For writers who wish to be published by major media or traditional book publishers, it’s easy to forget (because imposter syndrome comes with the writing game!) that publishing is a BIG business. Story selling is like food sales and house sales and leases – it’s a big business and a global industry that will never die. The MEDIUM might change, but the fact that we need stories will not.
This is because publishing fills a human need that will never be satisfied! People NEED stories – did you know book sales went up by some astronomical amount at the start of the pandemic? We self-soothe with story. It takes us away from the mundane, it gives us meaning, it helps us make meaning. Stories are as essential for human survival as sleep.
WHAT’S MISSING FROM WRITING SCHOOL
Something sorely lacking in most (if not all) formal writing degrees, including the ones that I took (Bachelor of Arts, Literature Major, Grad Dip Professional Writing & Editing) is real, practical info on the business side of publishing.
Sure, I learnt to appreciate fine literature and spot the underlying themes in the major classics and understand how that influenced (and was influenced by) cultural shifts in society at major times during history, and I truly do think my formal education was valuable for other reasons, but helping me get published? Not at all. At the end of the day, for those of us who wanted to actually have our books up there in the ‘literary canon’ as published, printed books, an understanding of what that looked like in a real sense?
There was no practical information. Zero.
I remember submitting a nonfiction assignment when I was at RMIT, and my teacher gave me a lovely stamp of approval, with a handwritten comment:
”You should try to get this published!”
“Sure,” I wanted to say.
“But – could you show me how? And where?”
I didn’t know about query letters. Story pitches. I wouldn’t have even known who to contact or how to find them. My literary essay on the death of Princess Diana wasn’t something you’d see in the Age or Cosmopolitan.
It wasn’t until I finished the academic and theoretical side of things and managed – from boldness, really, nothing else (because they had a hiring freeze on at the time!) – to get a job inside a major metropolitan daily newspaper, that I actually saw what a BUSINESS this whole writing thing could be.
If i put aside the splashy headlines and the trauma of working at that paper (I was working in the newsroom of the Herald Sun during a major terror attack), what actually excited me – and what STILL excites me, about publishing, is that stories are a business. People need them. It’s a physical thing. Humans cannot exist – a city can’t run! Without stories.
And THIS, this is what that job showed me on a visceral level. People NEED stories. Not just information – but stories. There will ALWAYS be publishing, and media, because stories are a fundamental and primal human need. It’s an industry that will never die.
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GET PUBLISHED?
The medium may change (print to online, etc etc) but humans will never, ever stop needing stories simply to make sense of this wild ride called life – and all we witness in the day-to-day existence of it.
So the question is – where do YOU want to get published, where do YOU look for stories, and how can you package up your story in such a way that a publisher AND their readers will be grateful that you turned up JUST at the time they had space – and hunger – that needed to be filled with YOUR medicine?
I’m considering renaming the program The [true] Story Sales Accelerator, because it’s really the most simple strategy I’ve formed and used to sell stories to newspapers, media outlets, and yes, publishers, over a 20-something year career in media and publishing.
There’s a specific sequence of steps to sell a story, and the program follows this specific sequence because it’s just like any sales strategy – completely honed and tested over years of selling to this particular ‘client’ – the client being book publishers and major media outlets.
SELL YOUR STORY QUICKER BY SEEING HOW AND WHERE PEOPLE NEED IT – STORY IS MEDICINE
One of the BEST things I learnt working at a daily newspaper was that the public has SUCH an appetite for stories that there’s no room (or time) to doubt whether or not your writing is ‘worthy’ enough – stories are a commodity, and every day, people are hungry for more.
I think that shift around the function of writing is what made me brave enough to pitch (and sell) to bigger and better publications, to the point where I had 5-10 regular publications I sold to on a monthly basis for a few years. I always pictured the person I was pitching to doing what I saw at the Herald Sun – hungry for stories to fill their section, GRATEFUL when a journalist had something ready and perfect to fit the space, even happier when it was the perfect fit for their audience (which was clear from reader feedback). I was doing THEM a favour by pitching! The thing about newspapers is you can fill those 50 or 100 pages one day, but tomorrow it all starts again! Empty. Searching for stories!
