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Entries in Industry (55)


Book Bloggers: Their Time Has Come

Question of the day: What's your opinion on book review blogs?  Do you think people read them?  Do you expect that they'll become an influential force in the publishing world?  Do you as an author consider them valuable?   

My opinion on book blogs is that they are the wave of the future, if not the here and now. To a degree. We all already know that valuable review space in newspapers is being hacked left and right, which plenty of readers are up in arms about. So that stinks. However, given that fewer people are reading newspapers these days and that more people are turning their eyeballs to the internet, I'm, well, not okay with it, but I recognize that there are plenty of other places for your book to get reviewed and mentioned. (Please note: I, too, think that review space getting axed sucks - if only for the symbolism that fewer people are reading - but I also sincerely think that people just don't read papers in the same way that they used to, so it's not the end-all-be-all.)

To that end, book bloggers are filling a valuable and necessary space, and I, personally, have seen direct results from their work. When Time of My Life came out in paperback, my publisher sent me (and the book) on a blog tour, which meant that book blogs either interviewed me or reviewed the book. And the following that some of these bloggers have is substantial. I mean, they really, really contributed (in my opinion, with no hard stats to back this up) to the sales of my book. As we all know, word of mouth is king, and these bloggers really can control to a certain degree the word of mouth and buzz about a book. That's what's so great about online reviews: they're viral. One person blogs about it, and another person comments about it, and then another person takes it from there and chooses to blog about it as well. And that's really where I think book bloggers are critical and wield a lot of power.

Now, that said, like any other aspect of blogging, there are some who are great at it, and some who aren't. Some who have huge followings and some who don't. But as a whole, I really think it's the wave of the future, and wave I very much support.

Anyone else want to share your thoughts on book blogging or give a particularly good blog a name-check below?


What Exactly Does an Editor Do

Question of the day: How do you deal with editors? How much can an editor actually do to, and for, your work? 

This answer is going to vary from writer to writer and from publishing house to publishing house. Some authors will tell you that these days, editors - to no fault of their own - are overworked and don't have a ton of time to actually edit. That agents are increasingly handling the bulk of that load: that agents will work with clients to really polish a manuscript before it goes out such that it doesn't need a heavy hand once it's been sold.

That said, I've been truly fortunate in that my editors at Shaye Areheart/Crown have been just the opposite. They dive in and have really helped me shape my books. I work with my editors in the way that some writers probably use critique groups, albeit with larger portions of a book. With The One That I Want, I really struggled to pinpoint what wasn't working with the manuscript, so my editor read the first hundred pages and offered some suggestions. When she does this, she isn't saying, "Make your characters do this," or "Cut this," she just more suggests some themes to play with, some general ideas to get the juices flowing. For example, Tilly, my protagonist, is given the gift of foresight into the future, she originally was given this gift by your stereotypical fortune teller. It didn't ring true, and I knew this and I raised it with my editor, who said, "Hey, this is a book about your past and your future, why not consider having the person who tells her this prophesy be a person whom she already knows?" GENIUS! I took that suggestion and ran with it...and that new character became a major - and pivotal - character in the rest of the book.

The same is true once the overall manuscript was complete. Again, I knew it wasn't where I wanted it to be, so my editor - who smartly didn't want to read much more again after the 100 pages so she could see the completed work with fresh eyes - gave me broad brushstrokes: why don't you try this, or how about drawing this out more, and then letting me figure out just HOW I was going to do that. Which I really appreciated. I've said this before, but I know myself as a writer: I can take something to a certain level and then I need an objective resource to help steer me to the next level. My editor does this by letting me retain total control and freedom over my writing and characters and imagination AND while still fine-tuning the ms.

So that's my experience. I know this doesn't hold true for everyone, but in the best of all worlds, I imagine this is what editor-author relationships to be. Anyone else want to weigh in?


What Comes First

Question of the day: I know I have writing in my blood. I can feel it. How can I turn this urge to write into a career? What steps should I follow?  Once I have an idea for a book, what should I do to make it published?  

Lots of "how do I get started" emails in my in-box right now - must be the New Year's resolutions! :)

How do you turn this urge to write into a career? Well, if you're talking about fiction - which I assume you are since you refer to a book - you need to start writing. Full stop. The end. So many people - too many people - believe that they have books in them. Guess how many of them actually take the time to write said books? Unscientific data tells me that it's at about 1%. Thinking that you have a book in you doesn't equate to anything - sitting down and writing it might. 

Which leads me to your next question: how to get it published. If you're writing a novel, you actually have to have written the entire thing before you can even consider this next step. Once you've banged out, oh, 80k-100k words, and revised them, and revised them again, and maybe even revised them AGAIN (yes, I know, really), then you start looking for an agent. There are hundreds of great agents out there who are eager to sell good fiction, and you can start your search at Agent Query, Publishers Marketplace, google or the acknowledgment pages of your favorite books. You need to put together a bang-up query letter (you can search the blog for examples of some), email it out to dozens and dozens until one says yes. That agent will then likely help you revise the manuscript again, and then take it to publishers, one of whom you will also hope will say yes while offering you a check in return.

But getting back to my first paragraph: the most important element in all of this is sitting down and writing. I have a few close non-writer friends who want to write books - and who I think would all likely write very good ones - but they talk a lot about writing them without every writing them. You're never, ever, ever going to be a published author if you don't first write the book. I know that sounds obvious but for a lot of people, I'm actually not sure that is. Write the book. Worry about the rest of it after that. And good luck!!


How Long is Too Long?

So today....drum roll, please....I am thrilled to be turning the blog over to my fabulous agent, Elisabeth Weed. She'll be answering your questions all week, and she's enjoyed the experience so much, I'm happy to say that she'll be doing the same once a month here at Ask Allison. Without further ado, here ya go.

Question of the day: My question is...we read articles that say now-famous authors with best-sellers were rejected by ten, fifty, a hundred agents before the one who say yes. I'm wondering if persistence is the key or if there's a time that you think it's clear the book is a no-go. I guess it would be the same for agents submitting to publishers -- what's the cutoff? Is there one? I'm jumping ahead since I'm not there yet --- but I am always relieved when I hear that someone queried 100 times before finding an agent. I believe I have that in me too.

I love hearing those stories.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of the best. (I quickly looked in my rejection log after reading her story in The New York Times and was thrilled to know I didn't reject her!)  I think  the key is a combination of persistence and a well as a certain savvy about the market and reading between the lines in terms of feedback.  I've had the pleasure of selling a fair amount of debut fiction, but each author has a very different story on how they got to me and then their publisher. In some cases, the author worked on that novel for many years, as it transformed from one genre to another, based on feedback from her writers group, agents and published writers.  In another scenario, the author had a novel that got rejected from upwards of 50 agents. She realized from the responses that it wasn't her craft, but rather the structure of the novel. So, she shelved it, wrote another book, and was greeted with several offers of representation within weeks of sending it out.  This is all to say that I think stories like Ms Stockett's are much more common that you realize. We just don't hear about them in the NY Times because her success of finding an agent and getting published is only written about because of the real success story, of being a debut novel that for all intents and purposes has been number one on the bestseller list (big brand name authors that get published new books every week are the only thing keeping her from that spot).

In short, I don't think there is one path to getting there but if you believe in yourself, do your homework, listen to feedback and yes, be persistent, you will give yourself and your book the best chance for success.  I hope that helps.  Does anyone want to share their stories of finding an agent? 


Understanding Co-op

So you've probably heard the phrase co-op here on the blog before, and if you're new to the industry, wondered just what the heck I'm talking about: a pc health-store where everyone pitches in? A preschool where the parents work in shifts?

