Thursday, July 19, 2012

Checking In

The Rejecter, I've been reading up on your blog all the advice you've dispensed about self-published authors seeking representation- and i'm assuming by the beginning of this sentence you can tell that I am one of them. Why did I self publish when I want now to be published by a big house? Simply because I wanted to, i've always been a go-getting 'do it yourself'er. Now I see the potential my book really has with the right marketing, so here I am. The issue isn't just in that i'm self published, but in how in the world to even query it. My book is a non-fiction parenting humor book (I don't want to go as far as to say memoir, but it is about my life). What concerns me is that I don't have thousands upon thousands of sales to tout to agents as a strong selling point, but I have received amazing reviews and have a decent platform. That to me speaks volumes, but what about to an agent? Will the sales really hurt me that much? Am I really not to even mention that I have self-published my book without being able to say that i'm a "success"? 

We're getting a lot of self-published pieces at work, and now that self-publishing has some legitimacy to it (I started self-publishing a fiction series when my publisher decided to shut down its fiction unit after the 4th book) this is a question a lot of people are probably wondering about - if you should bring your successful self-published book to an agent, and when should you do it?

A lot of people go into self-publishing first now, either because they didn't succeed in getting their book published or because they didn't see a reason, and then they become successful and think, "But what about outside the Kindle/Smashwords market?"

When I see a query pitching a self-publishing book, there's two things I consider:

(1) How "successful" has it been, really?
(2) How much of its audience has this book already eaten?

Despite how much money Amazon will give you for your self-published book (which is an awesome policy of Amazon's, as is paying on time), you have to be talking thousands to be talking success, because publishers rarely do print runs under several thousand, and they do runs of books they want to sell.  So if you're under a thousand, count yourself out. Most agents will say 3000, but this is a magic number the industry came up with years ago and I don't know how much it applies anymore.

The second problem is a larger concern. If your book was going to be lower mid-list and sell 3000 copies, and you've already done it, what's it going to do now? Back when it was nearly impossible for consumers to get self-published books, this wasn't an issue. Now even PODs are reasonably-priced and people can give away their eBook for free, or at the .99c range where people will indiscriminately click "buy." If you've been self-published for a while, you've definitely used up your relatives, friends, livejournal pals, and people you could talk into doing you a favor and reviewing it because you helped them move their couch. This issue is going to make agents a little more hesitant about picking up well-selling fiction. If it's doing fine in its own market - which is now a pretty large market that reaches a lot of people - that might be the shelf-life of the book, and there's no reason to go further.

Also, we don't care about Amazon reviews unless there's tons of them. If you've got 60 Amazon reviews, OK, we're legitimately interested even if some of them were bad. That means you had a lot of readers. Fifteen good reviews means maybe you've had your friends and relatives throw up sock-puppet stuff and then paid a bunch of people on fiverr to do a few more. I'm above paying people for reviews, but it's not like I didn't pressure relatives who already read the book to throw together something for Amazon even though they had never written a review in their life. Everyone does it, which means everyone sort of has to do it, because a book with less than 5 reviews starts looking suspicious. It's a misleading trend but let's all admit that you will do what you have to do, especially if it's your livelihood (I don't make a whole lot reading queries).

And chances are we won't look at your Amazon page unless we're being paid hourly and we already read pretty fast and damnit, rent is expensive and the ConEd bill is always shooting up. And even then, probably not.

You're in a weird position. Not admitting you've self-published successfully is a big omission at this point, but we also aren't going to be thrilled to hear it. My advice to you, if you've had success in publishing and want to try a different area of publishing with more professionals involved, is unequivocally this: Go write another book. Because if you've only got one book in you, and you've written and published it, don't bother with the tricky world of publishing. But if you've used self-publishing to get off the ground, churn out as much good material as you possibly can that is new and interesting and unseen by the public. And then we may be interested.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BEA 2011 Post

(I'm only "semi" retired)

My trip to the BEA is over. I generally do everything I need to do in one day, the first day of the floor exhibitions. The BEA is really too exhausting to me to go back. Observations this year:

(1) The digital printing booths were slightly more centralized and slightly less deserted, but they were still pretty deserted because they didn't have cool books to look at and most people don't need to talk to them. Also exactly what each company does is confusing, because their posters just have a bunch of buzz words on them, so you have to ask, "Do you publicity?" or whatever you want and they tell you yes or no. They are very polite, though.

(2) Google Books had a funny sign, like "Check us out!" or "Come and join us!" or something like that, as if we're all afraid of them rather than mad at them for massive copyright infringement. Then I could not actually find the Google Books booth.

