Friday, June 13, 2008

Ask a Publisher or Editor Part Two

The members of The Writer's Meow compiled a list of questions and ten publishers & editors were gracious enough to respond. Below is part two of their responses. Thank you to all who participated!

6- What genre is currently selling best?

A better question you might ask is, "What genre of book is easiest for me to sell?" Non-fiction is the easiest type of book to promote, especially how-to books. Whether you self-publish or have someone else publish your book, you will be instrumental in promoting it. Traditional publishers, if they promote a book at all, typically promote your book for no more than three months and then stop.
It's a good idea to study the bestseller lists and look at the authors and topics. Ask yourself why they might be bestsellers. Some bestsellers are by long-time best-selling authors. Others are helped by Oprah appearances. Others are simply timely.
Don't ever stop writing what you love to write. But if you want to sell what you write, do your homework first.

For my company, niche market how-to.

Do not be concerned with genre, especially if you write fiction. By the time you scribble out a book on a given genre then that genre may have come and gone. Or, the publisher will just say to you, that they "already have tons of books like yours".
Westerns were a “dead” genre for many years, and then come ‘Lonesome Dove’. Think about that.
Here is my way, I write about what I know first of all. That means what I have experienced and reasoned out. Most of my work is in the self-help genre. So I write about PTSD, adrenal stress conditioning and its effect on learning and memory etc. But I wrote novel to, Dog Soldiers MC.
I never expected it to sell really, and it has not. I wrote it simply because I wanted to.
Now, my only novel gets excellent reviews and even from two best selling authors as well. But that alone will not even get me a return phone call form any publisher or a written reply to my query. So do not allow yourself to be discouraged by this industry. It is just a business. Never feel some publisher’s rejection of your work is reflection on its quality. Publishers do not care in general about such an abstract concept as “literary quality”. Their rejection of your work only means this from that publisher: “I do not think I can sell your book and make a good profit”.

Not literary fiction (which is my favourite and the one I tend to work in!), and not poetry. But that's no reason not to work in it. If you're writing solely for money, you should be taking Peter Bowerman's excellent advice (The Well Fed Writer) and go into copywriting. Otherwise it's all about creating something new and wonderful. The money won't come until you're really well established in your career, or already famous in some other career, or as lucky as a lottery winner. That said, non-fiction how to books are much better sellers than anything else. If it's lifestyle or diet related you'll probably sell copies even if it isn't well written. After that, I would take an educated guess and say young adult books do better than adult books, and young adult books with a fantasy theme and empowered youth do best of all (but the market is glutted). Then romance, chick-lit, thrillers, sci-fi. Probably in that order. But you should never write a genre book because it's selling. The market is fickle and today's bestseller is tomorrow's remainder. You have to write what you read, what you love, what you believe in, the way you see the world. Anything else will surely fail.

7- Are there certain steps I need to take to get my book out there, or does the publisher take care of that?

Whether you sell your manuscript to a traditional publisher or publish it yourself, there are many steps between manuscript and publication--and many steps after publication--that the author is involved with. The author (including the self-publishing author) has to work--professionally and collegially--with a development editor, who helps shape the book in terms of overall quality; a copyeditor, who focuses on the details of grammar, punctuation, and style; and a production editor, who shepherds the project, arranges for design, composition, and proofreading, and theoretically sends the author finished pages for a final check before printing. Depending on the publisher and the details of your contract, you may also have input into design and cover design decisions. Around and after publication, the publisher will expect the author to be a full participant in any publicity activities--online and radio interviews and possibly the dreaded book tour. These days all publishers expect authors to shoulder a significant part of the publicity effort, and saying you're too shy won't get you off the hook.

You always are responsible for promoting your book. Many writers don't like to hear that writing is a business as well as a joy. You need to remember that no one cares as much about your work as you do. A good publisher will do certain things to sell books. But publishers generally have other books to sell and other things to worry about. Once your book has basked in the sun for its fifteen minutes, publishers will move it into the shade to make room for the next big thing. This becomes all the more urgent now that digital technology can be used to keep books "in print" long after they have stopped selling. This often makes it difficult for authors to get their rights back even when the book has stopped selling. One way to avoid that dilemma is to use your own personal efforts to keep your book selling.

