Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Notes from a writer's conference, part 3

The final session of the Pitch, Publish and Promote conference covered promotion, and Jerry Simmons of WritersReaders gave a fine presentation. Jerry is not a writer, but has been in the publishing and promotion business for a lot of years.

Publishing is a business. Think of it that way, and you'll succeed as a writer.

Key concept: Sell-through. This is the ratio of books sold versus books shipped, so if the publisher ships 1000 copies to retailers and 400 copies are returned unsold, the sell-through is 60%. A minimum acceptable ratio is 60%; a lower rate is very bad.

If the publisher ships 500,000 copies of your book, that sounds fantastic. But if you sell only 200,000 copies, your book is a disaster. You are far better off as a writer if only 50,000 copies ship and 30,000 sell. It may sound counterintuitive, but the sell-through rate is critical. A 50% sell-through will doom a writer's future, no matter how many copies actually sell. What a writer should want is a low initial ship rate. It's much better if the book requires a second printing.

Writers need to know this type of thing, because many publishers will cynically screw over the writers. But if you can speak the language of the publishing business, they are much more likely to treat you with respect.

You need to separate yourself and your book from everything else being published.

90% of revenue is generated from 10% of the titles.

At least 500 titles are published daily.

Develop relationships with decision makers who can help you sell your book. It helps to know someone in the publishing business.

If you are a self-published author, you will be sure to get publishers' attention by selling a few thousand copies.

Publishers also want to be able to sell your earlier published titles--this is the back list.

Visit and observe what's in book stores.

Write on a schedule.

Use small focus groups to evaluate what works in your writing.

Ingram and Baker & Taylor are big jobbers, or distributors.

Writers should look at these independents for possible distribution:

The market for audio books hasn't grown in 10 years, but the market still exists.

Best opportunities to focus:

  • Tap into online sales.
  • Specialty groups--organizations, groups, book clubs (Google this). This is bigger than the traditional marketplace. You might sell quantities of your book to an organization at a discount, and let them sell at list.

But don't neglect traditional bookstores.

Jerry Simmons has a free newsletter. See his website for this.

Ways to sell your book:

  • Advertising
  • Promotion--drawing attention to your book.
  • Publicity--by far the most effective--any attention you can get for free. This can be about the author as well as about the book. Find some kind of newsworthy tie-in.

The five biggest weaknesses of publishers:

  • They don't think outside the mainstream, so the specialty book market is growing at their expense.
  • They don't gather information on who is buying their books. Writers should do this--know who is buying their books.
  • They sell to the masses and miss the niche markets.
  • They don't sell on the Internet, because they are afraid of alienating Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Internet is the next big platform for writers.
  • They tend to hit only the 30 biggest media markets.

Self-published authors should stay away from competition in the major markets.

An author should expect to make $0.60 or $0.70 profit from each sale of a book published by a NY publisher.

Publishers tend to dislike working with writers who write in multiple genres. If you do it, you should consider using a pen name.

Marketing success depends on persistence. 99.9% of authors don't know this stuff.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Notes from a writer's conference, part 2

Here are more of my notes from the Pitch, Publish and Promote conference. I've made no attempt to put these into a narrative, but I think they'll still convey worthwhile information.

The second part featured Bob Sanders, CEO of Mundania Press, which he co-founded to republish the works of Piers Anthony. They publish paranormal fiction. He says that to check the process, he has anonymously submitted work to his own company and been rejected.

It's critical for you as a writer to know your audience. What are their reading tastes? (Genre is a starting point.) What else does the market read? What kind of disposable income do they have? It's not enough to say your audience consists of adult males over 25.

A writer needs a business plan and a marketing plan. The business plan can be brief. Try to write it before finishing your novel.

A publisher looks for a reason to say no. The quickest way to get rejected at Mundania is to not follow submission guidelines.

You should have a critique partner, someone who knows the genre you're writing in.

Market like it's your last day on earth.

The publisher sells the book to book buyers.

The author has to market the book to the reading public.

Use Yahoo groups to set up a small focus group to test your work.

An author's business plan should encompass not just one book, but your writing career. Who will sell your books? Who is your fan base? What media will you use to reach them? What is your vision for your writing career? Answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why, How.

Set your expectations for a given time frame. How much time do you realistically have to write?
Think about why the audience should care about your books? Why should they enjoy them?

