Stuff That Makes Me Roll My Eyes

January 22, 2015

” We treat each author as a human and not a contract number. Our company is run by humans for humans.”

Authors, if you see this on a publisher’s website, roll your eyes because this is nothing more than a weak attempt to sell themselves. Publishers who actually sell books to the marketplace on a successful basis always see their authors as human beings. Authors are the lifeblood to good mainstream publishers. The editing process is an intimate, absorbing process. There is a boatload of communication taking place. The idea that any editor can treat their authors as a number is fantasy, made up by those who truly have nothing to offer authors.

Period.


More About Book Proposals

January 19, 2015

Sigh. One more time. If you’re gonna say you have a “book proposal,” it doesn’t mean a general overview of a page and three chapters.  That’s a query.

A book proposal hasta have all this stuff in it. And yesssss, we needs it because it’s our preciousssss…and our saleses teams hateses us when we don’t have them.

  • COVER SHEET (title and subtitle of book; genre, word count, author’s name, address, phone, fax, email)
  • CONCEPT STATEMENT (optional—briefly state the target audience, why they need this book, why your book is unique or timely, why you are an authority on the topic, and what your book offers that other books don’t).
  •  OVERVIEW (how you came to write the book—weave in attention-getting facts; this must be the most compelling part of your proposal!)
  •    PURPOSE OF THE BOOK (what will your book do? what need will it fill? how will it benefit readers?)
  •    THE MARKET/AUDIENCE (who will buy your book? why do they want or need it? give statistics)
  •    COMPETITIVE BOOKS (what else exists? where is it shelved? how is your book new and better? how does your book differ from all other books on this topic?)
  •    MARKETING OF THE BOOK (bookstores, book clubs, Internet, clubs, associations; if applicable—these are sales outside of a bookstore environment such as retail store chains, specialty stores, catalogs)
  •    PROMOTION & PUBLICITY (list newspapers, magazines, TV & radio stations that the publisher should contact)
  •    AUTHOR’S PROMOTIONAL CONTRIBUTION (list everything you’ll do to make the book successful; be sure to include all of your ideas for author appearances and events)
  •    COMPLETION OF THE BOOK (state that “x” months from date of contract you will deliver the manuscript—usually a 9-12 month period is allowed)
  •    SEQUELS (optional—list 1-3 other projects that interest you and that have a large audience)
  •    ABOUT THE AUTHOR (your background and experience; why you are the best person to write the book)
  •    THREE SAMPLE CHAPTERS ( I prefer your first three chapters because I want to see how you lead into your story)

Having a Case of Self Pub Remorse?

January 13, 2015

There’s no shame if you’re raising your hand. Publishing is fecking hard work, and I have twelve years experience and a team of hundreds backing me up. I can imagine how delicously hard it is to be a team of one trying to get a book into the marketplace. Whom do you turn to? How do you promote? Feh.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many authors who have self pub remorse, and their comments are almost universal: “I never expected it to be this hard.”

Yah. It is hard. That isn’t to say sales can’t happen, but it’s time consuming if you expect to sell any books. And while you’ve learned to boatload throughout the self pub process, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to see if publishers would be willing to take over your load. Heck, even Amanda Hocking threw in the towel and signed a four-book deal with St. Martins…so you’re in excellent company.

HOWEVER, chances are you aren’t Amanda Hocking,who knew how to promote ’til the cows came home, so  there are some important things you oughta know about how editors view these queries on self pubbed books.

The Eight Ton Elephant in the Room

The first thought that comes to my mind is WHY? What are the reasons the author decided to stop going it alone. Sure, I can speculate, and I do, because my first thoughts focus on what I can do for the author’s book that the author hasn’t done on their own. It’s important that authors know the specific reasons for chucking in the self pub towel because they’ll then be able to define their expectations of a mainstream publisher.

To say, “Oy, I’m tired!” doesn’t help your cause. Write down the specifics of what made selling your book difficult. The list could look something like this:

  •  Marketing/Promotion – I have no real idea how to do this, and I’ve poured countless hours into the effort with no discernible sales.
  • Distribution – Well, I did it through Amazon, so they’re taking care of “distribution,” but I can’t get my books into the stores.
  • Editing, cover design, page/book layout – I feel overwhelmed and broke.

In other words, you spent hundreds or thousands, and the damn thing didn’t sell. Okay, I grok that. But more importantly, I look at the outside reasons why it didn’t sell.

The Query Letter

An author sent me a query letter the other day about her self pubbed book. I looked at the content, which was meh. It’s something I’ve seen a thousand times already – which could be one of the reasons it isn’t currently selling. So, her first fatal mistake is that the story didn’t sound compelling. It could be the case of it being a truly dull story, or it could be the author didn’t know how to write a mouth-watery synopsis. Strike one.

The letter went on to tell me how well received her book was and the huge sales it enjoyed. Hmm. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to smell a rat. If the book is selling so well, then why is she querying me?