The publisher certainly doesn't take care of that, and that is pretty much the same whether your publisher is a big house or a small one. The author needs to get his or her own book out there, and even better, has to get his or her own self out there -- making connections, creating buzz and getting his or her name on people's lips. There are many good books on this topic, so I can only brush the service, but as a quick overview, like real and virtual book tours, blogging, social media (myspace, youtube, twitter, etc), videoconferencing, running courses, creating a website, newsletter, media room, creating videos, talking to people, doing interviews, creating ancilliary art, sending out media releases -- these things are all part and parcel of getting the book out there. Bookstores probably won't sell many books for you unless you're already famous, so relying on this kind of promotion (I've even seen an author doing books signings on Second Life). One good book on the topic which I love is Carolyn Howard Johnson's The Frugal Book Promotor, which provides a ton of low cost ideas to help authors promote their books on a shoestring budget. I've used it tons.

What will happen on the day your book is published?
Nothing at all will happen unless you make it happen. Yes, you are able to give freshly printed copies to your family and friends. You can take copies to the next meeting of your writers' club and put them out on the "member's books" table for everyone to see and admire. But such pleasures do not put money in your back account, get books on the bookstore shelves, or convert you overnight into a media celebrity. When such things - at least some of them - do happen, they do so as the result of hard work, in part by the publisher but mostly be the author. What a publisher can do is limited by time and money. And such companies as IUniverse (see below) are very clear about it: they do no marketing whatsoever. They leave such things entirely up to the writer who publishes with them. The work of getting visibility for your book, getting it reviewed and getting it sold is slow, painstaking, and constant. It must be carried on relentlessly by taking advantage of every single opportunity for promotion that comes your way. (See the letter of Ruby Boxcar in Appendix One.) Small publishers do not have time, staff or financial resources to keep up day-to-day promotion over the long haul; and the big publishers will simply abandon your book in favor of those that are bringing in immediate big bucks.

In my opinion, the age of authors doing little or nothing to promote their book ended a century ago. Competition today is fierce. Those authors who are prepared to supplement their publisher's efforts are most likely to succeed --- and it doesn't matter what size the publisher. We frequently receive submissions from authors previously published by top national publishers who felt that neither they nor their books received any attention. Authors need to understand that there are two modes of publishing. One is to focus on a small number of well marketed best-selling titles. The other is to publish a large number of "adequately" marketed titles. Fiction tends to fall into the adequately-marketed path. Larger publishers have more resources to focus on marketing, but also tend to publish an enormous number of books, most of which will only be adequately marketed. Smaller publishers tend to provide more personal attention and more focused marketing, but also have fewer resources to provide. My personal preference is for my authors to focus on their local marketing, freeing me to focus on national marketing. Since national marketing is slower to react and more expensive, the local marketing (especially in the beginning) is critical to the book's success. Given that the quality of two projects are equal, the author who is unwilling or unable to assist today's publishers will be rejected in favor of the author that will help ensure the project's success.

8- Regarding the very likely fact that Shakespeare, Marlowe, Wilde and I guess others as well - gave nothing on technique - but just wrote their poems as they did think they are good - what do you think about technique when writing poetry? Would you just publish such poetry you could find the flow within - or would you give a try and understand the writer and what he wants to express?

Poets need editors, especially poets who ask questions in incomplete, unparsable, badly punctuated sentences. The point of editing is to improve the work. Editors work in service to authors, in other words, and are not to be feared. A good editor will help the poet perfect the poem, not run roughshod over it with rules and techniques.

Poetry is not made with ideas of "what a writer wants to express," but with words, rhythms, sounds, images. The difference between "my girlfriend has a beatiful body" and "Whenas in silks my Julia goes...."

9- Is there anywhere that you know of, a database or the like, with information on Editors and Publishers, by which I mean, the individuals. I'm interested in information on their lives and journey, rather than just contact details. Perhaps any books by editors/publishers?

No, why don't you think about writing one? But use the net and see what is out there now. But that does not mean you can't sell another title on this subject. I have a friend who was a A multimillionaire. He then made a business mistake and was all but overnight rendered all but homeless. So, he wrote a book on this phenomena and he went to interview other millionaires and once millionaires. The book sold decently. Now he is writing another book on big lottery winners. As you may expect, most of them lose all their winings too.

None that I know of.

10- How long have you been doing what you do? How have you progressed through the ranks/when did you?

I started Silvercat in 1988. I published books for about 10 years. Then my distributor went bankrupt. I turned to book packaging, editing, and consulting almost in self-defense. Then I returned to publishing in a very limited way a few years ago. I get to work with good people and rub elbows with a few famous ones, and I'm able to give back as much as I've received. I'm never going to be a major player. But I like my niche and I love the business, so I am content to exchange psychic rewards for some of the financial ones.

