Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Week in Publishing 10/31/08

This week....

BRACE. Yes, it's Halloween, and if any of you agents out there need a scare, just click here. AHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Run away!!! Run away!!!!

(I kid NaNoWriMo. Although your family would like to see more of you. Also, when I last tried to visit the NaNoWriMo website it said the server was overloaded. Where is my blood pressure medication?)

And for all of you beginning hastily written novels out there, you may find that beginning a novel is.... not that easy! You may be pleased to know that even the pros get the beginning novel blues, and May Vanderbilt recently posted on the difficulty of finding your way at the beginning of a novel.

One of the other elements of the Google settlement that hasn't received as much attention is that they are going to create a Book Rights Registry that will manage the money generated by Book Search, which will give rights holders an incentive to step forward and claim their work. Could this be the IMDB-for-books that GalleyCat and O'Reilly Media have been speculating about?

Fellow San Franciscan Danielle Steel started a blog!! I couldn't be more excited about this development.

As you may be able to tell from this blog, I am nearly as fascinated by Thomas Nelson CEO/blogger Michael Hyatt as I am with reality TV cameo regular Collier Strong. Frankly, if the election were between Obama, McCain, Collier Strong and Michael Hyatt I would have a very difficult time deciding who to vote for. Where was I? Oh! After someone e-mailed him about how much money employees could save if they didn't have to dry clean their work attire, Michael Hyatt changed the company dress code to embrace jeans. Needless to say, Thomas Nelson employees are ecstatic.

And finally, international bestselling author Jeff Abbott needs your help, and this is the fun kind of help: he wants to know about your favorite bar. If you read this blog, I know you have a favorite watering hole.

Have a great weekend! Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Google Settlement

As I'm sure you've now heard, Google has settled the dispute with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, which (theoretically) clears the way for Google to begin making books that are still under copyright searchable and available online.


We're all still digesting what this means for authors and publishers, but the landscape has now shifted drastically. Not only do we have the Kindle and Sony Reader changing the way people read, but Google will soon be selling access to hard-to-find books online, which will alter the used book market forever. And that's just the start.

It's now not very difficult to envision a world where every book ever published is instantly available on your phone, e-reader or PDA.

Every. Book. Ever. Published.

And not just online. Want a physical copy? Press a button and a POD edition could go in the mail to you that day.

It's not there yet, and Google still has a ways to go to bring on board books that they haven't yet cleared with the rightsholders. But that's the direction things are moving.

I was going to do a more thorough breakdown on all this, but 1) things are busy and 2) the Millions posted a seriously brilliant and thorough post on the ramifications of the settlement.

READ THIS. Seriously. This is big news, and it's the best summary I've read of what this all means.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Does Free Pay?

Recently there has been quite a movement afoot from people such as Cory Doctorow, Tim O'Reilly, Lawrence Lessig, and others extolling the power of free.

O'Reilly sums it up the theory behind the movement in his important essay "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution": Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.

The movement has led an increasing number of authors, including Neil Gaiman and last week's guest blogger MJ Rose, to offer some of their content for free, whether it's a free preview or just outright free. In her article in the Huffington Post explaining her decision to offer advance copies of THE REINCARNATIONIST for free, MJ writes: "It's because trying something for free is the best way of discovering it."

The most prominent media experiment in free was conducted by Radiohead, who let listeners pay what they wanted to download "In Rainbows." HarperStudio's blog noted that they made more money from the preview than they did on their last album.

So what do you make of all this? Does free work? And is it for everyone or for the already-famous and successful, who have other revenue streams? Can authors use free to build their audience?

To be sure, free or almost free has been around for a long time in the publishing industry in the form of used bookstores and libraries. I know a few authors who cringe every time a fan tells them they can't wait to borrow their next book from the library -- if everyone did that, of course, the author would get next to zero royalties.

Should authors be worried as piracy, used books, and free downloads proliferate as the book industry moves electronic? Or should they embrace the free?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If I Were Running an MFA Program...

One of the great things about having a blog is that you can answer questions no one has asked and pontificate on things you are underqualified to even have an opinion about. This is one of those days where I get to talk from the seat of my pants about some ideas I've been tossing around at random hours that I will probably never have an opportunity to implement. Who doesn't love the Internet?

So, I ask myself, how would you run a creative writing program?

Thanks for asking, Nathan. Here's what I would do, in bullet points:

1) Decide upon the goal of the program

Is the goal of my creative writing program a) to give life to short stories, verily an art form unto itself, but which the reading public does not generally pay attention to unless they're taking a creative writing class and/or trying to place something with the New Yorker? Are universities bastions of arts, poetry, short stories, and classes like Syllogism in Synechdotal Passages in Semi-ironic Transcendental 1890s Irish Poetry, which, though abstract, are important to the advancement of human thought, arts, and culture?

Or is the goal of my creative writing program b) to teach students how to advance their writing careers, as in, write works for which they might have a gameful possibility of future writerly employment in the current (and likely future) market, as in, novels and full-length narrative nonfiction?

Both types of programs have their place. Although if it's the art for the sake of art kind, I better have some serious funding and the tuition better be free, because I'd hate to charge students a lot of money for a program for which they will have a dim prospect of gaining back the money in future writerly earnings. Learning how to write good short stories does not exactly set one on the path to repaying $40,000 in debt.

Let's go with the b) type of program: preparing a writer for the writing market he/she will face upon graduation.

2) Determine what kind of book the students want to write

Writing advice is not generally one-size fits all. A sentence is not just a sentence. And authors should know the genre they're writing in so they can hone their craft.

Genre fiction is one track. Literary fiction is another track. Narrative nonfiction is another, and serious/technical nonfiction still another. And I'm sure there are more.

But learning the customs, expectations, structure, and, most importantly, history of the genre should be a goal of the program. If you're writing genre fiction, you should know the important authors that paved the way. If you're writing narrative nonfiction, you should know the proper balance between fictionalization and historical accuracy. Some authors do this on their own, but nothing beats having a teacher guide the education process.

3) Teach plot first.

Plot comes first. Style comes second.

Without a good plot, a novel doesn't stand a chance. And yet how many MFA programs teach plot?

I'd teach plot. Macro plot, micro plot, scene building, acts, countering expectations, climaxes and nadirs, pacing, and organization. Plot plot plot plot plot. Plot.

This goes for nonfiction too. Good nonfiction has an underlying arc and a satisfying conclusion as well. It's not the same arc as a novel, but it's there.

4) Teach style second.

After plot comes style. But in that order. You have to have a skeleton underneath your skin or else you're just an unappealing pile of flesh.

(We'll teach strange imagery too.)

Style is what separates literary fiction from genre fiction, and what elevates some writers of genre fiction into those exalted writers with both literary and genre cred. Style is important.

5) Emphasize networking and self-promotion

As anyone who has embarked on the path to publication knows, writing a book is the easy part. A university has the resources to bring in agents, industry professionals, and book marketing experts in order to educate the writers on how to go about the process of publication. For instance, MFA grads have a reputation for writing terrible query letters. Why should that be??? My MFA grads would learn to write pristine query letters that make agents weep with joy.

Now, if my MFA program sounds a bit mercenary.... guilty. I would judge the success of the program by how many authors found publication after they graduated.

That said, I would never devalue the merits of short stories and having universities serve as incubators for important arts for which there is not a ready marketplace. There is a ton to be said for that, and I wouldn't want to impugn anyone who devotes themselves to the important cultural preservation of poetry and short stories.

