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Posts Tagged ‘publishing industry’

Sacrifice? Moi? Eight Things Successful Writers Learn To Lose

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on March 30, 2011 at 11:55 am
Bookstore HS germany

Ooooh, I want to be there!Image via Wikipedia

What do you mean sacrifice?

Isn’t becoming a successful writer — speaking here specifically of publishing your books commercially through major houses — all about winning? Money? Fame? A shot at being on Oprah?

Not so much.

Writing and selling your book, or books, is a terrific and exciting journey and one thousands of us make every year.

But even those who insist on self-publishing (even the super-successful like Amanda Hocking) learn the hard way it’s never an easy route.

Here, with my second non-fiction book out in two weeks from Portfolio, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, are eight lessons in loss I’ve learned along the way:

A fixed definition of success

The best-seller list? Only the tiniest fraction of us will get there. Huge sales? Ditto. The thrill of your family and friends beaming with pride? That’s a for-sure. Whatever you hope for your book, don’t attach your ego or future income stream to any specific outcome. Let the process unfold, even while working your hardest on every aspect of promotion, marketing and sales. You may not hit it out of the park the first, second or third time. But a solid single or double is something to be proud of and may still be sufficient to win your next contract.

Ego

This might be the biggest and most important of all. The paradox of writing a book for public consumption — and skilfully fielding the resulting media attention you need to sell it — demands an ego strong enough to firmly believe that there are readers out there eager to hear your ideas. But along the way, your ego is likely to visit the woodshed more than a few times. Your agent may ask for multiple revisions of your proposal. The proposal may never sell. The book may sell but require significant revision; one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read, “Absolutely American”, was rewritten twelve times, the editor told a writers’ conference, before it made the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Or the publisher might simply refuse it as “unpublishable.” It happens. You must be prepared to work closely for many months with your agent, editor, copy editor and publicist. It’s much more of a team sport than it appears.

Dreams

You might need to shelve fantasies you’ve harbored for years. It’s important to dream, and dream big. But the process of moving from idea to manuscript to bookstore can look a lot different from your cherished dream or that of your writing friends. Be open to it!

Expectations

Authors get book tours, right? Authors get on all the big TV shows. We travel far and wide on our publisher’s dime. Not! The average first-time advance for a new author of a trade book is low, as low as $15,000 to $20,000 — paid in four installments, each with 15 percent taken out first by your agent. Do as much homework on the publishing industry as you possibly can, attending writers’ conferences, reading wise blogs, devouring smart books like “Thinking Like Your Editor” so you’re heading into the fray well-prepared. The most successful authors are also those who know how to work within the system, and become the writers their agent and publicist and editor look forward to working with again. This tough business is no place for naievete.

Time

It is hard to overstate how much time it takes, usually, to get a book from the inside of your head into a bookstore. Like — years. Let’s say you have a fabulous idea and, within weeks of having it (and already having built your “platform”, the gazillions of readers who already know and love your work) you’re fortunate enough to find an agent you can work well with. (It’s not always automatic.) They will want you, for non-fiction, to produce a proposal, which can run up to 30 pages or more and must include at least one sample chapter. The months you spend polishing the proposal will require a steady income from elsewhere. Even after you have sold your book, the first advance payment may take several months to show up. Then, when you think the book is finished, you may need to revise it to your editor’s liking for weeks or months.

Money

If you have another steady source of income allowing you to focus solely on producing and polishing and promoting your book, terrific! If not, where’s that funding going to come from? This is the money you’ll need for a variety of expenses: researchers, assistants, FOIA requests, travel for your own research, creating and updating your book website, planning and executing a book tour, polishing the book between advance payments (that can take up to a year.) You may find funding from grants and fellowships, or teaching or a full-time or part-time job. But be sure to have several thousand dollars at the ready for all of these costs. You have one shot at making your book the best it can possibly be. This is not the time to cheap out!

Social Life

If you really want to produce, you’ve got to plant your bum in the chair. That means not: having coffee/lunch/dinner with your friends or colleagues, taking vacations, going to movies or shows or concerts. It may mean missing out on all sorts of fun things you’d really rather do. Not while you’re on a book deadline! That date is no joke — an entire team of people you may never meet (from the production editor to the sales team) — are relying on you. Your spouse or partner and your kids and friends and relatives may really not get it. Writing is easy, right? You can do it later, or tomorrow, or between the kids’ naps or playdates. Maybe. Maybe not. Stay in close touch with other ambitious and successful writers. They know what it takes, and will steer you back to the computer.

Competing projects

These range from laundry and exercise to a tempting new job or lucrative or fun assignment. Every writer knows we have to shut down other sources of income and projects demanding our time, energy and attention. Something, and often many things, are competing for our time, which is limited. If you’re an avid volunteer, you may need to withdraw or scale back for a while. No matter how tempting these sirens, stay focused on your book!