I've been editing since 1960 and setting type slightly longer than that.

I decided early on that I wanted to earn my living "with words and books." And with hard work and a lot of trial and error, I have done just that.
I took the usual detour that many would-be writers take: I became a teacher of literature. In my case it was comparative literature in the University of North Carolina system. I published the usual "scholarly" articles in journals that nobody reads, but soon discovered that I was far more interested in the writing than in the scholarship. I decided to branch out. I began sending out queries and sold my first article, "How to Teach about Poetry" to a magazine called Teacher's Scholastic. Not long thereafter, the University of Georgia Press published my first book, Mallarmé and the Language of Mysticism. Then, in a great stroke of luck (but luck that came about because I was a relentless sender-out of queries) I sold an over-the-transom article to Esquire magazine that managed to be featured on the front cover. With that clip to send out, I was a made man in the freelance business.
But like an actor who itches to try directing, I wanted to try my hand at editing and publishing my own periodicals. In 1979 I was able to buy a weekly newspaper with no cash up front by assuming some of its debts. As it turns out, I was a pretty good editor. I increased circulation by 400% and ad revenues by an even larger percentage over a three-year period before selling out to one of the newspaper chains. I started and published many magazines, including Tar Heel: The Magazine of North Carolina (a statewide magazine), The New East magazine, NCEast Magazine (regional magazines) and Washington Magazine (a city magazine). I published Welcome to Wilmington, a newcomer guide, and the North Carolina Travel and Tourism Guide. I wrote extensively of my own magazines, dealing with freelancers from the other side of the editorial desk. I know what freelancers need to learn about querying magazines and writing saleable articles because, in my role as editor, I saw almost everybody doing it wrong.
I started Venture Press, my home based publishing company, to self-publish my own books. This worked well. Titles such as How to Make $100,000 a Year in Desktop Publishing and How to Publish Your Poetry became Writers Digest Book Club selections. What Happens When Your Book is Published and What You Can Do about It is a successful eBook. I later expanded Venture Press and began to publish books by other writers as well.
The result of all of this? I learned, step-by-step and from both sides of the editorial desk, how to succeed in freelance writing and in writing and publishing books, magazines and newspapers. Now my web site, WritersMentor.Net, will offer you every trade secret I have mastered, a very great deal of it free to you.
In order to support myself in the modest but delightfully civilized style to which I have become accustomed, I still write, publish and sell my books, and I do one-on-one consultation, workshops and seminars for a fee. But mainly I "gladly learn and gladly teach" (as Chaucer said of his Clerk of Oxenford). If you want to learn how the writing and publishing business really works, PubMart.Com is a good, friendly place to start... PS. You can call me, Dr. Tom Williams, directly at 912.352.0404. I answer my own phone!

I had my first book published 22 years ago. I published it for two reasons. I knew something through personal experience that most people did not know about. That was hand to hand fighting for your life, not martial arts. I wanted the truth to be out there on this subject as I clearly saw it was not out there. There was only disinformation out there really.
But I knew that while the book might sell, it would never make me a living. I wrote it to gain a "platform" to teach self-defense (not martial arts). It worked and now I am internationally recognized in this field and people come from many parts of the world to the million dollar training facility I have built in the Rocky Mountains where I also live.
So please understand get this very important idea, my royalties over say those 20 years are no more I would guess than 50,000 or 60,000 dollars. That means about (20 years X 12 months = 240 months). Hence 240 months into say $60,000 total royalties would just be $250 dollars a month.
But on teaching self-defense and fee paid I have made many, many times more money than on royalties form the sales of my books. I also have most of my time to spend as I choose.
On the down side the IRS is garnishing 85% of my income streams now.
I now make as much money of my self-published books as i do on the ones through my publisher now. But I got the name first, the platform first through my publsiher that now gives me the "fan base" and name recognition to sell self-published works. Do not over look CreateSpace.COM either as a potential way to develop a personal platform.

I started out in the early 1980s as a newspaper reporter, so I know the pain of being edited. I got my first publishing job in 1984, and that was with a very small company in Colorado. I eventually moved on to Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books) in Manhattan, and then to Churchill Livingstone (a Manhattan medical publisher later subsumed first by W.B. Saunders and then by Elsevier). When I worked in-house, I always remained on the production side of things, preferring to work with freelance copyeditors and the people who get a manuscript made into a book rather than sit in a lot of meetings with acquisition and managing editors. The more experience I gained, the bigger the title I was given, the more responsibilities I had, and the larger the raises I got. Being smart and asking a lot of questions helped too, as did a willingness to go the extra mile for my job.
I went solo in 1995 as a full-time freelance copyeditor after tiring of train commute and wanting time with my children, and now I work on a freelance basis with in-house production editors and managing editors and sometimes directly with authors. It's always a pleasure to work with authors because I get to know the mind and the person behind the story. Authors teach me every bit as much as I teach them, and that's wonderful.

