Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Book Is Out. How Can I Still Screw This Up?

You navigated all the work and worry and frustration of getting published; you avoided all the pitfalls and hurdles, the traps, mistakes, and numbskull moves, and you can't imagine how. You have a book in your hands and on the spine there's a real publisher's name!

But you're a self-defeatist, and dammit, you wanted to fail! So, you ask yourself, surely there's still some way I can f*** this up?

Yes, indeed there is. You already know how positively maddening it is to your publisher to receive several phone calls from you in a single month. So of course you'll be sure to call them with many questions, and phrase the questions so as to imply that your publicity person isn't doing her job well. Done and done.

But harassing publicity people fresh from sorority life until they cry may or may not torpedo your book. How can you really undermine things? Well, it may seem obvious, but your book will be selling in bookstores... unless you can prevent it!

While you may be tempted to simply try to hide copies of your book behind the shelves or scatter them in the toddler play area to let nature take its course, the really efficient tactic is to make the booksellers themselves hate your book.

This is much easier than you think. First you should come on all nice and eager-newbie-like and get the person in charge to take a copy of your book to review it. Booksellers are such patsies, they'll fall for this over and over again. They know they have far too many important running-the-bookstore tasks to realistically get your book read, but they'll promise they will anyway. Suckers.

Now's the fun part. Start calling that person every week or so asking if they've read the book yet. That's all. It's really that simple! Whereas waiting a couple of months before reminding them would inspire guilt and feelings of indebtedness, calling them almost immediately (and relentlessly thereafter) will take the bookseller directly to feelings of indignation, followed quickly by mounting irritation, disbelief, and actual rancor.

Cross that bookstore off your list. If they even stock the book, they'll do the hiding of it for you. Choose a good, connected bookseller, and you might be able to cross several bookstores off your list—and better yet, the bookseller will complain about you to your publicity and marketing departments!

When your publisher realizes you're making yourself unpleasant to everyone (not just to your publisher), they'll definitely write you off. No more promotion, actually irate booksellers, and really no chance of being published at that publisher again!

When you can't even find copies of your book on remainder tables because your publisher has sold them off as high-fiber livestock feed, you'll know you're a truly successful failure! Congratulations!

48 comments:

Kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The portrait you paint is certainly unpleasant, but also unsympathetic. (not that we turn to you for sympathy.)

You seem to be suggesting that writers need to be patient, yet the publisher seems to want huge sales in the first three months or it's deemed a failure and forgotten.

For my part I worry I didn't push hard enough.

Signed,
Milquetoast in Montana

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Milquetoast! And isn't an important book-selling task, um, reading at least some of the books you're selling? Maybe I'm being naive ...

And, frankly, I wonder if writers act this way because by the time their book finally hits the shelves they're freakin' tired of being patient. (Oh, Slush Pile Monster, that's your cue to come out and act all fearsome or whatever it is we're going have you do.)

Thank you, EA. We now clearly have a vivid anecdote of what not to do. Maybe it would be helpful to hear what to do? Hello, booksellers, anyone want to chime in on behavior that made you love an author? What's the happy medium here? Surely not the author who sits and waits and waits and waits and never calls or emails or ... wow, that sounds familiar.

From all we've learned, that's how you get your book sold. Is it actually how you sell your book, too?

Yours,
(Reluctant) Milquetoast in Mass.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Booksellers read piles of books. Yours just may not be one of them, and it's unreasonable to expect that they'll make time for yours.
The good self-promoter will talk to booksellers and will offer them a copy of the book to review if the bookseller doesn't have it already. You just shouldn't harass them about it.

Anonymous said...

I live in a major city. So it's my job to go to all the bookstores and offer them a copy of my book? Is that what you're supposed to do with the free copies that the publisher gives you?

Could be a vicious circle: I run out, only to return to the bookstores where I've handed out copies to buy back the free ones that I've handed out to ...

Editorial Anonymous said...

I'm sorry; I meant if you want to loan a bookseller a book. Maybe you know a well-connected one? I didn't mean that you should be passing out free copies.
It's usually enough to mention your book to a bookseller--they have the catalogs, after all. They can look it up. Meeting a bookseller is your chance to make a good impression, and I believe most authors do. Some, unfortunately, think they aren't going to get ahead if they aren't aggressive. Maybe aggressive works in adult books, I don't know. Nice goes a lot further in children's books.

