Major huzzah to our beautiful author, Heidi Cave, with her TV interview on Global BC in Canada. She is the perfect example of why we don’t act like idiots behind the wheel. Slow down, relax, and enjoy the ride. Be a survivor, not a victim.
I’ve come across a number of book proposals that appear to be at odds between the book’s focus and the author’s platform and/or promotion plan, and the result is usually a rejection letter. It’s like in math, and 2 + 2 has gotta equal 4.
What do I mean by that? Let’s say your book is about knitting, and your premise is that knitting is a great therapy tool for easing tension and phobias. However, if you’re not a well-known name within the knitting community and your promo plan doesn’t include some serious contact with therapy groups, or well-attended classes where you’re teaching people to knit, then I’m going to have a harder time taking your book’s premise seriously.
Anyone can have a fabulous premise/focus/intent for their book, but the promo plan and author platform must support it. Otherwise, I’m going to have a much harder time promoting your book. Imagine if said knitter sits at home knitting toilet paper doilies or pickling eggs, who is she going to talk to? She’s not in touch with any audience, so this makes promoting her book an uphill battle.
Let’s say she works in a bank, and her idea for promotion is to give a talk to her bank mates during their lunch break. That’s also a misfire because it’s a gamble that her fellow bankers will be interested in her book. The genre buyers at bookstores would look at my sales team like they had just gulped down engine grease.
“How is she in touch with her intended readership?” they’d ask. And they’d be right.
Publishers promote and sell memoirs based on the author’s platform and targeted promotion plan. It’s not how many people you know, but how many people know you for your book’s topic. You could be the cop who writes true crime, or the partner of someone who had a heart attack – the clincher here is how you put your experiences to work in the public eye – and then base your platform and promo plan around it.
Take a look at your book proposal (for info on how to write one, click here). These are the #1 elements I see in a promo plan in book proposals that make me want to toss myself in front of a herd of rabid camels:
- I’m available for book signing events
- I have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and a blog
- I have public speaking experience
Let’s take ‘em one at a time.
I’m available for book signing events
This is a tepid thing to say in a book proposal. You’re available? Well, I should certainly hope so. What you should be asking yourself is how and why would a bookstore want to host your signing. Do you have the ability to draw people to your signing event? Which gets us back to your platform. How many people know you? We schedule book events for our authors, and I can tell you that bookstores aren’t as willing to host author events unless they feel confident the author will bring in paying customers.
I have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and a blog
This has never flipped up my Victoria Secrets because I have yet to see an uptick in sales because someone started a blog, FB page, or spent hours tweeting. Establishing a following takes a long time, so if you’re waiting for a book deal to start that blog, then you’re already too late.
Showing your pretty face sells books. Whether it’s on radio, TV, print, or at a live event, people get excited seeing and hearing the author. Very few authors know how to effectively utilize the magic of social media, so their efforts don’t yield a lot of result. Unless I see that your blog is wildly active with huge numbers of comments and participation, I’m not easily impressed.
Call me an idiot (not really, please), but Twitter eludes me. Every time I visit it, I see tons of tweets flying by, and I wonder if anyone is listening. Unless you happen to be in the Twitterverse at that moment, all those tweets that happened hours ago have passed you by as well. It’s like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Unless you cook with Elmer’s Glue, the experience will slide down the wall.
I have public speaking experience
This is nice, but what does that mean? I have experience filling my car up with gas, but this doesn’t make me a mechanic. What is your speaking experience, and how does it relate to your book? Do you do seminars, or warm up the gang waiting for the train with dirty jokes? Do you speak for a living, or does this equate to calling the kids in for dinner? See, I can’t use this is information because it doesn’t tell me anything. If you’re vague, then I have to wonder why.
So in the end, it’s important to be focused and deliberate with your promotion plan and establishing your platform. If you’re a soccer coach who wrote a manuscript about the joys of baking as a stress reliever, then you have some serious work to do so editors will jump on their desks and scream, “We got us a live one!!!”
