Here at the Big Bad Book Blog we know that the bane of most aspiring authors is the rejection letter, and we suspect some of you may know what we mean because you have received one firsthand or heard friends lament them. But rather than just get one rejection letter and give up, we want you to keep trying—in the style of Kathryn Stockett (the author of the bestselling The Help was rejected sixty times). Here are our helpful suggestions for turning that pesky “no” into a printed book.
- Get an editor.
Kathryn Stockett edited her book with each successive rejection so, when you think about it, after sixty edits, what she was submitting was probably quite different from her original manuscript. But you don’t have to do all the work on your own—thankfully the world is full of editors. You can hire a freelance editor through any number of sites (Elance and the Editorial Freelance Association are both great websites for finding an editor.) You can even have an especially literary and honest friend look it over. Any means through which you can get a second pair of eyes on your manuscript will help. It’s hard to catch our own mistakes because we know what we meant to write.
- Find the right publisher fit.
Are you sending your business book off to publishers best known for their science fiction? They may be rejecting you because your title won’t sell in their established niche market, not because of the merit of your work. There are innumerable publishers in America alone—from the “Big Six” all the way across the spectrum to small university presses each looking for a specific type of book. One way to find publishers that specialize in what you are looking for is to go online or to a physical bookstore, find books like yours and see who published them (Usually there’s an imprint logo on the spine but if not, the copyright page always knows). You can also take our short publishing fit quiz here to get you on the right track of finding a model that works for you.
Self-publishing has grown exponentially in recent years, and for good reason—it’s a great way to develop a following. Of course, you’ll still need to promote your book but there are many platforms online with which to publish your ebook for free and you can promote with free social media or a bit of freelance marketing. An ever growing number of authors are self-publishing their novels, developing a following and then getting traditional publishing deals for their already-published books as well as future ones.
- Rework the language of your proposal.
This one sort of speaks for itself. Is there something misspelled or otherwise incorrect in your proposal letter? Are you trying too hard to convey your personality or the tone of your book in a short introductory letter? For some ideas of what not to do, see SlushPileHell.
It’s important to remember that if you’re receiving rejection letters, you’re in the best possible company. A fair portion of what we now consider literary classics were originally rejected by publishers. To name just a few:
- Harry Potter, if you can believe it, was rejected twelve times before eventually being published. The series has now sold over 400 million copies and catapulted J.K. Rowling to stardom, both as one of the world’s most famous authors and one of its richest humans.
- Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was rejected sixteen times for, of all things, lacking an interesting protagonist. It has now sold over thirty million copies, inspired numerous other novels and films as well as the conversion of the house in which she hid into a museum.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected eighteen times because publishers were convinced that the premise was frivolous and unsellable. It has now sold over forty million copies and is considered one of the most inspirational books of all time.
- Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, was rejected thirty times and was actually thrown away by the author before his wife found it in the trash and convinced him to try it again. The paperback edition sold over a million copies in just its first year (and that was thirty-eight years ago), in addition to starting King on the path to become a prolific, household name.
- Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, still wins the most rejections with sixty before a publisher picked up her book. It has, of course, now spent over one hundred weeks on the NYT bestseller list. We do hope her current fame has made up for the ordeal of getting published.
We can’t say that six or sixty rejection letters is the right number of rejection letters to receive before reconceiving a project. What is right is different for each author—it is quite simply the most you can stand. Don’t let trying to get your book published ruin you; take a break, follow one or all of the above suggestions and send your manuscript out again when you feel up to it. Above all, know that there is an option out there for you; the work is in finding it.
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Now that it’s the middle of October, the weather is getting cooler (even here in Texas!), lawns are getting leafier, and we’re starting to look forward to the holiday season.
Chances are you’re going to be seeing a lot of bestseller pushes and a lot of flashy book displays as the holidays approach. If you’re an author with a manuscript, you’re probably wondering if you, too, should be getting in on the holiday rush. But when, really, is the best time to publish?
Publication date is mainly driven by production milestones—finalizing the manuscript, completing the book cover, converting to ebook formats, and setting the printing timeline. And publication dates have become more fluid as POD and ebook models continue to thrive. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, you might find that you have no control over when your book hits the shelves. However, if you’re self-publishing or working with an independent publisher like Greenleaf, you might have some say in your publication date.
Author and publishing veteran Jeffrey Krames advises that business books usually sell well in the earlier autumn months, while coffee table books, fiction, and big biographies all do well around the holiday season, since they are more often given as gifts. Fall months are traditionally a good time to publish for most genres. It allows booksellers to stock the title for the holidays, and also capitalizes on the “back to school” mind-set.
