To very loosely paraphrase the Bard, what’s in a bestseller?
That which we call a New York Times bestseller by any other name (such as “underground bestseller,” or “Amazon bestseller”) would smell as sweet—well, maybe not.
As the number of books published each year continues to skyrocket upwards, we face an onslaught of “bestseller” claims. We see the word on marketing materials and press releases, on book covers and websites, and, at Greenleaf Book Group, on many submission forms each week. If this bestseller crown has not been awarded by one of the major publications, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or USA Today, what kind of bestseller is it? The publisher may be partaking in sensationalist marketing—or just a stretch of the truth.
Whether the claim will benefit them or not depends on whom the publisher is targeting with this information. If the publisher intends to woo the consumer with bestseller claims on the book cover, yes, there’s some chance it could help—although once your happy customer discovers the “bestseller” isn’t as well-known as she thought, there may be repercussions. However, and this is a HUGE “however,” a trumped-up claim of bestseller status could seriously hurt that publisher’s reputation in the eyes of wholesalers, distributors, agents, and other parties in the tight-knit publishing industry, and that harm could result in books not getting on shelves. Note to all small publishers making larger-than-life bestseller claims: you’re not pulling the wool over the industry’s eyes.
Industry types have access to such fabulous tools as Nielsen’s BookScan to research your sales history, and they will certainly consult them (amongst other resources) to corroborate your claims before making a decision to support your title. BookScan is a point-of-sale reporting service thought to reflect sales from approximately 70 percent of booksellers nationally. BookScan uses weekly data from over 6,500 retail, mass-merchant, and non-traditional outlets in combination with a statistical weighting methodology to present the most accurate information on sell-through available to the publishing industry. Certain notable accounts are missing, including Wal-mart, Sam’s Club, airport bookstores, and Christian book retailers. Still, BookScan is a great gauge of sell-through, and as such, it is becoming increasingly influential in how sales are measured and bestseller lists are compiled.
While BookScan offers great insights into overall sales numbers and trends, it is not used exclusively (or sometimes at all) in building the prestigious bestseller lists. The holy grail of bestseller lists is the one published by the New York Times. The methodology behind how this list is built is kept rather hush-hush. But most reports on the subject agree that the New York Times sends out a list of preselected trade titles (meaning titles you would find in a bookstore, not the boring academic titles like medical and law books that generally outsell them) to a selected group of close to five thousand retailers and wholesalers for them to record the books’ weekly sales numbers. There are allegedly blank lines for the recipients of this survey to write in titles not included on the form. That’s a quaint thought, but from what I know about inventory managers, highly unlikely to come into practice often.
With any bestseller list, it’s important to note that it’s a measurement of velocity of sales, not life of sales. A book that moves five thousand copies in one week is likely to make some list in some capacity when that week’s numbers are run; however, a book that sells five hundred copies a week for ten weeks straight probably won’t make any list at all. Lists also differ in how they categorize titles. For instance, the New York Times sorts by category (fiction, nonfiction, children’s) and format (hardcover, trade paper). On the other hand, USA Today’s list lumps them all together, from 1–150 by sales numbers, period. This means that a book listed at number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction list could be ranking in the triple digits on the USA Today list. Amazon.com’s ranking system is a whole separate article in itself.
Differences in list-building aside, the notable bestseller lists are meant as a barometer of American culture. No list is 100 percent accurate, and none purport to be. Still, bestseller status on a major list is highly coveted, highly profitable, and highly protected specifically so that the word “bestseller” does not become meaningless. Use your sales history to support your efforts to expand your publishing endeavors, but be wary of making unsubstantiated bestseller claims lest you earn the wrath of industry types. Star-crossed lovers or not, that kind of behavior can bring a plague on all your houses.
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Rushing a book to market without understanding all the consequences of your decision is about as bright as marrying someone you meet in Las Vegas after a fifteen-hour drinking binge. Even if the reasons behind the rush seem legitimate, beware of the beer-goggle effect—your book won’t look nearly as attractive when it comes off the press as it does in your head when you’re deciding to skip vital steps in the publication process. There are three areas where rushing will come back to haunt you with particular vengeance:
Your content has to deliver the goods. Editing isn’t just about making sure your book is free of typos and grammatical errors—it’s the part of the process that focuses on sharpening the reading experience for your customers. If you don’t invest the time and money to have experienced book editors work with your book, success in this industry will be an uphill battle. Don’t try to justify your rush by duping yourself into believing that you can save time-consuming editorial work for the second edition or the next printing. Crappy books don’t go into multiple print runs or second editions. It’s like not showering before a first date and thinking that you can always wash up for the second date—unless you’re meeting the Vegas drunk from the scenario above, there’s no way you’re getting the second date, stinky. It’s worth the delay in your book launch to work with an editor who can help you develop a rock-solid title, unique hooks, a smart structure, and a compelling voice. If you rush the editorial process, you’ll compromise the integrity of your work for short-term gains. Is a goal like having books in time for one event really worth that?