The idea is to make yourself an attractive target that showcases you and your book in the best light.
I never thought I’d see the day where my daily shoes would be *Sorels. I’m a SoCal native, and my shoe choices leaned more heavily toward Rainbows or deck shoes. Socks? Phht, we don’t need no steekin’ socks. It’s SoCal, baby.
Then I moved to Pittsburgh, and the idea of wearing Rainbows or deck shoes became pure fantasy during the months of October-March/April. Had Baby Daughter not spent a year in Boston, I wouldn’t have known about proper footwear in frigid weather because I hadn’t planned for it. I know squat all about cold climes, and believe me, it’s all about the planning, baby.
The same can be said about your writing career. Most writers get an amazing idea and increase their BIC index (Butt In Chair) to 24 hours a day in order to bang out their tomes. But at some point, you need to take stock of what to do after writing The End. This is where reality slaps you upside the head and you realize This. Is. A. Business. And successful businesses take planning.
So you need to ask yourself, “Am I a Rainbow gal walking around in Sorel Land?” If so, then you might want to consider these points:
I reject many manuscripts because the authors didn’t do any research. I remember reading one story where the main character was taking a romantic moonlight stroll along the Amazon River. I nearly broke a rib laughing. I’ve been to the Amazon and the last thing anyone (with a brain, that is) would do is stroll outside at night. Not unless they were interested in seeing how long it took for the mosquitoes to drain your blood supply. Research, baby.
If your character has MS, then you better research the snot out of MS because you’d be amazed at how vital and active many MS patients are.
Stamp this on your forehead: If you don’t research, then you haven’t planned for success.
The same goes for writing. My last post said something about authors whose writing skills are still at the remedial stage, then they don’t need a good editor, they need to learn those skills. And it’s true. You can have a great story idea, but if you write like you barely made it out of 8th grade, then no reputable editor will take pity on you and offer you a contract. They’ll kick you to the curb. Quickly.
Being an expert in your craft should take precedence over your desire to be published. Sadly, I see the opposite in large quantities.
Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t learned how to write, then you haven’t planned for success.
I know I beat this particular drum to the point of excess, but it bears constant comment because not all editors are created equally, as I mentioned in a recent post. If your book is poorly edited, then you are going to suffer the ultimate humiliation of having everyone tell you how many mistakes they found.
You must, must, must be absolutely certain of the kinds of editors your publisher hires. Do they have experience from solid houses, or did they serve a small internship and were set loose to wreak havoc on unsuspecting books? Be especially aware with e-publishing because these houses oftentimes have a much smaller operating budget, and can’t afford to hire experienced editors. Keep your focus on those who have been in business for at least 2-3 years.
Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t checked out potential publishers’ editors, then you haven’t planned for success.
Before you begin the query process, you need to have a dialog with yourself about your writing intent. Are you a hobbyist who’s simply having some fun? If so, then you should probably take trade presses off your list because they’re not looking for hobbyists. They’re looking for career writers. Instead, you could think about slapping it up on CreateSpace and see what happens. But the idea is that you have a realistic vision of your writing and arrange your publisher query list accordingly.
Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t analyzed your writing career, then you haven’t planned for success.
Marketing/Promotion – You vs. Your Publisher
With the advent of DIY publishing and the need to self-promote, many authors have forgotten a very important element in the equation; the publisher. They have a responsibility to you as well, besides assuming production costs. You need to find out exactly what they will do for your book once it comes out.
Do they send out physical ARCs to media and reviewers? Do they schedule signing events and interviews? Do they provide you with free books? Do they take out ads? Marketing and promotion differs for each house, and you need to know which houses will best enhance your exposure to the marketplace.
Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t found out what publishers do to promote your book, then you haven’t planned for success.