Late November and December can be tricky publication months. Not only is there rampant holiday clutter in pretty much any retail environment, but many booksellers have also already made their buying choices for the Christmas season. End-of-the-year publication also superficially cuts off your book’s longevity. A book published on December 30, 2011, will seem older than a book published January 2, 2012—even though they’re technically only a few days apart.
If your publication date gets pushed back to November or December, don’t fret. If you’re doing your job right—that is, marketing your socks off—you’ll be able to overcome any timing snafus. If you’re publishing an ebook, having a December pub date might even work in your favor, as many people with new ereaders may be surfing for new authors.
January is also a great publication month for many genres. Self-help, fitness/health, and many financial titles will do well at the beginning of the year as people take on a “new year, new you” mind-set. If you’re publishing in one of these genres, timing your date to coincide with the beginning of the year could be a good idea. Summer months might also be a good choice—especially for digital books—as many vacation-goers browse airport bookstores and ebook outlets searching for something to take with them on their trips.
As you go into the production process with your book, don’t obsess about your pub date, but do take advantage of it, if possible. Just remember—if you have the right content, a developed platform, and a marketing push behind your book, it has the potential to do well any time of the year.
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Trying to sell a book with an uninteresting title is like trying to sell a homely pre-owned car—the buyer is probably going to browse right over the rusted ‘99 Saturn to check out the pristinely waxed Honda parked next door. Although the interior looks great, and the gas tank is full, the Saturn’s dullness holds no ground against the Armor-All tires of its competitor.
Your book’s title serves as the deal breaker for your target consumers. Take a lesson from the used-car analogy and don’t let a dull or overused phrase ruin a book’s selling potential. A title should attract the intended audience, communicate the promise of the book, and differentiate the book in the market. Pick a title with purpose! Here we’ll discuss how to make that purpose come to life with brainstorming techniques, essential titling elements, and some no-no’s to avoid when narrowing down your title.
If your having trouble getting those creative juices flowing, it’s time to spice up your brainstorming session with a few key ingredients:
Summarize the core message and promise of your book: The title should detail the book’s fundamental message and give a clear picture of the author’s narrative style.
Market differentiation: It is of utmost importance to do your research. Study market trends within the genre and decipher what makes your book unique. How is this book relatable, who will it appeal to, and why?
Reflect sales goals: Create a mission statement for the audience you are trying to reach. What are your sales goals? For example, “Retail appeal for inspirational business readers, sold at point of sale or given as gifts.” Analyze how your offer will be useful to the audience buying your book. This brainstorming tip will help keep you focused on appropriate language to incorporate into your title.
Your title needs essence. Give it a soul with these pointers:
Be original: Avoid overused phrases and strive to be one of a kind. We’re all tired of seeing The 7 Habits of So and So and How To Do This and That.
Be intriguing to your audience: Entice your target consumer with clever narrative skills. Use interesting turns of phrases, play on words, alliteration, and other techniques to bring creativity into your title. Witty examples include Tongue Fu, Snakes in Suits, and The Myth of War.
Be pithy: A title that is concise and eloquent in its expression will foreshadow its meaningful content.
Here are some no no’s to avoid in your title:
Lengthy words: Long words are distracting in a cover design, while short words allow for larger typeface and a clearer message.
Jargon: There is a time and a place for colloquialisms, and that should not be in the title of your book. Steer clear of buzzwords.
Made-up words: What would you do if you saw Griftopia written on the cover of anything but a fantasy novel? Probably, walk away. On top of often sounding hokey, word mash-ups make a book difficult to search for in inventory systems.
Negativity: The negativity strategy works in politics and for Dr. Laura, but unless your book’s content is intentionally provocative, not everyone likes a confrontational message. Something like Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free is appropriate for the subject matter, but otherwise keep your title’s language on a more positive note. You’re selling a solution, not the problem.
Copycat syndrome: Avoid legal troubles—check, check, and check again for trademark or copyright issues. Stay original.
We all judge a book by its title, so choose wisely! Although the selection process may take time, be patient, do your research, and give your book the name it deserves.
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Oftentimes authors are quite confused about what exactly each person does in the publishing process. There are so many people involved in developing and promoting a book that it is easy to get overwhelmed by the many functions and responsibilities of each department. To help make it easier, here’s a quick breakdown of the general jobs in publishing and how each one functions.
If pursuing a traditional publishing deal, the author must first secure an agent. The agent serves two roles. One, the agent acts as a gatekeeper for publishers, vetting books for quality and marketability and sorting through the many authors vying for a publishing deal. Two, the agent is the author’s representative in the negotiation process for securing the book deal. The agent’s job is to get the best deal possible for the author and to sell author’s rights in a way that is most beneficial (e.g., the agent may recommend selling subsidiary and film rights separately). In exchange, the agent takes 10 to 15 percent of all payments made to the author in advances and royalties.