I want to rename this program to the (true) story selling process, because it’s really about the business of selling true stories.
When I created The Art of the Book Deal Mastermind, I considered all that I’d learned in 20+ years of freelance journalism, newspaper and magazine editing, media advisory work for travel and health and lifestyle TV, radio and print media and editing, and ghostwriting for high profile individuals in the traditional publishing industry (always in nonfiction, including two of my own published books).
If I had to count, I’d say I’ve sold thousands of stories in my career, and selling ANY of these (true) stories always followed – and follows – the same process.
It’s great practise for selling a book – and sometimes (in the case of Madison magazine), one feature article would take just as long – if not longer – to sell than a book .
Inside the Mastermind, you learn the story sales process in depth, but here’s a rough outline of the steps:
✩ CREATE your writer platform (so media & publishers – AKA your potential ‘clients’ – can quickly see you’re who you say you are)
✩ IDENTIFY the most CAPTIVE audience for your story (so you’re putting your ladder up the right tree, so-to-speak!)
This piece is FUNDAMENTAL to the process. If you skip this step, it’s like you’re turning up to sing at a wedding you were never invited to. You will get NOWHERE with selling your story and you may end up rewriting or chucking it out because you’ve gotten feedback or rejection from the wrong audience. I could go on about knowing, finding and connecting with your audience all day, but i won’t – I’ve put all of this in the masterclasses for this module, and recently added an update just to drive it home a little more!
✩ LEARN the simple framework for a compelling STORY PITCH – I learnt more about framing a story in a way that’s compelling in 10 minutes getting edited by a tabloid news journalist than I had in 5 years of post-graduate studies at University. This is the compelling framework I learnt in newsrooms, honed as a magazine and proposal editor, and used to sell hundreds of my own stories in the years I made my living from just this – pitching and selling true stories. A query letter for a book is just a story pitch, and you sell a book the same way you sell a magazine story.
✩ Learn HOW to follow up on your pitches, and AMPLIFY those stories that ARE accepted! In the feedback from students, many didn’t realise they had to follow up as soon as I recommend, and you really do need to see this as a sales game and data gathering. Amplification is also key if you want to sell a BOOK on the subject. You shouldn’t just quickly move on to the next story – because to sell your BOOK, it only takes one, if the right people see it and share it. Publishing too many stories on the one topic will have the opposite effect. Publishers call this TAKING THE PITH. ie. there’s no meat left and they wonder if there’s anything exciting left to buy. Don’t do this!
✩ SHIFT your identity around friendships and literary community – I share with you how many of the most amazing career opportunities came to me when I spoke or gave or shared with a fellow writer or author. Relationships are EVERYTHING in life, and the book community is no different. You’re not in competition – stories are everywhere, and stories are for sharing.
✩ Gain the VERY PRACTICAL specifics around writing a query and a book proposal for a nonfiction, sending it off to agents and publishers (AND checking they are legitimate) and what to ask and expect when you speak to these important gatekeepers and how to liaise with these professionals so you get the best deal for everyone involved. When it comes to big Agents & Publishers, knowledge really is power.
✩ UNDERSTAND how to work through rejection and come out from the messy middle, and be inspired by case studies of authors who’ve gone from essay (or podcast, or tweet, or article) to book deal.
ALL my writing and story sales strategies are targeted at TRADITIONAL publishing and MAJOR MAINSTREAM media. I’ve been published across the world and worked in digital and print media for over twenty years, including top 5 book publishers, metropolitan daily newspapers, women’s glossy magazines and high circulating online (and radio) outlets.
I don’t usually ‘blow my own trumpet’ but it’s important that you know my background. This isn’t a hobby or flight of fancy for me – I made my living this way for two decades. And I’ve poured all of that into my high-touch Mastermind, where you get your work reviewed by me, too.
In my experience, it’s just as hard to sell a feature story to VOGUE as it is to sell a memoir manuscript. But it’s EXACTLY the same sales process!
You may also like: