With all the talk of publishing being commercialized and claims that publishers place singular focus on their blockbuster bestsellers, publishing still is an old-fashioned business, filled with bookish types who are passionate about great reads. And so the business of making books begins with that passion in you, the writer, and your need to try to get a story down, to make something grand, or quiet, or funny, or revolutionary, out of words. And then, as I go into more detail below, you will need to find an agent who believes in you and your story. If you have a good agent, she or he will help you edit your manuscript to get it into the best shape. And then the agent will write a cover letter and begin submitting your work to a group of U.S. publishers.
The Craft of Writing
There are many wonderful books on this subject, and I’m not an expert, but I have four common points of advice on the craft of writing, and they are…
Learn by example
Like many, I believe the best authors learned to write by reading and studying other writers’ works. Fiction writers are like magpies, taking bits and pieces from the truth of their own lives and weaving them together with stories they’ve heard, things they’ve read. The novelist Wally Lamb once wrote in an essay that a teacher taught him an invaluable lesson: “I was never going to tell a completely original story because all the stories that people needed were already out there. The best I could do was to put my own spin on tales that withstood the test of time.”
Study the oldest stories
While there are a few born-brilliant writers who seem to write only to break the rules, it’s clear that even they studied and mimicked their predecessors — you can see in the eighteenth century novel Tristram Shandy the template for many works of modern fiction. As Joseph Campbell wrote, most stories follow the same circular structure: separation, initiation, return. The protagonist begins by making a departure, and then enters a new world, and finally returns to the former world with the innocence lost and knowledge gained from the journey. And from Judy Blume’s Blubber to Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, this story cycle is there.
And so when writers ask me for advice, I often suggest they begin by reading Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus. I think it is a perfect example of great writing, and there is so much you can learn by Roth’s example – from his sense of humor, his richly-drawn characters, the atmosphere, imagery and analogies, suspense and story, and that moment of insight, the revelation that changes the main character. This novella has all of those things that a great story requires. The language is authentic and rings true – as playwright J. M. Synge once wrote, his dialogue is “as fully flavoured as a nut or apple,” and is specific to one particular time and place. And we become immersed in Roth’s story, because it shows us a specific world, and lets us inhabit it so intimately. It is an inspiring work by a first-time author, and I think there is more for a new writer to learn therein than in a dozen writer’s manuals or conferences.
Approach writing as a craft
When I have attended writers’ conferences, I’ve always been surprised to find how many questions relate to submission format – just as at most book readings, someone asks the author the What is your process question. I think writers want to know the rules to writing and getting published, and some are here below, but you should foremost approach writing as a craft; something that you study and learn over years. Most of my clients were journalists, and I think, in part, they are so good because they learned the skill of writing by doing it as an occupation, day after day, on deadline.
I sometimes compare writing to wood crafting – my great-great-grandfather, John Hamilton, was a Philadelphia carpenter. He made the grand staircase for the Statehouse and outfitted Fairmount Park buildings, and still, he’d go home to make furniture for his family. He loved woodworking – he even carved the doors of his family’s home. He took care with choosing the perfect cuts of wood, and it seemed he always tried to make something more beautiful (and this devotion to a craft reminds me of the author John Searles, who so loved to write that, back when he was a waiter, he would write sentences on paper napkins in the men’s room during his breaks).
There is the same sense of carpentry in writing, and you can study Roth’s novella as though it is a tangible thing he built. You can break down all of the parts into a plan, a blueprint, and see how he joined things together, see how he structured his story, and how he embellished it. How he showed you a character’s emotions through a gesture or thinly-veiled comment, rather than told you outright. And though you can reference the writing guides for process and for your own “pitch,” I think it is most important to read the classics to learn and master the art of writing, and once you master it, then you can make it your own. And in the craft of writing, it is most important that you make it your own, that you tell the truth about an experience, a world, as only you can.
I always think of a quote from Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel Lecture in Literature, in which she tells the story of an old blind woman, a modern-day Tiresias who believes, “Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
If you take this to heart, you can give yourself time to find the story that is unique to you, the one that secures your difference. Start small. Work your language, read poetry and plays and autobiographies. Aim for truth over inventiveness. Write just for the fun of it, and eventually you’ll find your own voice. Every once and a while, you’ll have one of those miraculous mid-sentence moments of inspiration, but more often than not, you’ll probably find that good writing comes as a result of hard work and perseverance – the best authors learn their craft and then re-write, re-write, re-write.