But if your goal is to write a full-length book that you'll be able to sell upon graduation.... come get your MFA from The Nathan Bransford School of Hard Knocks: Getting Published Ain't Easy, Son.

You'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 27, 2008

RIP Tony Hillerman

We lost a tremendous writer and a member of the Curtis Brown family on Sunday -- Tony Hillerman was 83. The Times obit is here, and Jeff Abbott says it better than I could here. He will be dearly missed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

This Week in Publishing 10/24/08

Hello! I'm back and writing the blog, and thanks so much to Michelle and MJ for their fantastic guest posts this week. In response to some of the questions on yesterday's post, MJ wanted to point people to this post of hers, about staying alive in the publishing biz, because breakouts often take time.

Speaking of the economics of the book biz, Colleen Lindsay recently posted an excellent summary of Wiley marketing manager Andrew Wheleer's breakdown of the buying decisions bookstores make, and why some new books are getting dropped from the chains. Both posts provide indispensable insight into the backroom economics of the publishing industry

International bestselling author Torey Hayden will soon be embarking on an awesome online project. She's going to be serializing Torgon's Story, which was originally part of her novel OVERHEARD IN A DREAM, online at her Myspace Blog.

Reader M. Clement Hall was kind enough to point me to a Reuters article that analyzed the new e-readers at the Frankfurt Book Fair. E-reader manufacturers, needless to say, are bullish on the business.

Jessica Faust at Bookends recently tackled one of the most difficult questions we blogging agents face: How much responsibility does an agent bear if a novel doesn't sell? It's a really tough question to answer because of so many variables, but she does a great job answering it.

Amazon's company buying spree isn't just for book businesses anymore! Now they've purchased an electronic gaming developer, leading some to speculate that they might be trying to build gaming into the Kindle.

And finally, speaking of the Kindle, Joe Wikert shot down a suggestion by Joe Esposito that e-books will lead to a "just-in-time" purchasing model, i.e., we won't buy extra e-books for later that we never end up reading the way we do with printed books. Joe Wikert says the ease of buying e-books leads people to lose their minds and purchase too many. As someone with three unread but purchased books sitting in my Kindle, I'm with Joe (Wikert) on this one.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Guest Blogger: M.J. Rose on Book Marketing

In a continuation of book marketing week on the blog, I feel extremely fortunate to have one more expert guest blogger. M.J. Rose is the bestselling author of THE REINCARNATIONIST and THE MEMOIRIST, which will be published by Mira in November. She is also the founder of the book marketing service AuthorBuzz, and writes the extremely awesome blog Buzz, Balls & Hype.

In the comments sections of Michelle Moran's guest posts, there were a few questions about whether book publicity really works, how much money should be devoted to a marketing campaign, and whether, at the end of the day, the book will just sell itself (or not). M.J. Rose took the time to shed some light on these questions, and I can't thank her enough for her post.

Hi guys. This could take a book to answer but here are a few facts.

1. No one will buy a book that they do not know exists. People won't go looking for it on line or in the store if they have never heard of it. That is the goal of marketing and pr. To expose the book, the cover, your name to as many people as possible when the book comes out.

2. 85% of all books get less than $2000 in marketing from the publisher. And more than 85% of all books sell less than 1000 copies.

3. 95% of all bestsellers get more than $50,000 in marketing and pr and often it's upwards of $150,000. There are never more than two or three books a year that break out on a fluke with no marketing and pr and when you search deeper those that do are almost almost always religious books that get help from very tight communities with systems in place to spread the word.

When people say "if advertising and pr worked every book would be a bestseller" that's the opposite way of how to look at it.

The question is how many books have succeeded without any pr and marketing and the answer to that is very very few.

The reason advertising and pr can't make every book a bestseller is because not every book is good, not because most advertising and pr sucks. Believe me, it is much easier to write an ad to make people stop and read it than to write a whole book someone will spend their hard earned money on.

Not even the most brilliant pr and marketing can sell a book people just do not want to read. More on this later.

4. PR and Marketing cannot make a bestseller but it is almost impossible to have a bestseller or even a good seller or even a seller without pr and marketing.

5. The difference between marketing and pr is that pr is a gamble that can pay off big whereas marketing is guaranteed and you get what you pay for. A publicist will never be sure they will get what they pitch but marketing is buying space and running ads/announcements.

They are different and both valuable so I tell people that if you have the right book and the right publicist - yes hire a publicist but for every dollar you spend with a publicist spend a dollar with a marketing company so that at the end of the day if the publicist doesn't get a lot you still will have gotten exposure.

6. Exposure does work. If you take 100 books and look at the ones that had pr and marketing dollars spent on them and 100 that had none - you will absolutely see that as a group the ones that had the pr/marketing outsold the others more than 10 to one. The problem comes when you look at one book at a time.

For instance. I can have done and blog ads campaigns where I have proof that over 10,000 people clicked through and looked deeper at the book but ultimately the sales for the book were less than stellar. What happened? We got attention for the book but when potential readers picked it up and really looked at it - they passed.

Equally I've done campaigns where we did the only marketing effort and the book went back to press which the publisher never expected or the book listed higher on a bestseller list than they expected or it simply sold through at a better rate than other books in the season/genre.

PR and marketing can't sell books.
It's worth repeating.
PR and marketing can't sell books.
PR and marketing can and do expose books to potential readers and then the book - the words and the premise and the first few pages or the flap copy - have to sell the book.

In advertising there is a saying - nothing kills a bad product better than great advertising.

7. What to spend? What I do for myself and what I tell everyone is keep your day job or a freelance job and spend as much as you can.

I've worked with authors who spend $985 and others who - between my services and other efforts spend $50,000.

The rule of thumb is: if you are going to look back and regret spending the money don't do it. But if you are going to look back and say - if only I had tried maybe the book would have succeeded - then do it.

Nora Roberts said you should spend 10% of your advance. James Patterson spent all of his and kept his job.

You can also learn to do a lot of it yourself. I teach a class once a year - ( - online for six weeks that does just that.

8. Less than a dozen debut books a year breakout. But breaking out is not the only way to success in this biz. Your goal as a writer is to keep writing better and better books and to help those books sell well enough so you can keep getting contracts and writing more books until you write the book that a publisher finally says - THIS IS IT - and they spend the big bucks and break you out. They say it takes ten years or ten books to really break out. Sure some people do it faster but some do it slower. Don't expect the effort to pay off on the first book.

9. If you are going to hire a publicist or marketing firm - please don't believe anyone who promises you sales. No one can and if they are starting out lying you are going to get screwed. And make sure when you look at their testimonials they have worked with some authors/publishers you have heard of!!!!

10. Lastly, if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably not true. Like the people who try to get you to pay money to attend teleseminars on how to become an Amazon #1 bestseller. It won't get you anything. All it means is you have manipulated the system and got 100 friends to buy the book within an hour. Don't pay anyone anything for stuff like that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Guest Blogger: Michelle Moran on How to Promote Your Book (Part 2)

Michelle Moran is the acclaimed and bestselling author of NEFERTITI, published by Crown in 2007, and THE HERETIC QUEEN, which just came out last month. She will be stopping by as time allows to answer questions.

Thanks so much to Michelle for putting together these incredible posts!

Get A Professional Website
Right around the time your final book cover appears, you should have a website up and running (or close to it). I don’t mean a free, do-it-yourself website, but a real, professional-looking site with a photo of you that wasn’t taken in the 1980s. When readers go surfing for author websites, they are looking for more information about you, your books, and what’s coming next. If you really feel like going all out, create a page that’s just for Bloggers, or a page that’s just for Book Clubs, where readers and reviewers can contact you to set up talks, guest posts, Q&As, etc. This way, your website isn’t just providing readers with great information, it’s also actively working for you.

