Category Archives: platform

9

Virtual assistant to the rescue!

I was reading PW online and came across this piece about writers hiring virtual assistants to help them with various admin tasks related to their writing. I was intrigued, and it seems there’s a crop of these online helpers out there in business to lighten the load on writers so that they can spend more time on what they do best – writing!

It’s a simple concept, and yet novel and very 21st Century. I’m sure there are a variety of ways in which these relationships can be developed and managed in terms of pay, hours, and the “virtual” piece suggests the person works remotely. It’s key to find someone who knows the skills required (or can learn them), can do the job from wherever they are, and can be flexible to meet your needs as a writer which can change depending on where you are in your career.

This might not be the right solution for everyone, but I do think there are some ideas in here worth exploring. For example, the list that Kati comes up with describes various activities that a virtual assistant can help with. It includes everything from answering e-mails, updating your website, handling mailings for promotions, and exploring/managing all forms of social media.

In this market, writing is only one part (thankfully it still is the most important part) of the job. Marketing and promoting yourself and your work is critical to an author’s long-term success and that’s why a virtual assistant (or any other kind of assistant for that matter) is an interesting concept to contemplate.

If you were fortunate enough to be able to hire a virtual assistant, what would you have him or her do for you?

Why some authors hate publishers

A long-time client, who is very dear to our agency, pointed us in the direction of a piece by Michael Levin in the HuffPost that I’d missed when it ran last week.  Our client was distressed by Mr. Levin’s assertions about the nefarious tactics mustache twirling publishers use to victimize authors.  Understandably, since Mr. Levin writes with such passion and seeming authority, she was concerned that the picture he paints is an accurate depiction of the culture of book publishing as 2012 draws to a close and we count down to the  Mayan apocalypse (which, of course, if it comes to pass will make this discussion irrelevant).

After reading the piece Jane and I had basically the same reaction which boiled down to “Why do the people talking trash about our business always seem to be the ones who understand it the least or who have a bag full of sour grapes they’re carrying around with them?”  And, then I got all happy because I didn’t have to scrounge around looking for a blog topic this week.

We promised our client that we’d go through Mr. Levin’s arguments and respond to them from our point of view and this, more or less (with my usual digressions and irritating asides), is what I hope to do here.

Mr. Levin’s argument boils down to four salient points:  (1) Publishers hate authors even though authors and the work they produce are their lifeblood. (2) Publishers are reducing advances and royalties across the board with the added perk of also reducing marketing and promotion for their titles. (3) Publishers’ dependence on BookScan (the tracking system for sales) guarantees that unless an author has a boffo success, their career is over faster than you can say “reserve for returns.”  And (4) by lowering the quality of the product because they refuse to pay what good authors are worth, publishers are ensuring that the public stops buying books and turns to other sources (the Internet) for their information and entertainment kicks.

Alrighty, then!  This should be quick(ish).

(1)   Publishers are the partners and adversaries of agents.  We work with and against them for the good of our authors, who have our first allegiance.  That said, most publishers (and the term includes all the people who make books happen at a publishing house from the CEO to the intern who opens the mail) we deal with daily, sometimes hourly, are incredibly hard working, thoughtful, engaged, and compassionate.  I’ve said this before and it bears repeating, very few people go into our business to achieve their dreams of Trump-like wealth.  Salaries are low in publishing compared to those in other media, and the work is painstaking and, often thankless (Exhibit A: Mr. Levin).  Publishing types do their jobs—which entail long hours after they’ve left the office sitting with a manuscript that needs to be shaped on a granular level—because they LOVE books.  Period.  With all the challenges publishers are faced with in this increasingly digital world, the level of care they bring to the curating of great (and even not so great) books is impressive.

(2)  Not sure which publishers Mr. Levin is talking about but our agency has had its best year ever.  We’ve sold over 100 books this year and have been paid advances, ranging from five to seven figures, on every one of them.  Perhaps there are some tiny houses that are embracing the “no advance” model but we work with the Big Six as well as many, many smaller independent publishers and have not seen this no-advance/lower-royalty model Mr. Levin describes.