Ignore the weeds
Rewriting means that you need to learn accept and recognize good criticism, and learn to let go of things that are not serving your story. Sometimes it means letting go of the story itself. A lot of writers never see their first work published – it was like their practice book, their drawer novel. I recently read a story about a writer who lost notebooks filled with poems and stories, and he was devastated, but the process of writing and rewriting involves letting go – in a kind of “My barn burned down, but now I can see the moon” way. His story made me think of the novels that my authors have begun and then left behind, only to begin another novel inspired by a character or moment in the novel they stopped working on. And if you are like them, you may find that sometimes your losses, the dead ends and scraps of stories that just won’t come together, will eventually give way to your very best work.
I’ve also given my clients a Glimmer Train interview with A. J. Verdelle, the author of The Good Negress, in which she advised writers to ignore the “weeds” in their early drafts and to tend to the promising seeds in their stories – she said, if you work the best portions of your story like a garden, if you help your “flowers” grow, then the weeds, the problematic areas, will eventually be overgrown by the more poignant and beautiful aspects of your story.
And with that, the books I recommend to those just beginning the writing/submission process are: The Shortest Distance Between You and A Published Book: Everything You Need To Know in the Order You Need to Know It by Susan Page and The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. My two favorite books on writing: Annie Lamott’s Bird By Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Jon Winoker’s collection of literary quotations, Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom From A Dazzling Array of Literary Lights, and a collection edited by George Plimpton, entitled The Writer’s Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the Twentieth Century’s Pre-eminent Writers, are both great.
Have others review your work
When you have rewritten your novel to the point where you can recite page 248 from memory, when you’ve reworked your proposal so many times that you can no longer look at it, hand it over. Let others review it, and carefully read it for you. Everyone needs an editor, or several of them. This said, your friends, family, and professors can sometimes make generous assumptions about your writing, and so I encourage writers to have other writers read over their work before submitting it to agents. To that end, you could join a writer’s group (perhaps an online writers group), or attend a writing course offered by your local university extension program or community college. Try a weekend writer’s conference, where established writers and publishing professionals offer pointed advice and may even take the time to critically review a sample of your work. Artists and writers colonies are also great places to find fellow writers and potential readers for your work.
For locating nearby writer’ groups, conferences, and colonies, consult the following: Authorlink.com; Writers.net; The Complete Guide to Writers Groups, Conferences and Workshops by Eileen Malone; Artists and Writers Colonies: Retreats, Residencies, and Respites for the Creative Mind by Gail Hellund Bowler; and The Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books. Writer’s Market also has 2,200 places to sell your short fiction. When you submit your work to fiction and creative nonfiction journals, you often receive free commentary. And there’s much to be said about starting small — master the short story, essay, or creative nonfiction piece first, before moving on to a more ambitious, full-length work.
Further, you can mention these publications in your cover letter to agents, and many agencies scan the better-known collegiate and literary journals for promising writers, so you may be discovered this way. Most of my clients began their careers writing for newspapers and magazines, and I believe some of the best writers are first trained in, and learn much of their craft through, journalism.
All of this noted, vetting a manuscript for criticism is a tricky thing, and I advise new writers to seek critical commentary from a number of sources. I do not think it is a good idea for a writer to rely on one editor, or one writer’s group. But rather, you should cull advice from several sources, being careful to respond to criticism most earnestly when it is re-stated. As a young writer, you are still discovering your voice, and it will be best for you to receive guidance from a community of readers.
Back to top
Find An Agent
Know your market
Before submitting your work to agents, you should go to the bookstore or library to review the best books published in your genre. From the coming-of-age memoir to the mystery novel, every genre has success stories, and you should be an expert in your chosen field.
Identify what sets your book apart from those already on the market. What makes your message or story different, though just as appealing as those other books? Research the authors themselves to find out how they built their readership. Did they tour the lecture circuit? Attend conferences? Publish articles? Promote their website? Affiliate themselves with a national organization? Join a writer’s organization? Know your competition, and learn from them.