Start A Blog
On a similar note, if you’re going to begin a blog, make sure there’s constantly changing content which will keep people coming back day after day. If you’re not sure where to start, check out what other authors are already doing. A great example of a blog which revolves around a particular theme is historical fiction author C.W. Gortner’s Historical Boys, and a wonderful example of a more eclectic approach is historical romance author Deanna Raybourn’s Blog A Go-Go. What I really can’t recommend is starting a blog in which the posts are all about your book, your promotional activities, and where you can next be seen on tour. Who in the world is going to want to come back day after day to read that? Besides, news of that sort should be featured on your website under a “News” section (unless you find it easier to update a blog versus your website. In which case, make it clear you are not writing a blog, but an author-news page). Of course, if your blog has a theme or interesting content other than your promotional activities, it doesn’t hurt to slip in a post every now and again about your own books.

Get To Know Reviewers
There are hundreds upon hundreds of reviewers out there, many of whom would gladly review your book if given the opportunity (and a free one). Every author receives copies of their own book after publication, and the day these arrive at my house are the same day they leave, signed to several dozen reviewers I’ve met online. Along with signed copies, I also ask the reviewers if they would like a guest post on a particular topic of their choosing (or a generic one), a Q&A of their own making (or, again, a generic one), and whether they’d like two free books to give away on their site. I do this until my books run out. This doesn’t mean you should expect a good review (after all, you want the reviewers to be honest, otherwise their readers won’t trust them), but you can expect “free” publicity. Book bloggers are some of the friendliest people in the world. They are also incredibly kind, and an email asking if they’d like a book to review is almost always answered with a yes (assuming you actually read their blog and know that it’s the right blog to review your book).

Look to the newspapers
Writing an op-ed piece for a newspaper is a fantastic way of creating a little extra buzz for your book. Historical fiction author Robin Maxwell has contributed several pieces to the Huffington Post, many of which mention the subject of her previous books and all of which come with a bio. If you don’t think you have anything to say which would warrant an entire column in a major newspaper, start thinking in terms of historical metaphors and similes. In one of Robin’s columns, she compares Hillary Clinton to Anne Boleyn, the subject of her debut novel. By writing this piece, she increased awareness of her work and added a publishing credit to her already long list. Visibility never hurts (well… unless you’re getting caught for plagiarizing). Just take a look at the hoopla surrounding Sherry Jones’ novel The Jewel of Medina about the prophet Mohammed’s nine year old wife. What began with an outraged reviewer and subsequent cancellation of her book turned into a publicity juggernaut and windfall for her. Almost any publicity is good publicity. If you don’t believe that, just take a peek at James Frey’s Amazon numbers three years after the publication of A Million Little Pieces, which caused Oprah to cry – and not in a good way. Of course, Amazon purchases count for a very small percentage of a book’s overall sales, but nevertheless, the point remains. Publicity is your friend, and when it comes for free, it’s your BFF.

Consider Hiring an Outside Publicist
While every author wants publicity, the in-house publicist who has been assigned to you is busy. In fact, she’s more than busy, she’s overwhelmed and probably spread too thin. She has many books to tend to, some of which may have been written by larger and more successful authors than you. Even if you’re not at the bottom of the totem pole, you’re still not going to be receiving weekly emails updating you on where books are being sent, and you’re almost certainly not going to be getting phone calls asking which publicity ideas are your favorite and whether they should be implemented this week or next. The fact that your in-house publicist can’t do all of this for you isn’t personal, it’s simply business. She is already doing everything she can to help your career and is probably even going out of her way to follow up on leads that may or may not go anywhere (unless you’ve acted like a jerk, in which case she’s not going out of her way. With so many authors to juggle, who needs high-maintenance whiners?). Given all of this, it is possible that you may want to look into hiring an outside publicist, assuming that you’re given the okay by your house.

The time to hire an outside publicist is a year before your book comes out. This will give the new publicist time to read your work, come up with a marketing and publicity plan, and hopefully begin implementing some of the more complicated plans long before your in-house publicist is even allowed to start working on your book (which is about three to five months before publication). A publicist is paid in a variety of ways. Some charge by the project, others work at an hourly rate (expect a quote of $50-$150/hr), while still others work month by month and will expect you to commit to a minimum number of hours for a minimum number of months. Usually, the minimum number of months is three, which is really a very short time for a good publicist to put together and implement a fantastic plan.

How do you know if a publicist is going to be worth it, since most will cost at least $10,000? Look at her list of past and current clients, then feel free to email them and ask their opinions. However, keep in mind that no one can guarantee a review in the NYT, and anyone who tells you differently probably has a side business selling used watches out of their trench-coat. Instead, what a good publicist can do for you is guarantee exposure. I happened to be at RWA in San Francisco while I was looking for a publicist, and after hearing bestselling author Debbie Macomber praise her publicist Nancy Berland, I had a meeting with a Borders Book Buyer who also recommended Nancy (out of the blue). Thinking that this was surely some sort of a sign, I did some research on my own, then decided to hire Nancy to help publicize (and market) my third book, Cleopatra’s Daughter. The book comes out a year from the time of writing (September 2009) which makes this the perfect time to start planning a campaign.

Consider Doing Some of Your Own Marketing
Once the first chunk of your advance comes through (it’s often sent in thirds: the first third upon signing, the second upon acceptance of the edited manuscript, and the last third upon publication) you may want to set aside a percentage for marketing. This can be anywhere from $500 to a whopping $150,000. If $150,000 sounds like an eye-popping amount, it certainly is, but some of the really big authors do set aside those kind of dollars for their outside publicists to market their work (or brand, in their case). For most authors, however, a few thousand dollars is more than enough, and once those dollars are set aside, the difficult job of deciding where to spend that money begins. Marketing can be done almost anywhere, and when I was looking into marketing my debut novel, I checked out every possibility, from radio commercials to display panels on public phone booths (yes, all five remaining ones). I even checked out billboards and theatre advertising.

The conclusion I came to was that online marketing gets the biggest bang for your buck. You’ve heard it before, and probably ad nauseum, but the internet is the future (and the present) of advertising. When Perez Hilton can charge $18,000 for a week’s worth of advertising on his site and have so many ads they are stacked one on top of the other, you bet there’s money to be made online. And he doesn’t make that money without good reason. Whether or not you like his site, 49 million viewers a week check in, and that’s a lot of eyeballs on your ad if you decide to buy a spot there. Ads like his can be purchased at, or you can forget the hassle of doing it yourself and go through MJ Rose, who also offers her fantastic Author Buzz service to new authors which I can highly, highly recommend (in fact, if money is tight and you can do only one thing for your book, this might be what you want to purchase). MJ gets special rates on blogs like Perez, and her own blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype, has wonderful information on book marketing.

When choosing where to advertise, consider your book’s target audience. I don’t just mean male or female, old or young. I mean what do your readers do with their spare time? Are they gardeners or café dwellers? Do they own cats or dogs? When considering this for my debut novel on ancient Egypt, cat-lovers sprang to mind, and of all of my ads, the ones on cat-related sites have done the best. I also saw significant click-thrus on romance sites, even though my books aren’t romance. And don’t be afraid to call up or email places like the NYT or CNN to ask for their advertising rates. But before you do, be familiar with the lingo, because some of the bigger sites, like USA Today, will quote you prices in terms of CPM (cost per mille, which is Latin for a thousand) and ask what your ideal flight date is (a date which should correspond with your co-op).

