122: Lucinda Halpern – How to Write a Book That Sells to the Masses

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It begins with finding the right agent!

Speaker 1: Welcome to the authors who lead podcast. This podcast is dedicated to you. People who want to be inspired by authors leaders and the messages they share. This is such an important podcast to us because we help uncover what goes on behind the scenes. When authors are writing their book, we talk about the process. We talk about where they get big ideas and you can listen in on those conversations. We can't wait for you to join us. So let's get started. Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of authors who lead. I am a soul. Toronto's your host. Today. We have an amazing woman. Who's going to be here and listen to Hopkins. Here. She is the president and founder of Lucinda literary based literary agency based in Manhattan. And she specializes in working with big idea and business books. She holds these monthly virtual workshops to help entrepreneurs, to identify their big idea and package it for publishers. She has over 15 years of experience in the corporate and publishing world. And she's going to help us understand how we all put this together. Why would anyone seek a litter agent? What they expect when they're going there, how you potentially and get your book into the world. Isn't a welcome to the show.

Speaker 2: He was all wonderful to be here.

Speaker 1: It's so great. So, so many people listening to the show, either they're authors currently, maybe they've published multiple books. Maybe they're not published their first book, but they tend to want to know all the details about what goes on behind the scenes with a publisher and with an agent. So I'm going to let it kind of go to you to help us understand where do we begin when we try to help authors understand what does the literary agent actually do?

Speaker 2: Sure. So a lot of people think that a literary agent is really there just to get you a book deal. And there are plenty of literary agents who are just deal makers. We're a bit different at Lucinda literary in that we are really invested career partners. So we're as interested in helping you develop something editorially as we are market that book later on, once it's been sold, we're really thinking about the entire span of your career. So not just your first book, but your third book for a lot of our authors, a book is just one piece of their larger brand or their mission. So, you know, I think that not every author is right for a literary agent. The things that might signal to you as you're working on your book, that you should be speaking with the agent would be a few things.

Speaker 2: One that you have a built in audience. So you really shouldn't just approach an agent with a great idea. There are over 2 million books being published every year. So what's really important is to have more than the idea, they kind of vehicle for marketing that. So in our case, that's kind of a proof of concept. It's, you know, I've had this blog and it's taken off by way of my newsletter or my social media platform, or I do speaking events and I can't get enough of this one burning question. So really there's that proof of concept that you want to be ready to share with an agent you should have when you do an agent, when you think you're ready, a query letter that really succinctly and persuasively encapsulates your idea, why you're the person to write it and why the time is now, why that book feels really urgent? Does that answer? That probably gives a lot of information. Okay.

Speaker 1: That's great. That helps people understand that, you know, I try to help encourage authors to realize that, yes, you have a good idea. It's a wonderful idea, but this proof of concept is really important because how does someone who's going to put their time, effort, money, support behind a book? Know that it's also a good idea. It's not just a good idea because you would think so. It's a good idea because other people think so as well. So that's great. So then it literally agent's job is in your cases to your particular style agency's job is to mentor them, get them author, to understand what it is they're trying to send. And I think in our earlier conversations, you said sometimes it's so much easier for you to be involved in the process of developing the book idea, even before it's written. Tell me a little bit more about what that might mean and how that might shape up because someone might show up with the manuscript, they think is great, but may not be the book that is great to take out out to the

Speaker 2: I'm so glad you brought that up. I think that what people are really surprised to find, especially in the world of business books, for authors who have already written their entire memoir, is that we're now going to have to reverse engineer that into a book proposal, which is about 40 pages long to sell to a publisher. So if you've written the whole book, you might be on the wrong track, it would be more helpful to come up with the idea to come up with that short bio of who you are, what your expertise is, you know, who knows you, what your audiences and not an agent marinate with all of that. And think about what the best concept for a book would be when we're evaluating what the best concept of a pro book would be. We're looking at your audience, we're looking at who is coming to you online and what they're most interested in. And we're also thinking about what we see selling in the market, what our relationships with publishers are telling us what editors are specifically looking for. So for all of those reasons, it's really better to have something very brief, sort of a one sheet or a query letter about who you are and what your ideas, and then got an agent work with you from there to build it up. If you're interested in going the traditional route, which isn't for everyone. Right?

Speaker 1: And so let's talk about that on your site because people, people should know what you're looking for that helps them a little more identify, you know, agents like anyone else are looking for good talent. It's the opposite of what people think. It's not that they don't, they're not looking for anyone they're looking for a specific person, help us know what kind of candidate would be good for an agency like yours, where you're really seeing yourself as a partner longterm.

Speaker 2: Yes. Thank you so much for asking. I am a sucker for an artist and for personality. So this again is going to make me different from other regions for better or for worse. I'm looking for personality traits like work ethic, like flexibility, ability to take feedback because my approach is so much tough love and that tough love can be quite brutal. And I need to know that someone is ready to work as hard as I am, and to be flexible about their ideas and sort of calibrate with the feedback that we receive in the marketplace. So I, at this stage in my career where I'm not looking to take on very many authors, I'm really looking for those personality traits that I know will be a good fit beyond that. I'm looking for the things that publishers are looking for. So, you know, that really is the built in all dance that I was talking about.

