Friday, September 15, 2006

The Illusive Bestseller

In various entries, I’ve looked at the topic of bestsellers. I’ve had Dee Power’s and Brian Hill’s book on my shelf for several months and I’m currently reading it. What I like about this book is the realistic picture it gives about publishing.  Many authors approach book publishing with stars in their eyes and the assumption that audiences will immediately head to the bookstore for their work.  The authors include statistics to show the long odds and quotes from editors. For example, Neil Nygren, Senior Vice President, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for G.P. Putnam & Sons responded to the question about how a book gets to be a bestseller saying, “The main thing to remember is there is no one way to be a bestseller. There are an infinite number of ways to get there—not to mention an infinite number of ways to fail.” (p. 11) See the realistic balance?


Recently I caught up with Dee Power and she answered a few questions which I’m including in this entry on the Writing Life.


Dee Power, MBA, was born on the East Coast and grew up on the West Coast. She started her writing career in the second grade by writing a Thanksgiving Day play that debuted before many appreciative parents.  Dee has been interviewed as an expert on the publishing industry by The New York Times, Washington Post, the Associated Press and various local publications.  She and Brian Hill are the authors of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors, and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind ThemAttracting Capital From Angels, Inside Secrets To Venture Capital and the novel, Over TimeYou can reach her through her website, http://www.BrianHillAndDeePower.com  


It looks as if you had an in-depth knowledge of the publishing industry before you wrote and researched this book.  Still, did you learn anything new that truly surprised you?

 The Making of a Bestseller cover

Even though we had written two nonfiction books prior to The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them, I didn't know that much more about the publishing industry than probably any other author.  Besides having the opportunity to talk with my favorite authors, I wanted to find out the answers to such questions as:  How do books get on bookstore shelves? What factors are critical to a book’s success? What role does the literary agent play? How is buzz created?   What was surprising is that while writing is a solitary endeavor; book publishing is a team effort.    The effort just begins with the author and is carried through by the literary agent, editor, publisher’s in house production, marketing, and publicity staff.  And then of course, you must include the publisher’s sales reps, buyers at the chains and independent bookstores and finally the bookseller. 


How did you gain access to such a huge number of authors, editors, publishers, booksellers, etc.? Was it difficult?


We interviewed 24 bestselling authors, 6 literary agents, 8 editors, 11 publishing industry experts, and 8 booksellers.   We also surveyed over 120 editors and agents.  We went through 2 tape recorders, 65 tape cassettes, 140 hours of transcription and 3 bottles of aspirin, but who’s counting?  Was it difficult? No, it was great fun. We found the authors through their websites, publishers, agents and publicists.   Very few authors declined to be interviewed; they were very gracious about sharing their experiences.  


Do you consider authors who are not bestselling to be unsuccessful?


Absolutely not, just having a book published is a major accomplishment.   It’s a huge challenge for a new writer to become published, never mind get their book on a bestseller list.  It has been estimated that 25 million people in the United States consider themselves writers and only 5% have been published anywhere.  Agents have told us that they receive an average of 5000 unsolicited query letters or proposals each year and accept only 11 new clients.  Editors have said they reject 99% of submissions.  Having a book published by a commercial publisher is a major success in a writer’s life.  


A literary agent is nearly mandatory for a writer and one of the first steps towards becoming a successful author.  Below are several resources that may help.


Publishers Weekly  is both a hard copy weekly publication and an online site. It includes articles on the state of the publishing industry, interviews with authors, the bestseller lists, and lots and lots of book reviews.  PW is directed toward booksellers.  The books are reviewed three to four months prior to publication so you can recognize upcoming trends. 


Publishers Marketplace is one of the most useful sites to find out what’s going on in the world of publishing. It’s not free but the cost is minimal ($20.00 per month) and well worth it.  There is a searchable database of book deals, including the author, agent, advance amount, and contact information for both the agency and the editor of the acquiring publishing house.  


The Writer hard copy monthly magazine and online website, focused on writing, selling and publishing your writing.  Often has small press publishers directories, niche publishers, and regional publishers.  


Writers Market and the online searchable database at provides contact information for agents and publishers as well as what they’re looking for. 


www.agentquery.com searchable online database


Most writers will never become bestselling authors, what can they learn from The Making of a Bestseller?


The primary lesson they can learn is, never give up!  Perseverance is a key characteristic of those authors who have made it.  They didn’t just curl up and die at the first ‘no.’ 


Stephen King’s Carrie was the fifth novel he’d written. James Patterson’s first mystery was turned down by 31 publishers (but later won an Edgar Award). Mary Higgins Clark’s first story took 6 years and 41 rejection slips before it was finally published. Her first novel was, as she puts it, “a commercial disaster.”  Her second, Where Are the Children? was a bestseller. Janet Evanovich’s first three attempts were, in her own words “sucky un-sellable manuscripts.”   Time and time again bestselling authors have learned the same lesson: With great diligence, and unwavering devotion to the craft of writing, “sucky” can eventually turn into sublime.


Writers must have the discipline and patience to develop their craft and build their career through a slow, steady, climb that requires patience and discipline.   Bestselling authors are very active in the marketing of their books, whether it means calling on bookstores and introducing themselves, developing skills at being interviewed by the media, or interacting with their fans on web sites.  Writing a great book is only half the battle.  You have to energetically assist your publisher in selling it.


You’ve written two books on raising venture capital, a novel, and a book on bestselling authors.  Is there a common thread? If not, what's it like publishing in such vastly different genres.


The common thread is I write about what I know, or what I would like to learn about.   While we, I do have a co-author, Brian Hill,  will continue to write nonfiction, fiction is where the fun is at. 


Our first two books came about because our clients asked the same questions over and over again.


The Making of a Bestseller was born when we started researching how we could give our fiction the best chance possible for success. Who better to ask than those authors who had bestsellers? 


Our novel,  Over Time is a financial thriller.  The villain is a vicious venture capitalist and the hero, an entrepreneur.  Since our background is in finance we can add realism to the story.  The setting is Phoenix, Arizona and Green Bay Wisconsin, both places we’re familiar with.   


OK, that’s my session with Dee Power. I hope it was helpful to you. I recommend The Making of a Bestseller as another step toward a realistic education about the book market. 

4 Comment:

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Ron Left a note...

Terry, I lurk alot but rarely comment. That was outstanding, especially for me, on book three and plugging away. Bless you for the inspiration.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger SAND STORM Left a note...

Great post, sobering and informative.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Dee Power Left a note...

I'm glad I could be of help. I really enjoyed "talking" with Terry. Don't let the odds stop you. Keep in mind EVERY author was once unpublished.

author of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Jerome Left a note...

Terry, great post as always. As with any endeavor worth pursuing, perseverance is the name of the game.


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