Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Why Selling Your House is Like Selling Your Book

by Annette Gallant
For the past year, my husband and I have been consumed with selling our house. During this time, I’ve also been busy revising my current women’s fiction manuscript, with the goal of selling it to a traditional publisher. What I’ve discovered is neither endeavor is for the fainthearted, and it occurred to me recently that the approach needed to accomplish both is actually quite similar in many ways.

1.       Assess – After we decided to sell our house, my husband and I made a list of everything that needed to be repaired or replaced. We then tried to look at the house the way a potential buyer would. Were there areas that needed de-cluttering?  Were there too many personal items on display? Basically, we made a list of anything that might deter someone from envisioning themselves from living in our house.

   When it came time to revise my rough (very rough!) draft of my contemporary    women’s fiction manuscript, I did the same thing. First, I read it start to finish, checking for pacing and characterization issues, inconsistencies with the plot, while making note of any research I still needed, which was important since my story has a legal and medical component to it. I confess, by the time I was done I wanted to scrap the whole thing and start fresh, but I’ve decided to keep going since I still really like the story and believe it has potential.

2.      Prep – Once we had a clear idea of what needed to be done with the house, we started completing the tasks on our list. Some we did ourselves and some we contracted out. It took months to get everything finished, but in the end the house looked a lot better. Less like our home and more like a place someone else could (hopefully) imagine themselves living in.

In the case of my manuscript, I realized during the prior step that I had started the story in the wrong place. Which meant I needed to delete several scenes and rewrite pretty much the whole beginning. I also discovered that the great ending I thought I had was… well, kind of a wallbanger, so back to my outline I went. As I write this I’m still revising, still rewriting, still tweaking my outline (and yes, occasionally still wondering if I should go on to something shiny and new), and hoping that eventually all the work I’m putting into it will be worth it.  

3.      Polish –  As good as our house looked by the time we finished step two, it still needed some work to get it ready for the market. So we gave it, from top to bottom, a deep clean. (And not just the kind of clean we do when my in-laws comes for a visit!) We also enlisted the help of a home stager, who went through each room and advised us on furniture and art placement. Honestly, her tips made such an improvement to the overall flow and look of the place that I’d never sell a house again without hiring one.

Even though I’m not at this stage yet with my story, I know that like my house, my manuscript will need to sparkle before it gets sent out. It’s not enough for an author to write a compelling story with witty dialogue, sympathetic characters and a gripping plot, but the story also needs to be free from typos and grammatical errors. In both cases competition is fierce, so even a great house or a great story can get overlooked if it’s not presented in the best possible light.

4.      Research – When we were ready to list, my husband and I hired the agent we used to buy our house. We were comfortable dealing with him and liked the years of experience he brought to the table. Getting your house ready for the market is one thing, but pricing it correctly is key, and this is where we relied on him for guidance and information. He showed us comparables (houses in the neighbourhood similar to ours that sold) and from there we agreed on a price.

While self-publishing is a viable option these days (and one I can see myself doing in the future), for my current story I hope to sell it to a traditional publisher. Since it’s a single title and I know nothing about book contracts, I plan to query agents. Having a motivated, knowledgeable agent who gets my writing is very important to me, so I’ve already started this step by researching agents who represent the type of books I write. I also use social media to learn about these agents as people, since I believe it’s important to trust and respect the person I end up signing with (and vice versa).

5.      Show/Submit – Now that our house has been listed, our agent has been busy setting up showings for us. These give potential buyers a chance to view our house. It’s my least favourite part of the process, and although we got lucky right out of the gate, that offer fell through so we’re still waiting to find our perfect buyer. Hopefully that’ll happen soon!

 Once I secure a literary agent (positive thinking!), he or she will be responsible for submitting my manuscript to editors in the hopes of selling it. I can tell you now, I’m already stressed at the idea, which is why step number four is so important. Having an advocate in your corner, whether you’re selling your house or your book, definitely helps when you’re dealing with something as big as these two things.

 There are other similarities too. In the event of a sale, each agent will receive a pre-determined commission. And while the best case scenario for our house would be a bidding war (unlikely since we’re currently in a buyers’ market), for my story, having my book sell at auction (or be optioned for the movie rights) would definitely be the pinnacle. Dare to dream! J

6.      Offer – Once an offer for our house happens, our agent will then negotiate the terms of the contract on our behalf. Some things that will need to be hammered out during this time will be the final sale price, the move out date and anything regarding an inspection.

In the case of my story, my future agent will also need to iron out certain parts of the contract on my behalf, such as determining how much advance I will receive, the royalty rate, plus a myriad of other things that will ensure I’m signing a contract that is fair to me. If he/she ends up getting me a multiple-book deal at the same time, all the better!  

7.      Sold – Once our house sells, there will still be lots to do. Since our plan is to downsize, we’ll be getting rid of lots of stuff and will need to decide what to keep and what to pitch. Our change of address will also need to go out to people, plus all the other details that come with leaving a place.

With regards to my story, if it sells, there is a strong likelihood that I’ll need to do some revisions for my new editor. Once those are completed, I’ll then need to work on marketing my book, especially once the release date nears. (Throwing a fun book launch optional!)

8.      Next step – Unlike the previous times we’ve moved, my husband and I haven’t figured out where we’re moving yet, other than what city. Since we plan to rent for a year or two, we are going to stay at his parents’ place until we find something we like. In some ways this is nerve-wracking, but mostly it’s exciting.

As for my story, if the day comes that this one is sold, I will already be in the process of doing the whole thing over again, because that’s what writers do!

So this is why I think selling your house is like selling your book. Can you think of any other ways they're similar?

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  1. I can think of one other thing, Annette - we make a huge emotional investment in a home and in a story. Which makes it all the more important to use our heads through the process.

    1. You're so right, Jennie. I didn't even think of that aspect. We do invest a lot of emotion into both, which is why it's key to see your house or story as a product if you're trying to sell. Sometimes hard to do when it's so close to your heart.

  2. Excellent analogy, Annette. You make some very good points I hadn't considered. I too had edited the crap out of my first manuscript and wondered if I should just scrap it and start with something new. I am very glad now that I didn't set it aside. Keep at it girl!

    1. Thanks, Kate. This is actually my second completed manuscript (in rough draft)and is more high concept than my first, so I was reluctant to abandon it. I spent a lot of time on my first one and hope to someday figure out a way to make it work.

  3. Annette, great analogy. Hope you find a buyer for your book and your house.

    1. Thanks, Anne. I do too, although once we sell the house it'll be bittersweet as I'll miss this area and everyone. There will definitely be some roads trips back once I'm settled on the Island!

  4. I'm betting that when you actually do send the book out into the world it will have the same great curb appeal as your house!

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Heidi! :)