Speaker 2: We look at those metrics variety of ways, like absolutely when a publisher receives a submission from an agent, they're Googling that person's, that person has to have some visibility online has to have some recognition on Google. It can't just be like your blog is what shows up. It needs to be that you've been featured in the press, or you have the Ted talk or other speaking events that have been publicized that you have the Facebook or the Twitter, whatever it is, we need to know that there's recognition around you. So that applies for me as an agent, as equally as that applies for the publishers I work with beyond that, I'm looking for someone who has a really bold or controversial statement to make a myth that they're busting groundbreaking scientific research. They're bringing to the equation or a story that has received media or television attention. So there needs to be that existing proof already that this person has poised on a conversation and has credibility that readers are going to look to.

Speaker 1: Right. That's really helpful. Most of the time when I'm helping authors craft this, this is the last thing from my occasionally they show up with these monikers, they're there have a big audience, they have their newsworthy, they have some potential to create some sort of ruffle in the industry that they're in or enter it in a new way. Let's talk a little bit about how that might be positioned. When someone comes with an idea where do they usually have to negotiate on the manuscript or the idea they bring to you? Where are the places where authors sometimes have a hard time letting go, that you see their struggle with this notion help us understand that?

Speaker 2: Sure. So, so many. And so I know we've spoken about this before. So many people who are poised to write a bit, if we're looking just in a business book, for example, a book that could really help people understand business, or have some sort of access to the future, or some sort of, you know, if you're a successful entrepreneur, you have a secret sauce. And maybe the people who want to read your book are interested in that. But too often, what we see is the personal story coming through. So this isn't to say that our personal story can't be really compelling because in fact, if you're a successful entrepreneur or founder or CEO, you've probably had a really incredible story. Maybe you've come from out of very improbable circumstances and you've bootstrapped your way to the top. And there's a lot of motivation in that story.

Speaker 2: But if it feels too close to memoir, especially if that memoir has been well publicized already in the media or your entire company knows about it, or, you know, if it's already well known, then a publisher or an agent is going to be much less excited about it. What we're more excited in, what are the practical takeaways for people? So something that I always encourage writers to think about as they're handing their book proposals away to their books, who is your singular reader? How is that person motivated? What does he or she need from your book? If you're speaking to that one reader, every page you've succeeded, you know, that it's really not thinking about your mother. Who's going to read this book or the colleague that you're trying to impress or your board. You know, it's not thinking about those people in your inner circle. It's thinking about the people who need your book most and what can you offer them?

Speaker 1: Right. Often I tell my readers or my clients that I coach is that, look, if they don't see themselves in this book, they're going to close it. And they have to know you're speaking directly to them all the time. Every time that if you started meandering and talking to somebody else, they're going to lose interest and it doesn't captivate them. And you have to be as my friend Jadah, Sellner the co founder of simple green smoothie says there are no unique messages, but only unique messengers. And you have to convince them that you're the one delivering that uniqueness throughout the conversation. I love this. I love the way you've kind of framed it. You've helped so many wonderful people. You've been a part of launch teams with Gretchen Rubin. You've helped when you were with Harper Collins assisted on Freakonomics launch and other New York times bestselling books. What is a book? What do you know when you get a manuscript or you get an idea like, Oh, this is, this could be, or do you get a sense of that? Or is it always an unknown?

Speaker 2: So no, I have an immediate sense of that. I think that, you know, an agent usually has a really strong gut instinct for, I don't care what people are buying. I'm so passionate about this particular topic or this author has been so convincing. And how he's said, this has been a unique messenger just as you said, that I'll have a very strong gun about something I want to take on. Even if I can see all of the ways we're going to need to revise and calibrate. And sometimes rehaul the idea. And often that's, you know, that's certainly the title and the subtitle, but it could be the whole structure for the book. You know, there's often a lot of sort of remodeling that it gets done at the proposal stage before you take something out to a publisher. So just to give you an example, a book that's publishing this fall with Harper Collins, it's called game changer.

Speaker 2: It's a business book and it's by two business partners who are actually their talent agents for coders. So they started the music industry and now they, they sort of help coders find like their Facebook or their Google and their head hunting. And that in that regard for tech companies. So it was such an interesting sort of business that they had. And obviously as talent agents, it's one that resonated with me personally, when I got their book, which was about the 10 X revolution, you know how you can achieve 10 X results. I thought this is so special. This is going to resonate with business readers. There's something here. And of course we worked, we worked tirelessly on the book proposal that they already had their writer attached. You know, they'd written half the book. It was again, one of these stories where like, they thought it was ready to go to Harper Collins, but we had to go back several layers and do some really deep, deep work, which ended up being an excellent roadmap for creating the book and made it really easy. But something like that comes to mind as it landed in my inbox, I immediately knew I had to take it on. I couldn't wait until it was Monday to sign the project up.

