Apr 18 2009
Susan Boyle is a 47 year-old, unemployed singer that is on the latest season of Britain’s Got Talent. She is astonishingly talented. Watching her compete in this contest will probably be like seeing Michael Phelps– or an alligator– participate in a high school swimming meet.
I bring up Doyle because I think that first-time novelists and comic book writers, especially young ones, face similar challenges. Doyle doesn’t look like a singing sensation; teens don’t look like they’re worth publishing. Doyle doesn’t have singing credentials; young authors are unpublished and often lack a college degree. When a publisher’s assistant reads through a young author’s query, there are twenty different sirens going off in his head, all screaming “this guy has no talent.”
Your window of opportunity to demonstrate your talent is exceedingly brief. If your query is forgettable, the publisher will reject you without even looking at the sample. If your first page is forgettable, you are done. Etc. If you have any reservoir of freakish talent, tap it sooner rather than later. If your first paragraph is poor, it doesn’t matter how awesome your ending is because no publisher will read that far.
Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to something Simon asked Susan. “Why hasn’t your singing career worked out so far?” That’s similar to the question on every publisher’s mind: “do you have an audience already?” If not, why not? If you were good enough to have an audience, wouldn’t you have one already? Publishers would much rather work with an author that has already established he is good enough to draw readers. Who would want to spend (at least) ten thousand dollars publishing a book by a completely unproven author?
The two easiest ways to build an audience are to either start a blog and/or write for some professional outlet (like a magazine or newspaper). That will help you prove that you are worth reading and that you are already producing at a professional level.