Wednesday, April 22, 2009

12 Steps to Publishing Success

On Monday, Publishers Weekly published an article by Jonathan Karp called, “This is Your Wake-up Call: 12 Steps to Better Book Publishing.” Definitely worth reading.

You’ll read what an insider has to say about what’s wrong with the publishing world and what he thinks should be done. Karp makes some very good points.

He starts by saying that if you want to know what is hurting the publishing industry, go to the bookstore and look at the titles.
On sale now: A History of Cannibalism. Illustrated! A gift book! The subtitle is stupendously, kaleidoscopically all-encompassing: From Ancient Cultures to Survival Stories and Modern Psychopaths….Then there are the arcane books, the ones that dare to be obscure on the assumption that if people will read about cod, or oranges, anything is possible. Who could resist a history of the potato, titled, of course, Potato. Amazingly, this wasn't the only work available on the subject. There's also The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World. Wasn't it intellectually responsible of the publisher to limit the scope of the subtitle to the Western world?
His conclusion:
We are acquiring and publishing too many books. We buy them opportunistically, and at times thoughtlessly. We edit and launch them too quickly. We market them carelessly and ephemerally. Too often, we abdicate our responsibility to be filters, guides, guardians and gatekeepers. And now, as in many other industries, we are suffering the effects.
But Karp doesn’t stop with just stating the problems. He gives solutions - 12 of them. Most are directed at those on the publishing side, but they, of course, affect writers. They’re interesting and insightful. But there was one that greatly affects the writer:
Pay authors to market their work
We all know that one of the big functions of today's in-house marketing professional is to explain why the publisher can't afford to do much marketing. So who has the money? Authors, from the advances we pay them. Publishers should contractually require that a part of the advance be allocated to marketing and promotional efforts supervised by the author. Publishers, of course, must also do their important marketing work. But authors usually write the best promotional copy (they're writers, after all), and they certainly know their readership best. Yet they are underutilized in the publishing process. Empower them.
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea, for example, has been sustained by a dynamic author and a multi-year speaking tour, and the hit Twilight series has greatly benefited from Stephenie Meyer's extensive online promotional efforts. At Hachette, I've had a peripheral view of the Twilight phenomenon. It began with an astute, passionate editor and publisher named Megan Tingley, who read the manuscript on an airplane, and made a pre-emptive three-book deal. The readership built gradually, and with the help of much inventive in-house marketing. But everyone within Hachette points to the author as the driving factor in the books' success.
Go read the full article. This one will probably get a lot of buzz.
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  1. Going to read it right now...

    L. Diane Wolfe

  2. Some good information here. I will go look at the full article now.

  3. ok I'll read it - I really like his idea for the pub paying the author to market the book.

    Marvin D Wilson

  4. Thanks for commenting on my blog! I appreciate your insights here, as well.

  5. This has my interest - will go read the full article. I agree with Marvin, I like the idea of the publisher paying the author to market the book. Maybe I should forward the article as a not so subtle hint to my publisher!

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  6. Marketing is a must. It sounds like NY publishers might crack down on authors who don't do it and instead require authors to work in marketing for their advances. Unless maybe that would be a separate amount tacked on if the author does the marketing.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. I have a feeling they would consider promotion a requirement & part of your advance money. But I also can't imagine an author today NOT getting out there trying to sell their book.

  8. Oh, this sounds interesting Helen. I need to get over there and read it as soon as I get back form the doctors.

    I like the phrase: "authors usually write the best promotional copy (they're writers, after all), and they certainly know their readership best. Yet they are underutilized in the publishing process. EMPOWER them." I agree with that.

  9. Yes, I'm headed over to read the article too, Helen. I love that he not only states the probs, which we've heard before, but solutions as well.

  10. I like the idea, too, that he advocates working with authors to promote their books. And he doesn't just complain or wail about the downturn, but comes up with ideas that he feels will work.

  11. "Authors, from the advances we pay them."

    Ah yes, those 'huge' advances -- which a handful of people get. I can't say most of my advances would go far after paying bills.

    "But authors usually write the best promotional copy (they're writers, after all), and they certainly know their readership best."

    I disagree -- writing ad copy is a completely different skill from writing fiction, which is what I write. I have had to write PR copy and I know I'm not the best person for it, nor do I know who my audience is for a lot of my writing (people like me?).

    Most publishers already require the author to do PR. This isn't a change -- it just means they're not paying a marketing staff anymore. But he's right -- they're flooding the market with fluff. But we're also creating an endless line of 'writers' with the profusion of MFA programs, writers who have no audience and no ready market.

  12. Being published with smaller publishers, I know I have to do a lot of marketing. One of my publishers even asked for my marketing plan as part of the query process.
    I agree with all the books in bookstores that take up space. I see the title of some books and wonder if there is two people in the entire state who would read it. Perhaps that's why Borders is in trouble. They need to be more selective in what books they shelf.

  13. Interesting thoughts! Marketing is so important and makes such a difference in reaching readers, and the idea of the publisher paying the author to market makes sense. Thanks for sharing this, Helen.

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    L. Diane Wolfe

  15. Thanks, Helen. It is an enlightening article. I leaned a lot about how the publishing business works, even if via the dysfunctional point of view. I give many of his 12 steps a snowball’s chance in Tahiti of being adopted, simply because they require publishers to risk loosing out on potential profit. It’s hard to get management to take that kind of risk.

    For example, he advocates “prioritize and specialize” - not too likely. The siren song of possibly missing out on the next great thing is too strong. As in “stop the copycat books.” Yes! I’d love to see that change. But it goes back to the problem of prioritize and specialize; might miss out on something. Vampires are hot! You want me to pass on another Twilight knock off?

    One thing he advocates that I really liked is that publishing houses need to exercise more editorial quality control. I see a lot of shoddy work, not only typos, but logic errors in plots that should have been caught in the editorial process. It is almost inevitable, what with shrinking editorial staffs, and more titles in the pipe. And I think his idea of reorganizing publishing teams into small groups with life cycle responsibility and their own budget is brilliant.

    As to making authors use part of their advance to do marketing, well that just means less net for the author. Besides, I don’t know many authors that don’t go out an enthusiastically hawk their books. Now he simply wants them to pay in dollars as well as time.

  16. It is difficult to get people and businesses to change, Jon. And I agree, authors are already putting more effort into marketing. If they kept track of expenses, they'd find most of them are spending a lot of money already, not just their time and effort. It's always been an unwritten rule that new authors can expect to put their advance toward promotion. That first book (and, in reality, all the ones afterward) has to sell or there won't be another.


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