Present your material to agents in the correct form
Novels and Memoirs
For novels or memoirs, you should generally include a synopsis and a five-page excerpt of your work along with your cover letter. Your cover letter should be brief, mentioning your professional credentials and publications, perhaps your education, and your synopsis should be written in an engaging, economical way, much like back-cover copy. If the agent asks to see your full novel, follow these basic rules: Your manuscript should be double-spaced and page-numbered. Include the title of your work on each page. And if you are submitting only a partial manuscript (per the agent’s request), include a synopsis of your story’s conclusion at the end of your draft.
Organize your material into the following sections:
Overview: A three-to-five page summary of your book idea that summarizes your book’s purpose, its focus and significance, as well as a description of the book’s main sections
Author Biography: A one-page summary of your background that highlights your professional credentials and personal experience, listing your media appearances and any public outreach you have done.
Marketing Statement: A one-to-two-page summary of those titles, preferably successful and still in print, that are most like your own. Briefly establish what sets your own work apart from these titles while drawing favorable comparisons to them. In presenting each competing book, cite the title, author, publisher and year published, then offer a one-line description of its focus.
Production Notes: A few sentences about how much time you need to complete your book, and the projected length of the book and its visual content, if any (will there be photographs or illustrations included? how many?).
Table of Contents: A bare-boned table of contents that demonstrates the logic behind the order of your chapters and establishes the narrative arc of your book. A list of clever and informative chapter titles lets the reader know what to expect along the way.
Chapter Synopses: Summaries of one-to-three pages for each of your chapters, written in a succinct and compelling way, that will give the reader a sense of each chapter’s purpose and themes, while placing it within the context of the whole book.
Sample Chapter: An excerpt of your work that establishes your book’s tone and style. Often, writers will choose to include their introduction as their writing sample, however, if your book is highly prescriptive, the introduction may leave editors questioning, “Well, this promises great things, but I’m not sure how she’s going to pull it off in the chapters themselves.” Keep in mind that the sample chapter showcases the central theme or argument presented in your book, while offering specifics that are entertaining and informative. Sometimes two sample chapters are necessary to give publishers a clear understanding of your book’s ambitions.
Supplementary Material: Any related magazine or newspaper articles that demonstrate the timeliness of your subject, as well as any articles you’ve either written or have been featured in. Also include any professional materials, such as brochures, PR announcements from your business activities, reviews of past works, a list of your personal appearances and lectures, as well as a list of media contacts you’ve made over the years. List any endorsements you’ve already garnered or any potential endorsements you expect to receive from notable authors/experts.
For complete guides to the nonfiction proposal, I recommend the aforementioned book by Susan Page, as well as the following: How to Get Happily Published: A Complete and Candid Guide by Judith Appelbaum; Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 Proposals That Sold And Why by Jeff Herman and Deborah M. Adams; and the classic How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen.
Find the perfect representation
In your search for an agent who will respond enthusiastically to your work, you may begin either by looking online (on Authorlink.com or Writers.net) or by consulting the many resources available that list literary agents — the best among them is the Literary Market Place, which can be found at your local library. This is the most comprehensive resource — turn to the section “Literary Agents,” where you will find not only the contact names and addresses you need, but each agent’s requirements for submission and areas of interest.
You can also look to the acknowledgement sections of your favorite books, and often there you will find that author’s agent thanked. You can then find the agent’s contact information either online or in the LMP, and in your query, you can let them know how much you enjoyed their client’s work, and how your work is similar. Once again, follow the standard submission requirements, and submit queries via snail mail, unless the agency specifies that they will review emailed submissions.
Do not be discouraged if a number of agents tell you they are not currently taking on new clients, as I am not. Many bestselling authors have written dozens of agents before finding the perfect one. Begin by submitting your material to a targeted group of agents, and keep going until you find the right one. Try the younger, more eager agents at the literary agencies. And in the meantime, write for journals, magazines, local newspapers, and websites, and build an impressive list of publications to add to your cover letter. You may even want to try self-publishing your book first, but only as a last resort, and only if you believe you have a large and interested audience.
After an agent responds positively to your work, you are welcome to ask as many questions of him or her about the process, as well as request a list of his/her clientele. The author/agent relationship is one of the most important ones you will have in your life, and the search is worth the wait. It is in your best interest to choose an agent with whom you personally connect — one who is passionate about your writing, who shaååres your vision, and who offers the most intelligent commentary on your work. And you should never agree to work with an agent who charges you anything but a standard, percentage-based fee.