You may love your editor like you love Twinkies, but if they can’t get your book out to the marketplace, then all the niceness in the world won’t make up for the fact that your book is circling the drain.
When I talk about distribution, I’m not talking about Ingram and Baker & Taylor. They are warehouse distributors who simply fulfill orders placed by bookstores and libraries. I’m talking about independent distributors who have sales teams that pitch your catalog to genre buyers. It means those publishers have store placement.
The same goes for e-publishers. I’ve run across many who only sell their e-books on their own sites. In cases like this, you need to ask yourself what is driving the marketplace to their website. In most cases, nothing. And so your e-book circles the drain. Your e-publisher should have your e-book available in every digital online site in order to increase your footprint.
Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t asked potential publishers about distribution, then you haven’t planned for success.
In short, if you truly honor yourself and your writing, then you must plan for your success. You can’t leave it up to the four winds or chance because the streets are littered with broken-hearted authors whose new mantra is, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.”
*Sorels are deliciously warm and waterproof bundles o’ love. You can slog through rain or snow, and your tootsies will remain in Nirvana.
Now all you need is a spare piano…
Three of our brilliant authors had wonderful radio interviews the other day, and I thought I’d share.
Brian and Patty O’Mara-Croft experienced the worst nightmare a couple madly in love could ever face; Patty’s widow-maker heart attack. Their fabulous book PULSE OF MY HEART is a testimony to a love that can overcome horrible odds, role reversal, and the frightening world of conflicting medical advice. Through all the horrors and pain, Brian and Patty’s love and wicked humor not only maintained their sanity, but increased their love and appreciation for the ability to step up to the plate. Le sigh…I love a good love story, don’t you? You can listen to Brian and Patty’s interview here.
Father Joe Bradley, author of THE FOUR GIFTS, puts to rest the myth that our lives are cemented in granite, and that we never get a second, third, or fourth chance at happiness. This is a man who battled addiction (even during his beginning days in seminary), and congenital heart failure that killed his beloved father many years earlier. This book is about reaching rock bottom and loving yourself enough to seek help and make positive changes in your life in order to save your life. Father Joe can be found giving amazing rock-it talks to audiences in San Francisco, and points beyond. Look out world, Father Joe has a mission to make people happy. You can listen to Father Joe’s interview here.
We all remember the story of Goldilocks and the whole “this bed is too hard, this one’s too soft, ahhh…this one is just right.” Well, a book deal is a lot like that. One may be feel too right, the other, all wrong, and the other is absolutely perfect. In order to figure out which book deal is juuuust right for you, it’s important to consider some factors that you may not be aware of.
For this post, I’m going to use Big Gun publishing, commercial trade press publishing, and e-book publishing. The golden thread that weaves its way through all types of publishing is MONEY. If you gots it, the more you can spends it on cool things like advances, editing, production costs, marketing/promotion.
Traditionally, paying an advance allowed the author to survive while writing his book. So the higher the advance, the more the publisher believed in the book’s potential. Along the way, the whole advance idea exploded into Mr. Stay-Puft marshmallow man in Ghost Busters. The reasons are many, but the end result is advances have often exceeded the publisher’s ability to earn back what they’d paid out, which resulted in many editors and sales people being handed their walking papers.
Big Guns: They still pay out far larger advances than their smaller counterparts, but they pay them out to fewer authors because their cash flow isn’t what it used to be. They are beholden to their corporate leaders, and those books have to make a ton of scratch to continue feeding the corporate monster.
A giant payday is a lovely thing for the first-time author, but it’s also wrought with the demand to perform – a daunting task. If you don’t earn out, your Big Gun publisher may not be so happy, and you could be the one out on the sidewalk. As all publishers do (or should), they do a P&L statement and weigh the risks. Most of the time, it’s a matter of Pay It and Forget It…meaning that the advance is the only bit of money some authors may ever see because their books don’t earn out. In short, Big Guns, on average, are learning to be smarter because they’ve seen fellow Big Guns go bankrupt.