Nope, I'm talking about the space at the front of the store that publishers pay for.  Kristy Kiernan tweeted this Fast Company article about co-op last night that I wanted to pass along to you - it's a very good explanation of what it is and why it's important, and while I don't share the author's relative dislike of BN, I think it's a great behind-the-scenes explanation. Co-op is arguably THE MOST important element a book's success, so it's always good to understand the machinations behind it.

Read the article here. 



Old Work, New Agent

Question of the day: When you break up with your agent after your first book was published does the new agent now rep that title or does that stay with the old agent?

I've never been in this exact position but I believe that technically, yes, the old agent reps that title. I know in my case, my agent left her old agency after she sold my debut, but I still get royalty information from that old agency, so technically, they'd get any profits, etc, from that book. THOUGH, since I'm still with the same agent, she still reps this work if, say, we ended up selling other rights than we previously had.

I think the best thing to do in this case - I'm assuming you've parted ways with your agent and are interested in selling additional rights to that work - is simply ask her if she has any intention of ever furthering that book's chances in the marketplace, and if not, ask her if she'd consider releasing you from the contract you signed. It might not be up to her: if she's one of many agents within an agency, she might not have authority to do this, but if she works alone, she might. (I'm guessing here.) If she has no plans of ever making another dollar off of this work - and if she's a reasonable person - she might just let you pass it off to the new agent, who could pursue foreign opportunities, etc.

But as I said, I've never been in this exact situation. Have any of you readers out there? Want to advise our question-asker?


Is Digital the Death of Books?

Question of the day: Can you talk a bit about your thoughts on ebooks/Kindle/digital books and what you think their impact will be on the publishing industry?

Sure, but I'm going to offer my honest answer upfront: I don't have any freaking idea. There are wiser, much wiser souls than I who are very well-versed on this subject, and maybe some of them can chime in on the comments sections. I don't have a Kindle - stubbornly don't want one, though I'm sure I'll be eating crow about that in future years - and I've never bought an ebook. I'm old school, I guess, in that regard, and since I know plenty of other people who are too, for the near future, I don't really worry about the dissolution of print books.

That said, I'm sure there were once people who scoffed at cell phones and computers, so yeah...obviously, I probably am too archaic in my thinking. In fact, I'd say that most of our industry is. Publishing, as I've often said here and plenty of other people say elsewhere, is one of the slowest-to-adapt, most set-in-its-ways industries in history. The powers that be need to rethink SO many aspects of how to do business - from the standard advance model vs. royalties, to an actual formula to determine a successful book, to how to adapt to the changing marketplace, that, well, going digital is just one factor that will ultimately change everything.

Do I think digital spells doom for books, if, assuming as you do, that eventually, most of us are reading via Kindle, iPhone or whatnot? I don't think so. To be sure, the internet and computers themselves have contributed to fewer book purchases and shorter attention spans, but there will always be people out there who want to read/hear good stories, and to that end, there will always be a need for authors to tell those stories. How those stories are transmitted? Well, again, I'm not the best person to speak to that, but in some form or another, the "book" will always exist. So I don't worry about it too much. There are plenty of other things to worry about in our industry as it is.

One area that obviously has also been hit hard - if not harder than books - is print publications: many, many fewer of us read actual magazines or newspapers anymore, not when it's almost easier to click online and find what you're looking for. But that said, as magazines close, opportunity, in some way, opens online: bylines are still there to be had, albeit in digital form and perhaps for less pay. So in the immediate future, I'd say that journalists and freelancers are probably going to be hit harder than authors (this recession aside, because, yes, that's hit all of us). But again, I'm not the expert - just writing this thoughts off the cuff.

Anyone else want to chime in here? I'm sure there are those of you out there who are better versed in this area than I am.


Making Sense of Print Runs

Question of the day: Congratulations on the new print run! Can you explain a bit how print runs are decided and why you go into another printing?