At the end of the day, writing is your life’s work and you may not meet up with success in a month, a year, or even ten years’ time — as it has been the case for many of the best writers. But if you persevere and accept that rejection can teach you something about your work and yourself, you will find the road less rough. It is important for you to examine your motivation for writing — if you are focused on making money, rather than on a love of the craft or on your message, you may never find real contentment in this process, or even success. As Morrison wrote, “Word-work is sublime.” And so, make it so. Be brave, believe in yourself, believe in your talent, build something beautiful with your words.
Back to top
Submissions and Sales
When I make submissions to publishers, I always prefer to start small, to send a manuscript to one or two editors who I think are right for the material. Over the past two decades, most of the smaller publishers have converged into larger conglomerates, so there are fewer ponds to fish in, and agents need to be careful about choosing the best-suited editors and publishers within the larger corporations. (For this reason, it is important that you do your homework and find an agent who has experience within your genre.)
Agents can also “go broad,” and submit a proposal to twelve or even twenty editors all around town, and then, hopefully, accept either a “preempt” (a preemptive offer from one editor who comes in early to take the project off the table) or a “floor” (an opening bid for an auction).
If the agent moves toward auctioning the project, she will typically submit auction rules to those editors who have expressed interest, and set a date when publishers will make round-robin offers, each topping the previous amount by a pre-determined percentage. At the end of the day, the floor holder has the option to top the highest bid or pass. It is all very exciting and nerve racking, and if negotiations for your work come to an auction, you should probably ask that your agent simply call you at the end of the day, rather than sweat it out hour-by-hour.
My favorite part of this process is bringing authors around to meet with the publishers before the bids are placed. It is fun for writers to see the distinctive personalities of the different publishing houses, just based on the interiors, the golden lobbies, cluttered hallways, and the fabled book covers framed on the walls. My best authors have gone into these meetings with that sense of fun, and I tell them that publishers are just as excited to meet them as they are to be there. Meetings usually last forty minutes, and about half the time the author answers questions about herself (how she came to write the book, her plans for promotion, what she plans on writing next), and the other half of the time, the publisher tells the author why they are the perfect house for the project.
A publisher will usually make an offer that will specify the amount for the author’s advance, as well as the royalty rates, the payment structure, and the subrights splits.
The concept of an author’s advance can be a bit confusing at first – authors often wonder, Will I have to return it if my book does not earn enough? What exactly is it an advance on? It is an advance on “future author earnings,” and as long as you deliver a manuscript that is acceptable to your publisher, and as long as you are not in breach of your contract, you get to keep your advance, no matter how many copies your book sells.
Future author earnings include ancillary rights sales and royalties. Your publisher’s subrights department will attempt to sell ancillary rights to your work, and including perhaps foreign rights. Your percentage of these sales, as well as a percentage of your books sales, will be applied against your advance, against your account. So if your advance is for $120,000, you must earn that much from book and subrights sales, before earning royalties.
While “royalties” are the income an author receives after an advance earns-out, “royalty rates” are the predetermined percentage of the book’s sale price that will be credited back to your account. Standard royalty rates are: 10% of the printed cover price for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12 ½% for the next 5,000, and 15% thereafter for all hardcover editions; 7 ½% of the printed cover price for all trade paperback copies; and 8% to 75,000, 10% thereafter for all mass market editions.
There are many complicated payment structures, but typically, advances under $300,000 are paid in thirds. So, for example, let’s say the North American rights for your book are sold for a $120,000 advance. You will likely receive $40,000, or one third of the total advance, on signing of the contract. And then you’ll be paid an additional third on delivery and acceptance (“D&A”) of a completed manuscript, and a final third on publication, or no later than 18 months after D&A.
Subrights include ancillary rights that the publisher usually holds on to, such as foreign rights, serial rights (the right for a magazine to publish a book excerpt), book club, audio, and large print. If first serial rights are optioned, the publisher will typically retain 10% of the sale proceeds and will then credit 90% to your account. If the publisher retains foreign and translation rights, UK rights are usually split, with 20% to the publisher and 80% to the author, while translation rights are usually split 25% to the publisher and 75% to the author. And so on down the line with percentage splits for other ancillary rights.
