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Posts Tagged ‘bookselling’

The Writer’s Toughest Job? Managing Your Expectations

In behavior, books, business, work on February 4, 2012 at 2:30 am
Writer's Block 1

Writer's Block 1 (Photo credit: OkayCityNate)

So I’m thinking Broadside is doing great — zipping along, adding new subscribers almost daily (yay!) — and up to 615 worldwide.

Cool!

Then I find a blog with 12,000 followers. That’s the size of my town. Gulp. Sigh.

(Hangs head in dismayed disappointment.)

I also found out this month that a dream I’d been a little excited about, a TV deal for “Malled”, failed to woo the person whose thumbs-up we most needed. Very deep sigh.

I recently sent my first pitch to Wired magazine, which if you haven’t read it, is a smart and interesting publication.

The good news? I heard back within a day or so. The bad news? No interest in that idea.

Every ambitious writer — and if you’re not ambitious, really, why waste the energy? — wants his or her work to find enthusiastic readers, listeners and viewers. Lots of them.

Like, millions!

I see some of the shite that fills the best-sellers lists — seriously?! — and gnash my teeth and rend my garments, even just a little. But when things feel like they’re going pear-shaped (as the British would say), I seek solace in context.

I keep up with what’s happening in my industry, (i.e. publishing, journalism), and read this week that adult hardcover book sales are down a whopping 21 percent.

It’s not just me.

And e-book sales are up a staggering 123 percent; one-third of my sales, so far, for Malled, my 2011 retail memoir, have been e-books, which surprised me and my publisher, Portfolio.

I was feeling low about my sales until I spoke with a good friend who works in the industry and knows it very well. They’re fine, she reassured me.

The endless quest for a terrific agent can feel wholly dispiriting, unless you know other writers at your level in your genre, and hear their war stories. Few writers I know are 100 percent thrilled with their agent, either.

I think the smartest moves a writer can make are these:

Show up and write. As Seth Godin says, keep shipping!

Know that finding an agent is even more challenging than finding a sweetie — you need someone you like, who likes you, is smart and tough and tenacious, who has a good track record, who is taking on new clients, who rep’s the sort of genre you work in, who “gets” you intellectually and emotionally. Someone you trust enough to help shape the next phase of your career.  No pressure!

Work diligently at your craft.

Know the bigger picture of what’s really happening right now in your industry, not just what you most hope for.

Talk frequently to as many publishing veterans as you can. What are they seeing and hearing? My friends now include two heads of publicity for major houses as well as a few agents and many fellow authors. Their collective wisdom helps me figure out the smartest current strategy for my work.

Have a very clear idea what you hope to achieve with your work, and by when. Do not listen only to the naive and unpublished hopeful or those who advise them. Much as I admire writer-advice blogs, they’re too often talking down, by definition. Be prepared to dodge and feint!

Reality-check your hopes against the marketplace, your skills and how much time/stamina you can bring to these projects.

Says one friend, now working on her first non-fiction book, with every writer’s dream — a pre-emptive bid from a major house — (after a year’s work on the proposal): “This business is not for sissies!”

Writing Books? Waste Of Time, Argues NYT Editor Bill Keller

In behavior, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on July 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm
This miniature of Jean Miélot (d. 1475) depict...

Image via Wikipedia

Nice.

Here’s the editor of The New York Times in this week’s Times Magazine on the utter folly of writing books:

So, why aren’t books dead yet? It helps that e-books are booming. Kindle and Nook have begun to refashion the economics of the medieval publishing industry: no trucks, no paper, no returns or remainders.

But that does not explain why writers write them. Writers write them for reasons that usually have a little to do with money and not as much to do with masochism as you might think. There is real satisfaction in a story deeply told, a case richly argued, a puzzle meticulously untangled. (Note the tense. When people say they love writing, they usually mean they love having written.) And it is still a credential, a trophy, a pathway to “Charlie Rose” and “Morning Joe,” to conferences and panels that Build Your Brand, to speaking fees and writing assignments.

His larger argument — an extended whine about losing his staff to the distraction of writing books instead of filling his pages — is that writing books (and we’re speaking here of non-fiction) is a waste of time because they don’t get reviewed, (or get trashed), don’t sell, don’t make money.