Trade Press: Used to be called Indie publishing, but the self publishers sorta stole the verbiage, so Trade Press is used to define publishers who aren’t owned by corporations. They’re independent. And since they’re independent, they have to work smart. They can’t spend more than they have, and they have to feel confident the authors they sign will sell well. To that extent, advances are lower because they are more risk averse than their corporate brethren. If the book sells well, the author will make big bucks via royalties.
E-publishers: Since the digital technology has exploded, we’ve seen an explosion of e-publishers because it’s cheap and there is little risk…which means they don’t need a lot of money or experience to hang out their shingle. It’s not unusual for e-publishers to pay zero advances. Many authors who sign with e-publishers are new writers, and are willing to accept these terms.
For the print trade, there are a lot of production costs associated with publishing a book, so the more you gots, the better the product – or so the saying goes. The standard costs are wrapped up in editing, cover design, layout, interior design, sales and promotion planning, print runs and other stuff I’m sure I’m forgetting at the moment.
Big Guns: They gots money, so they can afford just about anything they want, depending on where the book fits on their list. If it’s a top list book, they’ll pull out the corks. If it’s midlist or lower, they will put less resources into the project, which translates to lesser effort to promote and market your book. That isn’t to say it won’t get out there because it certainly will. But it also depends on the genre and how it syncs up with their current lineup.
Many of my midlist author friends are very happy with their publishers, and a few have been sorely disappointed…and it all went back to genre. Some sell better than others, and the Big Gun is going to put more money into what’s selling better.
An unhappy byproduct to print runs is returns, and it’s the bane of every publisher. The odd thing about the Big Gun is that they’re all about shipping books out to market, and they don’t care as much about returns. Yah, sounds insane, and there is a huge explanation for this, but it doesn’t play into this discussion. Suffice it to say that if your editor says they’re printing up X number of books, you should ask how many they plan on shipping.
Trade Press: Their budgets are smaller, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put out amazing books, and sell a ton of them. They have great cover designers, interior designers, and do a great job at layout. They meet with their sales teams to discuss marketing and promotion. For example, we are distributed by Consortium/Perseus, and I just had my sales meeting with them yesterday, where we discussed everything; titles, cover design, marketing and promotion strategy, and print run forecasts.
Depending on the book and genre, print runs aren’t as large as the Big Guns. Where they might do a print of 15k-20k units, the trade press might do 5k-8k units because they want to avoid returns. Books that are returned can’t be sent out again because they often look like they were repackaged by bipolar baboons…so that’s a loss.
Conversely, if the book explodes, it takes a week to get another run done (provided you have a very good relationship with your printer). It’s all about working smart and conserving costs, so those resources can be utilized with promotion.
E-publishing: Production costs are, on average, lower because the e-publisher doesn’t have as large of an operating budget. They can’t afford to shoulder too much risk, so they need to conserve costs as much as they can. They don’t have print run costs, and their promotion costs are lower because everything is done digitally. For instance, we send out around 100 books to reviewers and media, so we not only have the printing costs, but the mailing costs, which have gone through the roof.
Since there is no physical copy, traditional media is less likely to pay much attention to the book, so this is an important consideration to factor in.
Editing is part of the production costs, but I wanted to talk about this specific issue because it’s the blood and guts to any publishing company. You can slap on a gorgeous cover and market a book ’til the cows come home, but if a book is poorly edited, you ain’t got nuthin’. Do this on a consistent basis, and your publisher will be known as a dud…and so will you, by association.
Big Guns: It’s hard to find fault because they are the Great Yoda of the publishing industry. Since they were here first, it’s natural that they would have the greatest stable of fabulous editors.
But the Big Guns have a problem that others don’t, and that’s turnaround time. They still publish more books than everyone else, which means they have a lot of authors in the queue waiting their turn to be edited. The general waiting time for a book to be published is two years. And because they have so many books to publish, editors need to work very quickly.
