How to Get Your Book Published with Abigail Bergstrom
Abigail Bergstrom is a literary agent, author and publishing consultant. She has worked in publishing for over a decade and is an expert in navigating the digital and print segment, speaking at international conferences on the subject.
She has edited some of Britain’s most prominent feminist voices, was nominated for Literary Agent of the Year in 2020 and listed in The Bookseller 150 for having put over 30 titles on the bestseller list. and built some of the biggest book brands today.
In short, dear reader, she is a multi-hyphenated woman. Not only does she have a wealth of publishing knowledge from her time at Gleam Titles and becoming her own publishing consulting firm Bergstrom Studio, she also knows a thing or two about what it takes. needed to be an author, recently published her book. first novel What a shame.
We chatted with Abi to talk about everything about writing and publishing. From this year’s book trends and trends to creating her own bestseller, how to find the right agency for you, and the recipe for that elusive book deal, if you want it. Dive into the book industry and see your novel flooding the shelves of your local Waterstones, Abi is always available to provide some invaluable advice on how to get your voice across.
Congratulations on the first novel What A Shame – this month’s read book club Zoella! How does it feel to be a published author after working across the industry as a literary agent, editor, and publishing consultant?
It feels great, and I find myself in a pretty unique position to have a 360-degree experience of the publishing process as a published agent, editor, and author. I think each perspective has helped me do my work better and brought a bit more informational lens to the work I do in these different capacities. But as a writer you work on a book for such a long time and in such solitude that it is wonderful to finally have someone read and contact me about it. Shame on how.
You chose a confusing title for your novel. What is the process of deciding on a title, and does the author always have the final say?
The title came last and it was called many other things before that What a shame. I love this title but I can’t credit, my great friend who happens to be a publisher came up with it, Romilly Morgan. She was the first person to read the book and guided me through the difficulty involved in getting your work out into the world, along with my agent and editor. I think the best trophies always come through collaboration but they are often hard to win and take time to work out.
Shame is the focus of your novel – what prompted you to write about it?
I think all women live with shame, it’s something that society embeds in us without us even knowing it. Most of us don’t notice the real weight and limitations it causes.Abi Bergstrom
I wanted the book to be an dig into the female psyche and explore the process of stifling the shame wrapped up in the female experience. Because I think all women live with shame, it’s something that society embeds in us without us even knowing it. Most of us don’t notice the real weight and limitations it causes. Brene Brown says that “the shame that springs from her power is unspeakable” and that she hates having words around her – so what if a whole book were written about her? It seems to me that much of what makes us feel isolated from each other as women is a shame, it’s in fact a shared experience. When that comes to light, it can make a very meaningful connection.
We’d love to know that your book was first submitted under a pseudonym. What are your thoughts behind that and why did you choose to submit it without your real name at the top of the manuscript?
Well, I’ve been in the industry for over a decade and I know all of the fiction editors for the UK’s top publishers – most of them are very good. So I suppose there are three things, (i) I want someone to deliver the book based solely on the text and the story, not on who I am. (ii) I would like to be able to look face-to-face with the aspiring authors I consult with and be able to tell them I did it myself, I went through the process of securing an agent and brought publishers in the way they needed and I didn’t use any shortcuts. (iii) And finally, I suppose there’s an element of protection put into it, if nobody wanted the book I wouldn’t feel exposed.
So that’s the million dollar question but: What makes a great book and what makes a book publishable?
If there was a straight answer to that, I would have bottled it and sold it already. Do not have one. Books are great for many reasons – the list of things that make them so brilliant, has no end. But some nothing special books are published and there is a huge amount of marketing spend behind them and that’s okay.
That’s why my job as a publishing consultant exists, to guide writers through these difficult waters and help deliver their ideas and opportunities to success. the best work possible. Abi Bergstrom
Others are simply amazing but they don’t hit or can do, but fail to catch that wave and reach their audience in this very noisy, overcrowded scene. That’s why my job as a publishing consultant exists, to guide writers through these difficult waters and help deliver their ideas and opportunities to success. the best work possible. But there are never any guarantees. Needless to say, a lot of great books go unpublished and a lot of mediocre books secure a publisher. All the elements that must be in place for a book to thrive and find its place in the world, and it’s a spell that’s hard to cast and attracts many people.