Speaker 1: That's great. One of the things that I want people to know is because, you know, there's so many opportunities to do self publishing, to do a well, help them understand. What's the reason why you should come to an agent, why not stick on your own and do it yourself? What, you know, you talk about this as a, a long game you're with your authors to help them know why that's important and what to expect from some support. If they do get with an agent, what's the signs that this is a good agent.

Speaker 2: Okay. Two great questions there. So first is that self publishing really will work for some people and work very well. And it allows you a level of financial control, creative control. You know, the truth of it is that to launch that book successfully self publish, it is like running a business. So it can be a mega investment to make that book succeed. When you, the major way to think about why go with a publisher and to get a publisher, you need an agent is the bookstore distribution, publishers are still producing those books and placing them in bookstores. They are professionally packaging editing. You know, they're bringing a whole data science to this, along with their years and years of expertise with, you know, all kinds of authors. So you're really getting a whole team and you're getting that, all of that support that you wouldn't get when you're self publishing something.

Speaker 2: So that's one compelling reason. The other is that, unfortunately, because I am not a snob in this regard at all, and I, I embrace, you know, unconventional, nontraditional ways to publish, but unfortunately, major media, like the New York times and PR you know, the morning shows, they're not really looking at self published books. So if it's important to you as a business author, I'm thinking again, in particular for business authors to have that media recognition, or as a brand, as an entrepreneur to open your doors to a different kind of client media is really going to be such a vehicle for that. And media is responding to the brand or the stamp of a penguin random house for the assignment. And she's sort of a Harper Collins on that jacket. That's just still the very antiquated, but, you know, it's the truth. And so that's one, I guess those are two reasons to really consider the traditional publishing route. It's again, the team, the bookstore distribution and the media and credibility. So those it pretty convincing to me.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Great. So let's talk a little about how this process acquiring an agent would look like. So the author gets, let's say they send out query letters and they actually get some attention to a few litter agents. And let's imagine one of those people, are you, what are the things that authors should be paying attention to when they are doing this process about because not all agents, like anything are equal, not all of them have the perspective of you as like I'm with it, the long haul, what kind of advances should be reasonable for someone who has an audience who has the gift of this particular knowledgeable and where are they not going? You know, super advances seem like they've fallen by the wayside, but what, what's a reasonable thing for them to assume, because we don't want people to have false intentions or beliefs that their, their book's going to make them a million dollars or something.

Speaker 2: Okay. So a few questions there. I would say that fortunately as all publishers are still, even in today's covert climate, I mean, they are still spending money on books. So while I never encourage an author to quit her day job to become an author, it can still actually be quite lucrative for the right idea for the right timing for the right person. So for those authors that you spoke about those that are your clients that have major platforms and email lists, it's not unreasonable to think that they could get six to seven figure bounces. At least those are the kinds of clients that we take on that we think have that higher earning potential and work with the publishers who are ready to spend and invest in those kinds of projects. So hopefully that's helpful news, but I'd say that a book can be a lead gen tool for a lot of people.

Speaker 2: So instead of thinking about it as this is my, you know, by no means, is it a get rich, quick scheme because you know, it's an elephant time pace of publishing, right? Like it could, it's two years before your book is on shelf. It's a long and arduous process to get it right. A worthwhile one, but you can look at it as the beginning to something else on the back end. So this could be what launches your courses, what gives you access again to that major speaking client or consulting client, because they heard about you on MPR. So a lot of the time the money is actually follows the book based on the credibility on the, the review attention that's received. So that I think is maybe your fourth question, but in terms of getting to the right agents and how to do that, and you know, how can you differentiate?

Speaker 2: Who's good, who's bad. Who's going to be the right advocate for you. I do your research. So there are a publisher's marketplace is the best tool I'd recommend for looking into what kinds of deals those agents are doing and what are they taking on. Then writing them a very personal note. You know, I read XYZ and I saw your name and the acknowledgement. It was a glowing sort of credit. And I'm writing you because I have a really similar book that I think you'll be interested in. Agents respond to that kind of personal. So if you do your research and you write a really tailored, concise and persuasive letter to that person, you could get response from there. It's you have a conversation. Do you trust this person? You know, does this person share your vision for the book, if they have feedback, which is pretty likely that they will, are you in line with that feedback? Because this is a lifetime marriage. You know, this is very much like a marriage. I always say you really want to be very careful about who you're entrusting to deliver. What for many people is nothing short of a child. You know, it's something they've been working on for years and years. So we treat that very seriously.

Speaker 1: Right. That's great. Well, I know we talked before we came on, these has been helpful tips and information kind of on the inside of workings of what agents are thinking. It's good to know that that's their agents like yourself and your agency out there, whose job is to see the whole person talk about people who you're. I w I, I gave you the permission to sort of look at my Ted talk and dissect it and think about it and look for opportunities. Cause I want it to be real life experience of, is there anything in this that agents could look for? And if so, what, and if not, what that's really helpful, because then people can have a real example of how we can pick through a potential idea. That's just an idea out there floating around. So I'm gonna let you talk a little bit about that so they can actually see for those of you who are listening and maybe are new listeners.

