Book Publishing Shark Tank

by janbking on August 13, 2009

I hope you had a chance to watch the new ABC show Shark Tank this past Sunday evening. If you didn’t, check out the web site where you can read the details and watch past episodes at http://www.abc.go.com/primetime/sharktank. Three entrepreneurs pitched their inventions/business ideas to five successful investors, asking for a certain amount of money in exchange for a certain percentage ownership in the company.

I have prepared many business plans, including for my own publishing company and pitching and negotiating as entrepreneurs is very similar to the process of writing and pitching a book proposal. PUBLISHERS ARE INVESTORS. They just invest in one type of invention – a book. Aspiring authors or self-published authors looking for publishers would do well to consider some of the lessons learned by watching the entrepreneurs on this show. Here are some of the key things to watch for as you view the show:

1. The entrepreneurs were clearly not happy about facing hard questions by the investors. An author or inventor must have a sense of confidence, of course, but the entrepreneurs seemed genuinely shocked that the investors were not on board immediately. More contemptuous and defensive than open to feedback, they clearly thought the investors just did not get it. Wake up call to entrepreneurs (and authors): It is your job to give investors all the information they need to get it. If you do not do this, that is your fault, not theirs. And keep your attitude to yourself. If a publisher gets the idea you are a prima dona or will be difficult to work with and not open to suggestions, just one more check in the “why not to do this book” column. There are scarce dollars and time and expertise at stake here, and they have the right to ask all the questions they need to. Figure out who the investors are, what they usually invest in and gear your presentation accordingly.

2. The entrepreneurs were not prepared enough to make professional presentations to the investors. In some cases they could not answer what were obvious and simple questions and objections – what else is on the market, why is this unique, who is your target audience, why this – why now? As an author or entrepreneur the investor is counting on you to captain the ship and if you do not know the simplest maneuvers, he or she will be justifiably concerned that you haven’t done your homework in making sure this is a marketable idea that is going to work over the long term. If you are an author approaching a publisher, the best thing you can get (other than a contract offer) is feedback from a genuine expert who deals with books in your market every day. Take every piece of feedback seriously. You do not have to make changes, but you better be crystal clear on why you are doing what you are doing and be able to talk about it.

3. The biggest (and most laughable) mistake I saw made by all the entrepreneurs was not to have any sense of the value of what they were selling. Most asked for large sums of money for a very small stake in the ownership. It just doesn’t work that way. Investors generally want controlling interest in their investments so they can get in and make changes if the entrepreneur is over his or her head and in danger of losing it all. The same thing is true with publishers. Publishers typically want to have an exclusive right to the intellectual property in all media, unless you can come up with a compelling reason to limit the contract. Publishers also have the right to create the format for the book, change the title, limit the number of pages and illustrations and more – all because they have the expertise, built up over years of experience, that the author typically does not. As with the entrepreneurs, as an author, you must know the value of what you bring and have reasonable expectations of advances, royalties and other terms. Investors (and publishers) will not be taking on your project unless they think it will make money. It is important they like you and the project because they will be tied to you and they want it to be a good experience for all, but the bottom line is the bottom line. If you cannot demonstrate the profit potential to yourself, then how can you demonstrate it to others?

At the end, this is a plea for aspiring authors (and entrepreneurs) to get outside coaching and help to prepare for these big opportunities. You need objective assistance by someone not afraid to ask the hard questions that your investors may ask, but the market is certain to ask. It may be entertaining to watch entrepreneurs look shocked, get defensive and be embarrassed by the sharks, but it is a very discouraging experience if it happens to you.

If the publishing industry is new to you, it can look like a shark tank. Find help from someone who has worked in the industry, has experience pitching and making these deals and who is able to communicate with you in a way that helps you understand what to expect. If you do your homework, you may just find that the publishing industry is not a shark tank after all. Publishers want to publish good books, even in this economy and even with all the changes in the industry. They are looking for you – now it is your turn to show you are ready or them.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bea December 11, 2009 at 4:55 am

I love this article and one I will send my potential clients to when they don’t want to hear the truth. Many times, especially first-time authors, believe that their book is the best on the market and that they’ll sell millions. They don’t want to hear otherwise, especially when bringing it to an copyeditor for the first time. Thank you for a clear analogy to the publishing business.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: