Friday, April 30, 2010

Royalty Day!

This is just to say hi as I take a quick break from stuffing envelopes with checks and statements, stamping and sealing, and mailing out our 2010 Q1 Royalties! I'll be back to normal workdays next week.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Ugly Nature of Peer Reviews

Eons ago, before I embraced my inner poet and pursued a career in publishing, both my husband and I were immersed in the world of musical theater.

As it so happens, we were members of the same vocal master class, which is actually how we met. (This is a long story that I'll shed light on another day.)

Everything--from pitch, tone, carriage, projection, selection, and even appearance--was criticized. No one was safe in that class.

Not gonna lie: sometimes it stung.
Most of the time the critique was warranted.
Occasionally it wasn't.

Regardless, the critique was necessary in order for each of us to succeed, both as performers and as professionals. It was so much better to receive that critique in a controlled environment where we could make necessary changes rather than see it blasted in the newspaper's review of our performance in a show.

The Continuation of Criticism
For centuries, the art of peer review has been a vital foundation upon which success is built. It doesn't matter what industry you are in; criticism is required. It's part of what you sign up for when you put yourself out there with a product or talent.

When you feel deeply about something and put yourself out there with that deep emotion, you have to be prepared for a deeply felt response.

No one is immune. Here's a great example:

"I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice', I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
That's Mark Twain weighing in on Jane Austen. [Read more at Authors dissing Authors] (While my personal opinion of Austen is that she liberally stole themes, characters, plots, and style from Francis Burney, Austen is heralded worldwide as an author of extraordinary literature.)

Jane Austen--who wrote such wildly endeared characters as Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, characters and stories around whom the Arts now revolve--received crushing reviews, both upon publication and posthumously.

Let's Put It in Perspective
On rare occasion I receive requests from authors regarding the reviews their book(s) have received. Most authors get it; they understand the review process and that every reader is entitled to his/her own opinion.

But in that occasional request, the author demands that I make the review disappear.

Even if I could, I would not do that.* It's not fair to the author, the book, or the readers.

It endangers our rights of free speech.
It disrupts the entire system of peer evaluation and reader approval.
It is no one's business but the reviewer.

What I wish I could tell to every writer (not just authors, but writers of all genres and platforms) is this: a review is simply an opinion.

We are allowed to--encouraged to, in most cases--express opinions on politics, news, celebrities, education, products, etc. Usually the literary field is the champion of that freedom of expression.

How hypocritical for us, as writers, to then retract that allowance simply because our feelings were hurt.

So, dear writer--whether you are a high schooler writing a poem, a polished professional submitting articles or stories for publication in periodicals, or an established author--don't become so wrapped up in your world of words that you forget that other people's opinions matter too.

If something written or said in a review stings, you might want to consider the validity of the claim. Perhaps there is truth somewhere in that review, truth that you are reluctant to accept.

As author Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, one of my favorite workshop leaders ever, once said (and this is a very loose paraphrase!): "Your writing is your baby. You invest time, effort, and labor into it's creation and delivery. You are proud to show it off, because it is an extension of you. But when you show it off, someone might say, 'My, your baby has a big head.' You can get mad and offended, but what good will it do? Your baby probably does have a big head, and until you recognize and accept that, you can't fix the issue. So then your baby will always have a big head and no one will take it seriously!"

Again, the above is a very loose paraphrase from one of the first workshops I had with Jeffers, but it's stuck with me over the years because of the truth of her statement.

The Secret
Not only will mastering The Secret (which follows below in italics) enhance your career as a writer, but it can also change your life.

When criticism rears its ugly head, take an emotional step back. 

Using reason, consider the main points of the criticism. 
Are they worthy of consideration? 

Look at the issue from someone else's perspective. 
Is there need for change? 

Sometimes this requires seeking the advice of someone you respect. 
Does the change support your long-term objectives? 

Once you've ascertained the validity of the critique and evaluated the need for change, follow through with the necessary actions to implement the changes, working toward a better final product.

But above all, don't let criticism--constructive or not--keep you from writing. If Jane Austen had let the criticism still her pen, where would we be today?


Question: Think back to when you were stung by someone's critique. Was the critique warranted? Did a change support your long-term goal? How did you handle the critique, and how did you implement the change?

*There are exceptions to this case, specifically when a review criticizes something unrelated to the writing, such as a diatribe against an author, a retailer, etc.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Producer Weighs In

Recently, one of our authors contacted a Christian show producer about featuring his devotional on their nationally syndicated show. If I were to tell you the show, 99.9% of you all would know what is is.

Even though we advised a different approach (and offered to facilitate that approach), he was determined to land an interview on the show purely about his devotional.

Here's the blunt response from the producer. I've taken out the incriminating details to protect privacy:

From Producer to Author

Thanks for your response.  But we will not booking you for a live interview to discuss your devotional on our show.  Our producers want a guest to share his or her personal story of a life transformed by Jesus. 
With the TV remote, we have 5 seconds at most as folks click thru the hundreds of channels they can watch, to grab someone’s attention and keep them tuned to our show.  

Our producers’ research shows that we build and keep our audience when the audience can relate to a personal story that shows how Jesus changed a life/solved a problem, etc.  Talking about your devotional will not accomplish this.


My Thoughts

While this was from a producer of a Christian show, the principle is the same. The way people become guests on tv shows is not because of the product they are marketing, but rather because of something personal that will resonate with the shows' target audiences--something that will catch their attention and sustain it. The product marketing is an addition to the true reason the show producers want you on the show.


Question: Name five things that catch your attention when you are flipping through channels. What platform are they (movies, talk shows, reality shows, commercial, public service message, etc.)? What about you, your life, or your experiences can you relate to those snippets that caught your attention?

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Antiquated Arena

Good afternoon, all. Sorry for the recent hiatus. Things have been so busy I haven't had a chance to read any blog posts, much less write one!

Where to start!?!

This morning I had a great mini-meeting with some of our editors to discuss the marketing process and what expectations our company has for authors.

During lunch I got caught up on my industry reading, where I read this article at PW. It fits in perfectly with my thoughts today: The No-Advance Tradeoff

Since 2005, Tate Publishing has been doing the very thing Cooper and Kampmann advocate: changing what happens at the onset of the book deal in favor of the author keeping more rights, exercising more creative control, and pocketing higher royalties.

So Beaufort signed some mid-list celebrities... whoop tee doo. To be honest, some of that goes with the New York territory.

A line that really jumped out to me was this: "Cooper said the idea is that a book 'doesn't have to be a home run every time. The stakes are to do the best job possible.'"

The Best Job Possible
How do we attain that "best job possible" status? With my years in the industry, it's dependent upon one thing:

Partnership.

The business model we are discussing---where an author retains more rights, creative control, and higher royalties---has a trade off. It means the author must be involved as well!

The days of unknowns penning books and raking in the dough while sequestering themselves in their gothic mansions are long over.

Look at Stephanie Meyer. She's involved with her book, the marketing, and her readership.

Let me reiterate:
if an author chooses to accept a contract with a publishing house similar to these we are discussing, the author HAS to understand and accept his/her responsibilities, both literary and promotional.

Some Sobering Statistics

Bowker stats indicate that:
288,355 titles were released by traditional publishers in 2009
764,448 titles were released by POD/self publishers in 2009

That means over 1 million new titles hit the market in 2009.

For the moment, though, let's not consider those 700,000+ books by self-publishers/POD publishers (you can get a breakdown of these publishers from John Kremer http://www.bookmarket.com/; details are listed in this week's book marketing tip).

Let's look at the retail competition my authors face: the 288,355 titles published by comparable houses to Tate.

Imagine stacking 288,355 books against a wall. Then imagine how long that stack would go.

Keep in mind that each of those 288,355 new titles has an author with dreams and some sort of marketing campaign.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention: your average store only has room for 20,000 books, and many times they need to keep duplicate copies of the same title.

Where are you going with this, Amanda? We are sick of hearing all the bad news!

My dear readers, this is GREAT news! Less than 300,000 other titles are competing for bookstore buyer attention. The odds are still tough, but they seem less overwhelming now. Of course, just showing the book won't catch their attention, but showing a demand for the book will!

The way to overcome those odds should be ingrained in your subconscious by now: The RRCS Equation.

Research, Relationships, Connections and Sales are all hand-in-hand.

The RRCS Equation will give you the leg up against those other 300,000 titles competing for bookstore buyer attention, because you'll build a readership, which then leads to demand, which then leads to your book bumping another book off it's shelf.

The RRCS Equation will also give you a leg up against the 1 million+ titles competing for reader attention.

With less than 40% of book sales coming from the bookstore market, the majority of readers and spenders are finding titles and authors they like outside of the traditionally accepted--and completely antiquated--"bookstore arena."

Okay, that's it...my rant for the day is over, and my soapbox is being put away.

For my authors, here is your homework assignment for today:

What ONE title would you recommend readers read before reading your book?
What ONE title would you recommend readers read after reading your book?

Your answers may surprise you...

Friday, April 9, 2010

The RRCS Equation: Research, Relationships, Connections and Sales

Consumers buy products because they perceive a need for the product in their lives.

Successful manufacturers/retailers are continually looking for new ways to answer this question:

How can we create a perceived need in consumers’ lives for this product?

An Example
Have you ever looked at a box of baking soda? (If not, run to the kitchen and get it real quick)

The box indicates multiple other uses for baking soda, and you can even go online to see a million more ways to use this product.

I use baking soda for baking and laundry daily. So it’s a common place item for our home.

But as I looked over the different tips, I found one I didn’t know about: you can use it as a dry bath for dogs. Instead of waiting for the next bath, I’m going to try the dry bath method on my two 90-lb boys. Given their size, I’ll probably need to pick up an extra box on my way home.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE?

Arm & Hammer created a new perceived need in my life. Up until today, I thought the dog smell was unavoidable, since you aren't supposed to bathe pets daily. Now I see it as a nuisance, something that can be eliminated. And even though I have multiple boxes of Arm & Hammer baking soda at home, I’m now stopping to buy a new one.

It’s All Part of the Equation

So how do we create this perceived need in prospective readers?

My authors should know this phrase by heart, I say it so much:

People buy books for one of two reasons. They either feel a connection with
1) the author
OR
2) the book

Connection is the Siamese twin to Perceived Need. You can’t have one without the other.

These connections are not limited. Perhaps the reader went to grade school with the author; or perhaps the author has revealed a physical limitation with which the reader relates. This initiates a perceived need to hear what the author has to say.

Perhaps the reader identifies with the book's theme, or perhaps the reader sees the price and recognizes that it falls within his/her budget. This initiates a perceived need to learn from the book.

REGARDLESS, the most important thing an author can do is ESTABLISH CONNECTIONS. 

How do you establish connections? Through relationships.
How do you build relationships? I'm so glad you asked.
You first have to research in order to build relationships.

This is where my years of calculus come in handy. Let me introduce you to the RRCS Equation:
(Research + Relationships) x Connections = Perceived Need = Sales 

Research 

My people are researchers:

My grandfather, a CPA, was heavy in genealogy and traced our family back to the signing of the Magna Carta.

My mother, a teacher, has a well-stocked personal library and is the research queen.

So I have naturally grown up with a life approach that is rooted in research. Every decision I make is fully researched. (Another reason why I can't live without my iPhone)

Given this natural habit of mine, I am surprised when others aren't sure where to start with research.
So for anyone out there learning how to conduct research with the objective of building relationships and establishing connections, here is my Research Checklist with examples.

1) Determine WHO you are looking for. This is your NICHE audience. You can have a million niche audiences; however, you have to look for connections individually.

Example: This morning I am working on a non-fiction title dealing with grief. Possible niches are loved ones of terminal patients, senior citizens, those who have lost loved ones, people looking for info on planning a funeral, funeral homes and clients, people grappling with what to do after the funeral, etc.
The niche I’ve chosen to research today is FUNERAL HOMES & CLIENTS.