(3) I still have no idea why self-published authors buy booths to promote their book. It's got to be a ridiculous amount of money (a badge to get in was something like $400 for authors - my publisher paid my way), like thousands of dollars, and it's not as if publishers are wandering around, looking at booths and saying, "I want that. That thing that no publisher picked up if the author even tried." Seriously, if you are a self-published author and you want to promote your book, save your money and buy a publicity package from Lulu or CreateSpace.

(4) As usual, the only Jewish presses had titles I had never heard of or only heard of via Amazon recommendations, and their books had no Hebrew in them. Serious Judaica (not general Jewish books that are published by imprints) is a specialized market sold to Jews by Jews in Judaica stores, syangogue gift shops, or online. Artscroll has no reason to be at the BEA. Either I'm going to buy the new English translation of the Talmud Yerushalmi or not; no serious promotion is needed there, or needs to be done within the general industry.

(5) That guy who likes burning Qur'ans? He has a publisher, and they had an abandoned booth with a manniquin wearing a burqa. The sign on her chest said, "Hello, my name is Zahra. I have to live in this cage in Afghanistan. Can you ban it in America?" Which, you know, has part of a good cause (international women's rights) mixed with a healthy dose of racism.

(6) Chinese presses are always a little creepy because they're government controlled unless they're outside the mainland, and their material basically says, "Everything is awesome in China. There are definitely no problems you've been reading about in other sources." The Beijing Review magazine was especially bad - nothing but positive articles about how amazingly cool everyone is doing, especially those victims of the Sichuan earthquake who are now totally over it and they love their new housing. Also, definitely nobody was arrested for trying to publish the names of child victims, especially not an important artist. I am not really exaggerating here, just using different language than the magazine used. It's a shame, because there are a lot of good books released by these presses in English, but you have to wade through disquieting stuff. I mean, there are definitely a lot of countries with major human rights problems, but very few of them are at the BEA, on a full-scale offensive of promoting how there are no human rights problems in their countries.

(7) I picked up 2 books. One was actually not a giveaway - it was one of the books on display, and I told them it was on my Amazon wishlist for a long time, and they gave me their extra copy, which was very nice. The other was at a press where I'm published and they were doing a signing and I felt compelled to support the author. But my apartment is getting pretty crowded and I really don't need piles of fiction I don't want to read and couldn't sell for serious money even if it's signed.

(8) There's always one Buddhist monk wandering around. This year he was Tibetan (and he was white). Last year, a Japanese nun I think? Or maybe Korean. I don't remember.

(9) Small presses really shine at the BEA. I only say this because from my perspective, the big presses are booths I don't really need to visit, because I know what they do and I know their titles, but the small presses who might actually have decent sales I would never otherwise see. And their representatives have time for you and are as under-dressed as you are.

(10) Did people see that company that reproduces medieval manuscripts using the same materials? That was amazing! I couldn't believe they actually let us flip through their books, which were really creative masterpieces even if they were copies. Must cost a fortune, though. I didn't even ask.

(11) My business card which was a rushed job on ugly paper last night while I was recovering from a sore throat was so bad that people loved it. Someone said, "I think I would end up paying an ad company $200 to come up with this."

(12) If you are going tomorrow, bring a sweater. The exhibition floor is freezing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Retirement Post

A number of people have emailed me to ask me where I've been, which I think is really sweet, especially when they implied something might have happened to me. The truth is the more obvious: I've been really busy. I have two novels coming out over the next 4 months, both of which had major revisions recently, and I'm working on a proposal for a non-fiction book. I also got another job (two wasn't enough) with another agent, and now have two part-time bosses on top of my writing career. I am proud to say that in the years since founding this blog, I've gone from unpublished writer to someone who supports herself mostly by her writing, albeit not very well. There are only so many words in me a day, and since most of the questions I've gotten are repeats, I don't feel the desperate need to post constantly, or at all. So I'm going into a state of semi-retirement. I'll keep this blog open, as your question has probably been answered already, and I may post from time to time, but otherwise, don't expect a lot from me.

I will answer a final question which I get constantly: "How do publishers feel about eBooks?"

I may not be a publisher except for a small press I ran for two years, but I also work for two agents, have an agent, have worked with three different publishers, and attend conferences on eBooks, so I think I can safely answer the question.

Ready? The answer is: We don't know.

