Expectations

We all got ’em…what do we do with ’em?

The answer to that depends on how realistic your expectations are. Obviously, the more you know about the publishing business, the more pragmatic your expectations. Unfortunately, that isn’t usually the case, and we encounter authors whose anticipations exceed the boundaries of the possible.

Agents

Not all agents were created equally. Duh, right? You shouldn’t expect that just because they signed with Agent Fabuloso you’re headed for literary immortality. Agent Fabuloso may have sold some huge books with some huge authors, but that doesn’t automatically translate over to you. Don’t expect that it will.

The agents I respect the most are the ones who have a strong editorial sense. They wouldn’t dream of sending a manuscript out for query until it rocked Twinkies and fresh margaritas. They’ll send their clients back to the drawing board to rewrite until it’s squeaky clean.

Why do they do this? Because they want to get the best possible deal for their clients. A very green, raw manuscript – no matter how fab the story is – is less likely to be offered a contract because the acquiring editor can see the amount of editing necessary to make it publishable. Time is money, baby, so they’ll invariably pass.

In short, a raw manuscript casts a smaller net. Look for agents who have a strong editorial background.

Editing

Real publishers edit. We all agree on that. However, the lengths publishers go to during that process vary a great deal because it depends on the amount of editing that’s required. On average, a large publisher doesn’t have the time to spend countless months editing a book. That’s why they’re less willing to take a raw work.

I’ve seen many authors at writer’s conferences who expected their editing experience would include a long, drawn out process where the editor nuances every single line. They’re shocked when it doesn’t happen. Few have any idea how long it takes to developmentally edit a manuscript – especially if it’s pretty green. Large publishers won’t take the time for it.

Why? Time is money, remember? And yes, the dirty little secret is that they’ll let a book go to press that’s far lesser than it could have been because they simply don’t have the time and it’s not cost effective. They believe the book will sell well enough as is. That is why the large publishers only take very, very clean books, and they’re very very good at what they do.

Small fries, however, have the luxury of time. We can take a fabulous idea and nurture it along until it shines like the beagle’s nose after a pitcher of margaritas. We can take months if we have to because we believe in that work and believe it’ll sell very well once it’s beaten into shape.

And yes, authors who go through this process will attest that it’s a friggin’ gauntlet. But they also get an amazing end product. AND they learn a ton about the writing process.

In a word – it’s wrong to expect what your editing experience will be because they vary. If you feel ripped off during the editing process, you may very well be entitled to your suspicions. OTOH, maybe your writing rocks.

Marketing/Promotion

Real publishers market and promote. They send out ARCs to media and reviewers. They may send out TIP sheets to their author’s local bookstores. It’s the publisher’s job to get their books nationally distributed to the bookstores and libraries.

Now this is where the “grrr” factor comes into play. Every author expects that every bookstore and library should have tons of their books on hand. The reality is something far different. The truth is that your book will NOT be in every single store. It may be that you have three major stores in your local area and maybe only one has your book. It’s deflating. I totally get that.  Heck, I want your book in every single store across America.

But there is a wonderfully frustrating problem – shelf space vs. competition. We are all competing for the same wee bit of shelf space, and bookstores will naturally order books they believe have a higher chance of selling. That’s why it’s so important to have a kickass sales team who knows how to open doors and take names.

But it doesn’t always end there. There is a huge disconnect between corporate bookstore chains and their individual stores. Corporate may yawn at a title and the individual bookstores may be clamoring for it. Why? Because the publisher and their sales teams blitzed the stores with “hey, you gotta have this book!”

Bookstores are more in touch with their customers, where corporate buyers are moved around all the time. A religion buyer may be shoved over to buying mainstream fiction. It doesn’t matter that the former religion buyer knows squat all about mainstream fiction – s/he has a job to fulfill – and they often make horrendous decisions that adversely affect publishers’ new titles.

That’s where strong sales teams come in handy. Their reputation precedes them, and buyers can be swayed to place orders because they work with distributors who consistently represent great books.

The word is this: marketing and promoting a book is damned hard work, and there are a ton of variables that go into whether a book will grace the shelves or not. To expect this automatically is setting yourself up for some serious drinking time.

Author Events

Oboy. This is always a toughie because author events are all over the place. I’ve seen events where few people showed up and others where hundreds showed up. This makes things interesting for the person hosting the event and ordering the books – be it a bookstore or a private function.

My best advice is NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING.

Never expect that the people hosting the event know how many books to order – especially if you’re a seasoned author or have done a number of events. Chances are they don’t know you or the number of people you pull in, so the tendency is to under-order books. Venues hate being stuck with overstock because it means they have to incur shipping costs to return them. If they sell out, then yay for them. They made some bucks.