Once your agent has accepted an offer, these terms and others will be outlined in a deal memo that the agent will submit to the editor, and based on this memo, the publisher’s contracts department will draft a contract. The agent, or sometimes a legal representative working on behalf of the agent, will negotiate the finer points of the contract, and then once completed, they will submit several copies to you for your signature.
Once your book hits bookstores and begins to sell copies, the publishing house will record these sales, and each bi-annual accounting period, they will credit to your account a percentage of these sales, less a “reserve for returns.” It is a bit confusing, but every six months, your publisher will “close” your account, and then six months later, they will send you a royalty report, sometimes accompanied by a royalty check, reflecting all your earnings for the previous period. Why the six month delay? The accounting departments take six months to compile and prepare royalty statements – so the statement you receive in September, for instance, will only reflect sales through the the end of March.
In terms of earnings, if you sell 15,000 hardcovers in the first six months of publication, and your novel is priced at $24.00, approximately $35,000 will be credited against your account during your first accounting period (though perhaps more, if your publisher has made some ancillary rights sales).
To break this down, with standard hardcover royalties, you will earn 10% of the hardcover price for the first 5,000 copies, or $2.40 for each book sold, totaling income of $12,000. For the next 5,000 copies, you’ll earn 12 ½%, or $3.00 for each book sold, totaling $15,000. And thereafter, you will earn 15%, or $3.60, totaling $18,000. Taken together, you will have earned $45,000 in author’s earnings. But then, the publisher will withhold some of these earnings – say $10,000 worth of sales – for the first several accounting periods, as a reserve in case some of these books are returned by the bookstores. So if you received an advance for $120,000, you will be credited $35,000 to your account for this first period, and will still have $85,000 left to earn-out before you earn royalties. But have no fear…
Back to top
Publicity and marketing
Around this time, your in-house editor (and hopefully your agent) will give you at least two rounds of editorial notes on your manuscript, to get it into the best shape for publication. Typically, for the first round, the editor will send an editorial memo with broader comments pertaining to plot and character. You will work on these suggestions and return a revised manuscript to her. In this second round, she’ll probably make page edits, marking-up a copy of the manuscript itself with finer-tuned line-edits focusing on language and description. After you have sufficiently revised your manuscript, and it has been accepted by your editor, she will pass it along to the art director (who will send the manuscript on to a cover designer) and to the managing editor (who will assign a copy editor and send it out for legal vetting). While the legal department ensures that there isn’t anything prohibitively libelous in your work, the copy editor carefully combs through your manuscript pages for inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and grammatical errors, then flags each page with notes for your review and final approval. Interior design comes in and lays out all of the pages with particular fonts and margins, and then your publisher will publish a small paperback-covered edition of galleys or “ARCs” – advance reader copies.
These ARCs should be completed at least six months prior to publication, so they can be reviewed by the “long-lead” publications – the monthly magazines. Your in-house (or a freelance) publicist will make these early submissions to the monthlies, then follow up with another round of submissions a couple months later to the “short leads” – the newspaper review sections, the weekly magazines. And finally, submissions will be made to television and online media just prior to publication.
During this time, your agent should start working with a film agent, sending ARCs out to the appropriate producers, screenwriters, or directors (or, the film agent may choose to make submissions post-publication, as the buzz builds for your work). And you, your agent, and your editor should send ARCs to other authors, preferably accompanied by handwritten notes, requesting endorsements for your book.
Finally, the publisher’s advertising and marketing departments will become involved six months before the publication date. At that time, the marketing department will send ARCs to their sales force, to the book buyers at the chain and independent bookstores, and to online and special market buyers.
It is important to focus on sales and marketing well in advance of your book publication. I believe that the authors who help market and publicize their own books throughout the process often become the most successful. And having worked in publishing for twenty years now, I have found that everything comes down to sales and marketing. You can have the best book of the year, but if you don’t have the stock shipping out of the warehouses, or proper placement in bookstores, you’ll find it is difficult to make your title succeed.