When looking into places to advertise, some authors will consider radio ads, but my guess is that if you're going to do radio, you need to already be a brand. Since there's nothing for the listener to see, they must decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on a name. King is a brand. Patterson is a brand. For an author who isn't widely known, visual is probably better. I think radio is a reminder to readers that a new [insert brand name] has come out, whereas TV commercials can flash the book cover of an unknown author and see a bigger movement in sales. I would need to ask my marketing department to back me up on this, but that's my gut feeling.

Of course, an author can choose not to do any marketing at all. For my first novel, I set aside a part of my advance for it. But for my second novel, I did very little. Instead, my publishing house was willing to do most of the extra marketing (which I had done previously) on their own budget, and this is where knowing the difference between marketing and publicity (and meeting the people who work in these departments) comes in. Once you’ve done some of your own advertising and you know firsthand what works, you’re in a much stronger position to email your marketing department and ask if they would like to foot the bill for a particular ad. Sometimes it will be a yes, sometimes it will be a no, but it’s much more likely to be a “yes” if you can prove it’s worked in the past.

Yet even with my publishing house paying for more ads, when my third novel comes out next year, I will be back to doing my own marketing. This isn’t because my house will be doing less (Crown is wonderfully supportive, and any author who lands there is lucky in the extreme). It’s because I believe that pitching-in is a good business decision. Moreover, the one who pays the bill is the one who has the control over the look and layout of the ads, of where the online ads should be linked, and which dates the ads should run. Being in control is rather nice, and I’ve discovered that although I’m definitively a Type B personality in everyday life, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I morph pretty furiously into a Type A when it comes to business decisions. Not only that, it’s a matter of already having done the hard work. Since I took the time find out which online sites worked best for my first novel (and which designers could be counted on to produce something eye-catching in a timely fashion), purchasing an ad here and there no longer takes the time that it used to.

Create A Book Trailer

Books trailers come in many shapes and sizes, and by this I mean anything from home-made movies to studio-productions. A book trailer can be made for any type of novel, from nonfiction (see The Dangerous Book For Boys) to adult fiction (see The Judas Strain) to YA (see Rumors). If you decide to make a trailer for your book, the first thing you’ll need to consider is your budget. If you’re doing something produced at home, well then, no worries, but if you want to have photos with professional voiceover and copyrighted music, you’ll be looking at spending at least $800. For something more upscale an author can hire a company like Expanded Books which made C.W. Gortner’s trailer for his novel The Last Queen. And for a trailer made by an actual director who will use green-screen, hire actors, rent costumes, rustle up props and have an on-set stylist, you’re looking at $5000 or so. I found the director I hired to shoot my book trailer for Cleopatra’s Daughter on GalleyCat. Brady Hall was punctual, charming, enthusiastic, and best of all, open to any and all ideas. From concept to finished product, it took about a month.

Once your book trailer is finished, however, an author needs to start thinking about unique ways of utilizing it. Will you be playing it in theatres, using it for commercials, navigating the right channels to display it on B&, or will you simply be posting it on YouTube and hoping for the best? Publishers rarely pay for book trailers themselves, since there’s no way of knowing whether or not they work. Of course, you can always incorporate the trailer into an online ad and study the click-thus versus a static or flash ad. Then, armed with these numbers, perhaps your publisher may be more willing to pay for the next one. If not, an author must look at those numbers him/herself and determine whether the cost is worth it.

Get The Inside Scoop
Getting the inside scoop means knowing which options are available to your publishing house for promoting and marketing your book. By becoming familiar with these various options, you can be in the position of mentioning them to your editor or marketing contact as possibilities. Why wouldn’t your publishing house simply act on these options versus waiting for you to bring them up? Because many of them are expensive, require extra time, and are only done for the books that are being given a huge marketing push.

The White Box, Red Box Program is something your publishing house can choose to participate in if they so desire. It is run through Indie Bound, which will send red and white colored boxes to all of the independent bookstores on their list. In the boxes are things like ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies – like galleys), tear-off shelf-talkers (paper displays which sit on the shelf and draw the reader’s attention to a particular book), easel-back signs, posters, postcards, bookmarks and more. Each of these items come with a different price tag. In 2005, for example, sending a shelf-talker each to the nine hundred stores cost $50, while bookmarks cost $350. If you send these items to a bookstore on your own, the chances are that they will end up in the garbage (and cost a pretty penny to produce and mail). That is what makes WBRB so useful.

The White Box, Red Box program, however, isn’t the only way of sending out these promotional items. Shelf-talkers can also be shipped to the big chains, like B&N and Borders. Getting them made will require the permission of your marketing department, just as floor displays (which go under co-op), require your marketing department’s approval. You’ve seen these cardboard stands in B&N featuring twelve of an author’s most recent books. They are quite pricey to make and ship, but if your publishing house hasn’t mentioned them, ask anyway. The answer will probably be no, but it’s worth a shot! And a firm “not possible” this time around just might turn into a “let’s see what we can do” for the next book.

That means leave negativity alone. One would think this goes without saying, but a quick skim of Dear Author can tell you that many authors suffer from badreviewaphobia. This is the abnormal fear, and possibly even the uncontrollable rage, over a poor review, be it on Amazon, in a newspaper, or anywhere else. Take it as a fact that there will be readers who dislike your book. Forget dislike. There will be reviewers who loathe your book entirely (and maybe even you, as well). Justified or not, it is exceptionally foolish of an author to get into an online debate with a reviewer who doesn’t like your book. Worse still is the author who sneakily asks a friend to go online and bash the reviewer. Take my word on this: you will be found out. In one way or another, even if no one can prove it, this will be discovered and readers will not trust your reviews or your books after this. So don’t do it. Aside from the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, it is just poor form (and possibly karma – the jury is still out on this) to go after someone who is simply posting a review of how the book made them feel. There is no pleasing everyone, and if you got into publishing to be universally applauded, you are in the wrong business. Even if the reviewer completely got the name of your narrator wrong and is erroneous on several other points, let other readers point that out. If no one does, take a big old sip of that refreshing drink called Suckitup. You will face worse things in your career. Of course, you can insist that correcting a reviewer is simply standing up for your own work and that speaking out is your responsibility. Well… okay. But if you find readers making snarky comments about you on blogs over it, don’t say I didn’t I warn you. And if you think defending your reputation by going onto web forums or blogs in the guise of an anonymous poster (or more obvious, a new poster) is going to help sort things out, well then… there’s just no helping some people.

Think Outside the “Box”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try new ways of publicity and marketing, even if you’ve never heard of anyone else doing it before. This is what a great publicist will do for you, and what you want to do for yourself. There are so many ways of promoting a book that aren’t widely used, and many of them are free. You can host a cyber-launch party for yourself, which is what Elle Newmark did with her self-published novel now entitled The Book of Unholy Mischief. The cyber party began on Tuesday, and one week later she was signing a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster for seven figures. Or perhaps you want to set up your own virtual blog tour, which also comes “free” and is a great way of spreading the word about a book. Research, explore, and above all, save a little of that advance money in case any of the more expensive ideas appeal to you. No one can make your book a bestseller, but you can certainly give it the best chance possible by being proactive.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: Michelle Moran on How to Promote Your Book (Part 1)

Michelle Moran is the acclaimed and bestselling author of NEFERTITI, published by Crown in 2007, and THE HERETIC QUEEN, which just came out last month. She will be stopping by as time allows to answer questions.

