Category Archives: marketing/publicity

19

Tweet, tweet

I joined Twitter a few years back, because I realized that despite my aversion to it, it’s a really useful tool for keeping up on publishing.  From being more in tune with what the industry is talking about and where it’s headed to the stronger relationships with colleagues and clients, it’s proven to be the right choice, however much time I might waste trying to condense my overly verbose thoughts into 140 characters.  I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it’s for far more people than I realized, including me.

Still, I find myself wondering what’s really effective in using the platform for networking and promotion.  How do you maintain a balance between participating in the conversation and drowning others out?  How many tweets is too many tweets?  How few is like not being on it at all?  How much honesty do you allow yourself?  Does diplomacy rule your choices, or is Twitter a place for your unvarnished opinions?

And how do you promote yourself without turning people off?  I’d say Twitter markedly skews my perception of success toward people who are wildly good at self-promotion, even though certain strategies drive me up a wall.  Even the strategies I hate sometimes work on me.

So the question is: what works for you?  Let’s assume that as a person who is reading a literary agency blog you’re not averse to the notion of marketing in general.  Have you ever bought a book because of Twitter or learned about an author that way?  Do you follow the authors you are fans of?  Do you use Twitter primarily as a tool in your platform or primarily as a vehicle for socializing?  Do you primarily hope to reach readers or to network with authors?  And what really turns you off?  What Twitter “sins” make you unfollow?

Update:  Whoops!  I somehow managed not to tag this at all, so here I was wondering why no one had an opinion on Twitter, but actually I just wasn’t getting notifications because WordPress didn’t know I wrote it.  Thanks everyone for your feedback!

4

When traditional publishing works!

With book publishing undergoing such major changes and so many of my colleagues and clients  discouraged by these, one wonders whether the experience of having a first book published will ever be as satisfying as it once was.  The answer is “yes!” Last week one of my projects, a first book, had an incredibly exciting and successful launch.

Five years ago, I read the obituary of Robert Giroux and I thought that there might be a wonderful story about Farrar Straus & Giroux and its authors during its heyday.  I thought about who might write this book and read a very good piece in New York Magazine written by a young writer named Boris Kachka.  Boris and I talked and, though he was initially doubtful about whether such a book would sell, he decided to tackle it.

The idea then became his and the result, five years later is HOTHOUSE: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar Straus & Giroux.  The success of the book, as is always the case, was dependent on a number of factors:

1)    The manuscript was well written and told a compelling story.

2)    The editing was brilliant.

3)    The launch of the book was thoroughly thought out and extremely well timed.

In fact, Boris produced a terrific manuscript which even in draft form was a real page turner.  Then his editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler did an incredible job of editing the narrative.

Finally, with Jofie’s  passionate mentorship, Simon & Schuster strategically sent out galleys to writers and independent booksellers for quotes.  Authors, including Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, and Larry McMurtry, and dozens of independent booksellers commented on how terrific the material was.

The title topped the August non-fiction Independent Bookseller Recommended list and then the publisher distributed a superb marketing brochure conceived by publishing icon Michael Korda and developed by Jofie, his team and Boris.  Check it out:

HOTHOUSE

In this day of digital distribution, the brochure was mailed out to hundreds of people and the reaction was instantaneous and incredibly enthusiastic.  Everyone who received it wanted an advance copy of the book.

HOTHOUSE was reprinted before it was published on August 6th and was celebrated at a publishing party in the Roundtable Room at the Algonquin.

Of course we don’t know what will ultimately happen in this story, but of one thing I am sure.  As I stood listening to Boris talk at his launch party, I thought, “This is why I love the publishing business!”


Why buy?

For all the time we spend talking about marketing and social media and discoverability, we don’t necessarily have much more than gut instinct to go on.  X works, Y doesn’t, prevailing wisdom says, but do we really even know?  The one thing we’re all confident of is that word of mouth is effective, probably so much more so than everything else.  But every once in a while, I like to stop and think about why I’ve chosen to read something.

The other day a client of mine got a not-yet-revealable blurb that made think, “Huh.  I think I’d actually buy a book with that blurb on it.”  Which underscores just how little they impact my choices.  I think I once bought a book because an intern recommended it to me and it had a blurb by an author I love, but blurbs alone don’t do it for me.  I still think they’re incredibly valuable for a million other reasons (the blurber might mention the book later, it helps to grab the attention of people along the chain between editorial and the customer, lends credibility, etc.).  But I don’t typically buy because of them.