Sales History

First thing I did is check Bookscan. Admittedly, Bookscan is far from reliable, because not every store reports their sales to them. Nor does it include Amazon sales. But it does give me a general indication of the sales. In this case, the Bookscan numbers were a grand total of 2 units sold.

Then I checked Amazon, where I noticed the title was ranked at 8 million and only had a couple reviews. Now I’m trying to reconcile this against her claims of “well received” and “huge sales.” The book had barely been out a year. So there’s an obvious disconnect between what her query letter says and what I’m seeing. I mean, it’s possible there was much gushing, and maybe she sold lots of books at talks and such, but I’m just not seeing it, nor did she make any reference to that possibility. Strike Two.

Platform

But I took one last chance at finding her platform. This could tell me how she promoted her book. A quick google of her name showed diddly squat. Put that together with the low sales and few reviews, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t an active author, and she’s looking to me to take over where she’s been exquisitely challenged.

But here’s the rub; taking on a book that’s already been published is a big responsibility on my part because the book isn’t new. There has to be something that tells me this book will sell well. If the author doesn’t provide it, then what conclusions can I draw from what I see? Strike Three…she was out.

If you’re looking to try to get your book with a mainstream publisher, then help yourself out by thinking like an editor. With all the queries on unpublished works that editors receive, why would an editor choose yours? Being able to defend you and your published work will help bridge the gap and possibly elicit a sale.

However, all that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the chances of a publisher being interested in your already-self-pubbed book is extremely low. Most self-pubbed authors I know start fresh and go to publishers with a brand new book. It may be the publisher will pick up your self-pubbed book, but that book must have something to offer them in terms of marketability.

Your bestest friend is the practice of putting yourself in an editor’s Sorels (I woulda said Manolo Blahniks, but I’m squatting on 7″ of snow). If you can look at your query from an editor’s perspective, it may help you decide whether you’re better off making a clean break by writing a new book, or whether your self pubbed book is really something that would make a mainstream publisher jump on top of her barstool and offer free drinks for everyone.

 


“B-b-but I have an MFA!”

January 6, 2015

diploma2_colorSigh. Having an MFA from Goddard or any other school is not a promo point…or even a bragging point. Well, maybe it’s a bragging point at cocktail parties or in front on your mom’s bridge club. But for publishers, and MFA is nothing more than a point of interest – and possibly offers some assurance the MFA holder can put sentences together in an artful manner. It’s not an author platform, it won’t sell books, or capture a readership, so don’t lead with this in your author bio in a query letter. Put it at the end, as an aside…because that’s what it really is.

Sorry.


Amazon Publishing vs. Felony Hyphens

December 19, 2014

The stupid is strong over at Amazon Central these days. UK Amazon-published author Graeme Reynolds had his book removed from Amazon because a reader – ONE READER – complained that the text had too many hyphens. Did you catch that? Too. Many. Hyphens. Mind you, the book has been out for eighteen months and enjoys consistently positive reviews.

But for the witless blather of one person, Amazon is blackmailing their author into altering his book into something grammatically incorrect.

Have I been sucked into an alternate universe where a major retailer accepts the complaints of a single anonymous reader – who could very well belong to the Fatally Stupid – and not even contact the author to discuss the issue before removing his book?

More importantly, is Amazon in possession of a brain and working knowledge of English? Their actions suggest hopeless ignorance.

This should give Amazon DIY authors pause before allowing this brainless behemoth to “publish” their books. Think a real publishers would pull such a stunt? Hell no. Real publishers possess firing brain cells (contrary to popular belief) and have to work smart because it’s how they keep the lights on and Rescue Beagles in designer doggeh chewies. If a problem arises, they discuss it with the author.

Amazon’s overreaching cranial-rectal inversion shows just how little control Amazon authors have, and they could find their books removed from sale over the complaints of a single reader, or some other bantha fodder.

And what’s worse is Amazon doesn’t care. Not. One. Whit.

The upside is that the book has been returned to Amazon’s site, which is wonderful news. However, that it happened at all is criminal. I’m sure the outrage proved to attract Amazon’s attention and allow someone with a functioning cerebellum to intercede on the author’s behalf.


Facts vs. Fiction – Avoid the Lena

December 16, 2014

In the nonfiction genre, a publisher’s job is to be confident that the books they publish are fact, not fiction. This can be a tough nut to crack in cases where the only proof they have is the author’s word. And I don’t want to even address those queries that insist theirs are memoirs, but have been fictionalized. WTF?

Being able to verify facts are the very reason I pass on a number of projects. I’m talking about the “Insider story!! I was there working in the Pentagon!! Explosive information that will blow the lid off America! Must read! A sure bestseller!!!” Unless they can present verified proof, then I’m really not looking for a tax audit and listening devices planted in my Vickie Secrets trouble.

