Saturday, 07 February 2009
THE BEGINNING WRITER'S ANSWER BOOK
By Editors of Writer's Digest
YOU ARE ONLY A FIRST TIME AUTHOR ONCE
The first of a two-part article
By Jerry D. Simmons
Author and former executive with The Time Warner Book Group
If you are a writer and hope to get your manuscript published, or an author unhappy with your experience and looking to improve sales, there are issues that you need to know about how to do it right the first time.
Getting Your Book Published Can Be Easy
If your goal is to see your name in print, then there are Vanity publishers that can assist you, for a price. You can be an instant author and see your name on the cover of a book in no time. However, if you are searching for a true publisher where your book has the potential to earn a spot on the bookshelf of your local independent bookseller, or make a bestseller list somewhere around the country, that can be a bit more difficult.
The key to being successful is to learn all you can about the business. Seek out information from all sources on what the industry is like and how to succeed in the process. Published authors and writers groups can be a great source of information. Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time working inside the business or has had a lot of contact with those who work inside the business can be a tremendous resource also.
You need to make yourself aware of how the business operates from the publisher’s point of view. How decisions are made on which titles to buy, what the numbers mean and how all of that can impact your book. As some like to say, try and see the bigger picture. Once you launch yourself into the mix of agents, editors, and publishers, without knowledge of the industry and how a publisher operates from the inside, your chances of having your book successfully published are greatly diminished.
Rather than setting the bar too low with a goal of “just getting published,” take a step back and decide on your long-term goals. You must have a passion for writing and have obviously spent a tremendous amount of effort on your work. Now is not the time to rush into anything without understanding the facts. Some facts about the business may be surprising to unsuspecting writers and entering the fray without understanding the rules can be not only dangerous but also damaging to your career as a writer.
Taking the first offer that comes along may satisfy your desire to see your name in print but it could easily be your last offer. One false move in publishing where your book develops a track record for bad sales, can eventually lead a book buyer to pass on the next book altogether. That means rather than giving your second book another chance the buyer might give you a big fat zero. When an author has a bad track record for sales, which includes a poor sell through they’ve created a hurdle for themselves that is very difficult to overcome.
Writing your manuscript took a tremendous amount of time and fortitude. Take the same approach before jumping at the first chance to get published. Do your research, ask tons of questions, and seek out those with experience before you take the leap. Do it right the first time and you can lay the groundwork for a future as an author. Take the wrong step and your career can be over before it even gets started.
A Small Fish In A Very Big Pond
Being successfully published refers to the fact that competition for attention at the retail level for authors is considerable. If you want to make a career at writing, being an author, your book must have a reasonable shelf life in a retail bookseller. That means you have to sell enough copies to earn a spot in the store, time and time again, with each new title. Considering that my former company was the fourth largest in the country and we published approximately a thousand titles a year, you can understand how your competition for shelf space is intense.
When sales people go into customers to sell books, they go in with the complete understanding that 10% of the titles on their list can easily represent 90% of the billing for that sale. So if they are selling 250 titles at one time, only 25 will get the extra attention of the sales person. Now if your newly published book is one of the other 225 titles, then your chances of getting an order, let alone a good spot on the retail shelf are limited.
However, if you understand how the process works, and how you can gain even a small advantage with the sales people, then you have a much better chance of getting an order for your book. You must seek out this information from someone who has spent years on the inside of a big publisher. READ MY BOOK, where you will find the exact kind of information you need to know to be better informed about the business.
It’s A Production Process
Whether you like it or not, your manuscript is a product, one of many hundreds that need to be produced. You are providing the raw material. The publisher will now take that and mold it into a product they can sell. They will ask you to make revisions, do rewrites, then once it fits a format they feel has a reasonable chance to sell at retail, they will package it, price it and sell it, all as part of the process that results in getting product to market.
Publishing is a business. Publishers produce books, and the entire process is based on the need to get product to market. Books are set on a strict schedule and the sales and marketing process never stops. The company is constantly shipping books to booksellers. They need to ship books so the product can be billed to the customer, allowing the cash flow to remain constant and unimpeded.
If you allow your work to fall into the production line, along with all the other writers who want to be authors, without fully understanding what is happening, your book has only a slightly better chance at being successful as you have at winning the Power Ball. That is why it is very important to understand what is happening and why. The only way to learn that is to seek out sources of information about the industry, publishers, and the marketplace.
Relying On The Experts Can Spell Disaster For Your Book
Anyone who works for a publisher does so because they love books, not for the pay or the benefits. The requirements to get one book to market, let alone hundreds of titles a year, is overwhelming. Those hard working employees in the various departments that make up a publishing company spend long hours, wear many hats, and labor under tight deadlines. Those top 10% titles get special attention from everyone because the fortunes of the company rest on the success of those books. The remaining 90% get only enough attention to get the job done and the book to market.
The experts, the department heads and their top assistants, barely have time to stop and give the attention needed to the top titles, let alone one of the many that fill the pipeline. When the company holds their meetings to discuss titles, the ones that get the most amount of discussion are the ones that also get top billing. When your bottom to the middle of the list book gets any significant amount of attention from anyone, let alone the department heads or experts, it is usually when something goes wrong. That is not when you want to be the center of attention.
There are ways to assist the experts, to help them in the decisions that surround your book. Positioning yourself and your book to be in a situation to assist is time consuming and needs to be done in the proper way. The departments do not have time to allow every single author a chance to voice their opinion on every single title, so they can often restrict your access to the decision makers. Understanding the pecking order and how to work around it is important.
Participate In The Process
Most writers turn their manuscript over to the editor and wait for things to happen. Editors are working on plenty of books at one time, constantly getting product ready for market. You are but one writer with one book, so leaving everything up to the experts can be a big mistake. I advocate a different approach, one that allows you to participate in the process of getting your book to market without becoming the dreaded pain in the neck.
First you need to understand your market. If you are unaware of how books in your genre are being published, then you really need to go back and READ MY BOOK! There I explain in detail what you need to know and give you the steps on how to get the information.
Assuming you understand your market, you work your way through the many individuals that handle your book and become a voice of reason, one that makes good suggestions based on a clear understanding of the process and how it works. Your suggestions may or may not get the consideration they deserve, but being in a position to voice your suggestions will create a ripple effect throughout the company that will soon earn you the reputation as a writer who knows from where they speak.
This is the end of part 1, understanding your status as a first time author. Join me for part two (Here, February 21, 2009) where I’ll explain why it’s important for your career as an author to understand your product.
This article is protected under Copyright 2005 Jerry D. Simmons
It should always be about the writers and the books….
Jerry D. Simmons spent more than twenty years as an executive with The Time Warner Book Group in New York. He is the author of INSIDE The Business of Publishing What Writers Need to Know and the creator of www.WritersReaders.com, where information essential to writers and their careers is available, FREE.