So, why exactly do we authors keep stepping up to the craps table, eyes agleam, a stack of chips clutched between our fingers?

As author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, and a former reporter for three dailies, and a 20-year Times freelancer, a few reasons:

Writing books means a respite from the endless hustle of pitching ideas

Writing books means not cranking out endless articles of relative meaninglessness for as much freelance pay as offered in the 1970s

Writing books means fleeing the bizarre, tyrannical or petty demands of the worst editors

Writing books means finding and working with an experienced agent whose skill and enthusiasm will champion your work, not a revolving door of editors half your age

Writing books means reading and speaking with your audience face to face, finding out who actually reads your work and how they feel about it

Writing books means your success (or failure) is wholly yours, not the reflected glory and easier access to sources of working for a Big Name Organization

Writing books means finding a welcoming tribe of fellow authors, generally happy to share information about how they got there — a break from the elbow-in-the-eye competitiveness of writing for a daily newspaper

Writing books means, after months of thinking deeply and broadly about an issue or a person, you’ve thought it through enough to possibly offer something new, lively and provocative – – not “just the facts”

Writing books means having months to think, research, read, interview, write, edit, revise — not minutes or hours

Writing books means breaking as far away from the pack as possible, not running as fast as you can to keep up with it on Big Stories that are often, within weeks, forgotten

Writing books means taking an idea and exploring it from every angle your editor and publisher — and word length — will allow. Journalism these days simply does not offer anyone sufficient real estate to explore anything beyond, at most, 5,000-7,000 words, the length of a book chapter

Writing books means exploring an idea or person or issue about which we are passionate — getting paid to learn

Writing books can give you access to grants and fellowships to help you do the work

Writing books means sharing your ideas and passion with readers who care as much, or soon might thanks to you, about this stuff. Intellectual evangelism!

Writing books means creating and enjoying intense relationships with your agent, editor, publisher and publicists. While writing and revising remain intensely solitary work, the production and promotion of your work, relying on the skills, experience and enthusiasm of others, becomes a team sport

Writing books means creating new, and often astonishingly intimate, relationships with total strangers — your audience. It’s fantastic to open your email and read, as I have with Malled, “Your book bolsters me” or “Have you been sitting on my shoulder for the past 23 years?”

Writing books means finding new, unlikely and unexpected alliances. I interviewed a man in Canada for a guest blog for the Harvard Business Review. “I want to promote the hell out of your book,” he said after 10 minutes of conversation. And so he has, to his large and international network

Writing books places your books and ideas in libraries worldwide. Talk about a global economy!

Writing books, as Keller grudgingly admits, can create entirely new (and lucrative) opportunities for the lucky few. “Malled” (did I tell you this yet?) has been optioned by CBS as a possible 30-minute sitcom. That’s pretty cool.

Promoting Your New Book: What It Really Takes

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on April 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

My second non-fiction book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio) was published April 14. Yay!

But as every author knows — and every would-be author must learn — I’ve been working on promoting it long before the manuscript was finished and accepted for publication, in September 2010.

Today, (for which I’m grateful), it’s two radio interviews — Phoenix and D.C. — and a New York Times interview. Yesterday it was the Brian Lehrer Show and Tuesday was an hour of live radio with the legendary Diane Rehm, who has two million listeners.

(All of these are archived on their websites.)

Sleep? Sleep?

Here are some of the many things I’ve been doing to help get the word out, from local attention and events in my little town of 10,000 north of New York City to reviews and blog posts about it in Australia, Ireland, Canada and Holland:

Registered the domain name malledthebook.com and hired my longtime web designer to create a website for the book. He updates its press and media page almost daily with new audio, reviews and clips.

Created a Facebook page. Please visit and like it!

Signed up at HARO, a three-times-daily website heavily used by 5,000 reporters worldwide seeking sources/experts to interview and quote. (This works only for non-fiction writers, but well worth it. I snagged a Wall Street Journal blogger this way.)