I do buy books because of Twitter.  Usually it’s a critical mass question.  If everyone in publishing is reading something, I buy it (and eventually read it, though I’ll admit not always speedily).  Gone Girl; The Fault in Our Stars; Code Name Verity; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette? all made it to my house on the strength of the wisdom of the masses/fear of being left out.  Occasionally, one tweet reveals a book so perfect for me that I’ll rush out to get it, like My Beloved Brontosaurus, which I came across in a tweet from its editor Amanda Moon (@amsciam).  By title alone I knew it was for me.  My favorite dinosaur is still the Brontosaurus, and Pluto’s my favorite planet, and no lousy scientists with their knowledge are going to change that.  I not only bought it, I pre-ordered it (which I never do out of a combination of cheapness and impatience), and ordered one for a dino-obsessed friend’s upcoming birthday.

As someone who used to license first serial (periodical excerpt) rights for the agency, I always wondered how well magazine coverage translated to sales.  The trouble is the newspaper or magazine wants something that works in its own right.  But recently I read what was either an excerpt or an article referencing The Age of Edison, and I was really intrigued.  When I spotted the book at B&N the next day, I grabbed it.  Conveniently, it turned out to be my book club book for DGLM’s next book club meeting.

I do sometimes read the books that hit all the best of lists at year end, but I will admit that it’s an imperfect source for me.  It brings books to my attention, but I judge them with a critical eye before deciding whether to buy.  I’ll be reading Just Kids this weekend, which I kind of sort of thought about buying when everyone was talking it up, but never did till it became the selection for my book club.  Likewise, Beautiful Ruins abounded on the lists in December, but I didn’t read that till my book club decided I had to.

Incidentally, I adore the cover of Beautiful Ruins.  It called to me from everywhere.  But I resisted buying it because it didn’t sound like a book I’d like so much as it looked like a book I’d like.  So I’ll pick a book up for its cover, but it’s not a guarantee that I’ll actually take it home.  Until I had to, I just didn’t.  And for what it’s worth, I thought it was wonderful and well worth the read.

Word of mouth is really hit or miss for me.  It depends entirely on the mouth.  And there are recommendations I’ll take from someone and others I’ll disregard, if I think it’s clear the book doesn’t fall in the center of the Venn diagram of our tastes.  I have definitely at times chosen not to read something, based on who I know who loves it.

So I guess in the end I’m much more about critical mass than anything else.  Given enough reasons, I’ll pick something up, even if I’ve previously decided not to read it.  Why do you buy?  What works for you, and what decidedly doesn’t?

The longview…

It’s probably the worst kept secret in publishing that DGLM has been successfully repping a lot of Indie authors.  In fact, the recent RT conference was filled to the rafters with our clients (prompting a delightful voicemail message from Larry Kirshbaum of Amazon to Jane…but more on that in another blog post or over drinks at BEA).

We’ve learned a tremendous amount from these authors about how to successfully self-publish and these lessons have  direct and significant application to traditional publishing.  The smarter houses have committed to a partnership with us and our clients, showing tremendous vision and flexibility in the way they have modified their systems to accommodate the special needs of people who can sell oodles of books on their own, thank you very much.

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Grand Central, and PenguinUSA have all been aggressive in offering huge deals that are enticing to our authors not just because of the money involved but because of their afore-mentioned flexibility in terms of publishing schedules, contractual terms (including options and non-compete clauses), marketing and promotion, and their genuine desire to help grow these writers’ careers.  And, here’s where the partnership aspect is important.

Some Indie authors are looking at what these publishers are offering and scoffing, especially if the advances being discussed are less than seven figures.  They think, and rightly so in most cases, that they can make that money themselves without giving such a huge percentage to a third party.  They also feel (again, rightly so in most cases) that they can market themselves more effectively than a house that is publishing hundreds, if not thousands, of books per year.   But, as we’ve often discussed on this blog, that’s a shortsighted view because of the intangibles.

The beauty of and frustrating thing about publishing is that it has never been an exact science—and given how many English majors work in this business, that’s hardly surprising.  So much of what succeeds in our world is due to serendipity and that most fickle of all phenomena, taste, that it’s impossible for a publishing “formula” to  show  a higher rate of success than, say, Derek Jeter’s batting average.    But, despite that, publishers offer a wealth of intangibles that are actually quite measurable over the course of a career, among them editorial support, an understanding of the book buying marketplace that is more macro than micro, a team of professionals whose job it is to make the author look good, a belief in books that is almost evangelical, and a brand identity that has evolved over centuries and that will continue to do so.

So, when an Indie client says to us, what can Publisher X do for me that I can’t do for myself, my answer would be, they can help you establish and grow your career with a goal toward longevity.  Given our success with negotiating non-compete and option clauses that allow Indie authors to continue to self-publish while they are working with a traditional house, I honestly don’t see the downside to also having a publisher’s imprimatur as an adjunct to your own publishing efforts.  I do, however, see how having books published by S&S or HC or GCP can enhance your brand and raise your visibility among readers.  Given how crowded and competitive the Indie marketplace has become, I would be heartened to see that an author has been or is published traditionally when deciding whether to buy his/her book.  I think many readers feel the same.