(3)  We depend on BookScan too when we are considering signing up an author.  It’s a tremendous tool that lets you know what you’re up against when trying to find a new home for a previously published author whose book didn’t do well.  Has BookScan ever been a deciding factor in not signing up a book?  Probably, but only if we were very much on the fence about it anyway.  I’d venture to say that this is the same process publishers go through because we’ve had numerous authors whose BookScan sales, how to put it delicately?, were in the toilet and we still sold their next book and the book after that.  Bottom line, if your next idea is great or your genius undeniable, or your platform has reached critical mass, BookScan will not destroy your career.

(4)  Really?  Take a look at the best books of the year lists that are cropping up all over the place right now and tell me if you think important, brilliant, exciting fiction and non-fiction isn’t being published any more.  And, given the fact that book sales have risen in the digital age, it seems that a new generation of readers is turning to…books…for their information and their entertainment kicks!

Seems to me that publishers don’t hate authors any more than authors hate publishers.  In this complicated new world we live in, we all (on both sides of the business) need to take responsibility for our own failures and flaws as well as advocate for our strengths and successes rather than succumbing to paranoid fantasies about how much “they” hate us.

17

Book promotion sure ain’t what it used to be

In “the old days,” as recently as five years ago, it used to be that book publishers were instrumental in helping  authors with their publicity, promotion, and (for the major authors) advertising.  But, sadly that is no longer true.

Very few publishers these days do anything substantial to support their authors in these areas.  Especially their first time authors.  This lack of support often results in minimal sales and then, of course, the publisher doesn’t pick up their author’s next book because the last one didn’t sell.  It’s a frustrating and vicious circle.

So in this really troubling climate, what is an author to do?

Last spring, my client John Locke wrote and self-published a book titled How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months.  In a nutshell, this book describes John’s marketing system for becoming a bestselling author.  Among other things, he includes information about how an authors needs to identify their audience even before they write their books; how to create a memorable and creative website; how to use Twitter effectively; how to create a simple, no-nonsense blog; and how to write life-changing blog entries.

John’s system worked for him and for many, many he has shared it with.  I strongly believe it can also work for those who publish their books more traditionally as well.

Just last Friday, one of my publishing colleagues, an editor at an established publishing company e-mailed something that I have found to be very important and I think it worthwhile that I quote him here:

“About the digital and social media outreach, the one thing I’ve learned from experience is that it’s a little too late when the book is just launching to start an initiative.  You build those followings over months, even years and then blast them when you have a new product.”

I hope that all of those currently writing books will pay attention to this sage advice.  In this day and age where publishers are pulling back this kind of very important support, the authors themselves must step up to the plate.

Of course, I am always eager to hear your thoughts.

2

Advice from a published author

by Stacey

While reading today’s AOL headlines, I came across this concise summary about getting published written by Lisa Johnson Mandell, a published nonfiction author. I don’t think she says anything we haven’t heard before, but it still bears repeating, and she does sum it up pretty nicely for the novice author. Plus she offers some direct advice from her reputable agent, which is valuable and right on target. The title of her piece is a bit misleading since she talks at the beginning about self-publishing a book, which she’s right might be easier than you’d think, but the suggestion that going the more traditional agent and publisher route is easier than you think is a bit of a stretch. It’s harder than ever in many ways with the market being so competitive, and finding an agent and publisher requires a lot of things to go write (a pun, not a typo). Enjoy!

7

Blogs to books to film

by Stacey

One of my clients is mentioned in this recent LA Times article that I thought was worth sharing. It’s interesting to see how the Internet continues to find new talent and how some of that talent translates to books, and other types of media, like film and television. The article notes that most bloggers become book authors before Hollywood takes interest. There are always going to be hits and misses: even bloggers with a big following don’t always translate on the book side to big sales. Heather Armstrong of Dooce has lots of traffic, but her first book didn’t make as big a splash as I’m guessing her publisher hoped. And Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, had a huge hit with her first book, which her publisher didn’t pay a huge advance for.

Enjoy the piece, and if there are any blogs you’re reading that you love and haven’t yet found a home as a book or film or tv show, let us know!

