Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why The Industry Sticks With Established Authors

Two weekends ago, at the PNWA conference, I heard authors outside in the lobby discussing the state of the business. They were in a heated discussion and really complaining a lot about the current trends in the market. In particular, they were upset at the number of publishers "unwilling to give new authors a chance." They seemed to think it was due to an unwillingness of the publishing industry to try anything new. Now, while there is some truth in that, I think we have to be cautious how far we extend that logic.

So, why do publishers stick with the established authors? Let's take a look at a few ideas that we are seeing currently in the market:

  • Sales are down (or at least not increasing) in pretty much every genre and every format.
  • The market in all genres is really saturated right now with the number of authors launching their own books through self-publishing.
  • Because of that saturation, finding authors is really difficult.
Because publishing is a business and the goal is to make money for everyone (publisher through the writer) the approach publishers need to take is one that will attempt to make that money. (Yes, I know I am making a lot of obvious statements but stick with me). Although publishers are all looking for new ways to reinvigorate the business with different marketing trends, voices, publishing packages and so forth, they still have to be able to put out products. This is where the established authors come into play.

We have to remember that established authors do have a proven track record. They have sales as well as a backlist that demonstrates they can produce. Along the same line, because the market is so saturated right now, name recognition is key to making those sales. We know that readers will often return to their "favorite" authors when getting their latest book. In other words, these established authors already have a platform to sell their books. They are pretty much a "sure thing".

When it comes to new authors, although they may have fantastic stories and great concepts. Heck, the writing may be through the roof, there are no promises. This market is really strange right now. I spoke to a couple of editors at the RWA conference and they all said the same thing. Projects that should have sold well struggled. Authors that should have worked struggled. And yet a lot of other projects succeeded. The strange part was there was really no pattern to the project. The only thing they saw as a trend was the author's name recognition. In simple terms, new authors are not coming in with sales numbers and a following.

Yes, I know this is the reason why so many authors are tying the self-publishing approach.  There is the thought that if they can build up a reader base and build up their sales, they would be in the same place as the established authors. The problem though, is one simple two letter word I used - IF. As we said, this is a business where there are not promises.

I think we forget a couple of things when it comes to this business. Building an author takes time. This is not an overnight business. The work you commit to a new author to train them and to get them ready to produce is an investment in the future. Publishers will not see that profit until several books down the line. And, like anything in business, time is money. When we sign a new author, or give those coveted slots to the established authors, we are doing so because the "odds" of success are better than putting that new author out there without a name.

So what does this mean for new authors? It means it takes a stronger project to market. It takes having a strong sense of the industry and really knowing what it takes to succeed. In the past, we used to be able to take those mediocre projects and build them into something great. Now, we have to take projects that really demonstrate something right out of the gate. For new authors, this is going to take time.

I am in no way saying that new authors should just give up. As I have said over and over again, this industry takes time. Publishing takes time. So give it that time. Be persistent. Don't be impatient (as the editor panel noted at the PNWA conference about the current population of writers out there). Learn to write the great story. Learn the business.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Ultimate Way To Market Your Book!

We all know that in today's market, getting that book out there to your readers, or really finding a way to impress the editors and agents is the key. We see writers scrambling to find the best method to do this. They take workshops and they read books. They are determined to find that single best way of marketing their books. Well, look no further.

No, I am not selling you Dr. Smith's Magic Elixir. I honestly have the best method of marketing that book!


No seriously. Write the book!

One of the things I saw a lot of these last two weeks were the number of authors taking every workshop they could get their hands on dealing with social media, marketing techniques, approaches to formatting books, how to create digital copies... you get the idea. What was interesting, however, is that many of these writers still had not finished writing their books. Sure, some were editing or in the "final phase of revisions" (don't ask me how many times I heard people use that line), but far too many were still writing.

I am asked frequently on the importance of "building your platform" and the need to have that in place when submitting to an editor or an agent. Now I will say, if you are writing non-fiction, you should be thinking about that since there is a pretty good chance you are submitting on proposal, but for fiction, it is simply not necessary. We want to know that you are thinking about it, but having it in place is not where you need to be spending your time. You need to be writing.

Think of it this way. You are marketing a product that hasn't been created. When we market a product, we have to think of all the great things the product has that your buyer would be interested in. You cannot sell something that doesn't exist.

In simple terms, there are so many of you that have all of these great marketing schemes, but you never really took the time to think about the product. Look, don't get me wrong! Your marketing schemes are great, but the product  you are marketing needs a lot more work. Take the time to do so.

When I sign new authors, I am always asked if they should start building those websites and creating a platform. I tell them all the same thing. Don't worry about it yet. Sure, it is OK to make some lists, but let's focus first on selling that book and getting that process going first. We want that good project and then we will think about the best method of marketing it!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflections On Things Heard At RWA 2014

For me, the year is over. When the RWA Conference rolls around, I start thinking about the coming year. Yes, I know there is a lot of 2014 yet to go, but this is always a nice way to wrap things up. When I sit on the airplane flying back home, I always find myself making a list of the things I heard and my reactions to those comments. This year was no different.

"Struggles with marketing and sales." It didn't matter who I spoke with and the approach they took with publishing, I think we are all feeling it. This is a tough market now and honestly, no one has the right answer. This is a business of needing readers to survive. This is also a business of needing a place for those books to be available to readers. The difficulties in sales is not due to a battle between self-publishing and traditional publishing. This is simply an issue of the buying population isn't buying. For many, it is still an issue of cost - Buy milk or buy a book. Unfortunately, for many more, it is simply about supply and demand. They can't get to the book. If bookstores are not there, or they don't carry the books, or the retail outlets are not making shelf-space available, they are simply losing out on a HUGE population. We have to remember the entire world has not gone digital. There are still a ton of people out there who are not going to go "online" to buy a print book and then wait for it to show up. This same population is also not going to go online and "download" a book.