To that end, these are the things that I most often request from sales and marketing prior to the on-sale date:
A large first print run
We’ve all read about that fabled 500,000-copy first print run, but the truth is that most print runs begin at about 10,000 copies (and many reported print-runs are exaggerated). A 30,000-copy first print run will ensure full coverage in all of the major book stores – both independent and chain – throughout the country. This would be a stellar first print run for a first novel. However, it is most important for a book to sell through a first printing: better that a book sell through, better that stores need to reorder, better that a book goes through several printings in hardcover, than to have a 30,000-copy first print run with substantial book returns and losses.
A strong social media presence
Even as an author is writing her or his first book, I suggest that she or he start building a social media platform. There are so many these days, and the most important ones are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Each has a different personality...
Facebook is very popular with book clubs and, likely, your friends and family. You should build a dedicated author page, separate from your personal one. If you have a small budget, you can easily grow your following on Facebook through paid ads and boosted posts, targeting your audience by location and interests. I often suggest to writers that they put in the names of comparable authors when targeting audience interests.
Twitter is the thinking person's social media site. Generally you can grow your audience on Twitter by posting smart, funny, topical comments. You can also build a following by finding other accounts that share similar interests, then follow them and like or retweet their posts. Twitter is all about building relationships, and it can be a great source of information and comradery.
Instagram is the ideal platform for the more visual mediums, like photography, food, and fashion (and endless selfies). That said, authors, publishers, librarians, and readers are creating some amazing posts on Instagram. Some of my favorite book-related accounts are @chroniclebooks, @bookbaristas, @librarycutie, and my own client @jenniferweinerwrites. There are so many book-related Instagram accounts just one Google search away, and you can also go to your favorite author's or book blogger's account, look to see who she or he is following and following those accounts as well. Much like Twitter, you can create a large list of accounts that you follow, and then like and comment on their posts periodically, and often they will follow you back.
You can also build your following by tagging photos with popular tags, such as #bookstagram, #bookface, #bookblogger, #bookish, #bibliophile, #booklover, #bookphotography, #bookworm, #booknerd, #reading, #bookaddict, #bookstagram, #becauseofreading, #bookstagrammers, and the list goes on. It is best to post your primary comment, and then post your hashtags in a second comment. The more hashtags you link to, the better chance you have of luring more like-minded people to your account. Also it is fun to click on the hashtag for, for instance, #bookface, and follow the accounts with the top posts. You can also do promotions, like book give-aways, or arrange a #TakeoverTuesday with a favorite fellow author, or create a character naming contest, or come up with a fun image of your bookmark and ask other readers to post pictures of their favorite bookmarks with a special hashtag. There are so many fun and interesting ways that people encourage engagement on Instagram.
Other sites include Tumblr, Flickr, Pintrest, Swarm, and depending on the subject matter of your book, any of these could be great uses of your time. You can manage all of your accounts through Hootsuite or another online service, but often it is best to post individually to each platform. At the end of the day, though, limit the time you spend on social media. Always remember you are a writer first, and a marketer second, or third or fourth. Many say five p.m. EST is the best time to post, and you do not need to post every day. I suggest that authors have a posting schedule, and just post and check in, for instance, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the early evening. And then try your best not to peak in throughout the rest of the week, just to see if they really like you. It is a slow process, and a watched pot never boils.
A cleverly-conceived marketing outreach
All titles (with the exception of those “crashed” into publication) are featured in the publisher’s seasonal sale catalog. Typically, six months before publication, a publisher will post your title on a Galley Grab website, and in some cases, they will still send out ARCs to the major book buyers across the country. The number of these ARCs that are printed depends on the sales and marketing budget for the title. Sometimes, publishers will send these ARCs wrapped in paper or tied with bows or in some other apt packaging. They’ll send them in boxes with t-shirts or saltwater taffy, something to catch a bookseller’s attention.
The publisher may also pre-promote a title at regional and national trade shows – from BEA (Book Expo America, the national publishing trade show) to regional shows like NEBA and SEBA and various other BAs, as well as academic conferences. A publisher may host author luncheons with booksellers, or send an author to meet with one of the major accounts at their corporate headquarters. They may print up announcement postcards, featuring the book or some special promotion or bookseller’s sweepstakes, or flyers that highlight sales, marketing, and publicity plans. They may send email blasts announcing any major publicity that has been secured for the title, distribute an author newsletter to an email list, create a podcast or audio recording of an excerpt, initiate a corporate tie-in, and on and on. Or they may feature the title in a publisher’s newsletter. You and you agent can work, via your editor, to encourage the department to do some kind of special outreach for your book.