I have some editor buds who work at the big houses and are exhausted at the lack of time. More than one bud has told me that books simply went out that weren’t editorially ready, but they had to meet the schedule. Ouch.
Trade Press: Trade presses are smaller, they specialize in one genre, and their publishing schedule isn’t nearly as frenetic (on average). But they still need great editors. With the Great Publishing Implosion a number of years, we saw many editors walking the streets looking for an editing gig. Many have hired out to the trade presses on an independent contractor basis, provided they will pay them what they’re worth.
Without great editing, a book is nothing more than an empty suit, so trade presses make sure to have nothing but the best. Their business depends on having strong books, and experienced editors are worth every dime.
E-publishing: Here’s where things get really odd. Since e-publishers, on average, have a much smaller operating budget, they can’t hire the most experienced editors. Nor can they pay them a standard editing fee. Many editors at many e-publishing houses are paid a percentage of sales on the books they edited.
Not only is this incredible, but it forces the editor to shoulder the same kind of risks the publisher is…yet they’re not an owner. If a book they edited doesn’t sell well, that editor is going to make peanuts, and it’s not their fault.
Who would agree to such an arrangement? And this is the rub. Many e-publishing editors have little to no experience in the industry. Invariably, they are writers, which is fine, but just because you write doesn’t mean you understand editing. It’s an art.
So what is the quality of these editors? I’m sure they’re trying their very best, but that shouldn’t be a standard by which someone should be hired. And what about the attrition factor? You can’t ask someone to work for peanuts and expect them to remain loyal. What if they simply decide to just stop editing a book, midstream? Since many e-published authors are new, they don’t know this is out of the ordinary.
Sales are the lifeblood of publishers. We needs ‘em to keep errant beagles in designer chewie bones. So how do the various kinds of publishers get sales?
Big Guns: They have a well-oiled machine, so their books (for the most part) are going to be shelved in bookstores. They have teams of sales people who put together a catalog of their upcoming releases and pitch to store buyers at the corporate and local levels. They have teams who deal with national accounts like Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, etc. They send out advance copies to the media for review and publicity purposes. This is all done to make people aware your book exists.
This works well for many of their authors, but it depends on genre and what’s hot. The Self-Help book, or midlist mainstream fiction may not get the attention that a Young Adult. The big guns have a lot of mouths to feed, and they can’t feed them all.
Trade Press: Since trade presses have a smaller lineup each season, they have more time to dedicate to each title. Since they specialize in a genre, chances are strong they have established relationships with media, which helps a great deal during promotion. For example, I had a radio host call me a couple weeks ago asking to interview a couple of our authors because he so enjoyed interviewing one of authors last year. If you have these guys in your Rolodex, it’ll go a long way to getting the word out to your author’s intended readership.
Since most trade presses are too small to have their own sales team that have enough clout to get the attention of the book buyers, they have agreements with distributors, who have sales and promo teams – and they do the same things the Big Guns do. Their experience and long reach go a long way to getting books shelved in stores.
If you’re considering a trade press, make sure you know who distributes them. If they say Ingram and Baker & Taylor, they’re telling you a hot one because those companies are wholesale distributors, meaning they fulfill orders placed by bookstores or libraries. They don’t have sales teams who pitch their catalog to store buyers.
E-book Publishers: Sales are online. Period. There is no other venue where your book will appear. I’ve noticed that the successful e-publishers do a great job at branding their company, so a book will sell well because of the publisher’s name recognition – not necessarily the book. This means that if you’re with a brand new e-publisher, you may not be happy with your sales. Simply put, no one knows who they are.
To date, I haven’t been able to nail an e-publisher down as to the specifics of their promotional practices, so I’m still, sadly, in the dark about how they promote individual titles. One thing I do know is that the successful ones publish a specific genre. Romance still seems to be the leader among successful e-publishers, so I’d be leery about an e-publisher who publishes all genres. They would have to have the editing expertise for all those genres, and I just don’t believe they have it…just as I don’t believe the small trade press can do justice to all genres, and they need to specialize.
