Monday, September 9, 2013


Position Your Indie Novel for Pickup by the Majors


Evan Marshall & Martha Jewett

We think the indie movement is one of the most exciting developments to hit publishing in a very long time. No longer are traditional publishers preventing writers from getting their novels in front of eager readers. Ironically, these very same traditional publishers are constantly monitoring what’s being indie-published, plucking out the best books to republish on their lists—in some cases, books they once rejected.

For some authors, getting plucked has been a good career move, providing income, exposure and just plain publishing help they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Think Amanda Hocking and E. L. James, to name just two.

Wanna get plucked? Here’s our list of six tips to position your indie fiction so it has the best chances of appealing to the majors.

  1. Develop your platform. Platform is everything to the major publishers. It’s an established fan base they can market to. Celebrities have platforms. For novelists it’s not as easy, but it can be done. Consider posting your fiction on sites such as Wattpad or Textnovel, where you can not only get valuable feedback as you write—think fiction focus group—but also build a base of readers who’ll gladly buy your novel later. E. L. James started out posting her stories on a Twilight fan fiction site. Another way to think of platform is to come up with a strategy that will thrust your book into the limelight. An example of an author who did this is the traditionally published phenomenon Dan Brown, whose first major blockbuster The Da Vinci Code created a firestorm of controversy. Many Christian organizations have denounced the book as an attack on the Roman Catholic Church, which of course only made people want to read it more. We’re not saying Brown set out to create this overexcited reaction. What do you think?

  1. Be prolific. To be blunt, you need to spit out a lot of good books fast. Frequent publishing keeps the buzz and excitement going and builds your base faster than if you put out, say, the book-a-year that usually happens at the major publishing houses. James Patterson and Nora Roberts are two examples that come to mind of authors who are both good and fast. They’re also on the list of the world’s top-earning authors.

  1. Focus narrowly. You’ve probably heard the advice to fiction writers to specialize in one kind of novel and build from there. We feel this advice applies even more strongly to self-publishing, because a narrow focus coupled with frequent publication is a potent combination. Publish all kinds of novels and you’ll be well known for none of them. However . . .

  1. Be daring. By “focus narrowly,” we don’t mean you should aim at one of the traditional fiction genres into which the major publishers insist on jamming every novel they publish. Create your own genre. Write the kind of novel that really excites you, without regard to what kind of novel it is. You’ll coin your own genre. Removing the middlemen (the traditional publishers’ editorial departments) enables you to write what you want and get it in front of readers, the only people whose opinions really matter. Take advantage of this fact. If your books take off, a major publisher will pick you up, your newly minted genre will become a new “official” genre of which you’ll be the “king” or “queen,” and everyone will rush to copy you. The aforementioned E. L. James basically invented the mainstream BDSM novel with her 50 Shades trilogy.

  1. Market cleverly. Research the many strategies used by the most successful indie authors to increase sales. One example is low sample-pricing, or giveaway selling to grab fans. Another is taking advantage of the power in numbers: teaming with other indie authors to create anthologies or “boxed sets” to attract more fans. A client of Evan’s agency, New York Times bestseller Alexandra Ivy, is one of six authors in a boxed set called Wicked Firsts. As of this writing, the set is topping several Kindle bestseller lists. Also hitting the lists is Play Hard, a three-book boxed set just put out by another of Evan’s authors, USA Today bestselling author V. K. Sykes.

  1. Promote tirelessly and creatively. It’s not just about websites anymore. That’s a given. Publishers are even putting a website requirement in their contracts. Ditto for social media. Think out of the literary box. Susan Kirschbaum got a hotel owner to put copies of her novel Who Town in his guest rooms, and a fashion designer to put a copy in swag bags at a fashion show. What might work for your novel? (See also “Develop your platform” above.)

Getting plucked by a major publisher isn’t what every author wants. You lose control and you may even lose money. But writers who do yearn to be signed by a major would do well to consider the tips above.

Evan Marshall is an internationally recognized expert on fiction writing and author of the Hidden Manhattan and Jane Stuart and Winky mystery series. A former book editor, for 30 years he has been a leading literary agent specializing in fiction. The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, which he co-authored with Martha Jewett, is an adaptation of his bestselling The Marshall Plan® series. Read his articles at

Martha Jewett is a memoir advocate, editorial expert with an outstanding track record in book publishing, and co-creator of The Marshall Plan® series, a structured approach to writing fiction and nonfiction which helps writers get great results fast. She is co-author with Evan Marshall of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. Martha worked as a business book editor at major New York publishers including John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Harper. She collaborated with authors to reach the widest possible audience—as developmental editor, acquisitions editor, editorial consultant, ghost writer, and independent literary agent. She was awarded The McGraw-Hill Corporate Award for Editorial Excellence. She blogs about memoir writing at





Ellen Brickley said...

Really interesting post with lots of things to think about!

I have a question about marketing/platforms. Is there a particular element of marketing that you think is most effective? Many people sing the praises of blogging, but fist you must attract readers to your blog. The majority seem to favour Twitter, but tweets are so fleeting! I guess each outlet has its pros and cons, but is there a marketing step you think all writers *need* to take?

elaing8 said...

What is the most important thing (a writer without an agent) should watch for in her contract as a danger sign?

Cecile Smutty Hussy said...

What is the first thing you look for in a manuscript that tells you a writer is ready to become a published author, and what tells you they are not ready to become a published author?

Martha Jewett & Evan Marshall said...


We would say the worst danger sign is when the contract says the publisher will own the book. The publisher should never own the book. You are licensing publication rights to your book--rights which will eventually revert to you.

Also beware of a flat fee rather than a royalty based on sales.

And (need we say it?) if a publisher asks YOU for money, run fast in the other direction.


Martha & Evan

Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett said...


We agree with you about blogging. If you don't already have a large platform for your blog when your book comes out, the blog won't do you much good.

There's no one thing we recommend doing to market your book. Rather, we recommend doing things that all DO one thing: chase after the readers who will want to buy your book!

This means approaching websites and blogs dedicated to the kind of book you've written, and offering a guest blog post, a Q&A, or a copy for review.

If your book is for sale on Amazon, build up your Author's Page.

Develop a presence on Twitter and Facebook, and post about your book up to and following publication. Raffle free copies to get the buzz going.

If you are indie publishing and your book is available as an e-book, consider offering it for free for a limited time when it is first published, and then offering a low promo price. This technique is extremely effective for the traditional publishers.

At your website or blog, make sure you are always collecting email addresses. When your book is about to come out, send an email blast to your list, with links back to your website, where they can read background pieces and an excerpt, and of course see your cover.

If you are writing in a series, be sure to play this up, both on your site/blog and on sites/blogs where you appear.

Always ask yourself: Does this marketing activity chase my readers? If not, forget it.


Evan and Martha

Martha Jewett and Evan Marshall said...


This is a difficult question, because there isn't really any one thing we look for in a manuscript, but rather a mastery than comprises a number of things. But if we had to name two things, they would be (1) a story idea that is fresh and original for the genre, and (2) writing that is primarily action and dialogue, with background offered sparingly and unobtrusively.


Martha and Evan

Houston A.W. Knight said...

WOW...super great answers here! Awesome answer to great questions!