Finding an Agent and the Importance of Self-Promotion

The Paolinis’ story – a young author chasing a dream, a family who believed in their son’s work, and a self-publishing success–has inspired a new generation of writers.

One of the first questions often asked by folks is how Christopher initially promoted the series without the backing of a major publishing house or an agent. These questions are answered below. A lot has changed since the release of Eragon, and many new opportunities have opened to aspiring authors, especially with the steady advance of e-book technology. Even with these tools, marketing your novel is often just as challenging as putting words to paper, and finding an agent who believes in your work can be key to making it in the book world.

While the family’s experience may differ from yours, we hope that Christopher’s answers will inspire unique and successful ways for you to share your stories in today’s market.

You have heavily promoted both of your books. How important do you think it is for an author to promote his/her work?

I never wanted or intended to promote my books the way I have. My family is very private. Going on the road to give presentations and market a product is something none of us ever aspired to. Quite the opposite. However, when we self-published Eragon—a year before Random House acquired the Inheritance cycle—we had to sell books in order to recoup our investment.

As a result, I traveled all across the US on a home-grown book tour. Dressed in medieval costume, I spoke in schools, bookstores, festivals, and libraries, and did book signings everywhere I could, including parking lots, summer fests, and grocery stores. If I—and my family who helped—hadn’t gone to such lengths, we were going to have to sell our house, move to a city, and all get regular jobs; Random House would never have discovered Eragon; and millions of readers around the world would have never gotten to visit Alagaësia.

Once Random House’s top-notch promotional team took charge of spreading the word about Eragon, I was more than happy to help them, since my experience with the self-published edition helped me to understand just how important their job is, and I was grateful that my family and I no longer had to shoulder that burden entirely by ourselves.

In short, you can write the best book in the world, but unless people know it exists, your masterpiece will remain unread upon some dusty shelf. You should do everything you can to attract attention to your work, for you cannot count on others to help you out of the goodness of their hearts. No one cares more about your work than you do yourself.

How did you find your agent?

It was October 2002 when we were approached by Knopf. My dad and I were in Seattle for the Northwest Bookfest, and doing events in schools and bookstores, when I received an e-mail from my editor-to-be at Knopf. We were cautiously optimistic. Then two days later we were approached by Scholastic with a competing offer. At first we thought that we could negotiate the deal ourselves. But after speaking with the publishers, we changed our minds; we were smart enough to realize that there was a lot we didn’t know about publishing deals, rights, and contracts.

My father, who is active on several online publishing lists, asked the groups for advice on how we should proceed. Should we get an agent?

One of the people who responded to the post recommended Simon Lipskar at Writers House in New York. My dad did what you are never supposed to do: found Simon’s phone number online and called him directly. He got Simon’s voice mail and said, “You don’t know me, but here’s what we’ve done, here’s what my son has done, and we have these two offers. Are you willing to represent us?”

Ten minutes later, Simon called back. “Overnight me the book. If I like it, then YES!” He turned out to be a wonderful choice.
 


 

Readers looking for more information and advice on writing and self-publishing can find additional articles in the Writers Corner.

Mike Macauley

About Mike Macauley

Mike Macauley is the founder of Shurtugal.com, editor in chief of Lytherus.com, and author of The Inheritance Almanac. Mike can be found on Twitter at @mikemacauley.