My second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, a business memoir to be published in April 2011 by Portfolio/Penguin, is now in production. The assembly line is moving toward publication.
There are few pleasures more satisfying than selling your proposal and writing a book, and few moments as exciting as holding the first fresh copy of your book in your hands. Selling a book catapults the first-time author into a world filled with surprises, some lovely, some less so.
The things I’ve learned along the way! Here, for those who hope to publish with a commercial publisher, are a few of them.
Yes, there are always exceptions to all of these, but much of this is fairly standard for a new and/or mid-list author:
Your advance will be much lower than you hope and takes forever to arrive
I did make more for my second book than for my first, but not nearly as much as we’d hoped. C’est la vie. Book advances, (from which your agent cuts his or her 15% share first), are now typically paid out in three or four installments. It can be six to 12 months, or more, between those payments. How will you meet all your regular expenses plus the research or travel costs of your book? I spent $5,000 for my first book traveling to report firsthand from Texas, Ohio, New Orleans and Massachusetts. For the second, I needed to pay two researchers to help me gather data and sources more quickly.
You have zero control over the pricing or discounting of your own book
As Pocket (the paperback arm of Simon & Schuster) has done with my first book, published in paperback at reasonable and democratic $13.00 in 2004, they might almost double the price of your book — with no additional income accruing to you.
Life crises can destroy your carefully planned writing, research, travel or revision schedule (and budget)
One friend is on deadline for her book but her husband is terminally ill and her book requires travel. While I was in Dayton, Ohio in August 2002 researching my first book, my mother was diagnosed with a huge (removable) brain tumor. I had to get from Dayton to Vancouver, Canada as fast as possible, alone. This year, with a book deadline of September 1, 2010, I lost four months to a (resolvable) medical emergency seeing five specialists, oral steroids, months of physical therapy, even having to use a cane or crutches for months. Good thing I was able to do other work on the book (reading, interviews) and get back to writing it when my head was clearer.
Plan for chaos.
You’ll pay to create and maintain your book website
Not your publisher. The second your book is sold, register its title as a domain name.
You’ll pay for your book tour
You’ll pay for your book trailer
You’ll pay for your video press kit
See the pattern? Start saving up a wad o’ cash now to promote the thing or it will disappear fast.
You’ll create most of your events and signings
Actually, I find this part a lot of fun as the book is now good to go and everyone’s excited about it. I’ve already reached out to universities, business schools, companies, stores and others across the country to help me set up signings, talks and events.
If you’d like help with this book tour — April through June or July 2011, I’d love to hear from you! Please email me.
Your publisher will forget to send galleys to key players
Galleys or ARCs (advance reader copies) create buzz for your book months before publication once they’re in the hands of people who will talk it up to their audiences. Make a huge press list of everyone you think might review or discuss your book. But stay on top of it as some publicists zone out and don’t follow through.
They’ll pulp your book and won’t tell you
It’s basic courtesy to offer authors the chance to buy back any unsold copies of their book before destroying them. I didn’t get that chance. Keep an eye on your copies.
They’ll make it POD and not tell you
That’s “print on demand” which means no one can find my first book in any bookstore. Amazon, yes.
Your editor may quit mid-stream
Or get sick or be fired. It happens. We all dread it.
So might their replacement, and theirs
Your book then becomes an orphan. It’s happened to some of the best-selling books out there and it’s rough. You need your editor to care a lot about your book and be its in-house advocate.
Editors are really busy
When you get an offer, ask how many books the publisher puts out each month and how many will come out the same day, week or month as yours. How many other books is s/he working on? Does s/he prefer to contacted via email or phone? How often is too often?
Agents are really busy
After your book is sold, you and your agent usually won’t have a lot to talk about until it’s accepted. That’s cool. They’re busy making money. Don’t ask them to hold your hand.
In-house publicists are really busy
As much as you crave their undivided attention, it’s unlikely they can give nearly as much of their time or energy as you’d like. Find out what they can do and then start working around it using your own time and resources.
Book doctors are expensive but possibly necessary
Your agent can’t work on it and your editor may not be giving you all the tools you need to whip your book into publishable shape. A book doctor can cost $5,000, but it might be an investment you need to make.
You have six weeks, max. to make your mark before books are returned to the store
Bookstores don’t buy your books in the standard way we buy something, i.e. you own it now. They buy them with a return policy and one they quickly use if the merch isn’t moving.
Having your book on bookstores’ coveted front tables is totally beyond your control
I’m always so jealous of authors whose books get laid out in those thick piles on bookstore tables, the ones people look through. Those books get there through the use of “co-op” funds. You can ask if this is a realistic use of their funds for your book, but don’t expect it.
Your student/intern/researcher or nemesis from grad school will publish before you (and get much better reviews)
Oh, yeah. Maybe even a front-page New York Times Book Review rave. Ouch!
- Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books (online.wsj.com)
- A Book is Born: Reflections of a First Time Author (seattlepi.com)