And it isn't just the sales. I heard it over and over again of writers, agents, and editors struggling to find the right approach to getting the news out about their books. Twitter works in some cases, but not in all cases. Facebook works for some, but not for everyone else. Ugh!

I think the one thing I walked away with was the idea that we simply cannot place the blame on struggles with marketing and sales on one thing. This is a huge problem with a lot of variables. What I do know is that everyone is indeed trying to make this work again.  

"So tell me why I need an agent." I heard this one a lot and not just from writers but other agents who had the same question asked of them. What was interesting is that several of those agents voice what I think was going on in all of our heads. "Why do we have to defend ourselves?" I had one author ask me just that question so I told her all of the things we do for the author. For her, she then launched into how she was really loving doing everything self-published, and then followed that with the same question that started the conversation, "So why do I need an agent?" My answer was simple. "It sounds like you don't want an agent."

The deal is that in publishing, there are a lot of different approaches writers can take to get their work published. This is far from a battle and war between which approach is the best. For some writers, because of the path they want to choose for their career, or their ability level in publishing means the traditional approach is the way to go. For those who A) have been in the industry for a while; B) have an amazing backlist; and C) an active following of readers, then choosing the self-pub approach may be the way to go.

"I am pitching to you because I tried the self-publishing approach and it failed for me." This is sort of an extension of the prior comment. I have also said this before here on the blog. I have seen a ton of authors of late coming to agents because they dove into the self-publishing business blind and were completely overwhelmed by the knowledge it took to be successful and what they were lacking. Unfortunately, for many of these authors, they were finding brick walls with editors and agents saying there was nothing we could do with those books that were epic failures. Sure, we could look at new things, but resurrecting these dead projects was nearly impossible.

What I also heard were many authors who clearly were missing the idea of what agents do for authors. I had a couple of authors come to me with their previously published and horribly failing projects wanting me to do the marketing for them. This is not what the agents do for writers.

Agents on the outside This wasn't really a single comment but feelings and thoughts that came from several agents I heard and spoke to. There was this sense that agents were not really needed at the conference. For some, it was the heavy emphasis of workshops, presentations and guest speakers proclaiming things such as "Agents are far from necessary" to one comment by an author, "Fire your agent!" I do understand that RWA needs to present a range of workshops and sessions for the authors based on the current needs and desires, but we have to remember that, like I said earlier, there are a range of approaches to publishing. There are those authors out there that wanted the traditional approach and they too felt as if they were missing something. I spoke to one group of authors at a meal and they said they were frustrated that many of the workshops they went to on craft or the industry only pushed for the self-publishing model. Oh well, maybe next year.

"I couldn't get an appointment with an editor or agent." O.K. we get this one all of the time. 2 hours of pitches at 10 minutes a piece for editors and agents simply doesn't get a lot of people though the door. But, saying that editors and agents were not available is not a reality.

First of all, during my session, I did watch one author meet with 3 or 4 different editors or agents. That's right! It was like a revolving door. I kept seeing her come in over and over again. So, if you wanted to camp out and fight for those slots, it is certainly possible.

Secondly, and this is something I say every year. There are far too many authors out there filling up those slots and pitching to people who would never be a right fit for their story. This goes back to doing your research and pitching to the right person.

Next, and this one was big. Those editors and agents were always out and about. For over 2 weeks prior to RWA (and even the PNWA conference) I was pushing the idea of just seeing me in the hallway. All you had to do was come and talk to me. I also sent out TWEETS with the hashtag #RWA14 so I know those were making it to people. I reminded writing chapters to invite me to their gatherings to have their authors pitch. In the three days I was there, hanging out a lot in the main lobby, not one author came over. And this was not just me. I know other agents offered the same thing. Take advantage of it people!

"I wish we had..." or "I wish we could..." Several writers I spoke of would frequently tell me of things they wish they had access to outside of the RWA conference. They wanted more sessions on craft. They wanted session on pitching, synopsis writing and marketing. They wanted to meet with editors and agents in Q & A sessions. Now I know a lot of these sessions were were available at RWA but I did find it interesting that so many just didn't initiate these ideas within their own chapters.

I know several were completely shocked when I told them I did SKYPE pitches or that I am promoting remote webinars with writing chapters. Even other editors and agents thought the idea of working with writing chapters digitally was great. This is especially great for those chapters with limited budgets.

But as I said, these writers simply said they wish they had the chances but did nothing about making it a reality.

This is a business of being proactive. If you want it, all you have to do is ask.

"Well you know, this industry is changing." I think it is funny but I hear this every year. It is as if things have all been status quo up until [insert current year]. This is an ever changing industry. Our readers have different needs and desires. New technology is always becoming available so we can try something new. I think the one thing we have to remember is to always be thinking of how we can change and grow. I know I walked away with some new things I am going to focus on in the coming year until #RWA15. Two in particular: Developing a series of online workshops available to writers world wide and Collaborating with more agents in other agencies to find solutions to those perplexing issues.

I know I am excited about the coming year. I would love to hear the things you are looking forward to between San Antonio and New York!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Submissions To Greyhaus

This is a quick reminder.

  • Greyhaus is still closed to unsolicited submissions. This means unless I met with you at a conference, or you had a request from a contest, please do not submit.
  • Greyhaus will likely be back open to all submissions in September! Stay tuned in for details.
  • If you had a request from PNWA, RWA or the Kiss of Death Daphne Contest, please make sure to A) Send that material in; and B) make sure to use the specific instructions you were provided. If not, you will likely end up in the SPAM folder.