Speaker 1: I did a Ted talk several years now ago. That was called what makes a good teacher. Great. And it was just a reflection actually. Interesting enough. It was at a mindfulness conference. It had nothing to do with education. None of them were educators by default, but I really wanted them to focus on this notion of listening. So that's where we'll cut the entry point. So it was to link that in the show notes, if you haven't seen it, just so you have context and I wanted to listen to kind of talk about, about this sort of be a Guinea pig for you all, to understand what, what she would have to say to somebody who walked in with an idea and just hear the real truth. I'm willing. I could take it, but I want you all to hear what goes on when that happens.

Speaker 2: So I might disappoint you because you're in that really lucky and rare category of person who has delivered an incredible tone. That's received a lot of recognition. So when you know, when publishers or agents go to Google, you, they're going to see that. And they're going to be impressed by that. Then they're going to watch your talk and they're going to find even more to be impressed by. So I'm sorry that I'm not going to give you the, the brutal feedback that I told you I was famous for, but, you know, I think here's the thing. A Ted talk is an elevator pitch. It's like an eternal elevator pitch for who you are, what your idea is, and it will continue to sell your book. And for that reason, Ted talks more than most anything out there right now, or what I would say podcast also.

Speaker 2: But Ted talks are what publishers are looking for as an indicator of what could be a book, because the book is going to provide the opportunity to do a really deep, intricate dive and have plenty of takeaways for the reader. But the Ted is that wonderful framework in. So what you were Ted talk does really well is it's quite specific. I mean, first of all, you're talking about a topic that is education and who isn't interested in educating the next generation, right? Whether you have children or not, this is a subject that society really cares about and needs to care about. So you're, I mean, you're already winning there because you've chosen a topic that a lot of people care about. Then you're doing something that, again, I'll talk about, like, this was not your gimmick. You just did this naturally, but what makes this really compelling as a book is you're answering an age old question.

Speaker 2: So there's like a timelessness to that question. The question is like, do we need to be thinking about teaching differently? So you're really turning something on its head and you're offering a simple solution that everyone is capable of which in your case is critical listening. And this is, this is such a beautiful sort of mini framework for a book because of the simplicity, the specificity, and the promise that anyone can really do this, right? Like it's not, there's not a barrier to entry. This is just about all of us getting in touch with our inner listeners. So it stores for a specific it ladders up to something more universal. You know, specifically it's asking what makes for great teachers and through, I don't know if I want to give it all away so that people can see the talk. But through that, we're going to learn something about communication in general, you know, between children and adults, but also between adults and adults.

Speaker 2: So it's, again, it's tapping into a really universal and important message. And I think that that will serve a book very well. I would say since you've prodded me, you know, what here would be missing for the book. I would need to, if you were querying me today with just the TedTalk, I need to know like what's contained in that book that isn't delivered in the Ted talk. And this is just so important for aspiring authors to think about when they query agents, many of them come saying, look, the media is featured me all over the place. And then I'm saying, great, what new juice is there to squeeze in your book two years from now, right? This is not like now we're, we're, we're talking about the future when appetites politics, like everything could have changed substantially. So there's gotta be that secret that you're ready to unveil in your book and the teaser exists online. So, you know, whether that's the Ted talk or whether that's media or your podcast or, or something else, I think both of those ingredients really, really need to exist. So for you as well, I would just ask, and you can please answer me in this interview. What else? Yeah. I'll put you on the spot. What else exists in the book? Like what is a book when to do that? The Ted talk has,

Speaker 1: Right. You know, and to answer the question and then I want to return it to the audiences within the discovery that I had, which was, Oh, crud. I'm not a very good teacher. Maybe I'm good, but I'm not great. And I was just, wasn't paying attention enough because I never asked the question. And even though I was asking that specific question, I wasn't following it up with others. And so what does it look like when you apply kids rules to the behaviors of adult system? And when you can apply kid's rules to this, everything in the way, the structure of a classroom schools and what is learning shifts. So, but you have to look into the mind of young people to understand these kids rules, because they won't be descript. They won't be written in the university catalog. They're going to be written in the prolonged history of young people's behavior.

Speaker 1: So you have to understand, well, how do they behave on the playground? What does the kids' rules look like there? What do kids rules look like in other places so that you can identify? They have a very structured system for the way they behave and think, and if you could crack the kid's rules, understand the kids code, you will start to unveil the secrets behind how to shift and change schools from within. So that those are the things that lay underneath that because that's what took me a while to figure out what I'm not understanding what they're saying, because I had never been listening. Cause I just thought they were just saying nonsense. And that's unfortunate because I probably could have become really good at what I was doing if I was paying attention sooner. So that's a little bit behind the scenes and to be able to help people see that code help to see that it's everywhere they look, they just haven't been noticing when they start to turn on the noticing, curiosity, switch everything about the way they see them.