Thanks so much to Michelle for putting together these incredible posts!

So you’re a few months away from publishing your debut novel. Your publishing house has suggested that you pitch in to help promote your own work, but you don’t have the first clue as to where you should start. Or perhaps you’ve already published your first book without doing any of your own publicity and marketing and now the hard realization has hit that this time around, without a significant change on your part, your career is going to end as quickly as it began. Now you’re willing to try something – anything. But what works? What doesn’t work? What should you be doing?

Know the Business of Publication

If you think your job as a writer begins and ends with your manuscript, you’re going to be in for some serious disappointments when publication day arrives. Publishing houses purchase books that sell. They’re not charities (alas), they’re businesses, and unless you’re one of the few authors whose novel is chosen to be a lead title, you’re going to need to approach the publication of your novel not as a writer, but as a business person.

But first of all, what is a lead title? Every season publishers determine which books will receive their biggest push, and those are the ones that get the most attention, not to mention the most marketing and publicity dollars. Books that are normally chosen for these spots are ones that were purchased for hefty advances (high six and seven figures), or ones that have enormous in-house support. When a book is made lead title, the author may be set up not just on a book tour, but on a pre-publication tour. That means an author might be flown to several cities to meet and greet buyers. In Bentonville, Arkansas they might meet with Walmart buyers, in Ann Arbor, Michigan they’ll meet the buyers from Borders, in Birmingham, Alabama they might meet with Books-a-Million and in New York, the buyers from Barnes and Noble. That’s not to forget buyers from Costco, Baker & Taylor, Sams Club, Ingram… The list goes on and on, and as you can imagine, this isn’t the sort of treatment that every author will receive. The publicity and marketing departments simply don’t have the time to invest in setting up so many appointments for everyone. But you will know almost immediately if your book is going to be a lead title, because things will start happening quickly. Special luncheons and dinners will be set up so you can meet booksellers. These might take place at conventions like Book Expo America or RWA, or they might take place somewhere in NY or Seattle. Interviews will start coming in early, and you’ll find yourself spending more and more time on planes and less time writing. Again, writing is a business, and part of that business is being savvy, well-spoken, and willing to do what it takes to make your book a success. But if your book isn’t one of the “chosen ones” with a three-page spread in the sales catalog, you needn’t start to panic. It doesn’t mean your book doomed to failure. You simply have to be proactive.

Know the Lingo
Like any business, the publishing industry has its own lingo, and the smart author will learn as much of it as possible, since this can mean the difference between contacting the right person in your house for ad money, and contacting the wrong person and having to pay for the ad yourself. Two of the most important terms you’ll ever need to know are marketing and publicity.

The marketing department deals with anything related to promotions that can be bought: radio time, print ads, online ads, etc. If you have an idea for an advertisement and would like to see if there’s enough money in your publisher’s budget to purchase it, it’s the marketing department you should contact. If you don’t know who that person is, ask your editor. There are probably two different people in marketing who are helping promote your books: someone who deals exclusively with hardcovers, and another person who deals in paperbacks. Both of these are people you should know, and hopefully have even met on your trip to NY (What trip, you ask? Well, the one you took six months or so after signing your first contract.)

The publicity department, by contrast, deals with anything related to promotions that come “free”: online reviews, print reviews, magazine interviews, online interviews, TV interviews, book tours, etc. I put “free” in quotation marks because, let’s face it, none of this really comes free. Your publicist is investing enormous amounts of time sending out press kits (which are costly), getting galleys in the mail (which are costly), printing up press releases, calling magazines to follow up on possible interviews, double-checking schedules, booking hotel rooms, and much, much more. Not only is she doing all of this for you, but she has many other authors she’s doing it for as well.

If you’re not sure what galleys and press kits are, they are also part of this “publishing lingo” you’ll need to become familiar with. A galley is an early copy of your novel with or without the cover image. The words “Not for Sale” will be printed somewhere on the cover, since the galley is only intended for reviewers. At the galley stage, changes are still being made to the manuscript, which is one of the reasons it’s not for sale. Mind you, not all galleys are created equal. Some imprints have a policy of printing theirs with full color covers, while others use a plain, black and white cover without any image whatsoever. If your book has been chosen as a lead title, it will almost certainly have a full color cover even if that’s not the house’s normal policy. It may even have gold foil on the front, or embossing, both of which are enormously expensive, especially at the galley stage. There’s pretty much nothing you can do if your house prints up plain looking galleys and you prefer color (and really, who wouldn’t prefer color?). There’s also very little you can do (aside from printing up galleys yourself) if your publishing house only prints a hundred or two hundred galleys.

Like galley covers, not all galley print-runs are equal. A lead title might have anywhere from a thousand to ten thousand galleys printed up for every type of reviewer imaginable, while most other novels will have between a hundred and two hundred. I have known authors who were unhappy with the number of the galleys their houses printed who went out and printed up their own, then sent them media mail for two or three dollars through the post office to various reviewers they contacted themselves. Now many authors would grumble (perhaps rightly so) about doing this themselves. They don’t want to go through the trouble of asking the publicity department for a list of the places their galleys are being sent to (so they don’t duplicate during their own mailing). They also don’t want to spend the money it would require to print up their own galleys or to send out the ones their publishing house has given to them (a number that can be increased when your agent is drawing up your contract, btw). And they certainly don’t want to waste their writing time by emailing online or print reviewers and asking them if they’d like a copy of their book. But for the authors I’ve known who did this, they felt it was the difference between being a one book wonder and an author signing a contract for her fifth and sixth books.

Now, unless your galley print run is ludicrously small and the galleys are only being sent to a handful of reviewers (a list your publicist may or may not be willing to part with), I wouldn’t personally recommend this approach. But it has been done.

What I would recommend, however, is asking the publicity department whether they’ll be making press kits for your book. Press kits are folders which normally include a press release about your novel, a Q&A, possibly a photograph, and definitely snippets of your best reviews. If the publicity department says yes, then you have nothing to worry about on this front. But be sure to ask them whether their kits include folders. To save money, your publicist might simply be stuffing your press releases etc, into the mailing envelopes your book is going out in. For a more professional look, you may want to offer to purchase of your own folders, and possibly even four-color stickers of your book cover to go on the front. Two hundred should be more than enough, and you can ship them to your publicist with the stickers already applied (assuming you have gotten her okay beforehand). If this sounds like a lot of work, well… there’s no sugarcoating it. It is. But think of how this work might pay off with a review in the LA Times or the Boston Globe. Book reviewers are inundated with novels, and the piles on their desk reach life-threatening heights. What are they more likely to pull from that pile? Loose papers which have long since been crumpled into oblivion, or a folder?

Coop space (pronounced co-op, and often spelled this way as well)
Before a novel is released, several important decisions will be made ahead of time that will significantly affect the chance of having your book picked up by a customer in a bookstore. One of these decisions is whether or not the publisher will be purchasing co-op space. Co-op means cooperative advertising space that publishers pay for. These are places in bookstores that see high traffic such as end caps, new release tables in the front of the shop, and store windows. It’s a widespread misconception that bookstore employees select the titles they want to feature in the store window or on the aisle tables based on the selections they personally prefer. However, co-op placement is very selective and is also based on how the store projects a particular book will sell. All of this is decided up to six months before publication, so that before a book even hits the shelves its visibility to customers is partly predetermined. This doesn’t mean that books without co-op space won’t sell well, or that books with co-op space are launched into sudden bestseller status. It simply means that when a customer walks into a bookstore, just like when a shopper goes into a grocery store, product placement is never a haphazard decision.