Sure - to the best of my ability! Print runs are sort of clandestine, covert mysteries - the "don't ask, don't tell" understanding in our industry. But let's be clear: print run can often make or break your book.

To begin with, a print run is exactly how many copies of your book is printed from the starting gate. Authors are often supremely anxious about their run: there's a BIG difference, in terms of book visibility, between an 8k hardcover print run and a 20k print run, even if on paper, it doesn't seem that way. Your initial print run is determined by how many orders book stores place for your book. If Barnes orders 1k, and Borders orders 2k, and Indies order 500, and Amazon takes another 500, and libraries take 2k, your print run is going to hover around 6-7K (or in that ball park). How do they decide how many to order? Trade reviews, word of mouth, the push that your publisher promises them...if your publisher has paid big bucks for your book, they'll likelier guarantee strong co-op space at the stores and who knows what else: marketing, advertising, touring, etc. 

A lot of authors are seriously discouraged after hearing their initial print run numbers. In fact, I know some agents who don't share this info with their authors precisely for this reason. If you hear that your run is low, you might assume your book is DOA, and well, it's a tough blow to stomach. And yes, a low print run CAN be difficult to overcome - after all, if your book isn't in stores, well, it's hard for people to buy it. And if they don't buy it, publishers aren't going to support it/promote it/stand behind it.

BUT, there can be exceptions, and Time Of My Life was one of them. TOML was giving a good, though not great, initial print run. People magazine reviewed it. The Today Show reviewed it. Word of mouth took off. Book stores started placing more orders, bigger orders, and soon, we were up to the SIXTH print run in hard cover alone. Publishers don't want to print too many in one go around because they don't want to have too many remaindered, but at the same time, when orders keep coming in, they can go right back to press and have new books within days. Now, we're on the fourth print run of the paperback. My initial print run was actually quite large, but thanks to WONDERFUL READERS, the book is still selling and selling well. So don't be too discouraged if your initial print run leaves you reaching for the liquor cabinet. It CAN be overcome. It's not easy, and yes, TOML was the exception, but there by the grace of God, it can happen. 


And the Name Is...

Question of the day: How does one go choosing a title for a novel? What should be avoided?

Well, I imagine that every writer goes about choosing a title differently - I tend, which probably isn't much of a surprise if you think about, to be inspired by music/song lyrics, and so I often cruise through Napster to see why strikes my fancy. That said, it's a lot more than finding a few words that strike your fancy. There's a lot of deliberation behind a title choice - specifically a lot of deliberation by the marketing people at your publisher - because you want something that's memorable, rolls off your tongue, concise, resonant, etc...and it's not easy.  Authors often get their titles changed once the marketing committee has gotten hold of it, as was the case with my first book. When I pitched it to agents, I'd called it Round Trip. When it went out to publishers, it had gotten its new name, The Dept of Lost and Found, which the marketing committee liked well-enough, but was batted around for a bit.

What should be avoided? Well, I'm not on the marketing side of things, but I'm guessing too-esoteric phrases, too-generic phrases, and usually, titles that have already been used...though Patrick Swayze's new memoir is called The Time of My Life, and I'm sure the book will sell just fine. :) Selecting a book title is almost one of those "you know it when you see it" types of things. We played around with a lot of titles for The One That I Want but nothing was clicking. Finally, I literally woke up one night and thought of the song - and the way that it could be woven into the book - and voila, everyone loved it. That was that.

Any other authors out there want to talk about their process of choosing a title? I feel like I haven't been very helpful here!



Your Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Review

So today I'm over at Writer Unboxed talking about that lovely rite-of-passage for every published author - yes, the really, really, really bad review. I share my own experience when a newspaper that shall remain nameless but rhymes with Pashington Toast, gave The Department of Lost and Found a "D-." YES. A D freakin' minus. Hey, hey reviewer, thanks for the "minus!" I really needed that just to push my dignity a little further into my bowels. :)

No, really, in the end, it's all okay. Head on over there to find out why.