Blending it all together – there’s one important ingredient…

December 5, 2012

I wish I could say I took this pic, but I didn’t. However, it does look eerily similar to the road we live on, so I’ll go with that. I’ve never experienced Fall like this, and seeing the leaves turning colors makes me think Mother Nature has a flair for art as she blends all the colors together in such a way that it takes my breath away.

I’m sure if the Cosmic Muffin handed Mother Nature an edict that said, “Thou shalt make bitchen colors on the leaves during Autumn,” I’m sure she would have handed in her wand and stuck to determining whether she was eating butter or margarine. But I think the old broad does pretty well with the leaves. They all just fit together.

I read a partial manuscript the other day that has those same ingredients. In fact, I really wanted to reject the work because I’m concerned about the topic being too impacted. But I couldn’t help myself. In spite of the fact that it’s a category that’s been written about to ad nauseum, this writer sucked me in. She blended in pace, flow, character development into a lovely pallet of gorgeosity. And let’s not forget VOICE…which is a big ticket item for me. Just like those trees that explode red in Fall and make you pull off the road just to soak it in, this author has a distinct color all her own that screams genius.

The problem with saying a story blends together is that it sounds simplistic. I can’t put my finger on any one detail that says I must have this book. In fact, t I probably shouldn’t have this book because I’m not sure it has the legs to swim to the top of a very big heap. There should be a section in the bookstores and libraries titled, “Yeah, it makes no sense to read this book, but do it anyway because it’s all that and more.”

So much of writing is by feel. You can take lessons on how to create a tantalizing plot, keeping tension in all the right places, making sure your characters are delicious, but none of it means you’ll actually accomplish your goal. Why? Because taste is subjective. Just because I love something doesn’t mean anyone else will. That’s why I have a team who can bring me down to earth when I go all gooshy over something. They are my wet boogers who say, “Yah, Pricey, you love the book. How you gonna sell it?”

And that’s what it comes down to. Will it sell in Peoria? as the saying goes. Something can be wonderful, but if I can’t put my finger on the exact elements that will turn readers’ heads, then it’s a no-go. Even if you self pub it, you’re still facing the same hill of selling your book – probably more because you’ll be a team of one versus a team of hundreds.

So when you’re blending all your lovely bits together, be sure you understand your book’s marketability. It’s the last ingredient that’s the difference between “SOLD!” and “I really want this, but I can’t take it.”


The Big Oversell – it’s a domino thing

December 27, 2011

I remember when I got my first job. It was a candy shop, and the manager told me that all their employees could eat all the candy they wanted. Oh, how perfect was this job for me? The manager asked me about when I was available for work. I could smell those chocolate butter creams wafting in the air, making my mouth water. “I’m available after school and on weekends.” Yay. I got the job and was in choccie heaven.

Then came the truth. I really wasn’t available all weekends because I was in pep squad and had to be at our many parades and football games on Friday and Saturday. This put a crimp in the manager’s scheduling because she was depending on me to handle the weekends. She was less than happy and her furrowed brow told me I had oversold myself. I learned a valuable lesson back then. I discovered that it’s all well and fine to promise the moon, but if you don’t deliver, your backside will be hitting a few craters.

And this is something I see quite a bit of in the publishing field. Authors realize they need to provide a promotion plan and are tempted to be like my sideview mirror – you know what I mean…images look further away than they are. But in this case, authors appear better than they really are. In the case of nonfiction, we factor in the author’s platform and promo plan when discussing a book, and we see a lot of fluffery and puffery.

I see fluff and puff in three distinct stages:

Author Platform
Promo Plan
Author’s Participation

Author Platform

I tried to convince the candy manager that I was the best thing since sliced candy apples. Since I was only 16 and my first job, I had zero platform…meaning a record of previous employers who could vouch for my fabulosity. I hang my head in shame that she took my word for it.

And since I tried this little ruse to my own chagrin during my wayward youth, my BullCrappy-O-Meter is on the highest setting. Sometimes it’s like shooting mosquitoes in a tepid barrel of warm beer – like the writer who tried to convince me she’d won a Nobel Peace Prize. I guess she didn’t realize how screamingly easy it is to find that information. Likewise, it’s fairly easy to ferret out the biggest offenders simply by googling them. If someone says they are in huge demand as international speakers and I can’t even find a website or single newspaper article on them, then I get a ping from my BullCrappy-O-Meter.

It has to be logical. Anyone who has the goods has an electronic trail of breadcrumbs that lead back to their name. It’s verifiable. Word to the wise – don’t try to oversell who you are, ‘cos we’re gonna find out at some point.