2) Where does your NICHE go for information?  I googled FUNERAL resource and found Funerals Today Magazine. On this site I found a listing of the organizations the editor-in-chief is involved with. So then I started googling those organizations. Thirty minutes later, I had pulled a list of contacts to make from the below sites, each of them a place where my NICHE would go to for information and resources:









3) The next step is to FAMILIARIZE yourself with the contacts. I started contacting the different online resources about adding a title to their bookstores/resource lists. If any of these were blogs, I would instruct the author to start following the blog, reading through them and making comments over the course of a few weeks on the posts. ALSO, I would send the author to these sites to look at freelance options (that is, submitting articles on grief-related subjects in line with whatever topics/themes they are currently discussing). 

Relationships

Now that you've done the research, you need to build the relationships.

Stay consistent with contact until you've built a RELATIONSHIP. This might mean that you ask a blogger to write a guest post on your blog, or that you have a few articles published in the magazine, or that they review your book for their resource list. Voila---you've built a relationship within this niche audience. Since you have their trust AND their attention, you can now close the deal.

Connections
 
So, you've found the niche, completed the research and initiated relationships. How do you build and maintain your relationship with your niche, establishing CONNECTIONS?

Initiate DIALOGUE about the subject matter, which eventually leads to your book. This is when you direct your niche to your blog, webpage, bookstore link, etc. Ask for feedback on your book. Once one of these niche readers has read the book, as where they wish they could have found the book. That then can open you up to a NEW CONNECTION.

My father, a former politician, taught my brother and me the following when it comes to trying to get a commitment out of someone else: "It's not about what you've done for me....it's about what you've done for me lately."

I use that principle daily. We all should. An author can't make one comment on a post and three months later expect the blogger to do him/her a favor.

The world just doesn't work that way.

We have to work hard to maintain relationships and further connections, both in our personal lives and in our professional lives. We have to fill up our "favor bank" before we can expect to withdraw a favor. Otherwise, we burn that bridge, and we burn it fast.

 For authors, this means with their readers and prospective readers as well.

This is the number one reason why I suggest that all my authors have a blog. It offers an avenue for continued contact. It demands that you research and connect with people in order to keep a relationship going, as well as allows you to pursue new connections.

If you DON'T work at maintaining and building these relationships, then that is your fault. No one else can do it for you. Again, this is a principle we all should apply to our personal lives just as well as to every relationship we have in our professional lives.

The Last Part of the Equation: Sales

Back to my rule of thumb:

Readers buy books because of either a connection with the author or with the book. These connections create perceived needs, which leads to sales.

Research uncovers the door. Relationships unlock the door. Connections open the door. Perceived Needs get the reader through the door. Once the reader is on the other side, you’ve sold a book.

Some prospective readers will choose to walk through and purchase the book. Some won't, but you can't take that personally. Not everyone is interested in your message. That's okay...it's part of the business. 

But those who are interested in the message, if they enjoy your book and find it meets their needs (which it will if you follow the RRCS Equation), will tell other people about the door and shepherd them through it too!
So, instead of a question today, I'm assigning a little homework exercise!

HOMEWORK: You are going to perform RRCS on a fake title.

Title: "The Little Boy who Sat on the Moon"

Genre: Children's book

Synopsis: A little boy escapes the fighting between his parents, and eventual divorce, by imagining that he's sitting on the moon. His special stuffed bear, an astronaut in disguise, is what helps him to come back to earth and adjust to his new life with divorced parents.

Themes: imagination, family strife, dealing with conflict, divorce, separation, etc.

Author bio: Author Jane E. Doe is a former kindergarten teacher who currently sits on the board for an organization that provides a safe haven for therapy & police interrogation in a safe and fun environment for children who have observed crimes (such as someone killing someone), most of whom are also being separated from their parents.