Speaker 2: Okay. So that's fantastic. So immediately I can sort of envision this book coming to life and it would include your very personal story of failure and humility. Can't emphasize this enough. I think with thought leaders and CEOs and entrepreneurs, the inclination is to show ourselves in the best sight, readers want to see you in your darkest light. They want to see what your most vulnerable, your most human and your most relatable. So certainly you have that aspect of the story and that's the way in. But from there you have the stories of others, of, of the students that you've taught. Um, so in your Ted talk, you, you have this absolutely heartrending moment where you talk about Yvette, I believe is her name and how she's doing her homework in the bathroom. And one night there's a power outage where there's no electricity. She can't do her homework and you weren't listening to hear that. Um, so, you know, even as I'm speaking in this country, I'm getting chills, remembering that story. So you've left us with this like incredibly gut wrenching, memorable story. Those are the kinds of ingredients needed in a book as well. You know? So then the data needs to be there. You also have that in your Ted talk, but beyond those statistics, we need to tell really human stories. That's how books get remembered and how they get talked about and how they sell.

Speaker 1: Right. That's really great. That's helpful. That's surprising, but that's helpful. Thank you. I was like, I was ready to put my armor on, like, I'm ready. I can take it as here's the real dilemma. And I'll tell you the story behind how that Ted talk happened. I think he could ask you if you rehearse, you practice a lot. Someone asked me that about my Ted talk. I was like, I rewrote that the night before, because the original, I wrote it as a book proposal. And I worked with Mike Michael Alice Berg, who wrote a couple of books about education and about, and I wanted him to help me with the proposal when I gave him the proposal. It's this 40, 35 page document. And he's like, honestly, this is just boring. This is just how unhappy you are with education. But these little stories about kids, these are fascinating.

Speaker 1: Tell me more about that. So I was like, okay, so there's a problem here. I'm pontificating. Just like I'm killing teachers, not to do in a book proposal about listing that didn't have anything about listening. So I went and I was invited to this Ted talk. It was going to be a Dominican Republic, which I was like, I don't even know if the audience like this has to be story-based. Cause what if, I don't know the level of understanding they'll have, they're not educators, which changes the focus. And I was thinking about this, but before the opportunity came, I met Dan Rowan who wrote back in the napkin really great book. And yeah, he's like, what are you working on? I said, I been thinking about this book idea, what makes a good teacher great after interviewing collecting 26,000 responses from these kids? He's like, that's the best selling book wants you to talk to my agent, Ted Weinstein Weinstein was like, Oh great.

Speaker 1: That was the biggest and worst thing he ever did for me, which is put pressure. And before it was anything besides that idea. So I panicked because I already sent a proposal that didn't work. I didn't have an idea that seemed to work. So I did a Ted talk to see if I could wrestle this to the ground, this idea to the ground. And that's really how the Ted talk came. It came to be the night before, when I finally found the direction it's supposed to go with some help. My friend, Charlie Hoehn who happened to be Tim Ferriss's first employee. He has a lot of vision about what books can be. So that was helpful. But I was just my raw self because I barely knew that the thing I just set it as I could from only knowing it 24 hours before.

Speaker 2: So there's a lot, there's a lot to be learned in the lesson of that is also one you into your, your heart and your instinct. And that really paid off in a big way, obviously, because the proof of concept is there it's resonated with a large audience people, but you've also tapped into something that aspiring authors can really be doing more of, which is road testing, their ideas. A Ted talk is not normally where I'd say, go, go test this out. Right. But it worked for you. But what we do, we often do, as you can imagine, a lot of my, my authors come to me with, you know, 10 book ideas a year, right. We have to figure out what's the one we're actually going to sell. So one tool we use for that is why don't you publish us if they have a very popular blog, but otherwise go to medium or let's try to place this as an opposite, or like let's use a public forum to see what kind of traction, what the response is.

Speaker 2: What's most interesting to people about it and all of what you want to say. And then we come up with a proposal from out of that. So I think there's real value in your experience and guiding other aspiring authors because you need to really have a sense of what your audience wants. I mean, that's just so huge. And even tying back the listening theme, so a real, and to answer one of your first questions, I'm not sure I sufficiently answered, you know, what makes for really the right agent. It's really a great listener. You know, it's knowing what that person is burning to communicate and then helping them fashion that for a general public or in a way that's most accessible to readers. So you could be sending me one thing in your query letter and a really good agent is going to go to your, let's say your, your blog or your, you know, your YouTube channel and see what your audience is really saying and what they're really craving.

Speaker 2: And we're going to inform you to, you know, to possibly think more about that for your proposal, because it's really about, and this is what Gretchen Rubin and Stephen Dubner and a number of other authors I've worked with really taught me in which is just like how to listen and engage and respect your audience. That's kind of the secret sauce of all of book development, it's engagement, it's knowing how to engage. So the other thing I'd say for those who are maybe a bit apprehensive about working with an agent or a publisher, is I'm really happy to deliver this news. Like it's a very collaborative process. If you're with the right agent, that person can make it more transparent and less mysterious than it doesn't need to be so opaque and mysterious. And you know, we're really working with you to unearth those ideas and we'll defer to your expertise. I mean, I can't tell you the number of times that I've worked with the writer, I've guided them in one direction and they've said, we send to, I appreciate that everyone wants to buy the next Mark Mattson. Here's what my audience is telling me. Here's the data that backs that up. And I, I listened to that. I mean, I take that very seriously. And then we sort of worked that into the proposal and you know, nine times out of 10, they were right there. So good listening is just a critical lesson here.