Began blogging in July 2009 for True/Slant, a website (later bought by Forbes,) with a final monthly audience of 10,000 visitors and 239 subscribers

Began blogging at opensalon.com in September 2010

Began blogging here at wordpress in August 2010

Reached out to every single person I interviewed for the book to let them know the book’s publication date, asking them to tweet, blog and mention it on all their social networks and tell their family, friends and colleagues

I visit LinkedIn once a week to answer as many questions as possible, using my book title as my professional signature

I tweet about retail, the subject of my book

I started targeting colleges, universities and community colleges, locally and elsewhere, that teach retailing to see if I might give a guest lecture and sell books; three have said yes, so far

I reached out to the Canadian consulate in New York, (I’m Canadian), and asked them to mention the book in their newsletter and on their website and to create an event for me

I did the same with the University of Toronto, my alma mater; I’m speaking there May 28 at 10:00 a.m. Come visit!

I contacted local businesses and asked some of of them to keep a stack of my book’s postcard on their desks and counters

A local coffee shop — which has more than 2,000 Facebook friends — is letting me do a reading there

A local reading non-profit group where I volunteered is holding an event for me in their space and inviting their friends and fellow volunteers

I contacted a local indie film center to see if we could schedule a film night linked to my book’s themes of shopping, low-wage labor or working retail

I attended the two-day 15,000 person National Retail Federation annual conference in Manhattan and took two people to help me walk the entire floor for two days to hand out postcards and gather potential contacts for speaking, consulting, writing and book sales

I did a brief video for NRF while there extolling retail as a possible career

I collected contact information at the conference from several professors of retailing who might use the book as a text or have me guest lecture or speak

I contacted a Canadian retail blogger attending NRF who did a long video interview with me which will go up on YouTube and who blogged about me twice

I met another high-profile retail blogger for coffee, (while in her Canadian city on family business)

I asked my publisher to give me 5,000 postcards with the book’s cover on one side, a great blurb on the other, and a description of the book and my contact information on the back; I use them instead of a business card now, have used them for book party invitations and hand them to anyone who might find it useful

I’ve written — without pay — several guest blog posts at sites with far more readers than I have, like the Guide to Literary Agents (they approached me) and the Harvard Business Review blog (ditto)

I read dozens of blogs every single day to find sites and posts where I can leave a useful comment

I called a local language school teaching foreign students — who all shop like crazy in Manhattan! — and asked if I could come and talk; they said yes

I called a local independent bookstore and asked if I could do an event there; yes

I reached out to an editor I know at a regional magazine and they did a Q & A with me

I wrote, for pay, an essay for my alumni magazine about working retail

I contacted a local freelancer who profiled me for a local monthly newspaper

I contacted a local radio talk show host who is giving me an hour of air-time

And that’s not even the half of it…

So far, I’ve lined up more than 14 speaking events, several well-paid, like the closing keynote for the retailcustomerexperience conference this summer. I’m always looking for more!

What sorts of things have you done to successfully promote your book(s)?

Any great blogs or websites we should know about?

I’ll give a copy of my book to the person who offers the best suggestion!


20 Lessons New Authors Learn

In art, behavior, business, culture, design, Media, work on October 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

 

Simon & Schuster headquarters at 1230 Avenue o...

Simon and Schuster's NYC HQ...Image via Wikipedia

 

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!

Laredo's Only Bookstore Closes Soon — A Place Where Books Still Matter

In business on January 7, 2010 at 12:09 pm
Map of Texas highlighting Webb County

Image via Wikipedia

For all the talk of sleek Kindles and sexy new e-books, there’s a piece of the story that’s missing — the bookstore as a physical space where readers emotionally and literally connect with books and the people who love them. Those of us who love to read, let alone authors with a very vested interest in people buying and reading our books, know the power of a terrific bookstore and the infectious enthusiasm of the people who choose to hand sell books.

Laredo, Texas, a poor border town, will see the closing of its only bookstore, B. Dalton, on January 16, writes The Wall Street Journal:

Laredo sits on the border with Mexico. It’s a poor city filled with immigrants who don’t speak English, let alone read it. A federal survey several years ago found half the adults in the county lack basic literacy skills.

Audio: Kids Fight for Bookstore

Matt Nager for The Wall Street JournalXavier Garcia and Joe Garcia IV read at the B. Dalton bookstore in Laredo, Texas.

