The view from my batcave

OK then…I’ve wrestled control of our blog back from the beagle. In reading her post, it seems no one wanted to win one of her beagle purses, so I can now resume talking all things publishy while the beagle sulks in the corner, nursing a margarita and snarling at me.

When I sat down this morning to write, I felt conflicted on what topics to address because there were so many ideas that were competing for top billing. So I decided to address all of them.

Hopey Hope

Everyone knows what it’s like to want something so badly that you’re willing to go against the advice of many and do it anyway. It’s like the time I gave my sister a perm. It was a hundred years ago (thank the Cosmic Muffin), so my sister can laugh about it now.

She was a busy single mom at the time and needed an easy peasy hairdo – something akin to wash ‘n wear hair. Don’t we all? I mean, who actually thinks it’s great sport to stand in front of a mirror with no less than five electric appliances that will dry, straighten, curl, de-frizz, and condition your hair in under five hours?

Money was tight for my enterprising, hardworking, brilliant sister, but Pricey had all the answers. “You don’t need to spend a fortune, I’ll give you a perm.” Sis wondered about my lack of experience and expertise. In fact, everyone in the room thought my sister had taken leave of her senses to let me lay hands upon her gorgeous hair. But ever the confident one, I whipped out a box of Magic Perm O’Lot and shoved on a confident grin. “Save your money. We can do this.”

And I did.

And she came out looking like something straight out of National Geographic. We renamed her Umbala Kerfluffle Africana. She renamed me SheWhoWillMeetDeathUnderATruck.

We were all so hopeful her perm would answer all her questions that we ignored everyone’s advice of , “Lynn, don’t do it. Nothing good can come from this.” And my sis had to wander around work looking like the only thing missing was a bone running through her nose. I’m still amazed she didn’t kill me.

And this is what I see with authors who want to be published  so badly that they turn their back on compelling evidence of a publisher’s weak points. They’ve heard the siren’s song – “We’d like to offer you a contract,” and no amount of warning can sway their decision. No one believes bad things can happen. After all, they’ve worked so hard on their books and, gosh, the editor is so nice. What could go wrong?

Lots.

  • Your book could be poorly edited.
  • Your publisher has no distribution, so your book could never sell, unless you sell it from the trunk of your car.
  • Your publisher could be abusive and threaten you.
  • Your publisher could never pay you royalties due you.
  • Your publisher could have no clue what they’re doing.

New publishers pop up every day – many of them nowadays are e-publishers – and you have to be so careful about placing your book in the wrong hands.

“But they’re so nice!” – A nice editor who compliments you on your writing is nice and it certainly feels good, but it’s not a litmus for ability to get your book sold. Experience and a successful track record  speaks more loudly than a compliment and a smile. But, sadly, authors become blinded by the pearly teeth and sign with inexperienced and under-educated publishers all the time…even when they’ve been warned by others who have done their research.

Hopey Hope is great, but it comes with its own set of blinders. If you go to a site like the Water Cooler, asking for advice, then you owe it to your book and yourself to actually listen. Just today, I read yet another author who, despite all warnings to run, held up her Hopey Hope card and said that based on the publisher’s website and things she’d heard elsewhere, she was hopeful. So she chose to disregard all the warnings – given from experienced people in the biz, I might add – and walked into the light.

You just can save ’em all, and that’s why these ineffective publishers exist. The prevailing attitude seems to have changed from, “I’ll work at perfecting my craft so I can be well-published,” to “I’ll keep running down a long list to find someone who will publish me.”

And just like my sister’s decision to let me perm her hair, these authors will find their decisions aren’t based on sound advice from others, but from wanting something far too much that it shorts out their decision-making capabilities.

You wouldn’t let a blind man work on your car, so why would you let someone who lacks the ability to create a quality product and get it out to market sign your book? Sometimes Hopey Hope sucks stale Twinkie cream.

