Saturday, 21 February 2009
Writer's Essential Desk Reference
By Ohio) Writer's Digest (Cincinnati
DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME
The second 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.
Know Who You Are Dealing With
As with any business there is a chain of command. There are so-called players, and then there’s everyone else. It is important to know how the chain works inside the company that is about to publish your book and recognize who are the players and who are not. Your editor is the leader. He or she should introduce you to everyone who has a hand in getting your book to market. Early on you need to understand if those hands belong to the players or not.
One way to determine this is by asking for the responsibilities of the person to whom you are being introduced. Obviously you do not want to do this the first time you shake their hand, but during the course of the process. It is important to discover what are their exact responsibilities and to whom they report. Don’t be alarmed if you are working with an assistant to another assistant. It is all part of a process of eventually getting to know the decision makers.
By understanding early in your career as an author the pecking order of your editor and everyone working on your book, you will have an advantage when it comes time to offer suggestions. The lower the chain of command the better chance you have of your suggestions being heard. The higher up the chain the harder, only because the department heads have been around for a while and have heard it all. By the time your book gets to the decision makers you should have developed a reputation as an author who understands what is going on.
Understand What You Are Up Against
Understanding the market and the leaders within the company does not guarantee you success. Publishing is about producing books that hopefully sell copies at retail. There is a lot of money that goes into the advertising and promotion of books. Chances are your book will have little in the way of advertising and promotion budget, so you need to learn to be creative and offer the kind of suggestions that will get your book noticed.
Long before your book is sold to the booksellers, you need to offer suggestions on where you want your limited resources spent. There is not a lot of thought and planning that goes into the marketing of your title. Rather, it will get the attention according to its position on the list. Depending on how much the company paid for the rights to your book and if you are a first time author, it is doubtful a great deal of attention went into the sale and distribution of that title.
Knowing the publishing process and how to focus the attention of the sales group on your book will provide you with a huge advantage over all the other titles. Being able to guide the company in the direction you want to go and offering good suggestions based on your knowledge of the marketplace as to where and how their money is being spent can make a big difference. Bottom line, it is very competitive and all the planning in the world may not be enough to make a book successful.
What The Numbers Mean
Numbers mean everything in publishing. If you don’t understand the marketplace and how the numbers work, you are like a pilot that is always flying by their instruments without the benefit of their eyes. It can be done, and it is possible to do it successfully, but the odds are not the best. Being informed about the numbers your publisher gives you is the single most important thing you can learn. Numbers can be manipulated to mean anything the company wants, so being aware of the pitfalls is critical.
Your agent calls one day and tells you that there is an announced first print for your first novel of 40,000 copies. Would you know what that meant in the world of publishing? What if you were told that the actual first printing on your book was 25,000? How does that align with the 40,000 you were told was the announced first print? Would you know the next questions to ask? Would you know where to go to get the right answers? You probably think the answers lie with your editor, and I would tell you that you are wrong.
If you want to understand the numbers and what all of this means, and the questions to ask and to whom, you MUST READ MY BOOK! I want you to understand that your job does not end when you sign that contract and turn the manuscript over to your editor. In reality your job is just beginning. You must follow the progress of your work through the process and be there every step of the way to offer suggestions. Your career as a writer may depend on it.
Distribution Is Key
If understanding the numbers is the single most important thing you can learn, then distribution is the key to the numbers. Numbers alone without a clear idea of how distribution works is the same as knowing how to drive without an understanding that the car needs gas and oil. Numbers and distribution go hand-in-hand and must be learned together. Distribution is what the numbers are all about. Where your book goes and in what quantity is the essence of distribution.
Of course, you cannot be expected to know the individual booksellers and whether or not one customer has the right quantity to distribute. That is best left up to those who have spent time inside the business. But you should have an idea about the general nature of an individual customer and whether they are a retailer, book jobber, independent distributor, chain store, independent bookstore or Internet retailer. Quantities for each of these accounts are different and not even the sales people can memorize all the individual distribution levels, but they have a general idea, and that is what you need.
If you can learn the overall concept of numbers, distribution, and how it all fits together, you will be worlds ahead of other authors with whom I have come in contact with in the past twenty-plus-years. I am not going to suggest where you might find the information that will give you that picture, but if you continue reading you will find out where you can gain access to that and more.
I am not suggesting that in order to be a successfully published author you need to understand everything about publishing. In order to tell time you do not need to know how to make a watch. I am suggesting that you need to understand that there are time zones, what AM and PM means, and that some watches need batteries. Understand the bigger picture, the right questions to ask, what the answers mean, and where to find the right source for information and you’ll be light years ahead of the rest of your fellow writers.
Answer the Following
If you plan to make your publishing move in the very near future then you need to be able to answer the following questions:
- Who are the authors that my agent represents?
- Who are the authors that my editor currently works with?
- Have any of the books my editor has personally worked on made any bestseller lists?
- What is the reputation of my publisher in the industry?
- Does my publisher have their own sales force or do they use a distributor?
- Who is the head of sales and marketing at my publisher?
- What are the names of the people within each department that are working on my book, what are their responsibilities, and to whom do they report?
If you have difficulty answering any of these questions then you need to step back and evaluate your situation.
With publishing you have only one shot at being a first time author. When the sales group goes into a buyer’s office and sells your book, they can only say that this is your first book once. If you decide to educate yourself about the business before you jump in with both feet and follow the steps outlined above, then you have a definite advantage over the competition.
If you have already been published and your track record is less than stellar, there is still hope. You need to be repositioned with a new publisher and an entirely new set of goals with a new understanding of what happened to your book(s) before you make your next move. Help is available. Post your questions on my web site and I will be more than happy to assist.
Do it right the first time and you will have less to worry about than if you went into this with your eyes closed. Just remember, there are no guarantees, and even with an understanding of all that has been discussed, there is no sure fire way to guarantee that your book will be successful. But you have a much greater chance if you follow what is outlined here and continue to learn more about the business of publishing.
There Is Always More To Learn
No matter how much you learn and understand about the business of publishing, you will never know or understand it all. It’s just not possible. But if you have a good idea of what is going on behind the scenes and why decisions are made, then you have a better chance of being successful and establishing a career as a writer and author.
After twenty-plus-years in the business, there are still things to learn, and I’ve probably forgotten more than I remember, but the big picture will never elude me, and that is what I am trying to get across to those hopeful writers and struggling authors. You must understand some basics about the business, have a clear picture of where you fit into the overall scheme of things, and realize that you can make a difference and give your book a better chance at being successful if you follow what I have outlined here.
Publishing is a far cry from rocket science and no one is curing cancer. But publishers take their business seriously and they want to succeed. Sometimes everyone gets caught up in the production and forgets about the books. Your job is to refocus their energy on your book, on your success; regardless of how big or small you may think you are. Be willing to take small steps; do not place your bet on being an overnight best-selling author. You still have a chance at making writing your career.
This is the end of part 2, doing it right the first time. Whether you’re a new author, or already part of the publishing process, you can influence your future by learning more about the business of publishing.
(Read Part 1: YOU ARE ONLY A FIRST TIME AUTHOR ONCE)
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.