Laredo Literacy

[Jose Angel] Matt Nager for The Wall Street JournalJose Angel, 10, stands in front of two boards with English and Spanish words in his bilingual class.

Its 2,800 square feet offer Japanese comics and Charles Dickens and Pat the Bunny and Twilight, along with magazines from Bead & Button to Small Arms Review. Kids plop themselves on the floor to read, so absorbed they barely notice as shoppers step over them. Adults lean against the packed shelves, browsing.

Out front, a family laden with shopping bags passed, the parents tugging their son toward a sale at Macy’s. Ms. Benavides saw him and called out: “Hector!” He rushed over for a hug. “What are you into these days?” she asked.

He shrugged shyly. “Weather.”

“Still the weather?” Ms. Benavides said. “OK. I’ll find you a real good book about weather.”

It is that kind of bookstore. So residents have launched a campaign to save it — or, failing that, to persuade another chain to bring this city of 230,000 another bookstore.

More than a hundred school children have written letters to Barnes & Noble executives.

Reports the AP:

In the meantime, without a single independent bookseller, Laredo may be in a league of its own among big cities.

Though an independent bookstore is the only one of its kind in Newark, N.J., a city of nearly 288,000, big chains are nearby in the suburbs or New York City. Laredo is surrounded by nothing more than rural ranching towns on its side of the border.

“We suffer, but we don’t suffer to the extent that a Laredo would,” said Wilma Grey, director of the Newark Public Library.

Some worry that the closing could send a message that books and reading are not priorities in Laredo, a hot, steamy city of 230,000 that is choked by smog from trucks lining up at the border, which is home to the nation’s biggest entry point for trucks and trains.

Nearly half of the population of Webb County, which includes Laredo, lacks basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Selling Your Book, From Fantasy (An Auction! Best-Seller! Oprah!) to Reality

In business, Media on October 8, 2009 at 7:33 am
Books in the :en:Douglasville, Georgia Borders...

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J-Day returns! This time, a three-part series on how — if you’re not Malcolm Gladwell — to sell and write a non-fiction book.

Next Thursday, two veteran New York City agents, Kathleen Anderson and Joe Spieler, with NYT best-selling clients, share their stories. On October 22, Kelsey Timmerman and Ulrich Boser, non-fiction authors, talk about what it took them to develop, sell and write their books.

For many ambitious writers, seeing your book on a store or library shelf is a powerful and compelling dream. A number of True/Slant contributors have written books, (Ali Eteraz’ memoir comes out this month. Congrats!), so they’ve also felt the joy and terror of achieving it. But, for most of us, selling and writing a book offers a sobering education, as so many cherished fantasies of Becoming An Author — Your life will change! You’ll be rich! You’ll be famous! They’ll make big fat piles of your book on those tables at the front of the bookstore! — quickly evaporate under the glare of commercial reality.

Do not quit your day job. Your advance, for example. Wow — $50,000! (Or whatever.) You don’t get it all at once. I’ve never heard of anyone who does. Non-writers assume you’re setting up your laptop on some Bora Bora beach for the duration, as you simply now have so much dough, you’re all set. Hah! These days, you’ll be fortunate to get your advance in four instalments over as long as two years, each of them whacked by your agent’s 15% off the top and, oh yeah, taxes. Do the math, and keep on producing non-book income.

I finally sold my first book in 2002, and that was after a number of false starts — involving a lot of hard work each time writing a 30-50 page book proposal, finding an agent to read and rep it and send it out. Not to mention nursing the wounds of rejection. I did that for at least two or three totally different ideas, (I forget how many, it was painful!), one of which was soundly rejected and went on to climb the best-seller list when, virtually identical in focus and tone, it was produced by a Big Name Writer. Ouch.

I just sold my second book a few weeks ago. Like my last book, this one went out in proposal form to 25 major New York publishers and one bought it. That means 24 others “passed”, either dropping out of the race or writing some pretty stinging emails rejecting it. Trying to sell your book, or book proposal, is not a competition to enter lightly. Unless you are already a Really Big Star, wrap your soul and your ego in Teflon!

Here are some of the elements that combined (as they must), like tumblers in a lock, to open the door to my new book. Keep them in mind when trying to sell yours: Read the rest of this entry »

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