Sunday, October 31, 2004

Ads don't sell books*; but FREE SAMPLERS just might

Halloween Special: In BUZZ, BALLS & HYPE today, MJ Rose discusses the success of Atria's promotion for Jodi Picoult, distributing thousands of copies of a free "sampler" that included excerpts from her forthcoming book + backlist titles as well. It's a great idea (can't say whether Atria did it first, but who cares) and one we'll be seeing more of in the future--of that, I'm certain.

MJR's notion about including a CD sampler of backlist titles in new hardcovers, gratis, is interesting too--there are obvious cost and packaging issues to that one (e.g., do you shrinkwrap the book to protect the CD? but isn't shrink-wrapping the most despised form of prophylactic known to book lovers, who want a check to, umm, sample the goods before they pay for their fun?), but details be damned. It's an idea that, for the right author at the right time, is worth serious consideration.


*P.S. The phrase "Ads don't sell books" does not necessarily reflect the views of management... Actually, it does--but that's what we (even editors) like to call A Whole Nuther Story.

P.P.S. A reminder to published writers [see FRIDAY'S POSTING] -- the more data I have, the more useful my "report" will be. ALL INFO CONFIDENTIAL, that's a promise. And please pass this link along to others.
Friday, October 29, 2004

A Call to (Published) Writers

[Replies, please, to ]

I want to hear from authors about how their books are published & marketed (specifically, those whose careers have included more than one publisher). OK, laugh if you must--I predict that 97% of your comments would've sent Lenny Bruce to prison back in 1967. (Thank our lucky stars for these more progressive times!) But the (human) database available to us is considerable, and I'd like your help in tapping into it--both through the details of your own experience, and also in terms of your passing this along to other writers you think might be willing to participate.

Here are the rules: Authors will NOT be named. Publishers will NOT be named. Sales figures (if you choose to provide them) will NOT be included, except perhaps in a relative sense--if you tell me Book 1 sold 10,000 copies and Book 2 sold 11,000 copies, I'll call that a 10% increase, without specifying the base figure. Michael Connelly, James Bradley, Margaret Atwood, Nick Hornby, Karen Armstrong--if you're listening (yeah, right!), you have my word of honor that I won't sell you out to the National Enquirer. [I know what you're thinking--tough to enforce, this word of honor stuff, when you're dealing with somebody who's not using his own name!]

Here are the questions--again, for writers who've had more than one publisher.

1. what (if anything) did publisher #1 do especially well as pertains to the positioning/marketing of you/your book(s)?
1A. how many books did you publish there?
1B. if more than one, did your sales increase/decrease/stay the same?
2. why did you switch publishers?
3. did your sales on the first book w/ publisher #2 increase/decrease/stay the same relative to publisher #1?
4. did you do subsequent books with publisher #2?
4A. if so, did your sales increase/decrease/stay the same?
5. when you switched publishers, were any promises made (or implied) about a bigger marketing effort than what you'd had before?
5A. if so, list them; and to what extent did they deliver on their promises?
6. promises notwithstanding, what differences did you see in the efforts between pub #1 and pub #2?
7. what (if anything) did publisher #2 do especially well?
8. are you glad you switched publishers? why/why not?
9. based on your own experience, what one or two things have had the most impact on the successes you've achieved so far?
10. what are the one or two things that have had the least impact--waste of time, waste of money, etc?
11. knowing what you know now, what strategies would you most want to see implemented for your next book?
12. any other comments?

THANK YOU! Replies to
Saturday, October 23, 2004


A Reader posted a comment ( about the level and nature of the New York Times' coverage of the book biz. To which I respond:

Dear Dorothy:

I think it'd be a fanastic idea for the NYT to hire Maud Newton, who (in my limited experience--I'm new to this whole blogging thing, to be honest) seems to be incredibly smart about a range of subjects. But not to the exclusion of Mr. Wyatt--how about in ADDITION to? You see, the sexiness of an industry is directly proportionate to the number of reporters assigned to cover it.

