Thursday, February 16, 2012

Publishing and Private Equity have a lot in common

by Martin Bodenham

I am the CEO of a London-based private equity business. With a full-time day job, writing my debut novel took many months of working late into the night. Finally, last year, I managed to finish the first draft. Then, after months of polishing the manuscript, I began the search for a publisher willing to take on my shiny new financial thriller. I bought a copy of The Writer’s Handbook and researched the market.

image001 (2)What happened? Well, I approached one UK publisher and one in the US. I figured it was better to start small and build from there; sort of learn from the early rejections. However, within twenty four hours of receiving my email submission, I received a request for the full manuscript from the US publisher. Two days later, they issued a contract for the book! When I shared this experience with some of my writing friends, they wanted to know what my secret was. Of course, I didn’t know what the norm was until they told me they had spent months/years sending out submission after submission, and in many cases hearing nothing back.

In private equity, a firm will receive hundreds of investment inquiries a year. Typically, only one or two in a hundred will be financed. The rest of the business plans gather dust until they are sent for shredding. I gather the published hit rate for first time novels is even lower than this. As a reader of investment submissions, I would say three things make the difference and motivate me to take the investment deal further: thegenevaconnection-510 (1)money, market and management. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize, automatically, I went about my search for a publisher with these same three factors in mind. Here’s what I did:

I spelled out in my submission why I thought there was a gap in the market and why I believed there would be a receptive and growing audience for my financial thrillers. I kept it short and related my message to the current financial crisis, giving my book a contemporary impression. This meant the publisher could judge whether or not there was money to be made by taking on my book.

I stressed how I was reasonably well known in the private equity community and how this community was likely to include many buyers of my book. The publisher could see immediately how I would be able to market my book to an existing platform of warm, relevant contacts. Then, I described how the legal thriller genre was crowded compared to books set in the world of finance, and yet money and financial distress are frequent subjects today in news reports and TV documentaries. I was confident there was a market for my novel after many beta readers said it made the world of finance appear exciting and dangerous.

In my submission pack, I included a short bio, concentrating on my background in the financial markets. This enabled the publisher quickly to understand that I knew my subject matter well and that the financial background to the book had credibility.
It wasn’t rocket science. Actually, all I had done was to approach the submission process from the recipient’s perspective and not my own.

I like lists, so I have listed below those key factors which I believe must be included in a publisher submission:
  • Point out how the publisher will make money. You may be wrong, but at least it shows you recognize they are in business to sell books.
  • Highlight a gap/niche in the market which is addressed by your book.
  • Relate that gap to current news/trends to give your writing an up-to-the-minute feel.
  • Stress in your bio only those factors that are relevant to the subject matter of your novel.
  • Finally, don’t give them a reason to say no. Avoid giving them superfluous information, keep it business-like, don’t send them a photo, follow their stated submission format, and don’t pester them for a quick answer.
martin_bodenham_photo_lrgGood luck with your future submissions!
Martin Bodenham is the author of THE GENEVA CONNECTION. Details can be found on:


jenny milchman said...

Excellent approach, Martin, and I'm excited for your exciting financial thriller!

Al Leverone said...

Hey Martin, thanks for sharing your experience and good luck with THE GENEVA CONVENTION...

Sharon Ledwith said...

Martin, you are truly the cream that rose to the top! I spent years trying to obtain an agent or publisher. Little did I know, in those years spent, I was really investing in myself and in my craft. I was actually shocked when our publishing company wanted to see a complete MS! But the realization that hit me the most, was that I was ready. And so were you! Best wishes for an illustrious career in the book biz!

Martin Bodenham said...

Many thanks, Jenny, Al and Sharon.



Liese said...

Some great advice! Best of luck!

Unknown said...

I'm glad that you shared this post with us Martin. The industry has changed whereby the commercial author has to focus on the commercial side of their art. I really appreciated how you shared simple nuggets that publishing houses need in order to justify contracting another author or another book.

michael klincke said...

Good luck with your second career Martin It sounds like you have really done your homework and deserve some success

Martin Bodenham said...

Thanks, Miranda. It seems authors have to be artists, marketers and business people to make any headway today. I make no value judgment about that, but it does leave much less time available for writing.

Sam Thomas said...

Very cool, Martin.

I'd spent the last ten years honing my cover letter for jobs (I was in academia), and found that to be great preparation as well.

You gotta bring to the table every tool you've got!


Martin Bodenham said...

Thanks, Sam. Great website, by the way. Cheers, Martin