Monday, April 28, 2008

Choose A Different Path

I believe there are huge opportunities in book publishing for everyone who chooses a different path to get published. The path is filled with obstacles and nay sayers.

If you have been reading these entries, you know that I like to give the real scoop about book publishing. I agree when people say there are too many books out there. Each year the number of new books continues to increase. Just check the 300,000 number of new books in this article from Sarah Nelson, Editor at Publishers Weekly. In my earlier reading, I had seen a high number but never this high. Here's the reality check for you. Over the weekend, I was listening to my friend Susan Driscoll, president of iUniverse, in a teleseminar with Arielle Ford, give this 2004 book statistic: 90% of the new books published sold 1,000 copies or less. Now consider the other side of this statistic which means that only 10% of the new books published sold over 1,000 copies. In the last few days, Mike Hyatt has also written about this topic of too many books. Plus Mike has written the follow up article about the way Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher is selecting the books they do publish. This article points out another challenge for any author: publishers are very selective of the books they contract and publish. Increasingly publishers are depending on literary agents to locate new authors. As I've mentioned before it is often more difficult for a new author to find a good literary agent than it is to get published in the first place. I wrote at least 30 books for traditional publishers before I ever worked with a literary agent so it is not a necessity.

Yet increasingly traditional publishers are closing their doors to unagented material. And with good reason if I think about the material that comes into my agency. If you could sit on the side of the desk of an acquisitions editor or a literary agent, you would be shocked at the unprofessional pitches from well-intending authors. Like the recent nonfiction author who sent me a book proposal for a 150,000 word project. This author had a manuscript and had picked up my Book Proposals That Sell to learn how to create a book proposal. I applaud this author's commitment to learning about the business of publishing yet he was overlooking something critical which would get his material continually rejected. I'll not say never--but it is highly unlikely that any traditional publisher will take a 150,000 word nonfiction book project. Why? Because 70,000 to 80,000 words is the normal upper limit of such a book and the author missed this critical detail to rejection-proof his submission. It's like the lengthy novels that other authors pitch to me without understanding the typical word lengths (follow this link if you don't know the typical novel lengths). Without knowing it, they are asking for rejection.

To choose a different path as a writer, learn the craft of writing. Practice it with magazine articles and shorter pieces than books. Magazines reach many more people than most books (especially with the book statistic in the second paragraph of this entry). You will learn a valuable skill as you apprentice with your writing. It's something that many writers neglect in their journey to books.

Also continue to learn everything you can about the business of publishing. How do book acquisitions editors and executives make decisions about which books to publish? What factors push them over the top about a particular book? Also how do the book buyers make decisions about a particular book from a publisher? Many of these factors shift and change and you need to be reading and learning about these elements so you can figure out how to stand apart from the typical editor pitch--in a positive way for that editor. With my pitches for Whalin Literary Agency besides looking for great writing, I'm always looking for that x factor. I'm talking about the little extras that the writer adds to the proposal or pitch which will rejection-proof the materials. The factors are different for each author but I've mentioned some of the distinguishing factors repeatedly in these entries. The biggest element is that publishers are looking for authors who understand the necessity of selling and promoting books. You'd be shocked at the resistance of some authors to work with the media or work with their publisher to promote the book. The attractive authors are the ones which understand this factor and proactively work at it constantly. Yes, I understand it's tiring but if you want to write books and stand apart then it's a necessity in my view.

Another way to choose a different path as a writer is a commitment to ongoing education. This education may come through an annual investment to attend a writer's conference. I understand it costs in terms of time and money. If you can't make it to a conference or want to try something else, get a set of CDs and listen to them. Recently I've been going through Arielle Ford's Everything You Should Know series and it's excellent with incredible insight. I've been learning a tremendous amount from these audios and the printed materials. Also Mark Victor Hansen's Mega Book Marketing University tapes. I've listened to these materials several times and notice something new each time I go through them.

The Christian bookstore near my home is celebrating their grand opening. Yesterday at church I caught a few minutes with the bookseller. One author came to their store and signed books last Saturday. This author had books from a well-known Christian publisher who enthusiastically cooperated with this bookseller in discounting the books and providing extras like bookmarks for promotion. This coming Saturday, a second author is scheduled with a book from a small press in Alaska. It was the opposite experience. The publisher refused to take the bookseller's credit card or handle the books in the expected manner. This retailer was forced to open a paypal account to pay for the books to ensure books would be in the store for the signing. Oh, and for extras like bookmarks? The second small press emailed a PDF file with a color bookmark and the retailer could print their own for the signing. I have no idea about the details of this small press (even the name) but let me suggest the author should be helping this bookseller because the experience is making a lasting (and negative) impression on this new bookseller. I applauded the retailer's energy to pour into this book signing and the unusual steps she was taking yet at the same time I felt the author should have been touching base to ease this situation. It's a mini-example of what's happening all of the time within the bookselling community. Then authors wonder why retailers are resistant to their books?

You can choose a different path as a writer. It's admittedly a bit narrow and at times lonely and ground breaking--but definitely available to you.

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3 Comment:

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Nick Left a note...

Terry, I agree with you, but I admit to a bit of sympathy for your non-fiction writer. You should do a blog on "what to do when your project is out of the box." (Given that so many publishers want "in the box" proposals).

Or something like that. Maybe you already have.

I like to hear about authors who are risky. Yes, it's much harder to get through the committee, but it's sure fun when something like "Blue Like Jazz" or "The Shack" makes it through to success.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Krista Phillips Left a note...

I think it goes back to the whole 'foot in the door' concept. An unpublished author has alot of challenges to have their work seen. If it is outside the scope of normal bounderies, it is understandable that it would be rejected without being reviewed much further. I guess I feel as an 'unpublished' novelist, it is my responsibility to provide a proposal that conforms to the rules, yet is unique in content. Once I am established, then is the time to challenge the rules with my great unique next million copy seller! (Note, I am not the hugest risk taker... so this is my common sense play it safe part of me speaking!)

Great post with lots of thought-provoking info, Terry. Thanks as usual!!


At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Very informative post, Terry (as usual). And I agree: the slowness of the publishing process makes it untenable for many authors who need their book to get into print. Plus, authors need to do their own marketing anyway. POD publishing is going to revolutionize publishing; it already has.


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