Several months before your book is released, be sure to find out if your house will be purchasing coop, and if so, for which weeks. Knowing these dates is incredibly important, because this is when you are going to do the most publicity and (if you are spending any money on your own) marketing. You’ll want to work the hardest to promote your book during the two or three weeks when it’s most visible in the stores. For the really big retailers – B&N and Borders – your co-op time may differ, so be sure to ask your editor for specific dates and places.

Cover art
Readers often assume that an author has a significant amount of say in what their cover art looks like. It would seem only reasonable that after toiling for years on a six hundred page manuscript that an author would get to choose what face it will present to the world. Just as you wouldn’t take your child to be photographed at a professional studio with their hair standing on end and their trousers dirty, it is only logical to assume that a writer would get to “dress up” their child for presentation, choosing the colors and appearance of their cover art with care. The truth of the matter is, however, most writers are only minimally consulted about cover art. At the beginning of the publication process, you might be requested to submit a few words about what you envision the cover art to be. If it’s historical fiction and the subject was an historical personage, you might be requested to provide a photograph and asked what accessories and clothes the person might have worn. But besides this, there is very little control you have over your cover. Once you see the colors, layout and image of your cover three to five months into the publication process, it’s possible you’ll be asked your opinion about it, but ultimately it is the bookstores that have the trump card. If a Barnes and Nobles representative dislikes the art, for example, it may be back to the drawing board. But if you dislike your cover art because the protagonist has the wrong hair color or is wearing an historically inaccurate piece, the chances of a cover being changed might only be determined by your clout.

If you should find yourself in this position, take several deep breaths, discuss it with your agent, then have your agent approach your editor. Whenever something upsetting occurs, always discuss it with your agent first, then have the agent speak on your behalf. Emotional people make bad business decisions, and throwing a wobbly on the phone to your editor (however close the two of you have become) definitely ranks in the bad decision category.

In tomorrow's post, Michelle will address online publicity, blogs, outside publicists, and much more!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Going from Small Presses to Big Publishers

Hope everyone had a great weekend, and I'm especially hoping that you recovered from fainting with joy upon seeing Phil's dad on the Amazing Race last night. Oh. Um. Maybe that was just me.

Reader Kathryn Born wrote in.... uh... when was it Kathryn? A while ago. She had a pretty simple but deceptively challenging question: Say you've been published by small presses. How do you make the leap to a big publisher?

I sat on this question until it was begging for mercy.

I have some things you can do and things you probably shouldn't do, but what you're not going to find is a silver bullet or a handy-dandy map from Point A to Point B. Because honestly, it's not easy.


First, the most important way to make the leap is to write really really good books. This sounds obvious, but what I mean is not just good-for-small-presses-good, I'm talking about getting nominated for awards and breathless reviews and and ecstatic word of mouth and getting blurbs from famous authors good. Every awards season there are a few books that manage to get nominated for some bigtime awards even though their publishers are not household names. It helps to be one of those.

But even if you aren't getting nominated for Nobel Prizes, it helps to sell a lot of copies. Again, this sounds obvious, but you're working on an uphill playing field. Chances are a small press is not going to have the distribution, advertising budget, and resources to really promote your book the way a major publisher would. So you're going to have to do a lot of that legwork yourself. This could involve hiring an outside publicist or banging down doors yourself, but demonstrating sales figures that are stunning for a small press is a great way of proving that you're ready for the leap.

Basically, what this boils down to is that you have to position and present yourself to an agent and/or to an editor at a major house as an up-and-coming author and someone that a major publisher might be able to make into a star. Your audience is growing. You're ready for a breakout. It's absolutely essential to both cultivate this attitude as well as have the books and sales figures to back it up.

This is really difficult, because you're going to be working against some institutional difficulties. If you have a small-press sales track it could pose some challenges for a publisher hoping for a good sell-in. A big publisher may have to work double-time to break you out. If they're going to make that investment, they're going to want to be confident that there's a very good chance of success.

But it does happen! Tom Clancy's first novel, a little number called THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, was originally published by the US Naval Institute Press. Sure, that was a while ago, but let's not forget the modern examples of self-published novels (smaller than a small press!) such as ERAGON and THE SHACK that were picked up because they were a) really good and b) selling very well.


Making the leap from a small press to a big publisher is hard. Making the leap with a sequel is really, really, really hard. Unless your series has broken out in a major way, chances are a publisher is going to shy away from an orphaned sequel.

Now, that goes for serial plots. But if you have a recurring character and the books stand alone, it's possible to continue to build the audience for that character as you move to a major publisher. But a new series or stand-alone entirely is often best of all.

So think very carefully and strategically about the project that you are going to focus on to make the leap. It should build off of your past success and be really good, really smart, and something that leaves little doubt that you're primed for a breakout.

Consult with professionals as necessary. This all assumes you have an agent.

Now, I know full well that waving my hand and saying, "Go write tremendous books, do all the promotional legwork, defy the odds with your sales, win some awards, find an agent, and oh yeah, think of a mind-numbingly brilliant idea for your breakout book" is not the easiest list to pull off. But, as the recent New York Observer article pointed out, as the big house publishing industry moves to a blockbuster model, small presses will increasingly fill the gap of really good, riskier books that the big houses are overlooking, particularly debuts. And inevitably, those small presses are going to be testing grounds for bigtime talents.

So it's not an easy landscape, and it requires talent, self-promotion, luck, self-promotion, talent, and luck. And talent. But this is the direction the industry is moving, and the only thing to do is to go with the flow, rise with the tide, and any other water metaphors that are applicable.

Tomorrow will begin an incredible, indispensable, inspiring, inseriouslyawesome two-part guest blog by a very successful published author on what you can do to promote your books. Definitely, definitely stay tuned!

Friday, October 17, 2008

This Week in Publishing 10/17/08

This week...

Thanks to everyone for the well wishes, I am now on the mend.

This week's end-of-publishing-as-we-know it article is brought to you by...... The New York Observer! This one has the scintillating subhead "Fewer books, bigger deals—No room for debuts?" and tackles the new Blockbuster Model that seems to be en vogue among publishers.

Meanwhile, on HarperStudio's blog, the very awesome young agent Jeff Moores (and fellow veteran of the East of Eden Writers Conference) offers his take on one of the assertions of the Observer article, namely that it will be tough for young agents to break out. Moores, needless to say, (very politely) disagrees.

Also on HarperStudio's blog, an interview with Borders CEO George Jones on the current (and future) state of the book business. It's not all doom and gloom!

Want some insight into editorial letters, i.e. the letters that your editor sends you when it's time to revise your work? You're in luck. My very smart client Jennifer Hubbard blogged about how she tackled her recent revision, and it's an indispensable inside look into the process.

Speaking of editors and indispensability, the very smart and up-and-coming Grove/Atlantic editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler has published his latest incredible publishing interview, this time with veteran Algonquin editor Chuck Adams. A must-must read.

Annnnd speaking of smart up-and-coming editors, Maria Gagliano and Celia Johnson are the brains behind the Brooklyn-based lit journal Slice Magazine. Their current issue features interviews with Salman Rushdie, Nam Le, and fellow San Francisco resident Andrew Sean Greer.

And finally, via reader John Ochwat, the BBC is officially stealing ideas from this blog, and they solicited readers on their favorite, er, favourite words.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Have Your Book Buying Habits Changed in the Last Year?