End game is that we don’t wanna be sued. And we certainly don’t want our authors to be sued. Who needs the aggravation? We talk to lawyers, the authors, and their agents because we don’t want to ruin our hard-earned reputation, our author’s reputation, or the reputation of anyone who’s mentioned in the story, through intentional or thoughtless creation. And yes, sometimes the author has ulterior motives that the publisher isn’t aware of, which can be a real buzzkill.

But sometimes publishers are aware…

Which leads me to another Lena Dunham story. Yes, I realize I just blogged about her in another post, but she’s really a one-person wrecking crew. Her screw ups are valuable lessons to writers because she represents the perfect storm where idiots in positions of power are let out of their straight-jackets to run amok and destroy lives.

If Lena’s happy admission of sexually abusing her sister wasn’t enough, she went went for the double slam by discussing her college rape at the hands of a fellow student. She named him Barry, and offered up enough specific details to toss suspicion in one man’s direction…a man named Barry, whose college life mirrored the description in Lena’s tome. Predictably, he got fingered as being the college rapist. and public suspicion grew. Lena knew it. Random House knew it, because the man had been contacting them since the beginning of October. And no one did anything about clearing up the mess, until it reached critical mass. It wasn’t until the second week of December that they finally decided to cut Bary a break and admit this wasn’t the Barry in Lena’s book.

Six weeks this man was left twisting in the wind by the author and Random House.

Dunham finally wrote a statement:

“To be very clear, ‘Barry’ is a pseudonym, not the name of the man who assaulted me, and any resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence. I am sorry about all he has experienced.”

So it’s all a co-hinkey-dinky that Dunham’s intricately detailed description of her fictional rapist exactly matches the actual student named Barry? And she and Random House did nothing to prevent this from ever happening? I’m utterly gobsmacked at this overreaching stupidity.

The Lenas of the literary world always have an agenda, which is why it’s so important that the publisher is a real grown-up – not only to protect their author from looking like a queen-sized asshat, but also to protect themselves. Where was the editor on this, and why didn’t her bloody red editing pen intersect Lena’s manuscript with a hearty “‘Scuse me, but are you on drugs?”?

As a writer, I understand how easy it is to write with great prejudice, which is why first drafts are a writer’s bestest buddy. But at some point, the pain, anger, or agenda needs to be confronted and banished from the finished product so that the story has the highest degree of legitimacy. Narratives that spew malicious invective are on equal footing to the sixth grader who got dumped on the playground via note-passing because the boy lacked little chestnuts to break up in person. Okay, I was in fifth grade, but I digress…

Memoirs are often cathartic, so I see many manuscripts that are dripping with pain – sometimes to the point of being counterproductive. It’s my job – every editor’s job – to help show the author how to refine and shape their pain into something powerful and sage in order to maximize their story.

It’s also the editor’s job to seek out and question anything that doesn’t look to be true because lives can be destroyed. Know how long it takes to destroy someone’s reputation? About an hour, given our online lives. Authors may not care what kind of impact they make on those they write about, but publishers damn well have to. Do publishers really want to risk shouldering that responsibility?

Lena’s a putz, and life will go on just fine without her asshattery. But Random House…in all their largesse…really has me wondering exactly what the hell is going on over there. How did one book create such a hot mess of ineptitude? Such an infantile, immature decision allowed Lena to drag a man’s reputation through the muck, and they sat by and did nothing.

It’s irresponsible writing and publishing. Both author and publisher should be extremely ashamed. Avoid the Lena.

 

 


Spiffy Up Before You Query

December 15, 2014

The time to tweak your manuscript is BEFORE you query any editor. I know it seems that editors have oodles of freebie time, lunching and laughing uproariously with lovely agents, who pick up the tab. It’s a myth. Really. Only lunching I do is with the Rescues, and their table manners are abhorrent. And they never pick up the tab.

In the real world, editors’ time is precious. I try to maintain some semblance of organization by apportioning tasks to certain times. Reading submissions has to fit into a packed schedule, but I pull time aside each month in order to fire all my working brain cells on those submissions.

When an author writes back to give me the “Hold on while I tweak it,” I can only gawk. I mean, they rushed to query, captured my attention, then pulled out the literary carpet from underneath me to do the work they should have done before “Dear Kindly, Benevolent Editor” was ever written on cyber paper. So the time I put aside is now tossed out the window, and I move on to other things…grumbling all the way because I know it’ll probably be another few weeks or so before I can return to the submission.

By then, I can usually count on getting a nudge-gram asking me if I’ve had time to read their manuscript. Double argh with a side of loud sighs.

I know I sound all ranty, but for years I’ve been bleating like a goat on crack about the importance of being the consummate professional. Pulling an “oops, I’m not ready” is the antithesis. I actually had one author give me the “oops, gotta tweak it” reply, then go on to explain that he’d only sent out the query to see if anyone thought it was any good. He never expected anyone to respond! Pissed me off, it did, and I suggested that perhaps he wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Think that author would have told a prospective employer calling for an interview, “Oh, hang on while I spiff up my resume”?

It just ain’t good bidness…spiff before you query.


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