Speaker 1: That's great. Well, I know that there, if there aren't a weren't before, sorry, they are now people out there wondering, I wonder if I have a book proposal in me and I know it's something you offer, you help people because obviously you're going to help lots of people, but the best prepared people are people who understand how to put together this proposal. And you offer these virtual workshops where you provide support. Tell us a little about that. So that people get a sense of what they expect when they attend a workshop. It's virtual about getting a proposal together to pitch to an agent or an agent.

Speaker 2: So this thank you for bringing that up. This has been one of the most rewarding new adventures for the company. We've always taken an unconventional hybrid approach. We've always tried to innovate at every turn, a really sort of staid industry. So what's exciting about these workshops is that I get to help people unlearn all of the terrible publishing advice they've heard. There are so many, I mean, that is really, and that literally is something that someone said as a testimonial on my website, it was like, I had no idea. I thought that I needed to be this and that. You know, I thought here's a, here's an example. I thought that an agent doesn't care about who I am. They only care about what the story is. No, of course I care about who you are and how you're positioned to work and, you know, be editorial of receptive and how you're prepared to market and what your network is.

Speaker 2: And by the way, this goes for fiction, along with nonfiction, you know, I'm as interested about your marketing abilities. If you're a novice as I am, if you're a nonfiction writer. So I love to help people unlearn all of those bad strategies. I think that so many people out there still, and this is of course now more than ever, that we're, you know, working from home, they are sending out these query letters that no one has seen or responded to. And these query letters are, you know, this is their presentation of years of work. They've done on a manuscript or on a book proposal and they're not getting any reception. So the whole purpose of these workshops are really to like help you understand why you're not getting response and then help you get the response you want. That's and I've, I've just been fascinated by how much I'm able to help people rework their query letter began a conversation with an agent researched the right agent research, the right publisher. There's just so much, there's so much needed advice in the publishing industry.

Speaker 1: Right. So true. So true. So let's also share one little bit of ice. You talk about being a partner, one of the biggest struggle I've heard from authors here, even New York times, bestselling authors, who've come to my show that say that publishers aren't offering support and marketing their book as they used to, or maybe this is the way it's been, and I just haven't paid attention, but they tell me that that some of their sell post books do much better. They get a lot more attraction with the work they put into it is the moniker worth it. What are the marketing strategies you're hoping authors understand so that people can hear that. Maybe it isn't the way it is for all, you know, authors who have an agent or, you know, maybe not an agent, but a publisher to provide support for what their book does once it's written and into the world.

Speaker 2: Sure. So, you know, in my personal opinion, and I'm certainly not going to call them out by name in the centrifuge, there are publishers that are better than others, right. At marketing. And I do think that it is wise when you're querying an agent or when you entered a relationship with a publisher to assume that they're going to be doing the bare bones of what we talked about, producing your book, beautifully, editing your book, you know, giving it professional packaging design, making it available in bookstores and at airports, you know, sort of the bare functions of what a publisher would be expected to do for their investment. Beyond that. The is really generating a lot of the marketing and sales, which is why, if we're coming back to the chicken and egg equation, an agent or publisher is really looking to the built in audience that you bring.

Speaker 2: It's just become that way. And I, you know, so it wasn't always that way it's become this way because with the internet, you know, there are a thousand different ways to market or self-publish and get lost in that, you know, in that other. So it's, it's really important that an author comes equipped and with a strategy for marketing and selling, you know, his or her book as if he or she are self publishing. But again, I can't underestimate the kind of team support. The, you know, you'll get a much more top notch product, one that will probably sell for years and years. If you're going with a publisher versus you just spin it out and get it published tomorrow through, through Amazon, again, that can be the right move for some people, depending on what their platform is, what the idea is. Or if there's a news event that makes it, you know, require that you publish something tomorrow versus wait a couple of years. But if you, if you can give yourself the opportunity to have a real team behind you, um, I think that, and, and your goal is to sell for years and years and accumulate thousands of readers and media attention, traditional publishing is really going to be the route to go. Awesome.

Speaker 1: Before we wrap up here, any last words of advice or piece of wisdom, you'd like to give authors leaders who are listening in about what they can do to move forward with the next steps.

Speaker 2: Sure. Um, so I would say, do your research, when you're thinking about, about finding an agent, certainly going back to your Ted talk as our, as our sort of metaphor for all of this, you know, it really is about storytelling for super foremost, this is a literary product, and you've got to tell a story that is visceral and gets people on a personal level. So keep in mind that publishers and agents are natural skeptics. Like we were getting slashed with material, right? A small agency is getting upwards of 10 unsolicited queries a day. A large agency is getting a hundred queries a day. Publishers are getting unsolicited, unsolicited submissions. So everyone is, everyone is sort of buried in email and material. The way that you can break through that muck is to have a story that gets someone personally, or something, a new sort of thinking or understanding that you are teaching that a publisher is going to want to put into practice.