Anonymous said...

You're saying the publicity people get grumpy if you wake them?

moonrat said...

oh no... did you have an author do this? i've had some retarded author shenanigans in my time, but this hasn't been one (yet).

Anonymous said...

You might want to write another biting satirical piece about how editors and publicists can guarantee that the books they publish do not sell very well. Here are some notes you can use:

First, make sure that the moment the book comes back from the printers, you stop paying any attention to it since you have so many other manuscripts on your desk to review and edit, and whose authors needs ignoring.

Next, remember that authors are pests whose calls to you are so inappropriate and out of place that you should take special pains to punish them by doing even less publicity for their books than the minimal amount you intended all along.

Under no circumstances should you listen to an author's ideas for publicizing his book, since those ideas could end up requiring additional work. Since chances are the book will not be a bestseller in any event, and you're already on track to sell 7000 copies, there's really no point in taking a call from an author who has an idea that may, at best, end up selling another 600 copies.

Remember, the author may have worked for years on his book and spent a few additional years trying to get the attention of publishers with submission guidelines that treat authors as criminals for daring to think that maybe their books are worthy of publication, but to you it's just another manila folder on your overflowing desk and your only goal should be to get that folder into the filing cabinet never to be opened again.

Remember that there are thousands of writers out there, and you will never want for manuscripts to publish, so it is the editor, not the writer, whose feelings, goals, ambitions, schedule and ego should be furthered at all times.

**

OK, I didn't spend as long on mine as you did on yours, and it's a bit crude, but I hope you get the point. Your piece just confirms a lot of what writers feel, that editors, because they are overworked, are like doctors who keep people waiting two hours in their waiting rooms, give them a five minute examination, and then duck your phone calls. Who cares if they're in pain or their rash is back? They're pests!

I see so much of this at the online forums for children's writers. So many people obsess about "what if this gets the editor angry?" or "would it be appropriate if may I dropped them a polite note to remind them that they've been holding my manuscript on an exclusive basis for the last thirteen years? I don't want to be a pest."

I know there's a practical difficulty built into the system, i.e., that publishers do not hire enough editors for the editors to deal civilly with writers at all times. But the solution isn't to get all snarky and derisive about the position this puts the writer in or to pretend that the writer is to blame for the publisher's poor staffing decisions.

Writers are people, too. The idea of making fun of them, and portraying them as jerks, just because they have the nerve to actually think they shouldn't just fade into the woodwork after they've collected their $4000 advance, is offensive to me. If writers think that when a book is published, the publisher actually has a strong desire to market and promote it, their only sin is being naive.

Editors, because they choose the books, no doubt have a lot of power. But it's too bad that, like so many, their power over people sometimes turns them a bit arrogant and unsympathetic toward those over whom they have power.

I love your site. It gives a real insight into the editorial mindset, even if the insight is sometimes chilling.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, EA. I'm curious how publishers feel about authors who hire their own publicists. Does this send the message that the author feels the publicity person isn't doing a good job?

Anonymous said...

This is for the bitter-sounding anonymous poster above.

I think it would help to remember that EA is talking about authors who are aggresive, annoying and unpleasant. I would guess and hope that this type of behavior is NOT the norm among authors and therefore EA's post is only directed at a small percentage of writers. (Tiny, I hope!)

I would also hope that if an author who is pleasant and professional unknowingly does something that upsets her editor, the latter would make the effort to discuss it openly, honestly, and respectfully, and preserve the relationship rather than autmatically write off the author and all of her works.

Although EA's post might give the impression that editors automatically cross writers off for the sin of being naive, I don't think that's the case. Well, maybe there are a couple of editors like that, but for the most part I think it's only the writers who are extremely inappropriate and unprofessional. At least, I hope so.

(Boy, I've done a lot of hoping in this post.)

One more thing. I don't see what power has to do with this. It's not about power. It's about relationships. If you make an editor's working life miserable, you harm your relationship and they're not going to want to deal with you anymore. It's a no-brainer.

Hopeful Anon :)

also_an_ed said...

To me EA is not saying you shouldn't help promote your book--you should and need to for it to be a success. Marketing and publicity departments can't do everything, which I realize translates to authors as "anything." But as with all things there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Be professional. Nagging, bugging, harassing people is not professional. It's annoying. By all means promote, but remember the Golden Rule. Also remember that it's a privilege, not a right, to be published. It's a privilege, not a right, to have your book promoted and embraced by booksellers and readers alike. Promote away, but be gracious about it. Then people might actually like you and want to help you. You catch way more flies with honey.