And--let's face it--book publishing is HOT these days, don't you agree? If you have any doubts, just look to the New York Post (ALWAYS on the leading edge of journalistic trends). Used to be, back in the day when books weren't so sexy, they had only one guy writing about the publishing scene--a knucklehead who seemed to know nothing whatsoever about the book trade; so the only time he ever wrote about books was when a deal broke the $6-million dollar plateau (and even then he typically failed to spell the editor's name right). Instead all his articles were about Bonnie Fuller and Jann Wenner and Anna Wintour and those boring magazine folks--as if anyone cares!

But now they've added the terrific Sara Nelson--a real pro who knows the industry inside and out (and whose excellent book SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME is due in paperback any day now), and her presence restores some of the lustre to our sorry trade. So I don't mind if the coverage is sometimes shallow and "product" oriented--I just want more column inches!

With apologies to graybeards like McInerney, Ellis et al--to say nothing of snaggletooths like Mailer, Roth, Bellow & the like, much less the iconic Maxwell Perkins himself (perhaps you heard the sad news? Max Perkins, he dead...)--well, THESE are the halcyon days of publishing! And if you have any doubt about this, just wait till you see the new national t.v. spot AAP has funded, featuring Naomi Watts in hot-pants holding a copy of Jon Stewart's AMERICA [the book], and Jon Stewart (not in hot-pants) holding a copy of Jenna Jameson's HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR [which is not pornography but, rather "a book about smart sex"], singing, Cabaret-style,

"BOOKS: We're back,
and more fabulous than ever!"

You feelin' me?
Mad Max Perkins

What's a writer to do?

Welcome back to BookAngst 101. Class is now in session.

An anonymous writer has asked several questions, which I'm going to address in two ways. First (and without further ado) I've offered a few thoughts of my own, which follow below. But I've also used some of these questions as the basis for a survey I've sent out to a handful of editors--which (assuming I get some replies) will be posted, anonymously, at a future date.

Dear Anonymous Writer,
Thanks for your questions.

1. what can a writer genuinely contribute to his own marketing? His business should be writing, rather than flailing about, trying to make up for what the publisher doesn't do. But so often great swaths of time are taken up with just that, though it's not his field of expertise.

This question best conveys the frustration & resentment at the center of your other questions, specifically as pertains to the non-writing aspects of your career--feelings nearly all writers can relate to. True: a writer first must write great books. But if ever there really was an era when that, alone, guaranteed success, said era is now past. (Max Perkins, he dead...) Your career--by this I mean your ability to support yourself as a writer--is, in the long run, quite explicitly tied to your ability to gain a readership. You may not enjoy the sort of "flailing about" that constitutes promoting yourself and your book(s), but you've got to accept it as a critical ingredient to building and sustaining a readership.

Gone are the days when what's on the page is enough to carry you. If you're unfamiliar with strategies for what you can do to augment your poublisher's efforts, you need to educate yourself. [BUZZ, BALLS & HYPE (see the LINK at the sidebar, to the left) offers a program--I'm not endorsing it, just directing you to it.] But if you feel the work is beneath you, you're gonna need to get into another line.

2. what can a writer do to become visible to his publisher before a book comes out--so often one remains the needed high class "wallpaper" behind the lead books, the needed "item" to help make up a "list"...

You can actively participate in the prepublication set-up by soliciting blurbs (sending galleys to other writers you know and/or admire). You can generate enthusiasm and good will by writing personal notes to thank key in-house personnel for their efforts, and to let them know you're available to help in any way possible. (Get names from your editor or your editor's assistant.) Sales reps (both those who handle the national accounts as well as individual field reps), the folks in marketing and promotions, the art director responsible for your cover, the publisher, the associate publisher, your publicist, your publicist's assistant, and so forth. These people work hard; acknowledge this, and your odds of getting their best efforts at every stage are likely to improve.

Incidentally, publishing is a business. If your publisher believes "high class" writing and "sales" to be mutually exclusive, you need to find a new publisher--somebody who when reading your work (literary or otherwise) can visualize exactly who the readers are out there for whom your work will inspire the k-ching of the cash register.