The bottom line, of course, is that as with all of our clients, we want our Indie authors to have long, prosperous publishing lives and we feel that, under the right conditions, a trade house can be an invaluable partner in achieving that goal.    I’d love to hear what you all think about this because it is a subject that I’m becoming very passionate about.

 

 

11

Art and Commerce

Last week I came across an op-ed piece, K’naan, on Censoring Himself For Success – NYTimes.com that really stuck with me. In his essay, Somali born rapper and musician K’naan discussed a down-side of his considerable success, the pressure he felt to court and retain a mainstream audience. His record label was keen to see his lyrics, which had been steeped in the politics and history of his home country, “all the baggage of Somalia — of my grandfather’s poetry, of pounding rhythms, of the war, of being an immigrant, of being an artist” to be more accessible, familiar, American.

“If this was censorship, I thought, it was a new kind — one I had to do to myself. The label wasn’t telling me what to do. No, it was just giving me choices and information, about my audience — 15-year-old American girls, mostly, who knew little of Somalia. How much better to sing them songs about Americans.”

I realize that K’naan’s dilemma is no perfect analogue, and that the book business and the music business are different in a thousand substantive ways. In book publishing, I think the field is both broader and more fractured and the financial stakes lower, but the author’s central dilemma, tugged between the countervailing poles of personal expression and the broader marketplace, between remaining true to an inner voice and figuring out how best to broadcast it, is probably familiar to many writers. In an era when publishers and agents exhort writers to build a platform, create a brand and market yourselves, to what degree do you think these pressures affect the creative process? Do you find that marketing concerns influence the content of what you write? Or do you think that there is no inherent contradiction in writing a book and then figuring out how, and to whom, to sell it?

Book Discovery

When I’m talking about eBooks with authors, something that always comes up is the idea of discoverability– how to get readers to actually find and purchase one of your titles. With so many titles out there, which is especially true on sites like Amazon, how do you get a reader to find your book?

So I was particularly interested in this survey posted by Digital Book World earlier in the week. What is fascinating about the findings is that people are using more and more ways to discover new works. According to Kelly Gallagher, who presented the results, readers use 44 different techniques to discover new titles. That’s a lot of ground to cover for an author.

The author of the DBW article puts it best when he says, “Imagine the complexity: a 27-year-old female romance reader from suburban Indianapolis who reads on a tablet computer but spends most of her time browsing the Web on her laptop versus a 43-year-old female romance reader living in Los Angeles who reads and buys exclusively on her e-reader. They’re both romance readers and female, but couldn’t be more different otherwise when it comes to how they discover and read books — and reaching them takes different marketing tactics.”

Something that also caught my eye: the #1 way people discover books, no matter what kind of reader they are? Either in person or through personal recommendations.

So where does an author begin? And do you find yourself discovering books in new ways?

 

Support systems

We’ve lately had the good fortune to represent some lovely women, like Tracey Garvis Graves and Colleen Hoover, who started out self-publishing their fiction and for whom we’ve now been able to make some significant deals with “legacy” publishers (have I mentioned that I really dislike that term?).  These women are very smart and committed about their work, but they are also incredibly generous in their support of other writers who are embarking on the same kind of venture.  They belong to online support groups where they critique each other’s works, give each other tips on how to market their books, and serve as cheerleaders to each other on their public platforms.  As Jane mentioned in her blog post last week, authors mentoring and supporting other authors should not be a surprising phenomenon, but, in fact, it often is.  It’s also wonderful and important and we hope that other authors are taking note and emulating this kind of esprit de corps.

But, as I mull over this interesting development, it occurred to me that I don’t see this kind of “community” among male writers.  Sure, people like our own David Morrell are tireless in speaking at conferences, sharing  insights with up and coming writers, and offering priceless advice (in David’s case like the professor he once was).  And I know that  Joe Konrath, whom we’ve represented for many years, has a huge online following for his often controversial but always provocative views about the publishing process.  But, I have not seen the kind of small  influential online writing groups among male writers that seem to be flowering in the women’s fiction world.

Why is this, do you suppose?  Is it a XX/XY thing?  Is it because of category?  Is it because men are more naturally competitive and women more nurturing (to apply the most pervasive stereotypes)?  Or do these groups exist and thrive and I’m just not hip to them?

3

Longevity

One of the things I like about e-books is the fact that they have longer “shelf” lives than print books.  I like that I can think of an obscure title that I read and loved back in the Dark Ages—when Reagan was president and I still thought a flat iron was a good idea on my hair—and have it in my e-reader within seconds.  As much as I love physical books, I relish the convenience of accessing information or pleasure reading without waiting for half an hour while a surly bookstore clerk goes digging in his computer to see on what shelf there might or might not be a copy to be found.