Sarah said...

I liked this post. I think it shows a good list of what not to do in a humorous fashion. I don't take it as a dig at writers.

Every children's book editor I have talked to has had a lot of respect for writers.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Thank you to those of you (especially Anon 10:14) who understood my motivation in writing this.
This is in no way representative of how I feel about most authors. And many of you will have guessed from the fact that I run this blog that author naivete does not strike me as a cardinal sin, but as something normal to be worked through.
What I hoped authors would take away from this post is not that I don't ever want to hear from my authors--indeed, I go out of my all the time to make my authors feel heard and respected. They can offer me (and everyone else in the book business) the same respect by multiplying every interaction they have with the publisher by 300 (which is a very conservative estimate of the number of authors the publishing house might be actively dealing with at one time). So if you call your publicity person 10 times in a month, consider what would happen if all of our authors called that many times in a month.
I agree that publishers tend to be a bit short-staffed. But it's not equivalent to doctors not being interested in whether that worrisome ache is back. It's equivalent to patients calling up with questions like "I have a hangnail. Do I need antibiotics?" and "You think I should get routine check-ups every six months like everyone else, but couldn't I come in every month? That'd make me happy."
If you personally have never thought of asking your publisher questions of this ilk because you realize you could easily get them answered on Verla Kay or because you realize that your publisher is working hard to help you even if you can't see it, then you're not in this small but noisy group.

And I don't post things like this because I think it'll make a difference to the truly obnoxious people. It seems, though, that some of those people are peer-pressuring the nice authors we want to work with into thinking that they have to be bullying and aggressive in order to get ahead.
You, nice authors interested in self-promotion: listen to your gut and be yourself. Editors, publicists, and booksellers are all predisposed to like you. Be the nice people you are, and you can rest assured that you're doing the most you can for your book.

the e said...

Why are the writers on strike? Gee without them, everyone is a little sad.

Meaghan said...

As a bookseller who's been on the receiving end of the way-too-aggressive author treatment once in many years of bookselling, I can say that this is a rare but painful situation. At first the staff liked this author - she came in, said hello, talked to us about her work - but she just wouldn't stop "checking in" with us about the placement, sales, etc. of her book. Before long I would duck and hide when I saw her coming. I like friendly authors, not stalker authors.

Anonymous said...

A very famous author/illustrator whispered a little secret to me about his success - "Be nice." I found this to be very touching since he is a monster talent!!!

bebe said...

It's not about power. It's about relationships.

This is beautiful in its simplicity and truth. We'd all do well to remember it more often--authors, editors, and everyone else in this business.

Anon, you get it.

Anonymous said...

I was very lucky. My publisher treated me very well, sent me places, spent money to promote and advertise, and did lots for the book. So did I. Even thought not a "bestseller" per se, the book is doing nicely and I am VERY happy and very appreciative of all their enthusiasm.

But sometimes publishers are totally off mark.

Case in point: the experience of a good friend of mine.

Her publisher did nothing. The book was not carried by the major retailers and she was told there was zero percent of that ever changing. Her publisher didn't even bring the book or the F and G's to a conference in the best of markets when it was first released. I know. I was there to check it out.

She took matters into her own hands. She spread the word about her own book. She made appearances. She signed. She has gotten exposure in magazines. Finally, she even contacted the major retailer and tried to present her own case for carrying the book and why the market is certainly there for it (and for this book, believe me, the market IS certainly there).

Her "publisher" got very upset. She was told she had stepped on toes and jeopardized the company's relationship with the retailer. She should not do things on her own to promote sales. Her wrist was slapped.

Well, PS: The major retailer now IS carrying her book.

Every attempt for her to do her own promotion has been thwarted by her editor or she has been told to get approval first. HUH?!?

SO what is she to do? Let her book die a slow death and go out of print in a couple of years? I wouldn't.

She is not obnoxious in her efforts. But she is determined. And if she doesn't seize the opportuniies who will?

Certainly not her publisher.

Colorado Writer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colorado Writer said...

As always, I will be filing this information away for the time I'll be sure to need it most.

I want to be a nice author.

EA just means do your share to promote your book, but be cool. Nobody likes a pain in the ass.

Anonymous said...

