Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where is Kathryn?

lilleyOur lovely and talented blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, will be taking a medical hiatus for a while. As she makes a speedy recovery, we are going to open up Tuesday’s as a general discussion day for any topics relating to publishing and writing (or anything else you think we can answer). Is there a term or buzzword you’ve heard but don’t quite understand? Are foreign rights a mystery? Do all contracts pay an advance against royalties? What’s the difference between a novel and a novella? How can you get a discount when ordering those free-range eggs from Miller?

Post your question in the comments and we’ll try to answer any and all for the next few weeks while Kathryn is away. So let us know what’s on your mind but were always afraid to ask.

BTW, I’ll be discussing the term Sellthrough in my post tomorrow so be sure and come back for that.


  1. I don't have a question--I just want to wish Kathryn a very speedy recovery! Your blog readers will miss you!

  2. Do you all rely on your in-house publicists, or do you hire outside talent? Any words of wisdom for a new author trying to launch a brand regarding how to spend limited marketing dollars?

  3. Anon 8:31. The good news is that almost all publishers have in-house publicists. They have close-up knowledge of the sales and marketing of your book along with dozens of other details that they can react to very quickly. And their services are included at no cost to the writer. The bad news is that if the house is fairly large, they only have a minimum amount of time to spend on you since there are many other books and authors to promote. Most of the time, the efforts of the in-house publicist are somewhat general and standard.

    An independent publicist can devote a great deal more time and attention to you and your book. They may have inside connections that go beyond the ones the in-house publicists have. And for the most part, they work for you exclusively, in that even though they have other clients, the competition is smaller when you’re fighting for attention. Of course, this all comes with a price, sometimes a steep one. And just like every other aspect of the publishing industry, there are no guaranteed results.

    Since I have always used the in-house publicist along with my own efforts at marketing and promotion, I can’t give you any advice on whether you should contract an outside talent. But I feel that there will always be trade-offs no matter what direction you choose.

  4. Anon, I agree with Joe's comments. Before spending a ton of money find out what you can do first. You might check out a couple of books: Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. Educate yourself on what you can do on your own.

    And start local. Get local publicity, speak for free at libraries, etc. Building a readership takes a long time, and you do it bit by bit, book by book. Good luck.

  5. Anon - I hired an independent publicist to do things that the in-house one typically didn't organize for me - radio and events in cities not on my book tour. I think the combination of in-house and personal works well but you have to really know what you're getting for your money when you hire and outside publicist. I know many authors have been disappointed - fiction is also a much harder 'sell' publicity-wise than non-fiction unless your book is getting a lot of buzz for a topical issue.

  6. Funny, we posted the same topic (creating publicity) today on www.writeonthewater.com
    My own personal experience was that I had very few sales (past friends and family) without a promoting push by myself. I think, today more than ever, the responsibility of promoting falls to the author.
    I'd be very interested in hearing what other published authors do, past the in-house campaign, to market their books.

  7. I am shopping around a short story to various magazines and one of the publishers wants writers to send a query letter instead of the manuscript. All of the informations I've found on the 'net for query letters are for novels, not short stories. The basic format seems to be: a one line hook, followed by a one paragraph summary of the story.

    Here is my question: Does this same format hold for short stories? Since my story is only 6,000 words, I could pretty much give a blow-by-blow summary of the entire story, but this comes off as kind of dry. Or should my summary simply explain the story question, and the problem facing my protag?


  8. Stewart, although you would think that because of the length of a short story, sending the entire work would be standard. But every publication is different. My advice would be to check the submission guidelines for each publication and follow them exactly. Good luck.

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  10. Sticking with marketing, is there one marketing tool that you find is indispensable? Something you don't think you can sell a book without.

  11. Sticking with marketing, is there one marketing tool that you find is indispensable?

    A GREAT book.

    I'm not being flip. That's what you need most of all. All the marketing in the world won't move a mediocre read.

    But after that, there's no one magic bullet. You need to see this as a long term project. But certainly a good looking and interesting website is a must.

  12. Jarrett, Jim is right. Nothing beats a great book. Unfortunately, many great books never see the light of day or find their audience. Consider your marketing plan as a pie with slices, each having equal importance. One slice might be your website, another social networks, another blogs, another writer’s conferences, book signings, newsletters, etc. The best marketing plan is one with many different and diversified slices or efforts. Utilize them all to the fullest with the knowledge that no one slice will be enough.

  13. Katherine, we love you and wish for a speedy and healthful reappearance here. Make it soon.

  14. In house publicists do the same thing for every book they publish. They have a list of critics of the genre and they hit them with a book and a nice letter. The real sellers of the books are the salespeople who push to stores. The stores can hand sell, but rarely do. The more copies they print the harder the effort to get them into stores. The thing is all stores are on computer so if a book doesn't sell but ten copies, they cut the order for the next one. Pretty soon, unless there's an uptick, they delete the author's name from their buys.