Speaker 2: So every time I've sold a proposal as, or the editor has come to me and said, you know, I tried this last night with my daughter or in my kitchen or in my closet, you know, whatever the thing may be, or, you know, I know someone who's been laid off and this message of reinvention is just so timely. And you know, where I've been through a layoff and this just resonated with me. I've been through a divorce. So when you're reaching someone on a personal level and teaching someone new, that's, that's what you want to be aiming for. And you really should use story as your mechanism to do that because this is a literary audience, a book needs to be thought about in that way. That's probably the best thing I can, I can add with

Speaker 1: Awesome. This has been incredibly insightful. I know that the listeners here are going to love this. Where would we send people to know more about you and where you can offer support for them? And even in some of these workshops you do.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. So everything right now is on my website, Lucinda, literary.com. And I, you know, I would love to meet some of your listeners. And I think that there's a real cross section in our tastes and how we're trying to help people. And yeah, I look forward to hearing from anyone who's listening now.

Speaker 1: Awesome. Thank you so much. We'll put all that in the show notes, it's been such a joy plus into learning from you, listening to you and being connected. We help all those of listening who want to become authors. You don't delay it. You don't put it off. Sometimes the best messages are left inside of you as

Speaker 2: No. We don't want you to do that.

Speaker 1: Thanks again for listening. And it always please connect with us@authorswholead.com. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening again, to another episode of authors who lead, we appreciate you being here and we hope you subscribe. So you get this delivered to your device every week. And if you haven't left us a review, please do so. It really helps. And if you have a book in your heart, you've been wanting to write a book, please go to authors who lead.com and join us on this journey of becoming a published author.

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Lucinda Halpern is the President and Founder of Lucinda Literary based in Manhattan, specializing in big idea and business books. She holds monthly virtual workshops helping entrepreneurs to identify their big idea, and package it for publishers. 

With over fifteen years of experience in corporate and agency publishing, Lucinda serves both sides of the literary and business worlds. In this episode, she helps us understand how we can put all this together, why would anyone seek a literary agent, and how you can get your book on the road.

Lucinda currently represents authors writing in the categories of business, health, lifestyle, popular science, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and upmarket fiction, including New York Times bestselling author Susan Peirce Thompson (Bright Line Eating amazon), Chris Bailey (The Productivity Project), Cait Flanders (The Year of Less), Paul Jarvis (Company of One), and the new work of New York Times bestselling author of The Nanny Diaries amazon, Nicola Kraus.

What We Discuss with Lucinda Halpern:

  • What a literary agent does
  • How a literary agent is involved in the book idea process
  • What literary agents are looking for
  • Where authors struggle
  • What it takes to get a book published
  • Signs of a good agent relationship
  • The process of acquiring an agent
  • Indicators that your book is a good one
  • What writers can expect when they attend Lucinda’s virtual workshops

[01:10] What a Literary Agent Does

A lot of people think that a literary agent is really there just to get you a book deal. Unlike plenty of literary agents who are just dealmakers, Lucinda Literary are really invested career partners. They help authors develop something editorially as well as in marketing the book later on. They’re thinking about the entire span of an author’s career – not just on the first book.

For a lot of our authors, a book is just one piece of their larger brand or their mission. 

Not every author is right for a literary agent. The things that might signal to you as you’re working on your book that you should be sticking with an agent would be:

  • You have a built-in audience. You really shouldn’t just approach an agent with a great idea. There are over 2 million books being published every year. What’s really important is to have more than the idea, but a vehicle for marketing that. For them, this is your proof of concept. Whether you have this blog or a social media platform or you do speaking events, there has to be a proof of concept that you’re ready to share with an agent. 
  • Once you’re ready to approach an agent, create a query letter that really succinctly and persuasively encapsulates your idea, why you’re the person to write it, and why the time is now or why that book feels really urgent. 

[04:04] How Involved is the Agent in the Book Writing Process

Agents have to reverse-engineer the manuscript into a 40-page book proposal to sell to a publisher. So if you’ve written the whole book, you might be on the wrong track. It would be more helpful to come up with the idea and a short bio of who you are, what your expertise is, who knows you, what your audience is, and let an agent marinate with all of that. 

Literary agents are going to evaluate what the best concept for a book would be. They look at your audience, who’s coming to you online, and what they’re most interested in. They’re also thinking about what they see is selling on the market, they’re relationships with the publishers, and what editors are specifically looking for. 

Have something very brief, sort of a one-sheet or a query letter about who you are and what your idea is, and then let an agent work with you from there to build it up.

[05:52] What Literary Agents are Looking For

Lucinda is looking for personality traits like work ethic, flexibility, and ability to take feedback. She gives a tough-love approach which can be brutal so she wants to know that someone is ready to work as hard as she is, as she’s also flexible in terms of her ability to take feedback.