Promotion Plan

Sadly, overselling doesn’t stop at trying to convince people of your fabulous platform. It also goes to the promo plan – what the author plans on doing to promote their book. In this, editors have to be better detectives because it’s not as easy to determine whether someone has the ability or desire to do what they say they can/will do until the rubber meets the road – meaning publication.

An author  can easily tell me that he has journalists from the NY Times and Chicago Sun Times waiting to do an interview on him, and he has major specialty groups waiting to schedule appearances and signings – and who am I to refute this? I can only vet so much, and then I have to trust at some point – a nerve-wracking thing, to be sure.

We use the promotion plan as an integral part of our overall marketing strategy. If the author says he’s tight with the ESPN producers, and they’re waiting to schedule an appearance, then we pass that information on to our sales teams and blast it out in our media kits. Sales are based on those promo plans, so when an author oversells themselves, those sales can very easily come back as returns.

Author’s Participation

It’s at this point when editors consider the merits of mainlining harsh chemicals and braiding their eyelashes because there’s no warning to when an author oversells himself. The promised plans simply never come to fruition. This means the editor, marketing, and publicity people are stuck doing all the national stuff and getting books shipped out to market, and the book is having a hard time finding footing because the author is AWOL.

It all starts with the submission committee. They discuss the book at great length, its message, quality of story, unique elements that make it marketable. They also take lots of time with how to promote the book, and a vital key to that process is the author’s participation. If the author sits on her hands and fails to do any of the things she said she would/could do, the she has just issued herself an invitation to her own funeral because that book will die. It’s almost a certainty.

Here is a truth:  Genre buyers always want to know what the author is doing to promote their book. Their pre-sales often hinge on author participation.

The Dominoes Begin to Fall

At some point, the big oversell will be very apparent, so what happens? Well, for starters, the author will incur her publisher’s wrath – and that’s never good. Then the dominoes begin to fall. The publisher has to quickly switch gears because all the support they had literally banked on is now gone. The problem is that it takes months to get a marketing and promotion campaign going, so right away there is a big hole that’s very hard to fill.

Meanwhile, bookstores begin receiving the pre-orders they wrote up based on those original promo plans that now won’t happen. Because the author is no longer a factor in promotion, the book loses a healthy amount of publicity, so those books will sit on the shelves until they gather dust. Then they’re bundled up in boxes and returned to the publisher. This costs the bookstore money because they allotted part of their budget to that particular title for that season.

This, in turn, makes the genre buyer a little miffed at the publisher for giving them a dogmeat book. So the buyer has to consider whether to trust the publisher in the future. This makes it harder for the publisher to gain traction in the marketplace, so future books could suffer from buyer backlash.

Publishing is a business where one’s reputation is paramount. We have to deliver what we promise, or we eat it for the simple reason that there are a ton of other publishers all too happy to take our shelf space.

The author’s own domino will also fall. Of course, your current publisher will never publish another one of your books because you’re untrustworthy. If you go to another publisher with your second book, they’ll look at the sales history of your first book. They may go so far as to call the original publisher. I’ve received calls from others, and I’ve made calls as well.

The worst domino to fall is that your publisher will re-prioritize you and your book. Your direct line to them is severed because the trust is shattered. No one wants this. Truly. The publisher will still do everything in its power to sell the book, but any special requests or favors you may have will fall on deaf ears. There are no winners for the author who oversells himself.

Be Honest

As I said earlier, the desire to be well published is strong. Everyone gets that. But when an author promises the moon and sun without fully thinking through whether they actually have the ability or time to accomplish them, they put a lot of people’s necks in a noose. Above and beyond all else, be honest with yourself and your editor. Don’t try to make yourself look bigger and better than you are because you won’t be able to perpetuate the ruse, whether intentional or accidental.


The perfect promo plan is where the author analyzes their time and abilities, and plans accordingly. They look at those who can be helpful “big mouths” in promoting their book. For example, if you have a NY Times journalist friend, contact them and discuss the possibilities of having them do an interview. Stay in contact, too, because it’s not all that unusual for journalists to be reassigned or let go. If that happens, you can then alert your editor immediately, so she can make changes to the overall marketing plan.

I see a lot of promo plans that look like the author tossed a handful of darts and just wrote down whatever the dart hit. There’s little continuity or realistic expectation they can pull it off. It’s simply stuff that sounds really good on paper. Oversell.