But what what about you? You’ve incurred lost sales for the evening because they undercut the market. Always, always, always tell them how many books you normally sell at your events.

I had a case where one of our authors was doing an event at a library. This author routinely pulls in hundreds of people. The bookstore in charge of selling books that evening only ordered 35 units. For an audience of 120! My intestines almost spontaneously combusted. We lucked out because we happened to live nearby and had plenty of books in our own warehouse. I placed a hysterical call to Mr. Moneypants, and he drove 100 units down to the library.

We saved the friggin’ evening and only came home with three books. As one would expect, I tore the bookstore apart for not ordering the number of units I told them to order in the first place. Apologies flew around, but the damage was done. They’d screwed up big time because they didn’t listen to me.

But what about those cases where your publisher isn’t just around the corner – which encompasses just about everyone. This was the case with another one of our authors. He lives in another state and attended a function that drew in a couple hundred people. The event planners only ordered 35 copies of his book.

Seeing the number of attendees, they freaked out and tried to buy 150 more books from the four surrounding bookstores. There is no way on God’s green earth that anyone is going to stock that many books in their stores. Not unless you’re Harry Potter and it’s launch day.

The end result was that they were screwed. My author was very pissed with me because the surrounding bookstores didn’t have enough copies, so there were a ton of lost sales – which kills me.

This is a case of misdirected expectations.

The fault lies with the event planners and with my author for not telling them how many people attend his functions and for expecting bookstores to be able to fulfill orders of hundreds of books. That isn’t their function. Since I had no idea of this event, I couldn’t contact the event planners myself and tell them to order sufficient copies. I found out it all after the fact, which didn’t exactly make my day.

Communication in this business is paramount, and authors MUST tell event planners how many books to order. Bookstores can’t play fulfillment center. That’s why Ingram and Baker & Taylor exist.

Also, it’s vital to ensure those copies are actually ordered.

This happened to another author of ours – and, sadly, this happens to authors everywhere far too often. She was getting ready for a four city tour in another state and discovered that the store hadn’t ordered the books. The signing was the next day. Her publicist called me in a panic, and I, in turn, called the bookstore looking for blood. Before I could even say, “who’s neck should I slash first?” they blurted out that they were overnighting the books in so they’d be there for her signing. They realized they’d screwed up. Luckily for us, we caught it in time. I know far too many authors who weren’t as lucky.

Hey, it even happened to me. The bookstore handling sales at a recent writer’s conference didn’t order my books in time, and only one of them made it to the con. I thought the beagle was going to tear their hearts out.

Dear authors…ALWAYS CALL THE BOOKSTORE A WEEK BEFORE YOUR SIGNING AND MAKE SURE THEY HAVE THE DAMN BOOKS.

Channel the Girl Scouts – Be Prepared

In a nutshell, publishing is filled with surprises – some great, some sucky. The best way to insulate yourself from the roller coaster ride of unrealistically blaming others and wanting to draw blood is to temper your expectations so that they are realistic. And you can only do that if you know the business. Your agent won’t necessarily educate you to the ways of all things publishy, so it’s incumbent upon you to figure it out. I recommend The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box, personally…

wow, what a lovely shameless promotional segue.

5 Responses to Expectations

  1. Phoenix says:

    Since you brought up agents, a question, please, that I’ve heard answered differently by editors and agents. If I submit directly to you and you send a rejection, does that mean if I later get an agent that she cannot submit the same project to you? Would it matter if you had rejected it at the query letter stage or the partial or full stage? Or would the expectation be that the agent had helped polish the manuscript so you would be open to seeing it again no matter?

    The majority of the blogging agents seem to feel an editor who has rejected even just the query letter is now unapproachable, yet I’ve heard editors say that’s just silly. Where do you fall?

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    Hrm. So, what recommendation would you have, Lynn, for gauging attendance for your *first* author event? When you don’t yet have a track record to go by?

  3. Hi Phoenix. If I rejected a work and didn’t invite the author to re-query if they tweak the work, then that’s it for me. I won’t be interested in seeing it again. And when you think about it, why would I? I don’t reject lightly, so when I do it’s because I know it doesn’t, and never will, work for me.

    Ninjie, you can’t possibly know what your best guess is because, as you say, you lack a track record. Stores, on average will order around 35 units – depending on the author’s platform. And at that, they still screw up at times.

    The best you can do for your first events is to make sure to get the word out to your readership that you’ll be appearing at XYZ bookstore and to come join the fun.

  4. kimkircher says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the Writer’s Essential Tackle Box–a necessary tool for understanding the publishing biz. Thanks Lynn.

  5. Aw, Kim, you’re makin’ me blush.

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