Design and Printing
While powerful marketing, a strong author platform, and compelling content are essential for a book to succeed, production quality is equally important. And yet there are countless articles that downplay the importance of quality, often making the obtuse argument that anyone with Photoshop or InDesign can throw a book together in no time, or that the difference between top quality and bottom quality is negligible due to advances in technology. Both assertions are appalling fallacies. The quality of your design and printing determines what kind of first impression your book will make. Retail buyers, book reviewers, and consumer make gut decisions based on this first impression, so while good quality costs money and takes time, this is not an area in which it is okay to be either cheap or hasty.
Sales and Publicity
Sometimes, we’re at the mercy of others. Pitching your book to retail buyers and media outlets is one of those times. If you want to sell your books in bookstores or other trade outlets like Costco and Wal-Mart, know that it takes almost twelve months to get your books ready for distribution. This time is spent setting up the title in wholesale and retail systems, presenting to buyers, and preparing the logistics for an on-time launch. And there’s similar time sensitivity inherent in a proper publicity campaign. You only have one book launch, and if you don’t get advance review copies to reviewers at least four months prior to publication, your print campaign has virtually no shot at success.
Deciding to produce a book on an abbreviated timeframe may be possible from a purely logistical standpoint, but you shouldn’t rush your book launch unless you’re prepared to have a product that isn’t set up to reach its full potential. So take a breath and slow down. The book of your dreams will wait for you. If you follow the rules and wait too, the launch will be much more special. If you know what I mean.
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What do Dan Brown and Pope Benedict have in common? Well, not a lot, but they do both know how to take advantage of foreign book sales, a growing sector of the publishing industry where the right book and the right deal can provide a nice padding to authors’ and publishers’ revenue.
Dan Brown’s cultural juggernaut, The Da Vinci Code, managed to get translated into well over forty languages. It has done particularly well in Europe, where publishers obtained rights to the ubiquitous book and watched it top bestseller lists for months. Even the French—seemingly unimpressed by fanny-packed Americans making Da Vinci Code pilgrimages to the Louvre—bought enough translated copies to make it the top-selling commercial book of all time in that country, with over 5 million copies sold, according to Business Week.
And the pope? His Italian publisher, Rizzoli, sold North American rights to his upcoming Jesus of Nazareth (due in spring 2007) to Random House imprint Doubleday this month. Doubleday wisely bought not only the English rights to the book in North America, but snapped up Spanish-language rights as well, securing access to the vast population of Spanish-speaking Catholics on the continent.
These deals demonstrate both ways that foreign rights negotiations can work for U.S. publishers: we can license rights to foreign publishers to translate, distribute, and sell titles initially published in America, or we can buy the right to distribute foreign books that have an audience here.
The former is by far more common, and many authors have found that selling foreign rights to their book is a nifty way to diversify and increase revenue, often with little up-front cost.
If you think your title has potential for overseas distribution, here are some things to remember:
Your Book Must Travel Well. Content must be relevant to appeal to foreign publishers and agents. Books that hit the big time in foreign markets must have somewhat universal subject matter, and it helps if they are easily translated as well; the prospect of spending valuable time and money on a long and difficult translation can kill off agents’ and publishers’ interest in no time. Popular categories tend to be business, self-help, parenting, and personal empowerment. Fiction is likely to do well only if it has a stellar track record and broad appeal.
Also remember that changes in format may occur. A slim book may fatten considerably in certain languages. Your trim size may change. Pictures and illustrations you don’t have the right to sell may have to be removed. And don’t leave any ugly messages on your Israeli publisher’s voicemail for printing your book backwards—it’s supposed to be like that.
The Price Must Be Right. Hammering out the royalties and advance with a foreign publisher can be tricky, particularly when dealing with exchange rates and cross-cultural bargaining. Royalty rates are typically between 5 and 10 percent. A couple of seasoned foreign rights negotiators suggest using the following formula to come up with a rough idea of a reasonable advance:
[anticipated first print run] x [royalty percentage] x [retail price] = [your advance]
You may also consider an agreement in which a foreign publisher pays you a fixed amount to print a given number of copies. Foreign rights grants generally last around four to five years, and royalties can be paid anywhere from every six months to annually.
Terms Must Be Defined. Always make sure you know exactly what you sold and for how long. Are audio rights and book club rights included in the deal? Are you selling the right to distribute your book in Spain, or anywhere Spanish is spoken? Clearing up issues like these can help you sidestep future catastrophes.
Communication Must Be Sustained. Don’t just send your book to Taiwan and get frustrated that you never heard back. Without being pushy, try to keep up with your contacts in foreign countries and cultivate a healthy relationship. Great distances can create great frustration when the lines go dead for long periods of time. Many newbies to foreign distribution tell horror stories of backed-up royalties and unresponsive contacts.