Here’s a great blog post about a new book that really explains the trade publishing industry in the U.S. and U.K. Every would-be author needs to read it!

Anna and Grace duke it out over Galliano — finally saw, and loved, 'The September Issue'

In business, Fashion, Media, women on March 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Anna Wintour at New York's Fall Fashion Week, 2005

Anna Wintour, Vogue editor. Image via Wikipedia

What a fun film!

OK, I am way behind on this one — the documentary, “The September Issue,” came out nationwide last September. I watched it yesterday. If you haven’t seen it, rent it with “The Devil Wears Prada” for a delicious double-bill, comparing real life to reel life.

For those of you not passionate about clothes, fashion, design or what Anna actually looks like without those damn sunglasses — the film is about the making of Vogue’s September issue, a legendarily enormous annual doorstop of a magazine weighing as much as a Thanksgiving turkey.

Tom Florio, publisher of Vogue, is a great character in the film as he tries to explicate Wintour’s terrifyingly glacial demeanor, deliciously parodied by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”, a film based on a book by  former Vogue assistant, Lauren Weisberger.

“She’s not warm,” he says. “I have to be warm for both of us. She’s busy. She’s busy doing her job.”

I’ve seen DWP so many times I can recite its dialogue by heart; I loved seeing how exactly it mimics Wintour’s real office, behavior and rareified lifestyle.

And the brutal, albeit very well-dressed, power struggles are Olympian!

Watching Grace Coddington — the magazine’s creative director — sparring with (and inevitably losing to) Wintour is a rare and telling glimpse of what it takes for two powerful, determined, talented and creative women to achieve, and remain at, the highest levels of this most competitive game. That both are British, coming from a culture where understatement trumps typical New York in-your-face-ness, only makes their civil but relentless jockeying for pages even more compelling.

Not to mention the enormous egos — photographers, models, editors, art directors, designers. However appalling to every feminist bone in my body, I loved the scene where the art director is deciding which image of Sienna Miller to use on the most valuable piece of real estate, the cover — and he’s dismayed by her visible fillings (!)

“I think this neck looks better. Maybe we’ll put this head on this body,” he says, revealing how their use of Photoshop and retouching is as automatic and unremarkable as breathing. Altered images, which I’ve blogged about here before, are normal in this world. Therefore Grace — desperate to rescue a failed shoot by using one of the documentary’s middle-aged male cameramen, complete with his real pot-belly, as a photo subject — has to rush to the phone to make sure his jiggly real-world belly is not artifically flattened by their ruthlessly fastidious re-touchers.

“We’re not,” she says to the camera, “all perfect.”

Even if reading Vogue has never been a priority, check it out.

It’s funny, moving, telling — few documentaries focus on women at work, let alone whose well-toned arms wrestle so fiercely for raw, pure power.

The iPad's (and Kindle's) One Inherent Flaw

In business, Media on January 29, 2010 at 8:52 am
Books behind the bed

Image by zimpenfish via Flickr

Loss of connection.

Not connectivity. Connecting readers.

While many are thrilled at this new world, one in which nasty old paper artifacts like printed books, magazines and newspapers will disappear — and not a moment too soon! — here’s something that bothers me.

How many times, whether you’re 25 or 65, have you discovered a story, an idea, an author or a new friend because you saw what they were reading? Two nights ago, I was getting off the commuter train from Manhattan to my suburban town. I noticed a woman behind me reading “An American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld, a book that’s received rave reviews which I have yet to read.

“What do you think of it?” I asked, without preamble. “I really like it,” she replied.

“Have you read ‘Prep’?” She hadn’t, which led, as we shared the doorway ready to exit, to a brief conversation.

For me, there were multiple pleasures in this: two readers, two Sittenfeld fans trading notes, two neighbors having a quick conversation about work. All of it sparked by the visible physical presence of a book. I don’t know about you, but I’ve done this, and it’s happened to me worldwide, on planes and trains, in waiting rooms and airport lounges, anywhere someone is reading printed matter — or I am — a lively, enjoyable conversation has begun when two strangers realize they love the same thing.

Community.

This may seem trivial. It is deeply important to authors because books become best-sellers in one way: word of mouth. Not ads, not reviews, not book clubs. Word of mouth. And, as someone whose first book has been rendered invisible by its publisher thanks to print-on-demand (i.e. it is not sold any more in bookstores, only available by special order), a book that is not seen is a book that is not heard about, not loved, not argued over, not sold.

Re-play this recent scene with the young woman reading an iPad. There is no point of conversational entry. I can’t see what she’s reading, nor can anyone else. You can’t as we all have done, read over their shoulder, or, subway-typical, read the other side of whatever newspaper page might be held up in front of you.

Is this a loss or a gain?

Privacy. Anonymity. Facelessness. These are becoming the new hallmarks of people who read, thanks to the new ways in which they are reading.