How Long You Been ‘Round?
This is the most important thing to consider. How long has the publisher you’re considering querying been in business? My suggestion is to wait until a company is at least two years old because that’s about how long it takes for the warts to show, and for them to run out of their seed money.
No matter what publishing option you choose, you gotta channel Goldilocks. Their porridge can’t be too hot or too cold. It’s gotta be just right, which means that they have sufficient working capital, experienced editors, good distribution, healthy sales, and are adept at selling your genre.
At some point in your query process, someone may ask you for a list of comparative titles (preferably three). You eyes will roll back in your head, and you’ll scream to the heavens. “Argh, I just wanna write. I don’t wanna be hassled with the business end.” There are few who have that luxury, so sticking your heels into quicksand isn’t going to help your writing career. It would be better to be ready, right?
The big question is this: Why do I need title comps?
A Frame of Reference
Sales teams and genre buyers need a frame of reference so they know how and where a book fits on store shelves, and how to appeal to readers. Sales teams can tell genre buyers, “Readers of that 2011 literary phenom, Invert Your Colon, will be attracted to this title, Eating Lawn Clippings: Live Healthy and Moo Like a Cow because it delves further into the health benefits of eating a freshly mowed lawn.”
Instantly, the genre buyers understand the book’s classification of where to shelve the book, and whether they want to issue an invoice for purchase. Now, of course, your publisher’s sales guys will do all the heavy lifting in terms of knowing how to pitch your book, but it’s really helpful if you, the author, are in touch with books that are comparable to yours. It’s a building block for us.
Just yesterday, I contacted one of our authors for title comps. Sure, I can get them myself – and I have – but his subject matter breaks new ground, so I’m naturally interested to get his feedback on the books he feels somewhat resemble his book, as a way of helping our sales and marketing folks.
Additionally, having a comparative title on the tip of your tongue helps when talking to readers. Imagine you’re sitting in a bar (easy if you’re the beagle). Someone asks about your book, so you give the general quickie synopsis because you’re a caring person and don’t want to put anyone to sleep. You can see the person looking a bit puzzled, as if he still doesn’t quite get what your book is about. But if you say, “My book has a similar theme to Gone Girl,” then a light bulb will turn on, and he’ll ask for more details and probably buy you a drink because you’re so fabulous. And that’s what you want; an invitation to talk more about your book.
Attracting an Audience
Title comps are a good way of attracting an audience, just like the bar example I gave above. Most writers read the genre they write, so they should have a strong idea of the titles that closely compare to their own.
It’s helpful when an author writes in their query letter, “Readers of Dancing With Sexy Toes will be attracted to my book, My Three Left Feet, because it deals with the same issues of foot fetishes, which was all the talk in America in 2012. Where My Three Left Feet changes course is when Merry, the main character, challenges today’s zeitgeist that dictates foot fetishes are abnormal and strange, by pursuing a high-fashion life of modeling foot apparel, thus bringing foot fetishes into the mainstream. “
This sort of thing is helpful to me because the author identifies a popular storyline, then tells me how she added her own twist. This tells me a couple things:
- She knows her competition
- She understands that she has something unique, and not cookie-cutter. This helps me decide whether I think this particular storyline will sell. And if I want to buy it, she’s helped me out by highlighting the selling points…which will attract an audience.
But I don’t wanna be pigeonholed!”
Yes, it’s true; by committing to comparative titles, you’re staking a claim as to what your book is, which can be tough if you’ve written something that’s a bit of a crossover. My suggestion would be to pick a couple title comps in both genres and give the same short comparison as I did in the above example.