    When a book starts selling in increasing numbers the house publicity people push that book harder and may put more money in the budget to promote it.

    Publishing is a numbers game just like any other corporation. If product A doesn't perform, they scrap it and go to product B. We are nothing more than producers of a product, and publishers will get behind what sells best for them. The days of mid-list authors being kept on a label are about done. These days a smaller percentage of people who sell books care whether it's books or cans of soup they are pitching to buyers.

    It's a bitch, but that is just the world we live in. That said, few soup salesmen would move to books given the market.

  15. By the way, people who depend on in-house publicity to sell their books, like I did, are usually sorry.

    If you want to sell books these days, you have to market as best as hard as you can. The most successful authors I know never stop pushing their work every chance they get, and that (along with a superior product) makes the difference. Look at Jeffery Deaver, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, and John Gilstrap as examples.

  16. I didn't have a lot of luck with the independent publicist that I hired. I think that it depends. If you have a hardcover with a topic that might be considered newsworthy, it might be worth it. But be forewarned, a really great private publicist is extremely pricey, and a less expensive one can (in my experience, at least) be a total waste of money. I don't think radio spots work unless they manage to get you on an NPR affiliate.

    I've done blog tours, and have found them to be effective, but time consuming. I've also done Facebook and Google ads, which are a bit of a mixed bag. I can't say they made a huge difference in my overall sales. For mass market paperbacks, the most critical element is distribution and placement, neither of which the author has control of.
    But, like I said, hardcovers are a different beast altogether.
    I have come to the personal decision not to travel much to promote the next book. I think that the time and expense is generally not worth it.

    I'd say that for a short story query, the main trick is to keep it short and sweet, three brief paragraphs max. One should be your hook, the next, a brief bio, then a short summary of the story.

  17. Best wishes to Kathryn. Take care to pamper yourself, especially when things get wearying.

    On to my question:

    My current project is a historical thriller (18th c), but while it's usual for a thriller to have time constraints that limit it to a small geographical area (in pre-fast travel days), my story is set in a number of European countries.

    Any suggestions on how to maintain the heightened tension when having to incorporate long travel times?

    Would it be best to just do a quick cut to the new location (unless trouble along the journey was story-worthy)?

    Or some other approach?

  18. Would it be best to just do a quick cut to the new location (unless trouble along the journey was story-worthy)?

    I think you answered your own question. If it isn't "story-worthy" do not put it in. Ever.

    That's what narrative summary is for.

    The two week journey to Hamburg was marred by driving rain and mud. Greta was never so happy to see her home city.

  19. I've seen you mention "beta readers." Who are these people and how do you find them?

  20. My question is about structure: Mr. Bell, on here and in his AWESOME Plot & Structure book, talks about the three act structure with plot points one and two (or the two doorways of no return). But what about the "midpoint" I hear so much about? Is that something optional? Is there a specific reason for it? Will my novel be okay if I don't have one? (Because I don't think it's in there.)

    Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

  21. Anon 7:36, many writers including myself use beta readers. These are usually a handful of trusted friends who are willing to read a WIP or finished manuscript and give honest, useful feedback. I use a mix of fellow published writers along with a few friends that are just avid readers. A fresh set of eyes can always see things that have grown invisible to the writer. And if the same issue pops up from 2-3 beta readers, it tells me there's probably a serious problem to be examined. The biggest value to having a few beta readers is spotting stumbling blocks before the manuscript heads off to the agent or editor.

  22. Rob, the "midpoint" is a screenwriting term (usually). What it means is that the stakes get raised, the intensity is increased, etc. I think that if you're set up with the right story question and so on, you'll naturally be getting your story more intense. If you think about it, a "midpoint" is a place to check if your second act is "sagging." Coming up with a good strong scene here is well worth it.

    In short, it's just a good idea to check your midpoint anyway.

  23. Assuming this thread isn't dead I'll ask another question if that's OK.

    How much of publishing is luck and how much is ability? From finding an agent to selling well, what is the ratio of luck to skill?

  24. Hi Jarrett-

    In my experience, though there is some luck involved, most of it comes down to persistence and talent. If your manuscript is something an agent thinks they can sell, and you win them over with it, the only luck involved is getting it into their hands. And you can make your own luck in that regard, by going to events like Agentfest and other conferences.
    There is one caveat, however. Certain subject matter the publishing industry shies away from, and if your book's subject matter falls into one of those categories, there's a good chance it won't be picked up.