“They Did a Great Job”

Keeping along this same theme, there’s the “I went with them based on a recommendation.” This is prevalent on writer’s boards. Everyone is eager to find information on a publisher, so it’s gold when someone who is actually with that publisher chimes in to give their opinions. Invariably, the opinions are while the author is still in the honeymoon phase with their publisher, meaning they’re in editing and don’t have a finished product that’s out in the marketplace.

So they chime in to say, “Oh, I lurve my editor! She is an excellent editor, and is so thorough! And she’s so fast in getting back to me.” In nearly every case, the author hasn’t been published before, so they aren’t in a position to distinguish a “good” edit from a crappy edit. Additionally, it’s not at all unusual for there to be a lot of communication back and forth…it’s editing, after all.

Editing is subjective. I’ve seen many books from the Big Guys that made me want to perform a ritualistic eye bleach while wondering what twelve-year-old rested their fingers upon this book. Conversely, I’ve seen fabulously edited books from all kinds of publishers – big and small. The ultimate proof is in the reviews and sales.

  • Does the publisher have great distribution and good sales?
  • Do their books win awards and have good reviews from known sources?

That’s the danger of the honeymoon phase when discussing a publisher whose abilities are in question. Authors are high on life at this point because they’re actively involved in the production of their book. That sheen, however, fades dramatically when the book is done and sent out to market. Reality sets in when they see that their books won’t ever be in the bookstores, will have no distribution, and the only way their books will sell is if they personally sell them.

If you’re tempted to listen to an author’s recommendation regarding a publisher, make sure they aren’t in the honeymoon phase, but are on the back end of having their book in the marketplace.

What kind of coverage does their book have?
What are sales like?
How much promotion and marketing did the publisher do?

At that point, if authors say, “They did a great job,” you have verifiable proof of those claims. That’s why the standard reply to the “I lurve them” is “Come back in a year and tell us your experiences.” Most never do because they found out the hard way that their publisher wasn’t what they’d hoped they’d be.

When asking for recommendations, it’s imperative to know where the author is in the production process because that could vastly influence their opinion. I’ve seen this time and time again when someone listens to their Hopey Hope side and goes against the prevailing advice.

When asking for recommendations, you owe it to yourself to look at all opinions, not just the ones that tell you what you want to hear. It could be the difference between abject sorrow and delirious joy.

Open Letter to Agents – and a warning to authors…

Formatting. Yes,  I know I just blogged about it, but this has a bit of a different twist. When I receive partials or fulls from agents, I have a higher expectation of excellence – especially if it’s from a solid agent. I expect that all their ducks will be in a row, and a big part of this is making sure your manuscript is properly formatted.

You’d think agents would ensure that this simple element would be addressed, but I’m amazed at how many partials I receive that are dreadfully out of whack. It’s not that I’m some snobbo who won’t touch a less-than-perfect manuscript. It’s a matter of being extremely fond of my eyes and their ability to see. So when I get a manuscript that has no indents and an extra carriage return to denote a new paragraph, my eyes complain bitterly because the differentiation of that extra carriage return is minimal with a 1.5 or double-spaced format. This means my baby blues get very tired very fast because there’s no break. It’s all text and very little white space.

So, authors, don’t assume your agent will call you to task on your formatting. Be a good girl scout and be prepared. With all the information on the internet, there is no legit excuse for not knowing how to format a manuscript.

Know Your Competition

I know I harp on this so much that I now see books floating past me in my dreams. Either that or I need to lay off the beagle’s chocolate martinis before bedtime. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you need to know your genre. Who’s hot and who’s getting recognition? And I’m not just talking about the Big Names, but the solid mid-lister books that sell quite respectably and you hear about.

How does your book compare in your genre?
Has this been done before?
What makes your book unique?
Why would readers want to read your book?

These are questions that many authors don’t ask themselves, and this lack of knowledge betrays them when they get to the query stage. We editors gotta sell your book to a whole sales team, those magic bundles of love who have seen it all and done it all. They know books and genre like I know the beagle’s soft groans means she’s been out partying with the Dalmations again. They know when something is unique and when it’s a” been thar, done that, we don’t need it.”