Longtime foreign rights negotiators emphasize that personal relationships are often vital in a successful deal. Your contacts will probably speak English for the most part, but cultural differences remain. Naturally, remember to be polite, friendly, and respectful, and studying up on the country in question doesn’t hurt either. Embarrassing geography gaffes or a bad attitude could easily prompt a publisher to pass you over for another of the many titles ripe for successful foreign distribution
At the end of the day, it’s not likely that the foreign rights to your book will get you rich. It may seem a daunting task for a modest amount of money, but anything you make is basically found money—you’ve already done all the hard work. (It’s also cool to tell your friends your book is big in Scandinavia.)
Foreign readers are hungry for quality books. If yours fits the bill, why not send it packing and see what happens?
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Images can add a lot to a book, or any printed material. But if you want to jazz up your pages with graphics (figures, drawings, cartoons, illustrations, etc.) and you’re printing professionally, you’ll need these tips:
All images destined for print must be high resolution, which is to say 300 pixels per inch (ppi, sometimes also called dpi) or greater. Sometimes people try to fake the size of an image—an image is not high resolution if it was originally low resolution and then resized to force the resolution to 300 ppi, or if the resolution was simply changed. Using either technique does not improve the quality of the image and may make it worse. If you print a low-resolution image, the difference will show.
The most widely accepted kinds of digital image files are:
- .psd (Adobe Photoshop native file)
- .pdf (Adobe Acrobat file)
- .ai (Adobe Illustrator native file)
Here are some popular stock image sources:
- www.shutterstock.com (a subscription stock house)
- www.gettyimages.com (also sells news, sports, and historical photos)
- www.veer.com (also has hip and interesting illustrations)
Obtaining Image Rights
Images are copyrighted, just like any other form of intellectual property. You can’t use an image unless you get permission. Make sure you have the proper permission and the image will look right when it’s printed with the following guidelines.
- Don’t use images downloaded from websites. Not only will they probably be low-res, you don’t have the right to use them. If you have found the perfect image online, try to contact the owner and get permission to use it. (Your lawyer and publisher will probably require that the release be in writing!) Also, don’t forget to ask for the high-resolution version.
- Don’t scan images from other publications without getting the rights to use the images from the copyright holders. This can cause big headaches.
- If an image is in the public domain (such as images from government publications), you can use the image without getting permission, but you must credit the original source of the image in a source line.
- Once you purchase a “royalty free” photo, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. “Rights managed” photos are another animal. Not only are they significantly more expensive to purchase, they often come with strict usage rules and restrictions. Make sure to notice which category your candidates belong to while you are shopping. Falling in love with a $2,000 image can leave you brokenhearted, or just broke.
- Provide your publisher with all the information you received regarding use of the photo when you obtained permission.
- If you own images that only exist in hardcopy and are scanning them before submission, it is critical that the images be scanned in at 1200 dpi. If you are unsure of your scanning capabilities, submit the original hard copy to your publisher and they will scan it in.
Creating Original Images
If you are creating original images (vector or raster images) using imaging software, it is important that you provide:
- the original native editable file (fonts NOT outlined, layers NOT flattened)
- all supporting files, including fonts and linked or embedded images
- a high-resolution flattened version of the image with fonts outlined (for example, an .eps or .tiff file)
- a printout of each image submitted with your manuscript
- a document that explains the format of the images provided, the software and version used to create the images, and the operating system.
Image Credits and Source Lines
It is important that any image you obtain the right to use is appropriately credited or sourced in the book. One way to do this is to include a credits section at the back of the book listing the images by page and the corresponding credit information. Another possible method is including a source line for each image near the presentation of the image in the text (for example, a line just below a graph). When you obtain the rights to use an image, the rights holder will tell you how to credit the image.
With these guidelines, you’ll end up with beautiful printed images—and a printer and publisher that love you. Happy hunting!
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It seems as the holiday season progresses more and more scams pop-up. Lucky for us BookSelling This Week reported on a new scam that we should all be aware of.
As every retailer knows, thieves are an inventive lot. It seems that for every season, and for every technological advance, a new scam appears that hurts businesses and consumers alike. One of the newest involves the theft of gift card ID numbers that allow thieves access to card balances. Here's how it works: A thief will write down the numbers on gift cards displayed in a store, but does not purchase or steal the cards. The thief will then wait a few days before calling the store to ask what the current balance is for a card number he or she has recorded. Once the thief finds a card that has been activated or purchased by an unsuspecting consumer, the thief will go online and start shopping.
Retailers can take a few simple steps to help prevent gift card "number" theft: Don't sell cards that are on display. Instead, when a customer comes up to the cash register with a card, give them one that has not been displayed. For display purposes, use cards that you had planned to increment, a training card, or a card that has not been activated, and place those cards on hold. (For stores offering Book Sense gift cards, this can be done via store.givex.com.) Cards can be taken off hold if necessary, but a hold will impede further transactions. Place all cards in a secure place and use signage to promote gift card sales. Inventory all cards and record serial numbers appearing on shrink-wrap labels or on the backs of the cards. If a card comes up missing, you can place that card on hold. Provide receipts to your customers and post your store's policy regarding lost or stolen cards. Reconcile your gift card sales on a regular basis.