I was given a Kindle for my birthday last June. I love almost every gift I reveive from my partner, but this one failed. I’ve barely looked at it since — and yesterday came home from our local library with half a dozen books, with more on order. As I write my new book, I’m also buying books for research, books I need to dog-ear, underline, Post-it note, photocopy for research. I need, and want, a physical object when I read. I already spend my bloody worklife attached to a screen. I want to flee!

And, as someone who also deeply values design, photography, even typefaces, the loss of the visual beauty of a printed book saddens me; I love the cover of my first book and look forward to seeing what the designers choose for my next one.

As someone who never leaves her home without at least 1-4 forms of printed reading material, who thrives on the pleasure of shared enthusiasm for a great story, idea or writer, these sexy new toys annoy me on another level.

Anyone who deeply values thoughtful reading looks forward, perhaps with some trepidation, to the first time they enter the home of a new friend or someone they have fallen in love with — what do they read? A quick glance (every journo’s trick, which is another reason why about 99% of celebrity interviews are held in restaurants) at someone’s bookshelves often reveals a great deal about their taste level, their ambitions, history, hopes and dreams.

If they don’t even have bookshelves, let alone stacks of magazines, that’s a warning sign for me. Are they addicted to sci-fi? Cookbooks? Self-help? History? Thrillers? An intellectual match, for some of us, is as much as crucial piece of “chemistry” as someone’s smile, smell or sense of humor.

If you’re deeply curious about their reading habits, what are you going to do — grab their iPad or Kindle and sneak a quick peek when they go to the bathroom?

If all books, magazines and newspapers disappear from their printed forms, if all we read is on our private, invisible, unshared electronic machines, have we lost anything valuable?

More Bad News For Publishing: Kirkus Reviews and Editor & Publisher Closed

In business, Media on December 10, 2009 at 12:34 pm
A picture from the top of the Geoman Press at ...

Image via Wikipedia

As if anyone still working with print needed even more bad news — more than 24,000 of us canned in the past year alone — today brings the news that Kirkus Reviews, which reviews 500 books pre-publication, and Editor & Publisher, the industry bible of newspapering are being shut down. No word whether their digital counterparts will live, although it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t.

No matter how much their insider information seems old-school to some, it’s essential to others. Any author hoping for decent sales liked to get a nod from Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal, which tended, back when there were book reviewers for…oh, yeah, newspapers…to drive their reviewers’ decisions about what to pluck from the annual 200,000 books pumped out every year. With fewer and fewer places to even get a book reviewed, at least in print, anything that narrows a new book’s, or author’s, chances of being discovered, sold and read is a sad thing.

E& P, whose website bills it as “the oldest journal covering the newspaper industry” is only the latest casualty in the past few months, as trades and consumer glossies alike, such as Gourmet, have been closed for good.

Who’s next?

Kaboom! Pow! Crunch! (aka Trying To Sell Your Book)

In business, Media on September 1, 2009 at 8:59 am
Books behind the bed

Image by zimpenfish via Flickr

The magic formula for selling a non-fiction book proposal might go something like this:

Talent+Timing+Idea+Voice+Competition+Agent’s Reputation+The Proposal Itself+Big Name Books Just Like It That Sold Like Mad, but Not Too Much Like It+Room Left In The Marketplace For A Book Like The Best-Sellers On A Similar Subject, But Different+Editors’ Balls+Sales Team’s Enthusiasm+Zeitgeist+Writer’s Credentials/Platform+Big Names Who Will Blurb It+Big Names Who Will Review It, Preferably Favorably+Prior Platform+ Future Appetite For Topic (by this writer in his/her voice)+Writer’s Prior Reputation+Writer’s Previous Book Sales+Writer’s Ability to Be Fabulous In Every Possible Medium for Publicity Purposes+Writer’s Pre-Existing Blog with Millions of Eager Readers+Writer’s Website Already Set Up And Paid For+Oprah Producer Ready to Take Your Call+Writer’s Ability and Willingness To Line Up Dozens of Interviews, Articles And Events to Make People Demand This Book+Writer’s Ability To Be Witty And Charming on Live Radio And/Or Television, Looking Lovely And Remembering  You Must Never Swear+Mental, Physical and Emotional Stamina To Complete Book On Deadline+No Seriously Competing Books Showing Up In The Meantime+Author’s Grateful Ability To Live On Very Small Advance (30% upfront, 15% to agent, 15%, or more, to taxes.)

If there’s a more spine-testing endeavor than trying to sell a book proposal (maybe a play or a film or a work of art), I don’t even want to find out what it is. Having worked this summer with a veteran agent who is not, thank God, the sort of wide-eye naif telling me How Great I Am or How Big This Will Be, our 67 double-spaced pages are now on the desks of a bunch of editors. The trick is this. We have to really believe in its potential value, or why bother? But if we care too much — OK, if I care too much — the old ego can take one hell of a beating as it makes the rounds and, inevitably, takes a bunch of hard hits. Read the rest of this entry »

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