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8 Things Authors Should No Longer Ask Their Publisher

Publishing is changing faster than ever before.  Book publishers have been wrenching to find new business models that make them more flexible, efficient and adaptable to the realities of the digital publishing age.

Within this fast-change world, another group who has felt the pain of shifting tectonic plates are authors who have been around publishing for ten or more years.  Some issues that used to be a normal part of author/publisher conversation have all but disappeared.

To help those of you who know enough about publishing to hold a conversation about it, here is a partial list of those subjects that an author would be wasting their time asking a publisher and a suggestion how you can adjust your thinking:

Eight things authors probably shouldn’t waste their time asking their publisher:

1. “How many hundreds of thousands of dollars will you spend in marketing my book?” – You won’t like the answer you get, so simply avoid it. There is no rule of thumb, but figure the publisher will spend roughly the same in marketing as they do on a royalty advance. And much of that will be “soft money,” such as a percent of sales/marketing overheads like staff time and things like catalogs and co-op.

The real issue these days is what you as an author bring to the table for marketing. The publisher will do what they can to support you, and they do a good job with making your book available in as many places as possible, but you are carrying the ball on this play. Next time you are tempted to ask this question, rephrase to something along the lines of “When should we discuss how you can support what I am doing?”

2. “What are my pre-orders?” – A decade ago, this was a good question, but these days of frequent (sometimes weekly) re-orders by retailers, the number of copies initially placed in the various channels is irrelevant.  Instead, ask the publisher is they are happy with the initial placement of products in channels or (if you are not published by a Hachette imprint – if you follow publishing news you’ll understand that reference) what your preorders on Amazon are indicating.

3. “What is the first print run?” – This question will really date you. The publisher will be expecting a follow-up along the lines of, “Have you heard of this new-fangled thing called the internet?”  Initial print runs are as irrelevant as retail pre-orders. Between quick reprints, digital printing and ebooks, it doesn’t matter any more. Instead, take their answer to the proposed question mentioned in #2 as covering this as well.  What you want is for your book to get a good start.

4. “How many copies do you have in stock?” – See #3, then #2.

5. “Is my book still in-print?” – This is a little more of a tricky issue than the changes brought on by ebooks, small-quantity reprints and print-on-demand. Not long ago, whether a book was still active with a publisher or “out of print” and subsequently rights returned to the author was a function of whether the publisher had copies in their warehouse. No copies in warehouse triggered an “out-of-print” clause in a contract and book rights were returned to the author.  Some publishers intentionally moved a book to print-on-demand basically to bypass this issue with authors.  They always had copies, so the author could never get the rights returned.  Now, books never go “out of print” per se, so contract terms have been adjusted, often using a minimum royalty threshold that would trigger the rights reversion.  If you have an older contract with the previous language, talk to your agent.

6. “Will my book be carried by my local store?” – You can ask this, but be prepared for an uncomfortable response from your publisher. The decision to buy rests with the store and publishers simply don’t have the resources to make sure every author has books selling nearby their homes. Instead, go to the store yourself and mention it to them…they will probably jump on this and want to promote it. If you haven’t gone to your local store(s), do it right away…introduce yourself. Don’t assume anything.

7. “Will I get Advance Reader Copies (ARC’s) for my book?” – Seems like a reasonable request, but ARC’s are expensive…really expensive and are intended for review-gathering and buzz-growing. Honestly, you want your friends to have a finished book, fully proof-read and beautiful rather than an ARC, which is usually an uncorrected proof, not in final form.  Wait for the real thing.  And by the way, the cost of this comes from the marketing budget, so your eagerness to see and hold your book will lessen another effort. Plus, there is a greater use of electronic galleys to use as ARCs. Outlets like Netgalley.com and Edelweiss are two prominent ebook galley services that publishers use.

8. “Will you love me forever?” – You really want to ask this, because you really want to know. You want a long-term publishing home with familiar people that you like and trust. Let me paint a simple picture. If your book sells well, the publisher will want another one from you. If it doesn’t, well, everyone gave it the old college try and move on. Just because you write about relationships that grow until death do they part, doesn’t mean that will happen between you and your publisher.

So, we have a little reality check today. Once in a while it is good to pull out your compass and find which way is north. This is even more important when “north” seems to keep changing locations.

 

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It’s Not Who You Know

From the third season of the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld, this classic interchange: Car Rental Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.  Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation? Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars. Jerry: But …

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Bestselling Books in 1974

Starting today, and every six months, we are going to take a ride in the “way-back” machine (with special acknowledgment to Mr. Peabody and Sherman), traveling back in time to grab a snapshot of what books were selling on a particular date and year. To get an idea where publishing …

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Actually, The World is Pretty Big

At one time or another, every one of us have remarked how small the world is, usually caused by meeting someone by chance and finding out that you both know a certain person, or went to school with the person, are both reading the same books, are fans of the …

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Book Proposals I’d Love to See

By God’s will and pleasure, during my career as a literary agent I have been successful in representing authors writing Christian romance, Christian and general market trade book fiction, and Christian nonfiction. My interests have changed very little since my first blog post for The Steve Laube Agency, “Happy to Be …

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How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

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Rooting for the Bad Guy?

Last week I blogged about amoral protagonists. But what about protagonists who are unquestionably immoral?

Some general market books make their readers root for the bad guy. Think about accounts of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, written from their points of view. Or a book written primarily from the point of view of a courtesan, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement. These books set the reader in a life where there is no Christ, yet the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonists by coming to an understanding of how circumstances combined by the moral failings of others set characters in one unhappy situation after another. 

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Why I Read Romance Novels

Valentine’s Day is on its way, and that got me to thinking about that four-letter word we all use with impunity:

LOVE.

What a powerful word, one so full of meaning I could write a dozen blogs about it and still not exhaust the depth and breadth of all it entails. I’m grateful for love. For God’s love. For my hubby’s love. For my family’s love. For my doggies’ love. Love has blessed me more than I could ever deserve. But then, isn’t that the very nature of love—that it comes to us regardless of our so-called “worth.” And one area where I most enjoy the blessing of love is in writing. Whether poetry or novels, nonfiction or essays, I’m not afraid to admit that I love reading about love. And I especially enjoy–get ready for it–romance novels!

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Wanted: More Choir Members

Dan Balow

At some point in their writing career, many Christian authors express a desire to write a book that would reach the un-churched. That desire is a completely honorable and wonderful goal, just as any believer should desire to represent Christ in their lives in such a way that unbelievers would ask them questions about the hope that is in them. 

However, the inference by such statements as “preaching to the choir” is that writing to churchgoers is somehow less desirable.  I know the intent of those authors is to have their books used for pre-evangelism, but unfortunately, when most Christian authors use the term “cross-over” to describe their book, it is code for “leave out anything Christian”.  I am not sure this is a wise use of your time unless you are very gifted and unique writer.

Indulge me for just another minute before you start writing a reply, hitting me with examples of Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, MacDonald, Bunyan, Tolstoy, Chesterton, etc.

First, God Almighty can and does use whatever he wants to get people’s attention.  I hear God even used a talking donkey once. Second, it is a matter of fact that the books that God has used most frequently for evangelism have testified strongly to Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel to change a life.  Consider these:

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Bring the Books

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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