Sure it's a "privilege" for an author to be published by a publishing house, but it's also a "privilege" for the publishing house to publish the author. As grateful as an author is to be published, the publisher isn't doing the author any favors any more than the author is doing the publisher a favor.

I'm certainly not saying that an author should be entitled to "harass" an editor, but it would be asking too much of any author to require them to remain silent and take it on trust that the book is being marketed and publicized properly. We all know of too many stories from too many houses, including the biggies, to show us that editors and publicists sometimes all but ignore even books they paid pretty large advances to acquire.

The suggestion that publicity people "may ... torpedo your book" if you call them too much is enough to convince me that not all publicity people are as professional as we would ideally like them to be, which also convinces me that perhaps it's not silly to think that maybe they could use a call every now and then to confirm that they are doing their job.

It may be counterproductive and impolitic to point it out, but to "imply that your publicity person isn't doing her job well" certainly doesn't make the typical author a paranoid crackpot. Just about every author I know who has hired an outside publicist has managed to get newspaper placements, radio interviews, additional reviews, website plugs, etc., that the in-house publicist didn't come up with. I have known many authors, for children and adults, who have reported this almost unanimously. It's virtually a given that the typical in-house publicist does, indeed, leave stones unturned, and there have even been in-house publicists who have neglected to send out review copies, believe it or not.

There may be no gentle or non-harassing way for an author to determine, to her own satisfaction, whether the publicist assigned to her book is doing a good job or taking entirely too many cigarette breaks, but it's unfair to make authors feel guilty if they actually have the nerve to ask and to try to light a flame under the marketing of the book they have poured their heart and their soul into.

I'm glad to hear EA qualify the original post, sort of, by suggesting that it was meant for the truly obnoxious, over the top, demanding and rude authors, but the original post can certainly be taken to have a broader target than that. And it's not very kind, I'm afraid, to the lowly peons who make editors' lives so difficult while permitting them to publish something other than blank pages.

Anonymous said...

When the major chains decide not to take a book, it's heartbreaking for us, too. But it happens, and in most cases, we really can't force it. I find it appalling that an author would go over the heads of the editor, sales, basically the entire company and contact a major retailer directly about selling their book. I'm glad it worked out for your friend, anon, and it does sound like the editor was unhelpful and the publisher could have tried to do more, but that's one of the worst instances of unprofessionalism by an author I've heard. She had every right to promote sales, but that WAS stepping on toes. Talk to US, don't do an end run around the publisher, no matter what. The ends don't always justify the means. I want to do everything I can to help my authors out, but it cuts both ways, and as in any relationship, I need to trust them. Sorry, but yikes.

Anonymous said...

So my question is...

What MAKES a nice author?
What is an acceptable time frame to speak to your editor?

Once a month, or once every two months?

Is is okay to send an occassional e-mail?

We hear be nice,
But EA, what does NICE really mean to you?

Anonymous said...

No, I am sorry.

Sorry that a publisher would feel that succeeding in getting a book sold in a major retailer would be perceived as stepping on toes and NOT as worthy of celebration for the author being clever enough to find an angle that would make the retailer want to carry the book and actually sell it. READ: SELL IT.

Am I wrong in thinking that the whole business of publishing is to SELL books? When has the goal switched to massaging egos of PR departments?

And I 'd love to hear what the problem is with getting a magazine to run an article about the book. Please tell me how that steps on toes, because I cannot for the life of me figure out the problem with that one.

The answer is: it doesn't. It steps on egos.

Unless an author decides to strip naked and run down the street with a book cover on, a publisher really should never complain about an author actually being good at helping them do their job of selling books. My friend was neither obnoxious nor pushy. She did not harass anyone. She is simply very clever. And, what's more, the book is good, too.

But, come to think of it, running down the street naked to promote a book might NOT be such a bad idea....

Anonymous said...

As an author, I know that when I start defending my writing against critique, I haven't done my job properly and my intent isn't coming across. EA, this isn't the first time you've had to explain the true meaning of one of your posts. Just saying "It's supposed to be funny!" doesn't make it so. As an editor, you ought to know that. If you pointed out to one of your authors that something they had written was potentially offensive and they replied "No, it's funny," what would you think?

Anonymous said...

I can sympathize with Anon 9:21 a.m. a great deal. A GREAT deal. My book pretty much tanked, even though it got good reviews and was about a fresh and original subject matter.

