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Posts Tagged ‘selling your book’

Dream of becoming a published author? Read this

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, entertainment, journalism, life, US, work on April 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm
"The Sower," Simon & Schuster logo, ...

“The Sower,” Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, it’s great. It’s really exciting. It is.

But then there’s this:

Drug-addicted beauty writer Cat Marnell has landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster for her memoir, “How to Murder Your Life.” Marnell, who has been in and out of rehab for her addiction to prescription drugs, famously told us she’d rather “smoke angel dust with her friends” than hold down a full-time job after being fired from Jane Pratt’s Web site, xoJane.com. Now she has chronicled her sexual and narcotic adventures in a book, to include her life as a spoiled rich kid of a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst and her drug-fueled rise through Condé Nast, xoJane.com and Vice magazine…The proposal details her numerous sexual conquests [and] four abortions.

Because, you know, get-up-wash-face-work-hard-sleep-repeat is so…..vanilla. Who cares?

And then there’s the inevitable email I got yesterday, giving me 25 days to buy back several thousand unsold hardcover copies of my second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which was published on April 14, 2011 in hardcover and July 2012 in paperback.

They’re being offered to me very cheaply, but I don’t have a spare few thousand dollars right now, nor the deep desire to fill every square inch of our garage with unsold books.

This is stuff you rarely hear about publicly because who dares admit envy of an advance orders of magnitude bigger than yours? For self-indulgent shite?

And no one will even publicly admit that their book didn’t sell out, because then…OMG….you’re a failure! Facebook is like sticking pins in your eyes every day if any of your friends — and this is common among established writers — have indeed become best-sellers. “Friends” being, you know, a word with some variance.

One of them keeps crowing and crowing and then another and then another and you start to think the only thing that seems obvious: “I’m such a loser!”

Um, no.

My publisher, (bless their enthusiasm!), printed too many. Partly because that’s just when e-books began taking off and we sold many more (cheaper) e-books out of the gate than hardcovers. We’re also still in a recession and my book is about low-wage labor so many of my would-be readers might have balked at shelling out the dough for the hardcover; there was a four-week wait list for it at the Toronto Public Library, a friend there told me.

Score!

Hardcover book gutter and pages

Hardcover book gutter and pages (Photo credit: Horia Varlan)

The publishing industry is a moving target and every single book they choose to publish is a gamble, a guess and some tightly-crossed fingers.

Yes, some authors — Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, et. al. — are safe bets. They’ve become like major league baseball teams, winning franchises. But I know of one best-selling author (I’ve seen the numbers) whose two previous books barely sold more than 1,000 copies before she Hit It Big.

So you never know.

So, this week, feeling foolish and weary and yet, and yet, and yet…working on my book proposal. I will never get $500,000 for any book I propose. To even get $100,000 would be a lovely thing, but also nothing I can expect.

So, as my new agent said, “If you’re really burning to write this one”…

And I said, “Yes, I am” and she said:

Burn, baby, burn!

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!”

Want To Write A Book? You Sure?

In blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, women, work on May 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  As the pushpushpushpushpush of book promotion and marketing for “Malled’ My Unintentional Career in Retail” continues — today offering interviews with two Canadian newspapers, a photo for my local newspaper and a radio interview — time for a reality check on the reality of book-writing.

Yes, this photo is of me, summer 2010 — mid-revisions!

Writing a book, for me, is a tremendous joy. I love having months to think long and hard about what I am trying to say and how. I love doing interviews for background and a better understanding of my subject, and reading entire books — ten for this one, on low-wage labor, retail and management — to make sure my individual impressions aren’t overly personal and limited.

But, having just attended the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in Manhattan, I also appreciated listening to the comfort and wisdom of more experienced friends who have published five or six or eight books.

They all know the giddy excitement of signing that contract with your publisher, getting the manuscript in and accepted, publication date — and the anxiety over reviews. Will you get any? How will you handle the savage ones?

Writing and promoting your book(s) is an extraordinary process. It can also be an emotional roller-coaster.

At a dinner table after the conference, four of us — who had never before met — brainstormed how one of us, a fellow Canadian, might best introduce his non-fiction book, The Erotic Engine, into the American market.

Three of us: a education specialist from Vermont, a home decor writer from Florida and I all gave it our best efforts, all while eating some great Italian food.

I love and live for this sort of generosity and camaraderie. At the conference, when I went up to panelist Kathleen Flinn, whose memoir of attending cooking school in Paris, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” was one of my favorites, she was excited to meet me. (!) She’d heard about Malled, as had many people at the conference.

Becoming a published author and climbing the many necessary steps along the way: finding an agent, writing a proposal, finding a publisher, writing, revising and then tirelessly marketing and promoting it, is a little like joining the military.

Really want to write and sell your book? Drop and give me twenty, soldier!

Whatever branch of service — cookbooks, YA, memoir, biography, history — we earn those stripes! We all experience many of the same issues and challenges and — like veterans of battle — know that we all know intimately what others only fantasize about.

