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".

Friday, January 30, 2009

EXCELLENT post on David Meerman Scott's ...

Web Ink Now blog - this is the future of publishing!

No 'book publisher', no editor, can engage the reading audience the way that Lisa Genova did as described by David. Must reading for authors - THIS IS HOW BOOKS SELL. Critical reading for book publishers who are ready to let go of the co-op driven business model and invest resources to help authors identify their 'tribe' and lead them, as Lisa did.
The reality is that big publishing is too big, too slow and unlikely to change. They'll keep publishing more and more books, fail to work with authors who, having managed to 'score a deal' are under the impression the publisher will 'market' their book.

The bill for your sins is past due, publisher! You've been sent to collection.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm calling the meeting of the Nomenclature Committee to order

Today's NYT article is a good look at how the traditional (big 6) book publishing model is quickly unraveling. May I ask that we agree on the following: 'printing' and 'publishing' are not the same thing! 'Publishing' a book, at least in my estimation, includes not only the careful distillation of ideas, but thoughtful design and most importantly the ability of the author to engage and motivate their audience (please - if you have not yet- read Seth Godin's TRIBES).

The other big softball I JUST HAVE TO SWING AT in this article is the bit about trade-offs authors make by forsaking signing a traditional deal:

They do not have the benefit of the marketing acumen of traditional publishers, and have diminished access to the vast bookstore distribution pipeline that big publishers can provide.

Are you kidding me?? You mean like the paying of tolls at turnpikes or blind mailings of bookmarks? Or do you mean the mindless 19th century 'loading of the wagon and carting the goods to market' distribution model? How could anyone give that up?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Brilliant Marketing

Here are a couple of examples from today's SHELF AWARENESS of what book publishers call marketing. I'd laugh if it didn't make me ill. I sure wish she'd name the offenders!

Susan L. Weis, proprietress of breathe books, Baltimore, Md., writes:

How to waste money in this economy, let me count the ways . . .

My FedEx guy just came in with a big bubble envelope shipped FedEx Ground. I open it up, and it's a tiny stack of maybe 20 bookmarks promoting one book. That's it. No book. No paperwork. No nothing. Just a huge waste of money and time and a huge carbon footprint.

The FedEx Air guy came in with a very heavy box this morning. Must be something very special to send it FedEx Air! I eagerly opened the package. Bookmarks and promotional material from another publisher for events that are happening nowhere near Baltimore. FedEx Air! Air! The waste! It's not even timely material. Sending it from the post office would have been just fine.

I've heard of all kinds of problems. 10 copies of the same ARC arriving at a bookstore throughout the month. A giant poster for a book booksellers have no intention of selling. Catalogues for sports books sent to a children's bookstore.

We all need to work together to stop this waste and maybe give jobs back to a few people who have been laid off.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's the Matter with Publishing? This is what's RIGHT!

Nice piece from Lev Grossman in TIME. The missing link - he implies, but isn't explicit ... so I will be ... is that authors who connect with their audience and motivate them to become advocates will be successful! IT DOESN'T MATTER if there is a little house or a rooster on the spine. Publishers no longer are the filter through which all transactions travel. Authors can speak directly to their readers. Authors can establish relationships with retailers. Authors can design and print and publicize books. Oh - one thing - printing and shipping books isn't "20th century" as Lev says - more like 17th century.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book promoters pay tolls on Kansas Turnpike

THIS is what passes for 'marketing' at book publishers. Some may call it that - I say it falls into the "well, we did something" bucket. I realize the 800th diet book of the year isn't a piece of cake to promote. But paying the toll in the fattest cities - to the tune of $5,000 per? How is the author connecting with his audience? Motivating his buyer to become an advocate? Of course he isn't. Could he? Well, if Sterling is willing to throw this kind of money at promotion - why not fly the author to Kansas, and arrange for several appearances in the market where he speaks to an audience who then get a FREE copy of the book. What if he spoke to a couple hundred people motivated enough by wanting to LOSE weight to show up. What if even 10% of those people were successful in losing weight - you'd agree that those are going to be 20 people telling EVERYONE they know "I went to the health food store/company cafeteria/bookstore and heard this guy - and it really works!!" And then you get some momentum.

It costs a hell of a lot less than paying tolls - and is a heck of a lot better way to sell books.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blockbuster Strategy - Good for Agents, Top Authors

but certainly not good for making money. Irrelevant for authors with any goals outside of collecting the guaranteed revenue from the advance. I'm the first to agree that in the case of Myron's DEWEY - great for Vicki. And a nice job by the agent to whip up the level of excitement that earned that big advance. But let's keep it real. How many books have been peddled by agents over the past few years as "sure to appeal to the Marley & Me audience". For that matter - how many times have editors heard "this is the next big vampire book" since Anne Rice's INTERVIEW or even Bram Stoker's DRACULA.

What are the goals of the WSJ in publishing this article by HBS professor Anita Elberse? Sell papers, of course. And the goals of Prof. Elberse? Perhaps to paint the incestuous, dying world of traditional book publishing with a patina of respectability? It's over, kids. Publishing casino is fun while you've got the chips in your pocket, you have some luck at the wheel and your boss isn't too picky about the return they see from their publishing business. The house wins in the end.

Dewey isn't a hit because of the brilliant strategy of anyone at Grand Central, or B&N. And isn't this (Grand Central) the same division that Time Warner sold off a few years ago ? Grand Central is having a great run at the tables for now - but they are still making more money on Salinger's back list than they'll ever make pursuing a blockbuster strategy.

It's the author, stupid. It's the energy and focus they bring to the process. It's their ability to connect with their audience and motivate their fans to become advocates for their ideas. No publisher, no advance, no agent will substitute for that.