It did seem like the publisher didn't really care. There was so much that I found out after the fact that hadn't been done for it, promotion-wise. Not large, costly things, but cheap, effective things. Things I got the brush off for inquiring about.

It was a heartbreaking experience. At one point I found myself walking through a bookstore, wondering why I ever wanted this in the first place.

But if you want this, then you have to suck it up. And make it about the writing, not the push and pull and punches from publishers. Perhaps I'll get a larger advance for my next book, and in turn, they will promote it and make getting it on shelves a priority.

Chin up, Anon 9:21. Many of us have been where you are. There is a lot of validity to your thoughts. But you want this or you don't. You must perservere.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, last poster. And Anon 9:21! I am published and was ready to quit too (just last weekend!) because some of this is just maddening. Is there any other business where someone can say, "We'll let you know in a week or so" and three months go by and that's perfectly acceptable? If that's not power ... and, really, aren't all relationships about power? But I digress ...

I decided what you did -- just focus on the writing and hope that things get easier, or just easier to accept.

Anonymous said...

One word : Satire! Why is it that so many aspiring writers seem to have no sense of humour? It's as important as a reliable word processor and a really good dictionary. Seriously, how do you manage to survive all of the challenges of life?

Personally, I have found EA's advice abundantly helpful. Indeed, I have currently made my way out of the slush pile at a major publishing house, and all is looking hopeful (YAY!).

Having an insight into how editors work has helped me remain patient and understanding. Paradoxically, the snark keeps me sane. Instead of being a pessimist, why don't you use EA's humourous rants to cheer yourself up? Think to yourself, at least I'm not as crazy as that person ... I don't write nonsensical stories about squirrels or pirates. I am not so completely clueless that I think I deserve an editor's undivided attention. I don't talk to children like they're imbeciles. Surely that means I'm still in with a chance??? I know I do :)

Thanks EA!

A.M. said...

Hey there, Anon 6:16...

"As an author, I know that when I start defending my writing against critique, I haven't done my job properly and my intent isn't coming across."

I take it you're applying this to EA, so what "job" exactly is it that you think EA is not doing properly? The one where she's giving you good advice (for FREE)--that you are under no obligation to take, I might add--or the one where she's committed to helping good books get to market and where she clearly puts in more than the minimal 9-5?

*You* are the professional writer, not EA. What part of her current duties would you like her to neglect so that she can do the kind of rewrites that you do? And are you willing to pay her to do so?

yes, a bookseller said...

Sometimes I think that you write these posts just to amuse me, Ed.

I like the fact that the original post was all about Being Nice To Booksellers and it somehow turned into a Publicity v. Author Cage Match.

Kids: TAKE THE ADVICE. BE NICE TO BOOKSELLERS. You know what we do? Stock and sell and love your books! You know what else we do?

RETURN YOUR BOOKS!

Sheesh.

mb said...

A lot of booksellers try to stock local authors' books. You can ask that they stock the book without demanding they read it themselves. I went to bookstores and lobbied for my author friends ("I notice you don't have my friend's book here..."), and I found the booksellers very kind and willing to order copies for their shelves.

christine tripp said...

"being published is a privilege"

I must say, on first read this annoyed me (to be honest it usually puts me in fighting mode) but as I thought about it more, I have put it in context and basically, everything is a privilege, in that it can be taken away. Being an Editor is a privilege, being a Publisher is a privilege, being a Book Seller is a privilege, being employed period is a privilege, be it as a Writer, Illustrator, Plumber, Lawyer. Being a parent, a husband, a wife, everything, even life itself, is a privilege.
Now I personally will always feel much better about that line.
As to the blog topic, I personally have never spoken to a Bookseller about my books, only because I'm most often of the mind that if something IS good, it MAY eventually rise to the top on it's own and that too much worry about it takes time away from the next project/job at hand. Perhaps I have yet to feel that intense love of what I create. That said, is it so wrong to go into the mega bookstore chains and replace (face out on the shelf) "Curious George" say(which needs no promotion what so ever) with one of my books???:)
To qualify, I don't do this often and I never do it in an Indy bookstore, where there are hard working adults running the shop, trying, sometimes in vain, to keep their business afloat... only in the large chains, where the teen staff don't seem to have enough to do:) Kidding, kidding (sort of)

Anonymous said...