Personally, if I love an e-book, I’ll more than likely find a way to buy a physical copy.  But, what my own e-buying trends (and those of my friends and colleagues) tell me is that digital books can sell more and longer than print copies that have to fight for shelf space, if marketed correctly, and can tap into ever-renewing markets with ease.

This Galleycat piece about how to re-energize sales of old titles is worth checking out by authors thinking of self-publishing, or digitizing their backlist, or helping their publishers promote their titles.

Case in point: Through DGLM’s e-book program (which we’ve blogged about here) we recently put up the late John Comer’s Combat Crew, a gripping memoir of the 25 combat missions Comer flew over Europe during WWII.  The book had been out of print for some time and Jim Comer, John’s son wanted to get it back out there for a new generation of readers and for the veterans and military personnel who would doubtlessly be fascinated by his father’s stories.  Reaching these specific markets and having hit the pricing sweet spot, the e-book has been an unqualified success.  And, indeed, a new generation of readers is discovering this classic narrative.

So, before you e-publish think about what markets you want to reach and how, think about pricing and don’t over- or under-price, and read as much as you can about internet marketing.  It will pay dividends and give your work an extra-long life.

 

2

Formula for Success

 

Because blockbuster bestsellers—the books that sell in the millions of copies—are rarely as well written as they are widely read, there is a popular notion among writers and non-writers (and occasionally, trained monkeys with typewriters) that “anyone could write one.”  I’m skeptical.

The mysterious X factor that causes a book to catch fire is neither easily predicted nor replicated, much as publishers try. Bestsellers cannot reliably be manufactured, not even (as many people suspect) by outsize marketing and promotion budgets.  I worked for the house that published scores of bestsellers, including The Bridges of Madison County and the Notebook, but that same house also rolled out the red carpet for seemingly commercial novels that vanished, taking their marketing dollars and NYT ads with them.

 

Laura Miller’s column in Salon http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/recipe_for_a_bestselling_book/singleton/ looks at Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers. In it, novelist James Hall attempts to isolate the winning formulas of “twentieth century megasellers.” He considers a list of twelve: Gone With the Wind, Peyton Place, To Kill a Mockingbird, Valley of the Dolls, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Jaws, The Dead Zone, The Hunt for Red October, The Firm, The Bridges of Madison County and The Da Vinci Code.

I’m keen to read his analysis, but I just don’t believe that it can yield much insight into the black box of blockbuster bestseller-dom. What do you think? Can reading taste be quantified in any meaningful way?

 

 

11

An editor and publisher who gets the job done right.

Some of you might know Amy Einhorn by name, especially if you work in book publishing. But even if you don’t, you certainly know some of the books she’s helped to bring to market. Most notably and successfully The Help, a compelling but challenging first novel by Kathryn Stockett that was famously (and embarrassingly in retrospect) rejected by 60 agents and publishers. The book has gone on to sell over 10 million copies! It was the first novel ever published by Amy Einhorn Books.

This interview with Amy from a recent New York Observer gets to the heart of why she’s so good at what she does. And I think there’s something to be taken away from her approach to publishing. She doesn’t just tell her authors to market and promote their books. She does it too. She takes each of her books and pushes them gently into the market, overseeing all aspects of editorial, production, design, marketing and publicity.

While it’s an impossible business to master, and there is no question that luck and timing play a big role in an author’s success, there is definitely some strategy at work here too.

Amy’s imprint has more hits than misses, and reading about how she does it you can understand why. She has a small, eponymous imprint with the resources of a big house behind her. It’s that rare combination of little gal and big gun that has the potential turn books into bestsellers. That combined with her good instincts and loving touch makes for each book to get its share of support and attention. It’s like raising kids. You have to treat each one differently and play to their strengths. There is no one size fits all model for parenting, and that same can be said for selling books. It makes me think about how many good books are out there that don’t get the right kind of support to nurture them along and wind up selling poorly.

I love the anecdote in the piece about a manuscript full of Post-its — this is so old-school, and I also admire writer Emily Witt’s observation about Einhorn’s “commitment to thorough editing and a lot of exuberant salesmanship.” These are things that still matter. A lot.

I know Amy personally (we have 7 daughters between us!) and professionally (we had a book together when she was at Warner, and I would so love to sell her something for Amy Einhorn Books), and I like her very much. I think it would be hard to not like Amy. She’s got that kind of personality that just bubbles with positive enthusiasm and it’s infectious. She’s genuinely curious, interested, engaged, and she makes you feel like you could talk with her endlessly. Come to think of it, with her gift of the gab, she would have been a good agent too!

So, while there is a lot of talk about publishers getting things wrong, I think this piece about a really smart and savvy publisher is worth a read and offers a bit of inspiration to start the year. Good things can happen in book publishing, and with the help (just caught the pun!) of people like Amy Einhorn, sometimes they even do.