We live in a tumultuous time all around, with the economy sinking and technology continuing to change habits and proclivities. It's also an interesting time for the publishing industry, as we're all watching to see how the economy will affect sales, and also keeping an eye on e-books and other new technological developments.

Have you noticed a change in how you buy books? Do you buy fewer? More? New/used? Do you buy them online or in bookstores?

My habits have definitely been changed in the past year. Now that I have a Kindle, I look first to see if books are available as an e-book. The ease and convenience of reading on a Kindle has been indispensable for me -- I'm able to get so much more done now that I can read for work or pleasure anywhere, anytime.

What about you?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

About Those Books Beginning With Dialogue

The results from yesterday's Can I Get a Ruling? are in, and 77% of you are incontinent.

Also, you may have surmised from my own stated philosophy of "if it works it works" as well as the inclusion of a Third Way, that I too am in the "Depends" category. People have raised lots of very good examples of opening dialogue that worked, and those examples speak for themselves (get it?).

But here's why I brought this up. You may not have thought about opening a novel dialogue (or maybe you have), but it's something I notice right away when I'm starting to read a partial. Because when you start with dialogue, you can't hide.

That's because beginning a novel with dialogue is hard. It's very difficult to do it effectively, because the reader doesn't have context, they don't yet know why they should care, and a lot of people are turned off by gratuitous in media res.

Some of my fastest decisions when reading a partial have come from reading opening dialogue. If it doesn't work, it's pretty clear right off the bat.

In my ongoing collection of sports/publishing metaphors better known as EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT PUBLISHING I LEARNED FROM SPORTS, co-authored with Dan, let me use the following example.

If you lined up a bunch of people and told them to do something easy, like shoot a free throw, you might not be able to tell which are the good players and which are the great players. Pretty much everyone can shoot a free throw. Make them do something difficult, like dunk or shoot fadeaway jump shots, and the differences will be quickly apparent.

Same goes for difficult authorial tricks like starting with dialogue and/or breaking other "rules." If you can pull it off, fantastic, if not, an agent will be able to tell very quickly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can I Get a Ruling?: Beginning a Book With Dialogue

Under the weather today, so a quick post.

How do we feel about novels that begin with dialogue?

I won't prejudice the results with my opinion, although in a departure from Can I Get A Rulings from the past, I'll allow a third response.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This Week in Publishing 10/10/08

This Week in the Meltdown

Wondering how publishing company stocks are doing these days? Um..... basically as well as everyone else. Not Good.

Penguin imprint Dutton was in the news again as they won the auction for a new, Stoker-family-connected version of DRACULA. It will be the Stoker-family endorsed Dracula project since the 1931 film version.

Before you tell your kids to put down the Wiimote and go read some books, you may be curious to know that efforts are afoot to use video games to promote reading. Whatever works! Says the 28-year-old formerly addicted to Guitar Hero. Also the article has a new phrase I haven't seen before: digital literary. Which is important.

Everyone's favorite shy-author-publicity blog Shrinking Violet Promotions is compiling An Introvert's Bill of Rights. My favorite so far: "Introverts have the right to leave social events "early" as needed."

Editorial Anonymous reinforces perhaps the single best publishing advice that needs to be repeated again and again: don't follow trends.

As I'm sure you have seen, as expected, the Nobel Prize for Literature was not won by an American, but rather Frenchman Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, who the committee cited for being an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization." But in the spirit of the current political season, I have a question for the mainstream media: How do we know that Le Clezio is not, and never has been, Cormac McCarthy? I call upon Le Clezi to prove that he is who he says he is and not the author whose terse prose and lack of quotation marks have demonstrated his fitness for the highest award granted in the name of inventors of dynamite.

And finally, in an article that is so quaint it kills, the Nobel Prize committee is gravely concerned that news of their selection of Le Clezio may have leaked early...... as reflected by the betting in the Nobel Prize futures market. I too lost sleep last night about upsetting the all-important "people who bet on the Nobel Prize in Literature" constituency.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hardcover vs. Paperback Debuts

Seriously, stock market? Really? You want to go? Because we can go. You heard me. You might win, but I fight dirty.


Reader Gregory O'Neill wrote with a very interesting question: why are some books originally published in hardcover and some originally in paperback?

Good question! There's more to it than a coin flip. (Mostly)

In recent years there has been a movement towards publishing more original paperbacks. Mass market (i.e. supermarket-rack-sized) originals had always been a way of building up writers in genre fiction, but over the years, trade paperback (i.e. bigger than mass market, smaller than hardcover) originals have gained steady popularity as well. You'll have to trust me on that because I don't have time to find the numbers to back that up. Hooray for expediency!

So what goes into the decision?

Well, there are pros and cons to both.

Pros: More royalties for the author because of higher price point, more review coverage (er, in theory), sometimes treated as more "serious" and "prestigious" because of tradition, two shots at a book catching on (first in hardcover then again when it comes out in paperback -- Penguin in particular has perfected the art of turning a relatively modest hardcover run into a blockbuster trade paperback - just look at the Trade Paperback bestseller list)
Cons: Hardcovers are expensive, and it's sometimes difficult to break out an author at a higher price point

Pros: People love them some trade and mass market paperback, lower price point and thus readers may be more willing to take a chance on a new author, trends younger
Cons: Less review coverage, only one shot

So, you might be thinking, if a hardcover is going to come out in paperback eventually anyway, why not just start in hardcover and then come out with the paperback down the line? Win win (win). Well, here's the potential problem with that: if a book does very poorly in hardcover, it will probably affect how the bookstores are going to place orders on the paperback. So a book that might have caught on as a paperback original could see a paperback run partially dashed if the hardcover doesn't do well.

Ultimately it's a very tricky decision that involves figuring out the target audience, factoring in how much review coverage is going to matter, and many other elements. But more and more authors are starting out on the paperback original side, particularly with books that trend toward a younger/edgier market (because young people are poor!), and for authors who are seeking to build an audience.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What's the Worst Writing Advice You've Ever Received?

Advice! It abounds. It proliferates. It exfoliates.

But advice? Not always helpful. In fact it can be downright unhelpful. Often comically so.

So you tell me on this Wednesday: what's the worst advice you've ever received?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Commercial Fiction

First caveat: I'm not someone who really worries too much about genre distinctions in a query, and don't think you should lose sleep over whether your novel is a dark urban fantasy or paranormal romance. So keep that in mind as you're reading this post.

Second Caveat: opinions may differ on my take on commercial fiction, so take this as my own subjective opinion even more so than usual.

Third caveat: this post is geared toward the adult side of the book business.

Fourth caveat: Your shoelaces are untied.

Fifth caveat: Made you look.

Preamble: concluded.

Commercial fiction! Sounds great, right? Fiction that sells! Who can't get behind that? Well... commercial fiction doesn't really exist as its own genre.

Here's what I mean by that: commercial fiction is kind of an umbrella term for genre fiction (Mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, westerns, historical fiction, etc.). Chances are, if you're writing commercial fiction you're writing with some genre or genres in mind and are targeting readers of that genre(s).

Now, what if you have a plot that doesn't readily fall into a certain genre and it isn't exactly literary fiction either (definition here)? To me, there are really only two possibilities:

1) You write it so that it is accessible and well-written enough to fall into the Book Club Fiction category (i.e. literary/commercial fiction). Major bonus points for having a high-concept plot (see: THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN). Quadruple bonus points for having a number or the word "Club" in the title.

2) You're in no-man's land.