Writing books means joining a long ladder of success, with many rungs.

Some books become huge best-sellers, leaving the rest of us gnashing our teeth in envy. Others become films or television series. Many find their own niche, buzzing along through social media and word of mouth.

Some just…die.

Do you hope to write a book? What do you hope to do with it?

What steps are you taking to get there?

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!


The Introvert’s Nightmare — Promoting Your New Book

In behavior, business, culture, design, education, entertainment, Fashion, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on January 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm
Seated man reading a book

Solitude? It doesn't sell books!Image by National Media Museum via Flickr

Here’s a great piece by a writer friend in Psychology Today:

Writing seems a perfect career for introverts, since it entails many hours alone in a quiet room. That’s the fun part of the job. Easy, even. But once your book is published, the real work starts: Getting people to buy it.

The days of publishers spending big bucks on book promotion are long gone. Today, after you manage to sell the book to a publisher, you then have to sell it to readers. So people who have chosen the solitary life of the writer are forced not just to step into the spotlight, but to chase it down. Heck, you have to get your own spotlight, point it at yourself, and holler “LOOK AT ME!”

Ick.

But an author’s gotta do what an author’s gotta do. What’s it like? Here, from four introverted writers, is a mix of advice and fear and loathing.

Today is a day for me to sit still. I spent the last two days, from 9:00 to 6:30, traversing the enormous Javits Center, Manhattan’s conference center, attending the annual National Retail Federation Big Show.

There were 15,000 people attending and thousands of exhibitors, most of them people selling their products and services (from security cameras to signage to software) to retailers. As I stood in line to buy my coffee, Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, a huge celebrity in this world, walked right past me.

But who should I address? What should I say?

One of the people I interviewed for my new book is the CEO of a software company who invited me to be the keynote speaker at his users’ conference — with major players in attendance like Kohls, Home Depot, Old Navy. Being a keynote speaker, while a fantastic honor, was scary enough, and I even did it while on crutches.

Scary or not, for my new retail book to take off — “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 14, 2011) — I need to do much, much more of this sort of self-promotion, meeting senior executives with decades of experience.

No one could possibly work the Big Show alone, so two friends — bubbly, outgoing blonds my age — also worked the room handing out postcards for the book. I paid one of them for her time, $180 out of my own pocket for her labor and energy.

It’s not easy!

Approaching total strangers hour after hour after hour to explain why I/my book are fabulous requires a sort of psychic stamina few people possess.

Barb and Hannah did a great job and I’ve made some terrific new contacts for speaking engagements and book sales.

The whole thing is a little terrifying to someone who — today — is writing this wearing a T-shirt and sweats, no make-up, uncombed hair, face unwashed.

Writers do most of our work alone at home, interacting with sources by phone or email because so many of them live very far away; even if they’re an hour away, we often can’t afford the two hours’ wasted time traveling to and from their location. (Now that gas is already $3.35 a gallon here as well.)

So the HeyhowareyaGreattomeetyou! of determined, ongoing book marketing and promotion can be a real a shock to the system. Most writers are fairly private people, attached to a computer and printer for months, if not years, interacting for their book primarily with three key players — your agent, editor and publicist.

All of whom are on your side.

Then — boom! — you’re shot out of the editorial cannon and into public view, criticism, questioning and judgment. Fellow journalists whip out their notepads and cameras and it’s my turn to be listened to and quoted. Gulp.

I now carry hairspray and a mirror. (I normally often forget to carry a hairbrush, let alone my cellphone.)

I was interviewed for two videos yesterday and, totally by chance, by a reporter from Women’s Wear Daily as I sat in a hallway.

Here we go…

Want To Find An Agent? Don't Send Letters Like These!

In business, Media on June 17, 2010 at 10:17 pm
Old book bindings at the Merton College library.

Books. Yes, some day you, too will sell yours, with the right letter...Image via Wikipedia

This list of decidedly losing letters to one annoyed literary agent (and their unsent replies) is delicious, from mediabistro.com’s GalleyCat, the blog that follows the publishing industry:

“Greetings agent. I have written the most important book on earth.”

Will someone, for the love of God, please kill me.

If you really want to find an agent, find a writer who thinks your work is excellent and ask, very nicely, if they’ll share the name of their agent. That’s usually how it’s done. I found mine when I spoke at an event and her assistant suggested I write a memoir. I did.

The Slush Pile Is Gone: What Ambitious Writers Must Do

In business, entertainment, Media on January 16, 2010 at 9:34 am
Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961

Image via Wikipedia

Great piece in today’s Wall Street Journal on the death of the “slush pile”, where would-be writers once awaited rescue from their hard-working anonymity:

Getting plucked from the slush pile was always a long shot—in large part, editors and Hollywood development executives say, because most unsolicited material has gone unsolicited for good reason. But it did happen for some: Philip Roth, Anne Frank, Judith Guest. And so to legions of would-be novelists, journalists and screenwriters—not to mention “D-girls” and “manuscripts girls” from Hollywood to New York who held the hope that finding a gem might catapult them from entry level to expense account—the slush pile represented The Dream.

Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction. Film and television producers won’t read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents. Magazines say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Web was supposed to be a great democratizer of media. Anyone with a Flip and Final Cut Pro could be a filmmaker; anyone with a blog a memoirist. But rather than empowering unknown artists, the Web is often considered by talent-seeking executives to be an unnavigable morass.

It used to be that you could bang out a screenplay on your typewriter, then mail it in to a studio with a self-addressed stamped envelope and a prayer. Studios already were reluctant to read because of plagiarism concerns, but they became even more skittish in 1990 when humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount, alleging that the studio stole an idea from him and turned it into the Eddie Murphy vehicle, “Coming to America.” (Mr. Buchwald received an undisclosed settlement from Paramount.)

The irony, she writes, is that the Web was supposed to make it easier. Not so. You must have an agent.

Her piece also offers a terrific sidebar on how to sell your material, but I saw some things she left out.

I’m now writing my second non-fiction book for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin; my first, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”, was published in 2004 by Pocket Books, the paperback side of Simon & Schuster. In both instances, I easily found an agent eager to sell my work. How?

Be excellent. If that sounds elitist, too bad. The Web, and technology, has given millions of amateur writers the technical tools to produce a lot of material. It has also fostered the seductive illusion that, by banging out a lot of it — whatever it is — you”re now highly experienced as a writer and therefore must be really good and it’s your right to get published right away. Wrong.

Writers whom agents eagerly court are writers with a track record of excellence. We have, most typically, been writing for years, not weeks. We have been published by some of the toughest, most jaded and demanding of editors for outlets like The New York Times or The Atlantic or have passed through the gates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. We’ve been vetted.

Hone your skills. Every day. This is not a joke. The most skilled and ambitious professionals I know are deeply committed to their craft. We read, study, watch and listen to work we think inspiring and intelligent. We read/watch/listen to  — and analyze — everything vaguely similar to what we hope to achieve,  fully aware of how much competition is out there and how carefully they are sharpening their swords.

At every level of the game, even with decades of terrific experience and credentials, we take classes and workshops, some even pursuing MFAs or other advanced degrees. We apply for, and sometimes win, grants and fellowships to help us work on material that is perhaps less immediately commercial but helps us grow as artists and creators.  We spend time, money and attention on our skills and our craft.

Get to know other excellent writers. Other terrific writers have already been published and found an agent. If they decide you, too, are ready for prime time, they might share that contact data with you. They also may not. It’s an awkward moment when someone, as they always do, asks for the name of your agent. It’s like asking for your partner’s phone number. That writer may not be a good fit for your agent, in terms of their talent, material or personality.

You best get to know other skilled writers by joining an industry association or group and, best of all, giving of your time and energy so others have a chance to get to know and possibly like you. I sit on the board of the 1,415-member American Society of Journalists and Authors; a fellow board member had a Times‘ best-seller.

Be generous. No one likes a grabby user, and the writing world is filled with them. Just because you reallyreallyreally want to become rich and famous thanks to your astonishing talents doesn’t mean anyone else will rush to get you there — nor should you ever expect this. When you, too, can share a contact or some advice, and you feel comfortable doing so, do it. I don’t help everyone who asks, but I have surprised a few people by doing so. If you are a much younger/less experienced writer asking for help, think through what you can offer in return — maybe a mass tweet or access to your Facebook contacts, all 567,890 of them, when your mentor’s latest production comes out. 

Be strategic. Before you try to find an agent, think through carefully what it is you offer and why that agent, in particular, might be a good fit for you. Ask around. (See suggestion No. 1)

Be patient. Such an unfashionable idea! I wrote at least four unsold book proposals before I sold my first book, then wrote a few more before  I sold my second. It may be hard to fathom, but not everything you write is worth an agent or editor’s or producer’s extremely limited time and attention. If you find an agent, trust their thinking. If you don’t, find another. The world is filled with agents, many of whom may be a very poor fit for you and your work.

Timing is everything. Both of my books wouldn’t have been of as much interest to an agent or publisher even six months before they sold; the mood of the marketplace and the zeitgeist were, at that particular point, especially receptive.  No one wanted my  book about guns or self-protection pre -9/11, but it sold shortly thereafter, when Americans suddenly felt scared in a whole new way. My current book is about working a low-wage, low-status job, something millions are now doing in this recession.

The agent is not your Mom/lover/BFF. They are a skilled professional whose credentials and other clients and projects you will check out thoroughly. Won’t you? You wouldn’t just hand over the keys to your home or vehicle to anyone unfamiliar — but that’s what you’re doing with your hard-earned career when you commit to an agent. Check them out and, if you decide to work with them, and vice versa, respect their time. Don’t burn them out or freak them out by calling and emailing all the time for their reassurance or guidance. That’s what your therapist or writing group is for.

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