Endorsements: Book has endorsements from psychiatrists employed by the organization, an assistant district attorney who handles child abuse situations, and the state superintendent of schools.

Apply the RRCS Equation:
1) R: Research:  Outline the niche audiences this book could appeal to. Pick one to pursue for this example. Find the avenues to pursue that will put the book in front of that niche.

2) R: Relationship: What can the author do with those avenues to form relationships?

3) C: Connections: How should the author use the relationships to form connections with the book?

4) S: Sales: What perceived needs can you initiate? How does the author produce sales?

If you have questions and want to walk through this for this hypothetical case (or for your title), give me a call or shoot me an email!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

No Post Today!

I'm taking a break from posting today and instead spending my time playing with GIST (http://www.gist.com/). I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Fought the Vampires, and the Vampires Won

It's a beautiful Monday, over 70 degrees when I got in my car to head to work today.

A little overcast, but still brighter than it was a few weeks ago.

All I could see as I drove, though, was the agony of Bella, Edward and Jacob.

Yes, dear reader. I'm ashamed to admit that I have at last become a TWILIGHT junkie.

I must preface my following statements by letting you know that for personal reasons, I have been very anti-TWILIGHT from the beginning.

It's not that I disapprove of vampires--I find the myths and legends of vampires quite intriguing. (A fantastically written vampire novel is THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova.)

I disapproved of the writing, the sensationalism, the popularity.... I was taking a stand against "brain candy" (as I like to call it) in favor of literature.

It didn't help any that I was reading THE HISTORIAN right when TWILIGHT surfaced.

One was written to be a YA novel, the other is a strong literary engagement.

So this takes us back to the newest development in my life:

I'm a TWILIGHT junkie.

It started innocently. I was crafting late one night last weekend when I realized that nothing on TV or any movie channels seemed appealing. TWILIGHT was available on On Demand, and so I simply turned it on to keep me company.

The end saw me in tears, my craft long forgotten, curled up on the couch. I immediately found the sequel on On Demand and watched it.

The next week I could NOT get the characters and the story out of my mind.

Now for phase 2 of my insane new obsession:

We left Friday morning to spend Easter with family out of town. Later that day while shopping with my mother-in-law, I realized my cell phone was not on me. We searched purses, luggage, car, etc. Still no phone.

Anyone who knows me knows that my phone is by my side at ALL times. [Come to find out, I had left it in our other car after my early morning drop-off of the puppies at daycare.]

Being left alone without my phone left me with nothing to do. Stranded (for mental entertainment, you could say), I picked up the first book late Friday night to read a few chapters.

I finished it on Saturday, fully engrossed and in love with the characters.

Sunday, after Easter service at church, I picked up the next book and devoured it.

Today, I'm fighting off the images of the characters as I debate whether to start the next book or wait a while.

So why on earth am I admitting this to you?

I wanted to remind you of the power of a good story.

Would I rank the books or writing as "good"? No. Did I find grammar mistakes? Yes. Are there major flaws, both in character development as well as plot development? Yes. Are the themes muddled? Yes.

But when you boil it down, the story is captivating.

My Shirt Says "Team Edwacob"

Like Edward, those in the book industry can be so caught up in what is realistic, factual, that we forget the small things called hope and optimism, things Jacob stood for.

It is so easy to become cynical these days.

Why do you think I named the blog "Recovering Editor...Back on the Wagon"? It is in recognition that i am re-engaging my personal appreciate for all literature, blocking out the hopeless cynicism that can be overwhelming.

SO, take heart, dear writer. A book doesn't have to be wildly successful to be meaningful. You might worry and fret over things you wish you could change about what you had written, but don't be.

Your book is exactly what it is supposed to be: a representation of you and the message you have to share.

I guarantee you that if you can connect your book with it's right audience--with the readers who will find their lives changed--you'll find the success your book deserves.

That's how it happened for Stephanie Meyer. And now look at me...a self-professed book snob can't put down a series written for young adults. :)

Question: What was the last book that so thoroughly engrossed you, you lost track of yourself in it? How did you find that book?