A looooot of manuscripts I see in the Query pile fall into no-man's land. A non-literary novel about a man staring at the wall is never going to be "commercial" fiction unless it is extremely well-written and/or stylistically unique and/or brings something to the table in order to land itself in the Book Club Fiction category. So particularly if you don't have a high concept plot, writing it straight isn't probably going to work. It has to be something more.

It's very important to know yourself as a writer. If you're going for literary fiction, it has to be stylistically unique. If you're going for Book Club Fiction, it helps to be both accessible and well-written. If you're going for commercial fiction, you should know your target audience.

And in my opinion, it's important to think all this out before you start writing your novel. No man's land is a very sad place for novels indeed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Unsolicited Drop-ins

This kinnnnnnda should go without saying, but even if you live next door to an agency do not stop by to drop off an unsolicited query or manuscript or ask to speak with an agent. If you saw some of the e-mails I get you'd know there's no way I'm coming out of my office.

Friday, October 3, 2008

This Week in Publishing 10/3/08

Are you ready for the most linkerrific TWIP ever?? Yes? No? Oh. Well, here it comes anyway. Be careful with your carry-on items, these links may shift during flight.

First off, in philanthropic news, Moonrat is hosting a raffle for a friend who is battling cancer and is offering query and manuscript critiques for your raffling pleasure, so please please check out the raffle site. The very busy Moonrat also recently wrote about the myth that there are no great editors anymore, and gives some advice for all those people who want to prepare for a job in publishing.

Hot off the Pub Lunch wire: Sony has announced details about their new e-reader, which will feature a touch screen with a virtual keyboard, expanded memory, and an LED nightlight. Well played, Sony. Well played indeed. The sad: still no wireless or Mac compatibility. Tears.

Meanwhile, GalleyCat floats a question about whether there will soon be a book version of Napster. That sound you hear is my head hitting my desk. Ouch!

A few months back we debated Random House's decision to cancel publication of THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, a novel about one of Muhammad's wives. Well, that decision just got quite a bit more real as the home of the British publisher was firebombed (luckily no one was injured). So far publication is moving forward as planned, and my thoughts go out all of those brave publishing employees who are truly living the values of freedom of speech and press.

I tell you what, NY Mag's End of Publishing article has generated quite the response, and perhaps none more eloquent than Kassia Kroszer's over at Booksquare, who suggests that the teeth gnashing about the decline of literary fiction stems from a misguided notion about literary niches that were "never were as big and profitable as legend suggested." The business of giving readers what they want: basically unchanged.

Lynne Spears was in the news last week wondering why mothers of pop stars are held to different standards than um... some unnamed prominent people who you might read about if this were a political blog. Why do I mention this? Because Spears has a parenting memoir out! And in case you're wondering why religious publisher Thomas Nelson decided to publish Lynne Spears' book, Thomas Nelson CEO/blogger Michael Hyatt recently wrote a post entitled Why Did We Publish Lynne Spears' Book? There you have it.

Annnnnnnd speaking of giving readers what they want, Forbes tallied up the yearly earnings of the top ten moneymaking authors. JK Rowling led the way with $300 million, and the combined earnings of the top 10 was $563 million. Yowsa.

Annnnnnd speaking of the supposed decline of literary fiction, reader John Ochwat was first to point me to this quote from the head of the Nobel Prize for Literature Horace Engdahl, who, despite the existence of Cormac McCarthy, Michael Chabon, Stephen Dixon, John Updike, Paris Hilton and Jonathan Franzen, has the audacity to say: “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.” Oh realllllllly. I know you are, but what am I?

Annnnnd speaking of that unnamed prominent person from earlier, Virgina Quarterly Review was thrilled to find out that Sarah Palin is a reader of VQR! Well. Technically.

In publishing advice news, do you need a literary agent? Agent Kate Shafer Testerman recently addressed an article on that topic, and her post is seriously worth a read.

And next in publishing advice news, the good and innovative people over at HarperStudio have good advice from a former publicity director on starting your publicity now.

And finally (no, really!), I had always thought of publishing as being a lot like a soccer -- a lot of kicking the ball and waiting for something to happen punctuated by some exciting goals (well, hopefully). But reader Dawn Metcalf has perhaps the most apt comparison I've seen. CALVINBALL!!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Book Club Fiction

Around the publishing industry there has long been a hankering for a certain type of book that is both literary and yet commercial, familiar and yet exotic, well-written but not too dense, accessible but with some depth. They are books that are kind of tough to categorize, because they don't exactly fit into any one genre. I'd often hear people calling them either literary commercial fiction or commercial literary fiction.

But during my last trip to New York I heard an apt label for this category: book club fiction*. And lots of editors want it.

What books are in this category? Think:

(EAT PRAY LOVE would be an example of book club memoir)

What these books have in common is that they appeal to the book club format. Anyone who has ever belonged to a book club knows the complex calculus that goes into making a good selection. It has to be a book that people can get through in a month, but still have enough depth so that there are things to talk about at the get-together. It has to be a book that would appeal to a wide variety of people. Bonus points for being set in a location that lends itself to themed cooking.

Book clubs are an extremely important market for publishers, so much so that books that would appeal to book clubs often have supplementary material in the back (such as discussion questions), and many publishers provide additional web resources. The books that are able to catch fire in book clubs are often the non-genre books that land themselves on bestseller lists and catch on through word of mouth, hence the clamor from editors for books that fall into this category.

Now, I wouldn't go and call your manuscript "book club fiction" in a query, because it's still not exactly a recognizable genre. But if you're brainstorming for novel ideas, think about what your book club would want to read.

*(I should clarify that I'm referring to friends/family book clubs, and not necessarily BOMC, although sometimes there's overlap in titles)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Difference Between Mysteries, Suspense and Thrillers

After an epic, epic day, evening, and night of work, I have successfully answered all the e-mails that were in my Inbox, including 300+ queries. Query moratorium: lifted. In my next trick, I will solve the financial crisis while standing on my head and weaving a lanyard.

Last night, somewhere around query #250, I had an idea for a blog post: parsing out the difference between thrillers, suspense, and mysteries. They're kind of interchangeable... and yet not, right? Then this morning reader Ralph Ellis e-mailed me suggesting I write a blog post on the difference between thrillers, suspense and mysteries. Either I'm becoming far too predictable or Ralph needs to sell his skills to the CIA. I'm hoping it's the latter (and I'm not telling you Ralph's lotto picks).

Here's what I came up with last night. Yes, these are to a certain extent interchangeable and there is overlap, but here's how I personally make the distinction:

Thrillers have action
Suspense has danger, but not necessarily action
Mysteries have mysteries, i.e., something you don't know until the end

Now, before you start calling your novel a mystery thriller with suspense elements, know that I'm not overly concerned with genre labels. I've seen novels that were called one thing at the query stage, something else at the submission stage, and still something else at the publication stage. For your query, just shoot for the bookstore section it would be in and call it a day.

At the same time, it is valuable to know the conventions of the genre(s) in which you're writing. These different subgenres have different expectations when it comes to plot revelations and pacing. For instance, with a thriller, you might know who the killer is from Page 1, but you're riveted by the chase -- and the action needs to be punctuated at key moments. For suspense, you might know who the killer is from Page 1 but there could be a slower pace and you're riveted by the sense of danger. But for a mystery, you might not know who the killer is until the very end.

These labels slosh around a whole lot, so again, don't sweat them too much. And if you're confused, just wait for Ralph Ellis to e-mail you. He'll know.

UPDATE: Jessica Faust at BookEnds covered a similar topic today, so check that out as well.

Related Posts with Thumbnails