Another reason writers don’t want to be pigeonholed is because they want to believe their books are for everyone. In truth, there are very few books that appeal to everyone. Furthermore, I don’t have “everyone” in my Rolodex, and our sales guys don’t, either. If you fit this description, then you need to tell yourself the truth; your book has a particular audience…who are they; and what books inspired you to write yours? How do they compare and contrast?
Don’t Get Caught With Your Vickie Secrets Down Around Your Ankles
I listened to a radio host interview a new author about her book. The radio host brought up a well-known title that ran along the same line as hers, and he wanted to talk about those elements. To my horror, the author coughed and hemmed, and finally said, “I didn’t read that book.” BoOm. End of interview. The radio host was caught flat-footed, and the whole thing went downhill from there. I nearly drove off the road because this was such a noob mistake.
You gotta, gotta, gotta know your competition and be able to speak intelligently to the contrasts and comparisons. Being caught with your Victoria Secrets down during an interview is a sure-fire way to never be invited back.
What Comps Do I Use?
They need to be current – preferably nothing older than three years. I’ve seen title comps that were written back in the 60s and were classics. Do you really believe your book can hold a candle to a classic? It may be that it can, but I advise letting others (like book reviewers) make that comparison…it’ll have far more weight.
Since you are well-read (or you better be!), it should be easy to figure out which books relate to yours. I groan loudly when authors tell me nothing compares to their book. Oh puhleeze…yes it does. Even if you’ve combined two genres, like Twilight, you still have comparisons. It’s a cop-out to use this lame excuse, and it makes me think that you’re not well-read. And if you’re not well-read in your genre, then chances are that you won’t be very affective at promoting your book…at least that’s been my experience with nonfiction.
So if you’re not up to date on books in your genre, get thee to a library post haste, and get cracking.
Ok, I hear you simpering out there. You’re busy writing and don’t have time to read. That’s like a surgeon saying he’s too busy operating to bone up on current techniques. You read because this is your art, and it behooves you to be an expert in your art. You read because it’s how you figure out if you have a story.
Case in point, an author queried me years ago about a book on cancer. Her query didn’t offer any earth-shattering stuff that hadn’t been written about many times before. I asked her what kind of reading she had done to know whether she had something new to say. Come to find out, she had done exactly zero reading on the subject. I sent her the Amazon link to the cancer books page and suggested she start doing her research.
Two months later, she wrote back to say that after all her reading, she realized she didn’t have anything unique to say. It broke my heart because I know she was sad to come to this conclusion. But it would have been far crueler to let her wander around thinking she had a marketable story. Better to know she has nothing new to say and give her the option of growing as a writer and delving into topics that aren’t covered in other cancer books.
If you write, you must read. If you write, you must know your competition. If you query, you must be able to speak intelligently about your competition and know how your book compares and contrasts. It’s simply good business. And you know what? This applies even if you plan to self-publish.
A murderous look was spreading across my friends’ face…or I imagined it was, since we were talking on the phone. She has the propensity to develop a tick in her her right eye when she’s pissed off, and her latest rejection letter offered plenty fodder for an entire body twitch.
They freaking loved my story,” she spat out. “The story is well written, characters are well formed, terrific pace, great voice…and they still rejected me? Argh! And here’s the worst part; they say they can’t do it proper justice. What does it takes to get a bite? How can I keep hearing how much agents love my book, but won’t take it on? What am I doing wrong?”
Boyo, she has my sympathies because it’s possible she’s not doing anything wrong. And what’s worse, is that I’ve written those very same rejection letters over the years. I realize how frustrating it is because, believe it or not, I’m equally frustrated. The author has all the right ingredients of talent and story, but I don’t feel confident that I can sell it to a wide enough audience.
Sales are our proving grounds…if we can’t sell enough books, then we’re gonna lose money. So I tried to give her my thoughts from my own experiences in hopes that she wouldn’t toss herself under a garbage truck filled with dead Christmas trees.