11- Would a twenty influence your decision in any way?

This is funny, but it's also timely. You'd be surprised how often we receive submissions that include an offer to cover some amount of the cost of publication and marketing. I remember one that offered up to $50,000, which, of course, begged the question why he hadn't been published yet...
Frankly, I think the issue of author co-participation in the publishing process (a polite way of saying "bribe") is becoming a hotter and hotter topic of worry (not discussion, worry) among publishers. The increase in print-on-demand vanity publishing has made it a tempting market to get into. There's a lot of sensitivity in the publishing world concerning vanity and subsidy presses, the ethical questions about co-participation, and the risk of being perceived as a subsidy publisher --- which is why there's little discussion --- but that market is getting so valuable that I'd be surprised if you didn't find the big national publishers had become quiet investors in the growing POD phenomena.
However, there is a big difference between printing an author's book and making it available to the trade distributors (POD publishing) and trade publishing. As project quality decreases so does the potential for author participation to impresses us. Quality, in this case, must be king. I would prefer not to say that, like marketing, given that two projects are equal, the author willing to reduce our risk will be selected over the author unwilling to do so --- but I've yet to be faced with that decision. Frankly, I would prefer that author's not make the offer so that I never have to make the choice.
(Personally, though, I react very well to cookies. Especially chocolate oatmeal cookies. Yum!)

Show me the money.


Lorilyn Bailey
CEO, NewsBuzz, Inc. Founder of - Promote your book through radio interviews
Author and Publisher: The Original Lovers' Questionnaire Book and The Little Book of Online Romance
Raleigh, NC

Dick MargulisDick Margulis Creative ServicesEditing • Book Design • Book Production

Tom Williams, PhD, is the author of the forthcoming "Self-Publishers Bible" (summer, 2008) and of such standards in the field as "Publish Your Own Magazine, Guidebook, or Weekly Newspaper.", (912) 352-0404. 1317 Pine Ridge Drive, Savannah, GA. 31406

Peyton Quinn
Author of :Freedom From Fear: Taking Back Control Of Your Life & Dissolving Depression (0975999605 , Real Fighting: Adrenal Stress Conditioning Through Scenario Based Training (0873648935) And the novel, Dog Soldiers MC (1598004182 )

E. Keith (JB) Howick, Jr.President
WindRiver Publishing, Inc.

Robert GoodmanSilvercat / Written and Printed Communication Services www.silvercat.comSilver Threads / Memoirs and Memoir Services
Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader at She is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup. Her work has appeared in a wide range of journals, and has won many awards.

Barbara Friend Ish
Credentials: Publisher, Mercury Retrograde Press
Mercury Retrograde is a new independent press based in Atlanta, Ga. We publish fantasy, science fiction and the unclassifiable; we are dedicated to unconventional authors and works that might undeservedly slip through the cracks at bigger houses, and to developing stories and artists that matter to us. Our first book, Shorn by Larissa N. Niec, is in pre-release now and scheduled for official release on October 1st. We plan to publish two books this year, three or four next year, and to ramp up to ten to twelve per year. I never expect Mercury Retrograde to get terribly big: I see us as a boutique house, and I want to always remain intimately involved with the entire life-cycle of each book and the development of each author, and in order to do justice to more books than that I’d have to give up my own creative life.
We are accepting submissions; guidelines are on the website.

Katharine O'Moore-KlopfKOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
Member of the Editorial Freelancers
Member of the Council of Science Editors

Karen Schader
KAS Editing
copyediting -- substantive editing -- project management


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thank you so much for the panel concept which I found when I followed my Google alert through to Magadlena's comment. Thank you, of course, for the recommendation, too, Magdalena. It's obvious that this blog gets many visitor writers. I hope they'll utilize the benefit of my experience falling into promotion and editing potholes by reading both of my HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers.

Please Meow, let me know if I can help you promote in any way.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thank you, Carolyn!
I had posted several other panels using authors, but was the ifrst time I called upon my connections with other publishers to answer my club's questions. So glad you found it valuable and I hope many writers find it, too!