A Calculated Risk
Depending on the day that that you take a look, it's fairly easy to get discouraged about the book business. The overall statistics say people are reading less and buying less books yet more books are being published than ever before--especially with the advancing printing technologies.
The good news is that every publisher, editor and literary agent continues searching for the best possible projects. You can create one of these desirable products. As I've mentioned in other entries about The Writing Life, it is not easy to come up with the right idea at the right time and the right place.
Over the weekend, I read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey which has been around for several years but is still on the New York Times bestseller list. It's one of the books that Michael Hyatt listed when he read the Christian books on this list. If you don't know the story, a Baptist minister Don Piper was in a horrible car accident on January 18, 1989 where he was declared dead and it is documented that he died for 90 minutes. This personal story is much more than a glimpse about heaven but describes the journey through pain to recovery. Yesterday I wrote a short review for Amazon and joined over 400 others who have positively ranked this book. Just look at this little photo from yesterday's amazon page.
There are many people who want to publish their personal story and Don Piper's story is unusual. When writers read this type of book, they say to themselves, "My personal story needs to get published." And that story can get published if it is pitched to the right publisher at the right time and the right place and in the right manner. Notice all of the rights in that sentence? It's on purpose because many times writers don't put all of those elements together properly and wonder why they can't find a publisher. One of the interesting details that Piper slipped into the acknowledgements section should be called to a writer's attention. He wrote, "I wrote three different manuscripts about this experience to satisfy inquiring minds. None of them satisfied me. That's when I prevailed upon one of America's distinguished authors to partner with me to write a book that would answer the most compelling issues concerning my death and life." I have no idea if Piper had these three manuscripts in his computer or desk drawer or if he had sent them to various publishers and been rejected.
There is a story about 90 Minutes in Heaven that you will often not hear. This book was not an instant barn-burner bestseller. In fact, Revell, the publisher had modest expectations about this book and took a calculated risk to publish the book. How do I know? The book advance is one way publishers reveal some of their expectations for a book's performance. Unless there are other circumstances such as an author's platform and visibility, the publisher will base their advance so the book will earn out these funds within the first 12-16 months that the book is in print. Cec Murphey is a long-time friend of mine. While Cec didn't tell me this information, I've heard that 90 Minutes in Heaven received a modest advance of about $12,000. Those funds earned back a long time ago as the book cover announces, "More Than 1 Million Copies Sold." If you travel, you will find this book everywhere. I've especially noticed it in the airport bookstores.
Here's the other key which many writers miss: Don is a tireless promoter of his books and his work. Many authors don't want to do media or speak yet Piper is constantly on the road. Just look at his speaking schedule and consider this information is only for a few months at a time.
I want to conclude this entry with some encouragement to the writer. When I was in New York City, I met with a new editor-in-chief of a publisher who had been in her position about five weeks. I asked her specifics about which type of books she wanted to publish and explored different types of books. Earlier that day I had been in the offices of Simon and Schuster and was carrying a copy of Mistaken Identity. As I pulled out my copy of the book, she instantly said, "That's what I'm looking for. Bring me one of these types of manuscripts." This book is another unusual story but the reason for her enthusiasm is that she knew the book would sell and earn money for the publisher. Too often writers are focused on the story and not the business of publishing in their pitches. There is a place to focus on the story--and it's important. Yet you have to appeal to the business side of the equation if you want to work with a traditional publisher.