Lucinda is at the point of her career where she’s not looking to take on very many authors. So she’s looking for those personality traits that she knows will be a good fit. Beyond that, she’s looking for the things that publishers are looking for such as:

  • A built-in audience
  • Recognition (ex. online visibility, some recognition on Google, or you’ve been featured in the press or you have a TEDTalk or other speaking events that have been publicized, etc.)
  • A really bold or controversial statement or a myth they’re busting or groundbreaking scientific research or a story that has received media or television attention.
There needs to be an existing proof that this person is poised to own a conversation and has credibility that readers are going to look to and respect.

[08:24] Where Authors Struggle

If what the author is writing feels too close to a memoir, especially if that memoir has been well-publicized already in the media, or your entire company knows about it, or if it’s already well-known, then a publisher or an agent is going to be much less excited about it. 

What they’re more excited about are the practical takeaways for people. So if you’re planning for your book proposals, later on, think about:

  • Who is your singular reader? 
  • How is that person motivated?
  • What does he or she need from your book?

If you’re speaking to that one reader on every page, you’ve succeeded. It’s not thinking about your who’s going to read this book or the colleague that you’re trying to impress or those people in your inner circle. 

It’s thinking about the people who need your book most, and what you can offer them.

[13:52] Reasons to Consider the Traditional Publishing Route

1. Book Distribution

Publishers are still producing those books and placing them in bookstores. They are professionally packaging, editing, and bringing whole data science to this along with their years and years of expertise with all kinds of authors. So you’re really getting a whole team and you’re getting all of that support that you wouldn’t get when you’re self-publishing something. 

2. Media Credibility

Major media like the New York Times, NPR, or the morning shows are not looking at self-published books. So if it’s important to you as a business author to have that media recognition, or as a brand and as an entrepreneur to open your doors to a different kind of client, the media is going to be such a vehicle for that. 

[16:06] The Book Is Not a Get Rich Quick Scheme

A book is by no means a get-rich-quick scheme. It could take two years before your book is on shelves. It’s a long and arduous process to get a worthwhile one.

Look at it as the beginning of something else on the backend. This could be what launches your courses or what gives you access to that major speaking client or consulting client because they heard about you on NPR. 

A lot of the time, the money actually follows the book based on the credibility and the review attention that’s received. 

[18:45] The Process of Acquiring an Agent

Do your research. Lucinda recommends Publishers Marketplace, which is the best tool for looking into what kinds of deals agents are doing and what they’re taking on.

This is very much like a marriage so you want to be very careful about who you’re trusting to deliver.

Then write them a very personal note and that you’re writing because you have a really similar book you think they’ll be interested in. Agents respond to that kind of personal attention. 

[22:06] Indicators of What Could Be a Book

A TED talk is an elevator pitch for who you are, what your idea is, and it will continue to sell your book. The book is going to provide the opportunity to do a deep intricate dive and have plenty of takeaways for the reader. But the TED talk is that wonderful framework.

TED talks are what publishers are looking for as an indicator of what could be a book.

Then figure out that secret that you’re ready to unveil in your book. And the teaser exists online – whether that’s the TED Talk, or media or your podcast. Both of those ingredients really, really need to exist. 

With thought leaders and CEOs and entrepreneurs, the inclination is to show ourselves in the best light. But readers want to see you in your darkest light. They want to see how vulnerable you are and how human and relatable you are.

You need to tell human stories. That’s how books get remembered and how they get talked about and how they sell. 

[31:06] Testing Your Book Ideas

Listen to your heart and your instinct. Road-test your ideas. You can publish it on a very popular blog site like Medium or put it as an op-ed or a public forum. Then see what kind of traction or response you’re getting. Then come up with a proposal out of that. You have to have a sense of what your audience wants. 

What makes the right agent is a great listener. It’s knowing what that person is burning to communicate, and then helping them fashion that for the general public or in a way that’s most accessible to readers. 

The secret sauce of all of the book development is knowing how to engage. 

[38:01] Marketing Strategies and Advice to Aspiring Writers

It’s important that an author comes equipped with a strategy for marketing and selling their book as if they were self-publishing. But if you can give yourself the opportunity to have a real team behind you, and your goal is to sell for years and years and to accumulate thousands of readers and media attention, traditional publishing is going to be the route to go.

This is a literary product so you’ve got to tell a story that is visceral and which gets people on a personal level. Keep in mind that publishers and agents are natural skeptics and everyone is buried in email and materials. The way you can break through that muck is to have a story that gets someone personally or a new sort of thinking you’re teaching that a publisher is going to want to put into practice.  

Episode Resources:

Lucinda Literary workshops

Lucinda Literary

Follow Lucinda Literary on:

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Book Mentions:

Susan Peirce Thompson (Bright Line Eating amazon)

Chris Bailey (The Productivity Project)

Cait Flanders (The Year of Less)

Paul Jarvis (Company of One)

Nicola Kraus (The Nanny Diaries)

Publishers Marketplace

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