Your marketing plan deals with the individual books.

Set objectives--what do you want to accomplish? Three objectives you want to accomplish within a year, for example. Share this plan with friends and family.

Need to set measureable goals--describe the activity required, what will happen and when, and what is the expected financial impact.

An author needs visibility and mystique (referring to how the person appears to the public). Look the part for the type of author you are and the type of business personality that's appropriate for the kind of writing you do.

Where to find customers:

  • Workshops/associations
  • Newspapers/publishers/coalitions
  • Referrals
  • Internet/TV/radio
  • Trade journals

Considerations in thinking about your potential customers:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income/occupation/education
  • Purchasing loyalty
  • Hobbies
  • Social class/lifestyle

Think about how you'll promote to the top three categories of readers.

A question he posed over and over: "Is the juice worth the squeeze?" Always consider whether any given effort is worth the expected result.

Make use of Google and Yahoo. Leverage your resources.

List the problems you're facing:

  • What's the root cause?
  • What needs to change?
  • How will I measure results?

Hold online writing workshops, as does paranormal author Michele Bardsley.

Authors can coordinate group ads.

Find and develop a niche.


Plan on the specific actions you intend to accomplish, then do it. ("Plan the work, work the plan.") Say how you'll do something and why--specific tasks that will affect the bottom line.

Think about where your time and attention are going.

Regularly re-evaluate your plans. Treat your writing like a business.

Don't give the public too much information about yourself.

Mentioned: Fictionwise

Monday, November 20, 2006

Notes from a writer's conference, part 1

I just came back from the Pitch, Publish and Promote conference in Albuquerque, which lasted a day and a half and was organized by SouthWest Writers. Over the next few days, I will post some of my notes.

The pitching segment featured a talk by Katharine Sands, a New York literary agent who offered plenty of advice on how to approach agents. She tossed around lots of arcane-sounding terms such as "dysfiction," which I didn't find all that useful, so I didn't write them all down.

She distinguishes between a writer and an author; the latter is a published writer. Writing is solitary, while publishing is collaborative.

A manuscript does not become a book until it is published. Never refer to your manuscript as "complete."

When querying agents for non-fiction (I think she meant for fiction as well), don't just give the facts of your story. You should show your voice and provide a lens that lets us see into the book.

Don't pitch multiple ideas at once. Just one at a time.

A query is a one-page pitch. Nobody reads two pages. The query must "infotain," provide a spark, give the agent a memorable takeaway nugget.

In your query, lead with what is the most interesting. Don't waste your first paragraph.

Elevator pitch: about 25 words to grab the agent's attention.

Your pitchcraft becomes your jacket copy, your hook.

Agents are looking for voice, elements, alchemy.

Good news/bad news: The good news is that talent comes from everywhere, and agents are always on the lookout. The bad news is that the agents are flooded with queries.

Talk about your platform in your query letter, if warranted. If you are a recognized expert in the field you're writing about, for example, be sure to let the agent know. Also, tell how your other writing has been noticed, how you will get readers, or anything that makes your work interesting or different.

Agents do not log submissions. If you don't get a reply, sometimes you can get away with waiting a while and querying again.

Radio sells more books than television.

Categories of published books:
Front List
: Books by the very top authors, whose work automatically stands out in the market place.
Mid List: Where most work ends up. This is a very wide range.
Back List: Books that are not ordinarily marketed in bookstores except under special circumstances. They might be specialty books, or they might be earlier books in a series. So if the latest Harry Potter book comes out, bookstores might also trot out all of Rowling's earlier titles to try selling those at the same time. Those earlier titles have been back listed.

Booksellers don't buy books. They take them on consignment.

Book buyers frequently get to retitle a book if they think the original title won't sell.

A good query might wind up becoming the catalog description.

As an author, you must be an impassioned ambassador for your work.

Generally okay to query multiple agents at once.

You can often find the names of literary agents on the acknowledgement pages of recently published books.

The Preditors & Editors website is a good place to learn what some of the shadier folks in the business may not want you to know.

My novel is published!

My comic novel, When Pigs Fly, is published and available through my website, iUniverse and Amazon. Exciting stuff! I noticed that Powells has it as well, but their price looks too high, three bucks over list. Also, B&N doesn't seem to have the title yet.

Meanwhile, my friend Bev tells me she just received her copy in the mail. That makes it seem more real.