-fiction, looking at authors who attract a new generation of readers and demonstrate that they can develop a steady increase in sales. She believes it’s essential for both non-fiction and fiction authors to build community and interact with their readers, even to the extent of making readers feel like friends.
While platform is important, though, the first thing Jana looks for is great content.
“If content doesn’t resonate, or grab or draw me in, I’m not concerned about your platform. If I don’t love something, it’s best for the author that I don’t acquire it.”
Which means that researching who you submit your manuscript and proposal to is as important as the hours of research you put into researching the topic you’re writing about. Your content needs to demonstrate that you know who your audience is and what that audience is reading. She suggests that you write to an audience of one. As you write, talk specifically to the one person who represents the audience.
“If you can’t write to an audience of one, then you can’t write to an audience of several thousand. And don’t try to be all things to all people.”
As for unsolicited or unagented proposals and queries, “I’ll turn it down unless they know me or someone I know recommended it. An agent will say the same thing. How a lot of people get agents is through referral or friend.” That’s why she recommends networking with other authors. “If you make friends with an author who has an agent, ask that friend to recommend you to her agent.”
That may be out of the comfort zone for most authors, who tend toward introvert personalities. Jana says to push yourself to do it.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, why would someone else?”
Following are essentials for proposals and queries.
- Adequately outline the content and provide quality sample chapters
- Outline your platform – don’t embellish; the agent or editor will do their own research
- Include things that calculate – facts and figures on blog, etc.; if you wrote a blog that got shared, put it in the query
- Name comparable titles (books with similar content and style) – spend a good deal of time on this, and don’t use people with huge platforms – for new authors, choose less known authors with titles that have sold well (your agent can help you with this)
Jana’s final bit of advice is to find balance and joy.
“What we do is not where our identity is found,” she said. “If that’s where you look, you’ll often be disappointed.” Jana finds joy in relationships. “I don’t like to have a lot of surfacy relationships. I prefer a few deep friendships, where we’re talking about what’s going on inside of us. I want to know what is their journey like and travel the road with people who are real.”
You can follow Jana on Twitter at @cjburson.