If I can’t convince the sales guys, then how good do you think my chances are of them pitching it with huge enthusiasm? I’m not just a humorless windbag because it thrills my blackened heart. Convincing people to love and buy a book is like walking uphill carrying a ten-ton boulder…on ice. The better prepared you are, the better able you are to advocate your book’s brilliance to me.

Preparation – The Book Proposal

I’ve discussed book proposals before – here’s a link to my other posts. Effectively advocating your book takes big preparation, and I always recommend writing a book proposal…even if you write fiction…because it forces you to think about all the nitpicky questions you’ll be asked at some point. Do you have to do this? ‘Course not. But look at it this way – if I’m given two books of equal quality and desirability, except one query states that they have a full proposal prepared and the other doesn’t, which way do you think I’ll lean?

The more information I have going into a partial read, the clearer picture I have of the book’s possibilities, and the more excited I am about taking the next step of asking for the full, and discussing the book with the sales guys.

There are all kinds of proposals, but the best one I’ve seen to date is from one of our new authors, Amanda Adams, author of Heart Warriors (release June 2012). Her proposal was so keenly thought out, and had anticipated my every question, that she gave me no reason to say no. That is preparation.

The view from my batcave is this: Preparation is the best defense in becoming the cream that will float to the top. Obviously, there are no guarantees – what is in life, right? – but those who take the extra step to anticipate are giving themselves the best chances of all. And I do want you to be successful.

9 Responses to The view from my batcave

  1. Thank you! I’ve been looking for a well-written proposal sample. It’s much better than staring at a list of rules.

    And belated hugs to your sister. 😉

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    And research. Let other people take the risk of the ‘fledgling’ publisher (I’ll send shorts to brand new magazines because the loss if they turn out to be idiots is minimal, but would not send a novel to a brand new publisher).

  3. Lorelei says:

    My personal favorite was having my publisher go bankrupt three months after my publication date. Which was day one of the financial armageddon, October 1, 2008. They had pushed it back six months in hopes of a stronger market. Yeah, not so much. At least I paid a publication attorney to review and rewrite the contract, so all my rights came home. Next time I’ll know better and sell it directly to my mother.

  4. Laura W. says:

    Publishing World NINA: No Idealists Need Apply…

  5. Lorelei says:

    My first thought when I sold that book— “I finally have something to put in my query letter!”

    Not that it helps, it seems.

  6. Lev Raphael says:

    I agree with NinjaFingers: research, research, research! When one publisher dropped its mystery authors including me, I did my research and found a trade paperback publisher who 1) produced excellent books 2) published authors I respected and had read 3) specialized in picking up series midway 4) had good distribution.

    The downside I knew as an author and reviewer: advances would be small and many reviewers back then scorned trade paperback originals. The pluses outweighed the minuses, since I did not want my series to disappear. It turned out the editor new and admired my work and my email query garnered me a contract that week.

    I ended up happily at a press that I respected and respected me and kept the series going until I was ready to let go at my own time.

  7. Lorelei, my heart breaks for you to have come so far only to hit a brick wall at 90 mph. I hope you’re successful finding a new, better publisher.

    As for you, Lev, you always have my undying respect because you’re resourceful and find success in the face of adversity. That is my definition of a true author.

    BTW, I d/loaded My Germany and The Edith Wharton Murders to my phone and can’t wait to read them. It was fun rummaging through your website and reading all the wonderful reviews…especially the NY Times. I bow before greatness.

    Laura W: I love that “No idealists need apply.” Oh so true. I should tattoo that on the beagle’s forehead.

  8. Lev Raphael says:

    Lynn: Coming up as an author, I used to think a NYTBR review was the be-all and end-all. They’re nice, but they don’t always translate into sales. They do become a kind of tattoo, though. They stick with ya. 🙂 I hope you enjoy the books you downloaded–they’re very different for each other.

    Lorelei: I feel for you. I had a book contract cancelled the day before Thanskgiving! Like the news couldn’t have waited a week?

  9. […] take editor Lynn Price’s advice on making sound decisions for your […]

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