Thursday, July 03, 2008

What Happens To Unsold Books

Last night I was teaching another teleseminar as a part of the faculty of Virtual Book Tour Secrets for Alex Mandossian about book proposal creation. It's one of my favorite topics for would-be authors. Why?

I firmly believe the more you understand about book publishing, then the more you will be able to deliver what editors and literary agents need to successfully get your book idea into print. My encouragement to each listener is every agent and book editor that I know are actively looking for good projects. The more you know about what we are looking for, then the more likely you can deliver the right idea at the right time. I believe through information and education, you can gain the right elements and knowledge-base that you need to find success.

We spend a lot of time on the front end of creating a book to get it to the marketplace. Whether we are crafting a book proposal or pitching an editor or agent or negotiating a book contract or finishing up the requested editorial changes for a book or working with the marketing and sales department on their plans to launch the book, there are a myriad of details on this front end of the process.

During the question and answer section of my teleseminar, someone asked about what happens to the unsold books. If you've ever wondered about the answer, take a look at this column from Jonathan Karp who is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve, an imprint within the Hachette Book Group (one of the major New York Publishers). While the entire article is worthy of your attention and reading, I'm going to excerpt his first paragraph for this post. He wrote (and his emphasis in italics), "Many years ago, as a new editorial assistant at a venerable publishing house, I was warned by a senior colleague never to use a certain word when telling authors what would happen to their unsold books. The forbidden word was: mulched. My colleague, a compassionate sort, worried that the word might shatter the fragile psyches of authors who had toiled for years on their manuscripts. It was better to let them believe their work was being discounted, or perhaps donated to some inner-city literacy program. Today a tactful publisher might simply invoke environmental concerns and emphasize the global imperative of recycling to prevent the melting of polar ice caps, in effect telling authors: Destroying your book will save coastal cities!"

Make sure you see what Karp writes about the future of publishing and the continual search for quality. This piece is a clarion call for writers to craft excellent works--but also to actively be involved in the selling of that work--on the front end to the publisher through crafting a remarkable proposal but also after the book gets into print so it stays in print and isn't turned into mulch. Yes the reality is that some books are remainders but after they can't be remainder (discounted any more), they are destroyed. It's a sobering reality that most authors never want to consider.

Rather than end my post today on that sobering reality, I want to turn this topic into something that encourages you. After you are armed with this reality about the unsold books, I hope it will drive you to even greater determination to succeed with your book idea or novel or nonfiction project.

For that dose of weekly encouragement, I subscribe to Harvey MacKay's column. I read it in my local newspaper each week--and marvel at the encouragement. Then later in the week, I get the column in my email box (because I've subscribed--and you can too on his page). This week's column is called, "Those who itch for success must keep scratching." How true is that statement!

Like Jonathan Karp's work, I encourage you to read MacKay's full column but here's something that I will use to encourage you. He wrote, "Years ago, I wrote about a formula for success: Determination + goal setting + concentration = success. I received a letter from a Harvard graduate saying that I was missing a fourth quality—courage. His point was that determination could be undermined by the fear that comes with a new venture."

"Let me take that one step further. In my opinion, many people fail to achieve their goals not because they are afraid of the job at hand, but because they have grown so familiar in the comfort zone of their job, they are afraid to meet the challenge of a new job. I once heard someone joke that the road to success is marked with many tempting parking places."

What steps are you taking today to move ahead with your own publishing dreams? Carve out a few consistent moments to make that happen.

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