3. what can an editor can do to make a raise a book's profile?

You want to be sure your editor does (at minimum) the following things. First, push you editorially to make the book as strong as it can be. Second, get the manuscript around as early as possible to all the in-house people mentioned above--and get them to read it. Third, be a pest--make sure they're reading--because the single most important thing for pre-pub buzz is the organic excitement that generally begins with ecstatic in-house readers. Fourth, get great blurbs from key authors. Fifth, circulate those blurbs, and any other salient details (foreign sales; book-club sales; movie interest; etc) to all of the above.

4. what should be done about the commenter's idea that "more books are published than are needed"--that may be true, but most books are printed and never promoted in any way beyond the sending out of some review copies.

I agree on both fronts. We publish too many books (the question of need I'll leave to the philosophers) to give them all the push we might hope to see. It's a shame; and that makes it all the more important that you play an active role in seeing that yours doesn't disappear without a trace.

You're right, too, that for the majority of books, "promotion"=the page your book occupies in the catalog; the bound galleys that are mailed (to reviewers , to media and to booksellers) in advance of publication; the finished books that are mailed to reviewers and media; the press releases that accompany both of those. Sometimes execution and good fortune come together smashingly well, and these mailings do what we hope--that is, generate excitement: good reviews, radio interviews, and lots of people telling lots of other people about the book they've just got to read.

The two things most writers wonder about in terms of promotion are advertising and author tours. Ask a publisher about ads, and invariably they'll tell you: ADS DON'T SELL BOOKS. [Whether or not that's actually true will, I hope, be the topic of a future debate on this site.] And author tours are often exercises in humiliation, even for relatively well known authors. Attendance: six people, four of whom want to find out how to get published. Number of copies sold: three. Be careful what you wish for.

It's quite possible that the most effective piece of the promotional puzzle is the cover of the book itself; the allure of the flap copy; and the profile of the authors who've provided blurbs. Because these play into that crucial moment, where instinct or chemistry takes over and the consumer either decides to put your book back on the shelf, or to carry it to the cash register. It's ironic: it typically takes ten months to make a book (once the manuscript is delivered), and a hundred thousand decisions are made thereafter, all with the aim of making a thing of beauty that someone will want to buy. Yet in the end, the whole enterprise comes down to a split-second, gut-level decision. What actually happens in that moment--how the consumer reacts to the heft of the physical object, to the charm/gravitas of the story it promises, the magic of the package in which it's wrapped--is without question the least well-understood step in the entire process. It's a riddle, wrapped in an enigma...

Sincerely yours,
Mad Max Perkins
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Mad Max Is Technospastic

Drama, drama, drum-roll: What better proof is there that I, Mad Max Perkins, really am an editor, than the fact that I can't for the life of me figure out how to do something myself? So after a day spent trying to get rid of the "Edit-Me!" dingbats from the sidebar of my new-born blog, I have to ask fellow bloggers: how does anyone find the TIME to do this stuff? On the other hand, I confess that the process of reaching out to professional colleagues from whom some actual CONTENT might be derived (so far, of course, the reply's the same: R U CRAZY? Who has the time?) has proved energizing.

Ah, but enough about me, darling: how do you like my blog?

Which is to say: I got nothin' fresh, folks--I'm stallin', fillin', trying to hold down the fort till the cavalry arrives, according to the principle that one daren't go more than 24 hours without a fresh posting... But I pledge not to try too often to get by on merely a shoe-shine and a smile.

Meanwhile, thanks to the blogmeisters at CONFESSIONS OF AN IDIOSYNCRATIC MIND and BUZZ, BALLS & HYPE [links not embedded here because, umm, I haven't figured out how to do that yet--see sidebar instead] for their kind words of welcome.

But--my soft shoe now complete--here's one bit of ridiculousness common to so many of us in this biz: It's 11:50 p.m., and I'm putting on a fresh pot o' Joe, because it's time to do my job!
A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."

PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."

PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."