You know I have to tell you, I work hard, I want this to happen. I leave no stone unturned in my quest for perfection, whether it be the perfect word choice or the best story I can write.
Just like all of you... I have to say, that if I am ever lucky enough to get an actual contract, I think the way that I will present myself to an editor is to always be helpful and respectful.
Yes sometimes maybe we are all a little bit "over-the-top" but only because we want success. So I think, whats the harm in saying to your editor respectfully, "I understand that you are busy with 300 other authors, IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL that I can do to make your job and the job of the promotional staff any easier?"
I think if it's said that way, perhaps it wouldn't be stepping on toes, or crossing boundries.
If they say, "We're all set, maybe it's best to leave it alone."

Sarah said...

Part of this business of writing is finding the right editor / agent / publisher who is a match for your manuscript. We can get tons of rejection letters on one manuscript and then, suddenly, one bright day, there is that phone call.

And it is about relationships from that point on. Just because a book gets published, it doesn't mean the author and the people at the publishing house are a good match.

This seems like both sides need sensitivity training or something. Yes, there are horror stories on both sides. And the ones being discussed here seem like each side would be helped by being educated about the other side's POV.

Maybe what would help is an occasional post on what goes on in different parts of the business. What is life like for the writer, the editor, the publisher, the art director, the copy editor, the marketer. Education can do wonders.

Big Momma Pimpalishisness said...

Haha, I love how personally people take the things you post here. I for one am highly offended that you would not want to hear from me (several times) daily.

sylvia said...

I can't help but wonder if some of the posters here have actually worked with other people in other jobs?

Implying that someone is not competent to do their job is never the way to get them to work harder. It just doesn't work.

Arguing that "most" of them are not good at their job, or that taking offense proves that they are not good at their job ...

Well, you've missed the point.

Most waitresses are not good at their job. If I walk into a restaurant, let the waitress know I'm keeping an eye on her, take the order sheet out of her hands just to check that she wrote it all down right ... well, you know, I think that may just get her back up.

And then when you call her over every two minutes to ask if the order is ready yet and could she make sure that she brings it on the spot ... well, I wouldn't EXPECT her to spit in your food, but I damn well bet the thought has crossed her mind.

Now, notice I've not said a word about whether the waitress is competent or not. But a lot of the arguments here seem to be revolving around "lots aren't, so I have to check on them and make sure."

Asking the waitress, once, to repeat the order ...t hat's fine. If something has gone wrong, then it's OK to complain. Loudly, if need be.

But that's not what EA was describing.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Anon 6:16, Certainly you're right. Alas, a blog does not exactly allow for revision, so the comments section is where clarification can happen if it needs to happen. I do realize that when I feel there's humor to be found in a situation it does not naturally mean that everyone else will. Some of that is different senses of humor; some is different points of view. I'm interested in hearing from everyone about their reactions--especially when it was not what I had predicted. :)

Anonymous said...

Anon 1 and Anon 2 of the milquetoast variety-- Agreed.

As to the original post, I didn't find it to be satire, but rather biting sarcasm. Helpful? Yes. Knowledge is always power.

Editors--especially young editors--need to remember: our books are our babies. Yes, you publish, but publishing is not the same kind of ownership. And those of us who have been in the business a while know this fact: no one looks after our babies as thoroughly as we do.

Long after an editor moves on to another house, or another position, the book will still be ours. As will its success or lack thereof.

In addition, many of us have been at this since before many editors have been born. If we sometimes seem a little too eager and too hovering (though I know of no one that who even comes close to being the writer described in the original post), it might be wise to take all of that into account.

The comment that some of us are taking this personally is wrong. We are not. We're just using this forum to vent about a problem that is old news, yet still always a worry for all writers.

Anonymous said...

Humor and sarcasm aside (and I see it and appreciate it in the original post), I think what is inspiring people to respond is the frustration and utter helplessness when confronting the ugly truth. No matter how editors try to spin the publicity and marketing angle, the truth is, marketing departments promote the top 1% of authors on their lists. In other words, if you're already a bestseller, they will promote you and try to keep the ball rolling. (And please do not argue that including a book in the catalogue -- that gets sent to hundreds, if not thousands, of buyers -- is promotion.)

I've published half a dozen books with two big publishers. No bestsellers. But plenty of starred reviews, best-of-lists, awards, and sales at the top end exceeding 100,000 copies; and at the bottom end, exceeding 20,000 copies. I have been extremely nice to everyone. But if I had not been AGGRESSIVE in promoting my work, those numbers wouldn't exist.