The eBook market (and thanks to adjacency, the self-publishing market) is a constantly-evolving new market based on technology and social media which did not previous exist. It's one where the store, not the publisher, determines the retail price that's listed on the back of a real book. Stores are experimenting with how to price and promote books, publishers are demanding higher prices and percentages and getting ignored, and authors and agents are depending the same from their publishers and similarly getting ignored, because no one knows how it's going to pan out, just that at the moment money is being made and it is going disproportionately to the retailer. Except when the retailer sells at a loss, of course, to undercut other retailers, which Amazon constantly does to make sure people buy the Kindle and not the Nook or the Sony eReader. This is why I have about 200 books on my Kindle and have paid for two of them, and one of them was .99c.

What we do know is it does not spell the end of print publishing. I have a Kindle, but I do most of my reading on Shabbos, when I can't use electronics, so it's not as helpful as it could be. I also buy a lot of academic books (which are usually not tremendously marked down in their Kindle version if it's even available) on the used market, where things are tremendously cheaper, or at Salvation Army and other shrift shops, where books are like a dollar. So my buying habits have not changed tremendously as a result of owning a Kindle, but this is not true for a lot of Kindle readers.

What does the future hold for publishing? Self-published authors insist they are the future, and that the big houses will be crushed under the weight of the awesomeness that is their 400,000 word fantasy novel that's the 1st in a trilogy that was rejected last year. I can't imagine this is so. The publishing industry provides an essential service to the book industry: it separates the wheat from the chaff, finds good material, pays authors for it, then edits it and produces it in a neat little package for the consumer. Doing this without the help of the publishing industry is actually tremendously time consuming and generally difficult. Sure, sometimes publishers miss big hits (especially since they're currently so unwilling to buy anything), but most times when they reject something, there's a good reason for it. The same goes for agents.

For all of the doom and gloom, what we're in is a transition period without a clear end in sight, but things will eventually pan out. The industry will look different, and the way money flows will change, but it will be an industry that is at times marginally profitable. The good news is that more people are reading more books, as anyone who drops down enough money for an eReader will tell you. Making books more available at lower prices to people who've dedicated themselves to reading more by plunking down hard-earned cash for a reader can only result in more people reading more in an increasingly literate society, and people will always seek to profit from that. I could imagine a point in the future where the agent/publisher has merged into one stop shop for aspiring authors as software makes it easier and easier to put a book together and promote it, but we're not there yet. Stop holding your breathe. Exhale, and let life resume its natural flow.

And to all my readers, the aspiring authors, the published authors, and the industry insiders: So long, and thanks for all the support. But not the fish. I hate fish. Gross.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

I can't believe I didn't write this myself.

"How many editors do you think Random House will assign to my novel?"
"Minus 13."

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Wait

Hello Rejecter,

On average how long does it take for a publishing house to determine a book is to be published or rejected? I have one out to a publisher over a year and no response. I sent a follow up with an additional submission two months ago and still haven’t heard back. Any idea of an average time frame allotted?

Let me give a more complete answer than just answering your question about publishers.

(1) Unsolicited manuscript to publisher - This is a long wait. Sometimes a year or more at the worst places. Publishers will post times on their website and then not keep to them, and may not respond at all. Check with the publisher - you can even call and ask how long the response time is, but don't bother them by pitching your novel on the phone.

(2) Unsolicited query to agent - If you're going to hear back at all, the time is 1-2 weeks, maybe 3 if it's by mail. Sometime it can be instantaneous with an e-query, if the agent's assistant is just sitting in front of the computer when it comes in. I only am in the office about once a week (thanks, economy!) so most of the queries get done whatever day I'm in, so some people get instant replies and some people have to wait a few days for e-queries.

(3) Unsolicited manuscript to an agent - Don't do this.

(4) Agent sends the manuscript to a publisher - One to two months. A good agent will pitch the book to a bunch of editors they know, see who's interested, then send the book in and give a "closing date." Then, knowing the industry, they'll bug the editor politely a bunch of times until the closing date, then continuing bugging and the replies will float in over the next few weeks. You're not involved in this part of the process, though a good agent will keep you posted.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Audio Books Follow-up

Why do publisher buy audio rights if they find it too expensive to actually have one produced? Wouldn't it be better to not buy the rights and leave it to someone who actually wants to create it, so they can also drive more people to buy the paper version?

At the contract stage, the publisher might have a decent idea of how much they're going to put into the book (money and time-wise) and how it's going to do, but also they're secretly hoping they're wrong, and the book might become wildly successful - in which case, they're going to want those seemingly-irrelevant rights because they'll be worth a lot of money. This is why it's the publisher's job to hold on to as many rights as possible, and the agent's job to argue the same on your behalf.