I want the author to know how much I loved their work, but sadly, I don’t think it has a big enough audience. You can write like the wind, but I’m dubious of there being a huge demand for books on whistling belly button tricks.
Or perhaps, you’ve written something that has been written about to ad nauseum…like Dystopian YA, or vamp/romance, or addiction, death and bereavement. I could go on for days. My point is that your writing may be brilliant, but the marketplace simply can’t handle another space odyssey, or a book about midlife crisis – especially if the author has zero platform.
I know it’s little consolation to the author, but I think it’s important they know there’s nothing wrong with their writing…but the subject matter.
And just because I don’t believe I can do it justice doesn’t mean another editor won’t feel differently. The time to sit up and listen is if you keep hearing the same thing in your rejection letters.
Recognizing market trends:
In between beating your head against a wall, you might be wondering how to recognize market trends, and whether that would increase your success for a publishing deal. Here’s the thing; you can’t. If authors paid strict adherence to trends, then it would mean that while you’re busy defining the trends that exist, someone else bucked the system altogether and decided to write something new and different. Look at the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyers bucked the trend by breaking the entire mold.
Then there’s the concern as to how long that trend will remain viable. I remember when Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code came out. This was back when we published fiction, and nearly every query I saw was some sort of DaVinci Code knockoff. Drove me and every other editor nuts. Thankfully, the trend burned itself out. Nowadays, I hear my editor buds groaning over the vamp/romance genre.
Dystopian YA has been really hot, but even now, I see that trend slowing a bit. So how long before it gives way to something else? My point is that once you’ve recognized it, it may be on its way out by the time you find an agent, they sell it, a year or two before it’s published…
Exploiting opportunities to create audience demand:
Okay, so it’s near impossible to recognize and depend on market trends, so the next thing you may think about is creating demand for your book, and how do you go about it. For nonfiction, which is my domain, this is more easily defined. Either you have a ready audience for say, Early Onset Alzheimer’s, or you don’t. There are a million Alzheimer’s books out there, but very few on Early Onset, so we saw a huge opportunity for Barry Petersen’s book, Jan’s Story. The Alzheimer Association got on board almost immediately, and the book just exploded from there. Exploitation to the extreme. Cha-ching.
Fiction is harder. Stephanie Meyers already knew there were huge audiences for romance and vampires, so she ended up blending the two and creating a whole new sub-genre. Fiction takes an editor who believes in your story and feels there is a large enough audience (or crossover, like Twilight) to create a marketing and promotion plan around your book.
But the responsibility also lies with you, the author. You need to be well read in your genre so you can figure out if your plot is a Been There, Done That, or if it’s unique. Think about the kind of reader who would read your book and why they’d read it.
We all know publishing a book is a crapshoot, and we know that our investment may pay off big time, or circle the toilet bowl…no matter how much money we toss at the book.
I often hear authors complain that the reason their work is rejected is because publishers have their eyes on the bottom line. Well, sure, that totally exists. We put tens of thousands into each title, whether it sells or not, so we’d be insane not to worry about our bottom line.
Money has dried up, so large publishers are afraid to take chances on the fringe book – like Twilight was. But that doesn’t mean a really good book isn’t going to see the light of day. It’s a matter of finding that one editor who sees the brilliance in the work and feels it’ll sell well.
Sadly enough, there are no easy answers when it comes down to who gets the publishing deal and those who don’t. We’ve all read books and wondered what the editor was smoking when they signed that book. There’s no formula for an editor having faith that a book is en fuego. We look at the sales of books that fit within that genre, and analyze whether we can adopt a viable promotion plan that will sustain the book.
In the end, I told my friend to pick herself up, dust off her jeans, and keep on keepin’ on because , frankly, the alternative sucks stale Twinkie cream. It does no good to give in to bitterness or paranoia. The system isn’t against you; it’s just trying very hard to give readers what they want to read and make a few bucks to keep the beagle in tequila.