But, please allow me to vent here, I am sick and tired of the way publishers continue to think they can dictate every aspect of this business -- and it is a business, make no mistake. Publishers are not doing anyone a favor by publishing a book. They do it SOLEY to try and make money. And for editors (sorry, EA, I love you, but I think you're off-base here) to try and dictate how many times an author should call the publisher (as one example) is beyond ridiculous. And for any author to LET a publisher dictate how many times you can call or e-mail is equally ridiculous.

Be aggressive. Be nice.

Here's how to be nice:

Try to email instead of call.

Always, always, compliment and thank the publishers for their efforts in every correspondence.

Send baked goods! Sure it might set you back $150 bucks or so, but it will be appreciated.

Don't ask permission for your promotion efforts, you don't need it (despite what they think). But DO copy them on your e-mails and correspondence and update them on whatever efforts and progress you have made.

For your next book, negotiate the biggest advance you can possible muster -- forego some of your royalty if need be -- because at the end of the day, we have no control over getting the book out there and seen in large numbers.

And lastly, let me disabuse anyone of the notion that a single editor is dealing with 300 authors. That's complete BS. An executive editor at a large house might have 10 - 15 books on a given list (oftentimes less). Publishers have two lists a year. And sure, they work in advance, but many of those advance projects are with their current authors. Yes, editors are busy and overworked. But no more so than half the working force in America. It's their job to work with authors.

It's also their job to tell an author directly if they're being a pain in the a--.

Anonymous said...

You make good points, Anon 3:50, especially about the time-invested issue. Never mind waiting between contract and publication, for many, many of us, it's taken years and years (7, 10, more) to sign the dotted line.

Although I appreciate the waitress analogy, now weave in the idea that the wait for a table is ... a decade. You might be able to understand what's being misperceived as ingratitude or bitterness.

I think whenever there is an instance of overblown writer freakiness like the one EA presents, the question is really WHY? Why would someone act this way?

And it seems to come down to trust. And once again, the time-invested issue comes into play.

Imagine you're someone who has been submitting for 10 years before getting published. That's a decade of rejections. For a picture book writer, it could be three digits' worth.

Now imagine that you've done everything to a T: followed the submissions guidelines (which say it will take three months to receive a response) and never called, emailed or did anything boneheaded. You're keeping up your part of the deal, right? Perfect.

But what about the publishers? Are your rejections arriving within three months? Not many are. An eensy-weensy part of you gets a little annoyed. It's nothing big; you simply chalk it up to the business. They're BUSY! You continue to be nice and well-behaved and patient. But a little part of you no longer trusts what's written on those guidelines.

Now you've been at it for a few years. You've had manuscripts lost (twice at one house!), submissions never acknowledged, and one rejection that took THREE YEARS to arrive (true story). Your lack of trust grows a little bigger but you keep on plugging. Still patient, still "normal," still NICE.

Ah, finally -- published! You made it! Should be better now, right? You've crossed the line; you're on the inside. However, all those years of plugging away have given you a little edge, a wariness. Can your editor be trusted? Surely, she'll follow through. You're PUBLISHED!

But your editor doesn't do what she says she's going to in a particular time frame (or at all). And you hear the same from your friends. Your emails and questions go unanswered. It takes eight months to read your new stuff. You're asked for your opinion on illustrator possibilities and they go with the one you liked the least. You don't trust the house now. You start getting really protective of your "baby." And maybe angry. Maybe some of this begins to seep out as more frequent phone calls or emails. Or maybe you don't do anything. For now.

Your book comes out! At last! But you don't find it in book stores. You receive no guidance about publicity and when you do suggest opportunities, they're ignored or shot down. Now you're really angry and take matters into your own hands. You become ..

The Bookseller Pest! The 10x a Month Caller! Or whatever author freak we happen to be talking about.

Now after all that, I have no idea what a great solution is. It would be great if, from the get-go, "three months" meant "three months" (four to six seems to be the norm). Or maybe just say six months. Anything less -- a pleasant surprise. Also, I like the Houghton approach of not sending form rejections. Mentally, after three months, you just move on.

And what kind of guidelines do editors/marketing people give new authors? If nothing, wouldn't it save a lot of time/phone calls/emails/headaches/craziness to provide something?