Authors need to treat their writing careers as honorably and realistically as they do their day jobs because everything reflects back on them. If you tell your editor that you have journalists calling your house every week clamoring for interviews, then she’s going to expect to see those articles gracing the papers. If those articles never appear, then your editor is going to wonder whazzup. Do this too many times, and you’ll be the author who cried promo king/queen to deaf ears.

Conversely, there is nothing your editor won’t do for you if you follow through with your promo plan. Those authors always get attention because both sides are working toward the common goal of big sales.

Promotion between trade and vanity – how much and how different

April 14, 2010

Voidwalker asked a very good question in my post about “improving” publishing:

Can you elaborate on the difference between marketing and promotion that a real publishing house takes on with the author, vs. say vanity publishers?

Trade publishing

To start off, a book doesn’t normally take off of its own accord. I wish, more than anything, that ours was a world of “If I write, they will come.” Alas, that’s as likely as the beagle is from discovering sobriety. People have to be alerted to a book’s existence, and that comes via marketing and promotion. Commercial trade publishers invest a lot of money in each title, so it’s in their best interest to get people talking about their new release.

ARCs: It starts with getting ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) out to the trade reviewers. It’s true that many readers don’t give a rip about reviews. They probably don’t read Publisher’s Weekly (gasp!) or Library Journal (another gasp!). They simply wander into a bookstore (because they’re achingly brilliant and love good entertainment) and buy what they think will be a good book. But how did they hear about it?

Well. It’s possible those good folks who do read PW and LJ read the reviews, bought the book, and opened their mouths about it. We call them “Big Mouths.” Clever, no? These may be librarians or movie producers, or movie agents, or bookstore owners. All of these loverly people help create buzz. It’s the “Oh, I just read the most amazing book…”

Trade presses don’t stop with just the trade magazines. They send ARCs out to media of all types – magazines that are applicable to the book, newspapers, radio, TV. And we don’t just send a book, hoping that it falls into the right hands. We send a cover letter to someone specific that gives a brief outline of the book. Then we attach a TIP sheet to the book that has a mouth-watering synopsis (different from the one on the back of the book), author bio, all the retail info, and their promotion plan.

Distribution: While we’re sending out ARCs, our distributor’s sales teams are pitching our books to libraries and genre buyers of the chains and big indie stores. They print up catalogues that showcase the upcoming releases in any give season.

Catalogs: Likewise, publishers also print up personal catalogs that highlight their front and backlist titles. Whenever the publisher pitches to, say, a smaller indie store, or plans an event for an author, they send their catalog as well. It’s their calling card.

All this takes time. And money. Lots of it. Printing up hundreds of ARCs and catalogs ain’t free. They’re unrecoverable costs – all done in the hopes that the efforts strike a chord with all the right people so they’ll call for interviews and appearances. Same can be said for teaming up with a distributor, as they take their bite out of sales as well. But we do this because we’re targeting readers. That’s how we keep errant beagles stocked in designer tequila and keeping our authors happy.

Vanity publishing

And this is where vanity presses go wonky. And why not, actually? Their customers aren’t readers, they’re the authors who bought those expensive publishing packages. Vanity books aren’t in stores, they don’t get the important reviews – in fact, it’s interesting to note that many online reviewers work very hard to ensure no vanity or POD books cross their desks. Nor do they require distribution services since all they do is list the title with the online stores like Amazon.

You’re on your own, baby: Vanity presses are interested in one thing: your money. They shoulder no risk, so there’s no reason for them to help you. What sours my choccie martini is vanity presses who sell promotion packages, which is little more than spamming thousands of soon-t0-be pissed-off email recipients.

In other words, the vanity author is on their own. They receive no support or backing from their publisher. If you’re having a hard time getting a bookstore to take you seriously about an event (which they do because vanity author events are more trouble than they’re worth), your “editor” isn’t going to pick up the phone and talk to the event planner. Nor will they send out an ARC to an interested reviewer. All of this is on the author’s back.

I guess I wonder just how much of the promotion, marketing and advertising is expected of the author after the novel has been picked up by a publishing house?

Publicists: The larger presses employ publicists who will help set up a few events for their authors. Smaller presses may offer to do the same, but it’s different for everyone. I’ve talked with authors pubbed by very large houses who received no help, and others who received lots of help from the inhouse publicist. Like I said, it varies.

Smaller publishers don’t have the huge reach that the large press inhouse publicist has because they’re busy getting the books into the stores and out to reviewers. But that doesn’t mean the small press isn’t going to focus on the author’s promo plan. And the type of promo varies given the genre. The nonfiction writer probably has a platform which will yield a different kind of promotion – more than likely author talks and seminars. A novelist will probably do the bookstore events. The type of promotion is a whole other blog post.