In your experience, what are some of the most common reasons for book rejections?
In terms of publisher feedback, it usually falls into one of two categories: it’s done, or we’ve got something on our list that looks a lot like we’re about to publish. Or, it hasn’t been done and there really isn’t anything on the market to compare it to, i.e. a framework for the publisher sales teams to put around a text to help it. develop in the market. There’s a great point when it comes to trends, genres, and reader behavior. Success in this business depends a lot on timing.
What is the role of a literary agent and do people need one? What is the benefit of using that route?
I’m a literary agent and I have one, so I think that says a lot and tells you all you need to know. A literary agent works with a writer from initial concept to IP development to deal negotiation and managing all the ancillary rights surrounding a book (podcast, TV/FILM, merchandise, etc) and they help writers manage the process from purchase to publication. I think an agent’s level of market knowledge and expertise is invaluable to the process of publishing a book.
How do you make your sales pitch stand out from the crowd? What are you looking for when you receive unsolicited submissions?
A new voice, someone saying something different, or approaching a topic in a way I’ve never seen or read before. I like theories and concepts written in personal writing. Bright ideas and bold new voices. I think a bridge would help. If two creative projects merged to form your book idea and its writing style or content, what would the two be like? The answer could include other books, authors, or even a TV show about a time in history. As for fiction, I like Irish writers like Rooney, Megan Nolan and Naoise Dolan but would love to see stories of that kind come from writers in different parts of the UK with slightly different accents and take – Wales, Scotland, Northern, etc.
What’s big in the book space right now? What are publishers buying and buzzing about?
Publishers seem to be looking for ‘fun’. After a pandemic and now facing a terrifying war between Russia and Ukraine, readers are looking for some respite. This is the right time for books when we all want to escape our reality and the rapidly changing social media.
How important is the role of social media in building your audience and creating space for your voice and presence as an aspiring author?
It is extremely important in the sense that publishers are more and more concerned with platforms and communities. I don’t think the numbers need to be as big as people think, but showing that you’re having a conversation or that you’re creating your own network in your own little internet corner says a lot. . I think publishers are easing the pressure of the handles and numbers on social, and are looking more at engagement, seeing social media as a launch pad for smart marketing.
What advice do you have for those who have yet to find an agent?
Do not give up!
I sent my book to multiple agents and only one returned, but she read it overnight and wanted to call the next day. It’s an incredibly competitive space, just find someone with a vision for your book.
How much content does the agency/publisher need to see or does it differ depending on the publisher/genre you’re writing for? Do you need to have a complete draft before you start pitching?
If you are writing a novel, you need a complete draft while if you are writing non-fiction, you only need a proposal to authorize or choose to purchase your book. Studio Bergstrom provide more information and services on this on how to get started.
How long can it take from signing a book deal to getting it published?
It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years – no two books have the same publishing journey. I wrote about 11 or 12 drafts of my novel. People think that writing a book is difficult because you are writing a ENTIRE book. But actually, it’s hard because at least you need to write 7 or 8 versions of that book.
How can emerging authors learn to handle rejection letters?
I’ve never been to my book club, and everyone in the room loves the same book – you’ll never be EVERYONE’s cup of cocoa, that’s finding ONE person who has it. Check out your favorite writer’s Goodreads page and see the varied responses even the best writers get. Just because someone rejects or doesn’t like your book doesn’t mean others won’t love it and think it’s one of the best books they’ve read.
What does your writing process or ritual look like when you write What A Shame?
I was running a literature company at the time and representing almost 50 international authors, so I only had weekends to write. My advice is to start small, start slowly. Set aside a few hours for yourself if you can and don’t put too much pressure on that time. Only write. Enjoy. Sooner or later, you’ll be surprised by how many words are on the page and by how the story is starting to take shape.
What helped you make the leap from author to author? Is there anything about the writing process that surprises you?
That it’s addictive, writing a book did one thing for me: it made me want to write more.