15

A poor get-rich-quick scheme

by Jessica

My father, who worked in the newspaper business, was especially fond of quoting the New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling, who remarked that “freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” Book publishing may not suffer from quite the same issues (not least because most publishing companies are now owned not by individuals, but conglomerates) but it’s a still a business in which it does not hurt to arrive equipped with your own funding.

As we all know, in the present market, publishing houses are looking for authors with well-established, and ideally national, platforms. For non-fiction writers especially, this translates into having the resources to spearhead their own publicity and promotion. Such resources may not necessarily be monetary—authors may possess celebrity, the backing of a large and well-known organization, media connections, or all of the above. These, mind you, are in addition to credentials and the ability to write well (or hire someone who can). Being an expert in your field is rarely enough. You need to be able to demonstrate that you can drive sales. Sometimes you need the wherewithal to actually deliver sales. Nothing sweetens a deal like a letter of commitment for the purchase of 10,000 books.

The business of building platforms, including putting together websites, blogging, networking, doing p.r. (on your own or with the help of a freelancer) is costly, whether in terms of cash or time. It’s true that on-line media may mean that publishing, unlike politics, is not solely a rich man’s game, for it offers to the intrepid and web-savvy a relatively cost-effective means of building a following. But it’s also real and time-consuming work, work that comes in addition to your professional and personal obligations, not to mention the actual writing. I can understand why many writers find the demands of the publishing industry onerous, a bit like the to-do list Cinderella’s stepmother commands her to complete before heading to the ball. In addition to being talented and credentialed, writers must be marketing whizzes, masters of social media, twitter adepts with legions of followers. If it sounds a little crazy, it is. The demands are many and the rewards few. For many published authors, writing is less a revenue stream than a long term investment. And sometimes it’s solely a labor of love.

Publishing a book is perhaps the worst get-rich-quick-scheme imaginable, but it seems that few of us—writers, booksellers, agents, editors, designers, sales reps, etc.—are in it for the money. Although there are always a few exceptions who prove the rule (and it’s true that publishers must make enough money to publish another day, and satisfy the media conglomerate of which they are a part) the book business still tends to draw people who are passionate about books, those for whom writing, or working with writers, is something of a calling. What keeps you in the publishing orbit? For me, it’s the constant opportunity to learn. Plus the ability to lose myself in a terrific novel and call it “work.”

0

Chasya’s Questions Corner: On platform building

by Chasya

Q:

Agents have insisted on their blogs that the best way for an
unpublished author to build a platform is by beginning a blog. Yet, no
one seems to discuss what to do with a blog of say three hundred plus
followers after you’ve accomplished this. Can you mention or link to
it in a query letter to agents? Is it foolish or wise? Why?

A:

Thanks for your question. First let me clarify that there are many misconceptions out there about how to build a platform and authors are often instructed to blindly get cracking on a blog, as well as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts. Keep in mind that not all online platforms will suit all writers. If you’re not frequently updating your content and dedicated to the task of blogging and networking, you’re not going to garner the following you need to attract attention from publishing folk. You wouldn’t necessarily want to link to your blog unless you have a substantial number of followers. This number would be in the thousands, though it’s hard to be too specific here, as what is considered significant depends on the book you’re writing, the topic, etc…

-Chasya

Send your questions to news@dystel.com!

Platform Building 101

by Stacey

I think there are some lessons to be learned from the Bill Simmons school of publishing. This recent article from the New York Times talks about how his unconventional (and relatively rapid) rise to fame might just become the most conventional approach to successful platform-building out there. And it also zeros in on at least one reason why he is so popular: he’s just a fan like the rest of us, so he’s very relatable. I am a big baseball fan (I don’t want to mention I root for the Mets, but as a season ticket holder, I’m bound to be found out sooner or later) and represent a number of great sports writers. When it comes to selling sports books and nonfiction books in general, platform becomes a big discussion point. How Simmons has grown his in a grassroots way by blogging and using the Internet, and moving away from print, is pretty telling. And his rabid fans can’t seem to get enough. It’s amazing that his new book about all things basketball is a #1 NY Times bestseller (when was the last time a book about basketball hit #1, and it’s over 700 pages?!), and really illustrates the power of a successful platform. This article also offers some good easy-to-know, but hard-to-follow advice on how to build your platform by blogging and how to keep people coming back once you get there.