Couldn't there be a one sheet of publicity suggestions, do's and don'ts, or whatever posted on the publisher's site (maybe by password if that's totally weird otherwise)? I'd say go to town, SCBWI, but it seems like different houses may have different preferences.

Yes, I know, that's more work for someone. But you, EA, just wrote 10 paragraphs here to essentially say "Don't bug booksellers."

OK, enough from me already! But I do think some of these issues of trust begin way, way early on when we're fresh and green and then they simmer and, for some, explode into fiery craziness years later. For others, they may manifest more quietly as frustration and disappointment and that's what I think you see in some of these posts.

Sarah Miller said...

Somewhere in this sea of anonymity, someone asked how to approach booksellers nicely. After 6 years as an independent children's bookseller, here's my advice:

Give bookstores a heads-up, then leave them alone and LET YOUR WORK SPEAK FOR ITSELF. Offer an ARC or F&G if you've got some to spare, but trust the booksellers to have a look at their convenience and decide for themselves. That's what independent booksellers do best -- they decide for themselves which books fit their stores and their customers.

Honestly, unless your publisher's making you a big sparkly display that'll catch chain shoppers' attention all by itself, independent booksellers are the folks you want to make friends with most. Indies will take books they love under their wings and create a slow-burn buzz that rivals and sometimes surpasses chain store buys. PW's ShelfTalker has had a couple excellent posts on the subject in the last week or so.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy. I'm guilty of going to one bookstore and saying hello and talking about books and signing my books. I always thought the owners liked that. I'm sad to think they are talking behind my back the second I leave, calling me a pain in the butt.
I spend a couple hundred dollars a year at their store, supporting a small business, rather than getting the same books for 40% off at Costco or the mega chains.
I also tell people to buy my books from them, instead of selling my books from my house, and making 40%.I've also driven across town in a snowstorm to sign books when they've phoned me because they want to do a display of "autographed" books from various authors. Should we just stay home and shop on the internet at amazon.com? Then charge for our appearances when we are booked at venues? Or does it depend on "how" many books they sell of mine? They sell about 15-20 a month. I guess that sucks, right?

ae said...

Hey,you,you with the snowstorm on you tail. You are doing just fine. F*** Costco. You are the one I'd go thru snowstorms to see and listen to. Costco is factory complete with impersonality and sterility. Stick with your indies. There is a real venue there! Make it work for you!!

No. 15 -20 books a month is not bad at all.

Anonymous said...

To the bookseller from 12:05, at 2/2. First, we're mostly talking about publicity departments, not booksellers, so relax. Second, we're the ones who give you something to sell in the first place, so drop the condescension, kid. See you on Amazon.

Anon said...

The hard fact is that the publisher knows when they buy your book exactly how much promotion they will do for it. Unless your book is a lead title for the season, you're going to get the standard page in the catalog and review copies to the usual suspects. That's why your editor and publicist would prefer not to be pestered by you. They're taking their orders from above and already know that they can't grant your requests, so you're just taking up the time they should be spending on those lead titles. You can be polite and patient and kind as can be, but if an editor says "We're all set, maybe best to leave it alone," what she means is "We can't spend anymore money on this book. It has to sink or swim on its own."

Anonymous said...

I read all the way to the end of the comments section to get to the grain of truth, the one that I was hoping EA would have mentioned at the first:

Your marketing and publicity has been decided for you already. Anything you want done outside of that is up to you, and no amount of pestering is going to change that.

Try not to step on any toes (you probably want to get another book published at some point), and be aware of the fact that many folk at the company (particularly in PR) will take it personally if and when you show them up with your own marketing efforts. If you run into that situation, at least you've made yourself more marketable if and when you have to move publishers...

I really appreciate your advice and insight EA, but it's not like you don't have your instructions from higher up, about how much time to spend on a given author or project.

Sarah Miller said...

To the anonymous author on 2/3 @ 4:04:

Good gracious, are you kidding? Please tell me you're kidding or being sarcastic for effect. As far as I can tell, you're doing everything absolutely right by your local indie. And you can bet you're no pain in the butt if the shop's calling YOU to come autograph stock. On the contrary, you ought to be one of their favorite customers.


Honestly folks, if you're not nagging, wheedling, or draping yourself over the counter until the bookseller breaks down and reads your book with you standing right there in front of them, you probably don't have anything to worry about.