But the amount of promo is consistent. When the author stops trying, the book dies. Promotion is a multi-pronged attack. You have personal appearances and the internet. In my experience, the internet is a wonderful tool for those who already have a readership. It’s much harder for the debut author because s/he has no presence as yet. They need to get out there and show their lovely faces because that’s what sells books. Readers get a feel for the author, their personality, their “voice.” It’s their chance to understand you and your book.

Nearly all of our authors have hired their own publicist, and I can say, unequivocally, that these folks make a huge difference in a book’s footprint. We support each other and cover different territory, which all goes toward a united effort of getting the title in front of all the right people.

For example, B&N decided not to order a particular title of ours. I was sooo not happy, and complained bitterly about it to my distributor’s sales teams. Then the author’s publicist started kicking ass and taking names. Now that book is flying off the shelves and B&N is howling for more books. A lovely little circumstance. Most publicists work for about 90 days. By that time, it’s hoped the book has caught fire.

Yes, it’s not free. But you’re laying the groundwork for your future projects and building a readership and depending on what you write, this may be something to consider.

Advertising: To date, I haven’t felt that ads sold books. Throughout the years we’ve placed ads all the trade mags – for nothing in return. Even in the specialized magazines. Zip. Nada. Ads are hideously expensive. Save your money.

Internet: This is the rest of the multi-pronged attack I mentioned earlier. If you’ve gotten your pretty face out there, people are going to be naturally interested in learning more about you. You need to have a great looking website and perhaps a blog – depending on your subject matter.

If you have a blog, have something to say. Give it a great deal of thought. Are you the lawyer who wrote a law novel? If so, your blog could be about some of the crazier things you’ve encountered in your practice – or discussing serious issues. The trick is to keep up a current internet presence because just like personal appearances, if you aren’t current, you lose your readership.

How long does promotion last?

Ahh, the sixty-four billion – trillion? – question. I said earlier that the book dies when the author stops trying. Sure, it’s silly to think you’re going to promote your book for years. Few have that kind of staying power. The older the book, the less inclined people may be to read it. Then again, it depends on the book. If you have a relevant subject – say the law, or medicine, or aging, then why not? You won’t be of interest to the bookstores, but you may have a whole new life elsewhere. There are lots of groups who are always looking for author speakers.

But to be more concise, a book is considered “new” for a year, so it’s not unreasonable to plan for that.

To bring this all home, everyone knows that most authors look at promotion like they do a tax audit. But times have changed and authors who hope to light a fire on their writing careers will get out there and create something marvelous to their future readers. Trade presses will support and help with their every move. Vanity presses will simply hold out their hands and accept your next check.

Promo schmomo

September 19, 2008

The bane of nearly every author is figuring out the promotional relevancy and viability of their manuscripts. Would it make you feel any better to know that we all wear wigs because we’ve pulled our hair out over the same issues? After all, a book can be sheer brilliance but without proper promotion, it’ll gather dust in someone’s warehouse. That’s why we take it so seriously.

When someone asks for a promo plan, what they’re asking for is the hook(s) – those one or two elements that can be pulled out and exploited by a publicist, sales team, advertising, reviews, etc. Who is the specific audience, and how do you, the author, think you can best reach them?

Don’t think it’s not important. Our distributor gets 100 copies of each book so the sales teams can go out and pitch the new title. They use that hook to reel in the genre buyers.

Here are some examples of what they say:
The War of the Rosens details the lives of an eccentric Jewish family in the Bronx who are forced to face the limitations and complexities of love and faith, and has ten-year-old Emma Rosen questioning whether her volatile family makes them ‘bad Jews.’”

Wheeling the Deal is a tip of the hat to a fast-talking, Hollywood entrepreneur/idea man the man who turned his back on the notion of ‘I can’t.’ by creating one of the largest independent post production shops in Hollywood by selling his father’s music to television and movie studios.”

After the pitch sessions, the first question the genre buyers always ask is, “What is the author doing promotion-wise?” If the salesman replies, “Um, sitting home knitting toilet paper doilies,” then guess what? No sale.

For The War of the Rosens, the author was very active with the New York Jewish community, so it got a very big push there and spread out due to its tender humor and amazing characters.

For Wheeling, the author is attracting the disabled community, and is spreading out due to its inspirational message and brilliant writing.

In each of those cases, there is a definable audience that we can put into our Rolodex. And that is exactly what we’re looking for when we ask for your promo ideas. So be a good Girl Scout and be prepared, ‘cause if we like your work, we’re gonna ask.

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