And there are many creative things you can do on your own to stir up interest in your work – from making tote bags or t-shirts for your publishing team to send to buyers and magazine editors, to hosting a launch party, to posting the first chapter of your work online, to making a postable image with a quote or table shot for blogs or social media sites to repost.
A strong co-op plan
You may have noticed the stepladders to either side of the entrance at your local Barnes and Noble store, and those tables at the front of your local independent bookstore piled high with new releases – in most cases, this is “co-op placement,” and it was arranged months ago. “Co-op” stands for Cooperative Advertising, and co-op agreements between publishers and bookstores can dictate everything from where the books are placed in the stores to which books are featured in store-generated newsletters and advertising.
Ideally, a publication will be placed “front-of-store” for several weeks after publication. Front-of-store can mean several different things – it can mean those stepladders, or window placement, table placement, or a place on the “New in Fiction,” or “New in Nonfiction” shelves, or it could mean featured placement on “end caps” (those ledges on the end of shelving units) or in large stacks piled on the floor.
The major chain stores have their own co-op programs, and there is usually a special in-house sales representative who sells into each chain. And so S&S will have their very own B&N rep, and he will primarily focus on selling their catalog into that chain. The independently-owned stores have their own co-op collective called BookSense (you can learn more about their program at www.booksense.com, and you can learn about independent bookstores at www.bookweb.com).
I often think the announcement that a publisher makes about their intent to advertise is almost as significant as the ads themselves. When booksellers see “Advertising in The New York Times, USA Today, and People magazine” printed on the back of an ARC, they know that this title will have a huge amount of support from the publisher.
Advertising is a course in itself, but in the last ten years, publishers have increasingly explored advertising opportunities beyond The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker. Publishers now advertise everywhere from the NYT “Styles” section to small trade publications and book blogs, as well as (occasionally) television. One publisher advertised one of my clients’ books on the CNN network in airports. My authors have had their work advertised on a broad range of websites – from teen sites to Gawker and Oprah.com. Online advertising has exploded and it is now equally as important, if not more so, to a well-rounded ad campaign as print, but it needs to be very targeted – it is a big wide web out there, and your ad needs to be directed to your specific audience.
The sales and marketing teams are some of the best-read in the business. They read, and sometimes listen to, at least some portion of every book on their lists, and they help shape those lists by reporting back to publishers what they learn from booksellers. They know what’s selling, and what the booksellers are hoping to sell more of in the future. They hope for a great book that fits well into a popular category, and are most pleased when the editorial department gives them a compelling, well-written book, supported by strong endorsements from fellow authors; when the publicity department secures several long-lead commitments well before publication; when the author has rallied a large fan base prior to publication; when the art department has delivered an irresistible cover and interior design. And when all of the pieces are in place, the sales and marketing team, working with the publisher, will give that book excellent placement in the catalog, and they will work to garner excellent placement in the bookstores, so on down the line.
Now in stores (and online)
Though I believe pre-publication outreach is often more important than post-publication promotions, the author book tour is still an important step in building a lifelong career. Author tours are largely underrated these days, and few authors have the earning-power to finance a nationwide tour; still every author should arrange for some in-store stock signings. You can simply go to the websites for Barnes & Noble and the Independent bookstores (the latter www.bookweb.org), and locate those bookstores in your area. Visit or call ahead, ask for the community supervisor in the larger stores, let them know that you’d like to come in and sign copies. Perhaps bring along bookmarks or a box of chocolates for the staff. Reach out to your local librarians as well. Some of the best tour events are now held at libraries!
Continue the work you have been doing all along online (as suggested above), and continue writing – I often suggest that writers try to get the first fifty pages of their next book written before their publication date.
Usually, a year after the hardcover is released, a paperback edition is published. Sometimes a book will come out in hardcover and ebook, and then trade paperback (those larger paperbacks), and then a mass market edition (those smaller paperbacks you find on racks in supermarkets and airports) will be released. Sometimes authors are lucky enough to have movie tie-in editions or re-releases, or, best yet, anniversary editions. It is all about writing a timeless work, something unique and compelling.