A Marketing Team reason for rejection

Let’s start by calling this author Patrick. 

I learned about Patrick during one of my acquisition editor stints. One of my fellow editors had enlisted Pat to team up with a more prominent author on a rush project—a book that was trying to capitalize on a currently popular trend and had to be completed quickly. According to my editor friend, Patrick’s writing skill well exceeded that of his co-author, so he ended up writing the bulk of the book. Lo and behold, their book became a national bestseller. Good news for all, right?

Except that during the media push for that bestselling book, Patrick appeared on TV as a spokesperson for the book, along with his co-author. The co-author was polished, funny, and insightful in person. Patrick—who actually was the better expert on the topic, as well as the more articulate writer of the two—came off as stumbling and insecure. His skill with words on paper simply didn’t translate into skill as a spokesperson. 

Here’s the really bad news for Patrick: Both my Marketing VP and my Publisher saw his uninspiring performance on TV. Based on that one interview, they came to the conclusion that Patrick simply wasn’t a good communicator.

About a year after his well-deserved, bestselling success, Patrick returned to our publishing house with a new proposal. I thought it was excellent, and his editor also was a strong advocate for the book. But it was rejected in publishing board. Why? Both my Marketing VP and my Publisher simply couldn’t get the image of Patrick’s broadcast TV failure as a spokesperson out of their heads. 

Did Pat deserve that rejection? Clearly not—after all, in spite of a poor TV performance, his book still had sold several hundred thousand copies. But that wasn’t enough to change the perception of him in the eyes of my executives. In the end, they said the only way they’d publish something new from Patrick was if he were teamed up with the more publicly-polished author from the last book.

That, friends, was a loss for author and publisher alike. But it happens sometimes, so you’d better be prepared for it.

What You Can Do About It

1. Never go unprepared into any kind of verbal exchange. 

If an editor is seriously considering your work and preparing it for presentation at a publishing board meeting, he or she may call to talk to you personally about your book. Never take that call until you feel completely ready for it. Don’t simply answer the phone when you see “ABC Publishing House” on your caller ID. Let it go to voicemail and listen to the message afterward. 

If the editor is indeed asking to chat with you in person about your proposal, follow up with an email telling the editor you are enthusiastic about chatting, and asking if he or she can give you some idea of the specifics to talk about. Tell the editor you want to be sure and have all the information needed at the time of the call. Then set up a formal appointment for a phone or video interview, and knock ‘em dead with your absolute preparation for anything that may be asked.

Listen, these kinds of calls are like a job interview. The editor is looking to get a sense of your personality and expertise. I’ve even had these kinds of calls where a marketing director joined in on the conversation. The thinking here is, if you can’t talk professionally and passionately to an editor about your book, you’ll self-destruct when (if) the marketing team puts you on display as a centerpiece in the future promotion of your book.

So follow the example of the Boy Scouts: Be prepared.

2. Plan to be the spokesperson for your own book.

If we can’t trust you to be an effective spokesperson for your book, we can’t trust that you’ll be well received by the media and/or the public at large. That’s why you must be more than a writer if you want to succeed in a publishing career. You must be someone who both understands and confidently participates in the requirement to be the physical representative of your book. 

This means you should be prepared to handle public speaking, one-on-one interviews, panel talks, debates about your topic, and anything that may influence public perception of your book. Imagine it this way: Your book is president, and you are its press secretary. Can you comfortably handle the pressure that comes with that role? If not, my Marketing VP is going to think twice before greenlighting anything with your name on it.

3. Get out of the house.

Many authors are introverts—this comes with the territory. After all, we spend hours a day all alone, tapping a keyboard or reading or lost in our own thoughts. That works fine from an editorial perspective. But since your book’s success also depends on an extrovert’s marketing perspective, you may need to build up your social skills.

So, you know, get out of the house every once in awhile. Make time to hang out with friends. Talk to strangers at the airport. Attend your high school reunions. Go out for coffee with people from church. Grab a beer with folks from work. Join a pub trivia team. Get out of your comfort zone and into a social one at least once a week or so. If you practice being comfortable speaking in social situations, that’ll improve your comfort level in professional ones as well.

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