Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheating in book publishing?

When I was in 10th grade, a buddy and I took German One. I was called “Otto”. When time came for our first test, my friend spent hours sharpening a pencil to a fine point and writing microscopic crib notes on a piece of paper that would fit in his palm. I invested the same amount of time just studying and learning the material. That just seemed to be the better route. I’ve worked with enough authors to understand why Kevin Small has a business that includes managing cash register sales to drive a new book onto best seller lists. I understand the cachet (and bi$$ing) that come along with the NYT or WSJ imprimatur. But – as I’ve told countless authors, including Soren Kaplan, there isn’t necessarily a connection between making a (highly suspect in terms of integrity) bestseller list and making an impact. All of the time invested in the careful manipulation of sales could be turned toward engaging the author’s audience on a parallel track with the editorial development of the book. Building both the readership and the book to a crescendo (some dare call it Publication Date) result in IMPACT. The more successful an author is in mobilizing their readership, and turning them into advocates, the more IMPACT the author will have. When I speak with authors, I ask ‘what is your goal’? Most of them really want to change the world. Sometimes – and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on a number of these books – the byproduct of having made a major IMPACT is an appearance on a bestseller list. That’s why I work in publishing – to help authors make an impact. Not a bestseller list. I guess I figured that out in the 10th grade.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

S&S Ill advised foray into syndication

What on earth is S&S thinking? The idea of surfacing content on the web - fantastic! Allowing readers to sample and engage with their authors works - marvelous! The only problem is that they build S&S websites in verticals to do this. Hey - friends at S&S - there are ALREADY communities of readers interested in these topics. Your challange - really, your AUTHORS challange - is to engage them where they are. GO FISHING WHERE THERE ARE FISH. Nobody cares about, for goodness sakes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Publishing Myths #1 The advance against royalty is an indicator of the level of publisher activity around selling and marketing your book

Sorry! The advance is nothing more than the smallest price the publisher had to pay to obtain whatever rights they secured. The SMALLEST! Author, your publisher is trying to make money. Less exposure means a bigger upside. I don't care if you got $25K or $2.5M. Granted, the publisher has expectations based on where they believe the market will be in 9, 12, 18 - 36 months, how many units will sell and what other opportunities to monetize the content may emerge.

But the bottom line is that its a guess. There are some pretty good guessers out there, but we know most of these bets don't pan out.

Publishers are opportunistic but can't and won't "try harder" or "do more" based on the advance they paid. I love publishers! They do an awesome job of identifying great content. They do amazing work shaping the ideas. They are brilliant at producing a beautiful object to house, transport and represent your efforts. But they can't make anybody buy it. Only the author can excite people and motivate them to affiliate and buy the book. Only the author can turn fans into advocates who will spread the word.

Your advance is your advance. It's got nothing to do with selling books.

Monday, May 18, 2009

She asked: how can you do that without alienating a publisher?

What publisher - really, honestly - would say they couldn't have done more with ANY project if they had more resources (people, money) to devote to them? I, as a publisher, would have agreed that I could do more. In fact, its exactly why I'm in this position. I HATED spending a couple of hours with an author and then having all the other books and work steal my attention away. How much more might I have gotten out of spending more time with any of the incredible authors I worked with at Harvard Business School Press? Will ANY publisher tell me that you feel you have maximized the opportunity with any of your authors? 1? 2? And how many books are you publishing this month? Year? Its not about you - its the structurally dislocated publishing model. Publishers can not spend anywhere near the time they might on any one book. Add to that this stark reality - publisher staffs are getting smaller. Even fewer resources to devote to a title. I may work for the author - but I understand the job of the publisher. I want to empower the author so that they can be the best possible asset for the publishing house! I want the author to say "That publisher did a GREAT job". I will not enter into an adversarial relationship with the publisher - that accomplishes nothing.

I complement the publishers activity. I add value to the publishers efforts. Will you concede I understand what the activities are that the publisher MUST engage in? Would you agree that the author who has questions that might be answered by ME might allow the publisher to devote more time to selling and marketing the books? Does any publisher begin the marketing and sales strategy at signing - in parallel with the edit process - so that at turnover the author is fully prepared to launch into the campaign, instead of being introduced to the concept? Would the top of your head blow off if at a turnover meeting with the author, she came into your office and told you about how she planned to reach her readers? How she is engaging her fans? What tools she'll make available for them to to advocate with? What if you, Ms Publisher left that meeting more convinced that ever, more energized than you could ever have imagined about the sales possibilities for that book?

I add value for the publisher by helping the author define their goals, and framing up the RIGHT questions they have for the publisher. I can help the author by explaining what response they might hear or anticipate or why it really doesn't matter - that it isn't germane to accomplishing the authors own goals!! Screw the agonizing over blue or green, or this quote or that. Let's focus on the fans, let's connect to the readers. Let's use the publishers energies (YES - they are formidable and important) to the authors advantage!

It is perfectly understandable that a first time author will say - 'that's what a publisher does. They've made an investment in this project and they are going to do EVERYTHING in their power to bring in to market'. But ask a 2d, 3d or 4 time author about their expectations and the reality. That's not a knock on publishers - there is a fundamental disconnect about who does what.

I say - the publisher has a privileged relationship with retailers and media - but the author has a privileged relationship with the reader. No publisher can make someone buy a book. The author is certainly in the best position to make a compelling case though... wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Reading Revolution?

Low cost - highly portable - ubiquitous availability - huge audience. Ebooks? Nah, I'm talking about the mass market paperback revolution of the 1950's. I'm not quite old enough to remember, but were Scribner and Cerf wailing about maintaining the price point for the 'book' - even though the container was clearly different? In fact, affordability and the fact that you could buy them in the pharmacy, train station and newsstand were critical to building the audience for the Irving Wallace's of that era. Does not the ebook - in all its permutations, and all its formats - hold the promise of repeating history and again amplifying author platforms, expanding audiences and engaging new fans? Publishers - drop those prices on ebooks. Authors - INSIST on it, for your own sake. Your audience will multiply.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Do the math!!

WAIT A MINUTE!! Since I didn't major in math, I may be missing something. But if Glenn Beck's deal looks like a lot of others (15% royalty) he is sacrificing royalty income for the privilege of greater input in marketing?? Like - "I don't like blue on the cover" or maybe "Let's do FOS at B&N!" C'mon - only if he sells a gazillion books (OK - more than the 750K of Sweater) he makes marginally more than a traditional deal. Authors need to focus on engaging their audience, motivating them to buy and giving them the tools to become advocates for their ideas. Beck has a tremendous platform from which to operate - he is an 'a' list celebrity. I fear that the OTHER half million writers will be distracted by the terms of this deal and lose what should be their laser like focus on meeting their readers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Speed to market IRRELEVANT in book publishing

Motoko Rich's piece in today's NYT points out that book publishers are accelerating the schedule on more titles than ever before. I would be interested to see any correlation between speed to market and unit sales. The Warren Commission Report, the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon/Watergate transcripts come to mind as selling furiously for a few weeks. But - one of the bestselling books of the past 6 months - Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals - was published 4 years ago (and tells a 130 year old story). People "hire" a book to do a job - contextualize, entertain, teach ( I agree with Ann Godoff). It's great to wring a little extra revenue from a ms. by making the ebook available early - but the focus on jamming books out into the market that publishers think will sell because of current events is another example of "doing something to do something".