The publisher is the person who actually produces the physical book. Inside a publishing house the author will work with a variety of people:
- Editor: The editor helps polish the manuscript and makes sure it is free of typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes.
- Designer: The designer works on both the cover design and the interior layout for the book (some house separate these functions out).
- Print buyer: The print buyer works with vendors to secure the best deal on printing services. Traditionally published authors may not deal with this person directly (but trust us, they’re there).
- Production associate: This person works as the puppet master, making sure all the pieces of the publishing process flow into place on time and on budget.
- Distribution team: Depending on the publishing route you take, you may work with an in-house distributor or a third party, but in either case the distributor is responsible for getting your book into the internal and bookseller systems and making it available to wholesalers and retailers.
- Marketing team: Each publisher has a marketing team that works with the trade to drum up interest among corporate buyers, indie bookstores, libraries, schools, and some specialty stores. They may also help with securing some reviews and advertising, but again this depends on the publisher.
Some publishing houses have a staff publicist, but for the most part authors will need to hire their own publicist to help secure media coverage, interviews, reviews, and other coverage to help create demand for the book. Some publicists work online and may also schedule and coordinate events, provide media training, and schedule speaking opportunities. While the publisher works with the bookstores and the author connects directly with the reader, the publicist’s job is to work with the media—all three parties aiming to drive book sales.
Authors nowadays must wear many hats, including “writer,” “entrepreneur,” “marketer,” and “ringmaster.” You are largely responsible for serving as the producer of content and as the face of your brand as an author. You are the driving force behind your platform and are ultimately what attracts people to your book. As mentioned above, it’s your job to connect directly with readers, and you should be doing this in as many ways as possible—through social media, speaking, and other platform-building activities.
As you can see, it takes many people to take a book from idea to the bookstore. There are additional functions depending on the publisher, but overall this is the core staff for any book that ends up in a reader’s hands.
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If you have already written a book, or even if you are just considering writing one, you may have asked yourself what it is that publishers are looking for. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula a writer can follow for guaranteed publication. What works and doesn’t work varies by genre, publisher, and other factors outside of the writer’s control. Still, there are some basic elements every publisher considers when evaluating a potential project. Those elements are: content, market, competitive titles, and author platform. We will cover each element in basic terms for the purpose of this post, but we do provide greater details on each of categories in our free white paper “What Publishers Want.”
Though certain elements vary between fiction and nonfiction, any book, no matter what the genre, must be compelling, marketable, and memorable.
Compelling: It must be a topic that people are interested in.
Marketable: There must be a significant number of people interested in the topic.
Memorable: The writing should be good and should stick with the reader.
Publishing is a business. In order for publishers (and authors) to make money, they need to sell books. So, when publishers look at a project they ask themselves: What is the market for this book? Who would be interested in this topic? How many people constitute that segment of the population? How often do they buy books and for what reasons? You need to be able to answer those questions before you even start writing.
The next thing publishers consider is your competition. This is key for many reasons. First of all, it shows them who your market is and the size of your market’s demand. If books on your topic are doing well, they are more likely to consider your work. Second, publishers look at how your book differs from the competition. If you provide enhanced content, an innovative approach, new research, or a more user-friendly voice, then they will be more likely to consider looking at and possibly acquiring your book. However, if your book is too similar to an existing one (especially one that has done well), or if your content is weak or poorly executed in comparison, then a publisher will be less willing to consider your project.
We discussed this in great detail before, and we can’t stress enough how important it is when evaluating your potential success as an author. Publishers need to know that you have identified your audience, that you are speaking to the needs and wants of your audience, and that you are continually and actively engaged with them even before you have a book.
Understanding how your book measures up in terms of content, market, competitive titles, and platform is essential to your publishing efforts. Weakness in any area can be improved upon, but too many issues in one or more categories can seriously hinder your chances of being published.
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Wherever you are in the process of writing or publishing your book, you’ve probably considered at some point how you’re going to get it out to all of your adoring fans. You might ask yourself: Once I’ve published my book, how will readers find and buy it? Wholesalers and distributors are the two main channels for getting your book into retailers like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and indie bookstores, as well as libraries and schools, but determining how these channels differ and which one is best for your book can be confusing.
Let’s start with wholesalers. Wholesalers like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Bookazine are the middlemen between you—the author or publisher—and most major book retailers. These retailers generally order books from wholesalers, which act as depots for your book. Retailers do this because it’s easier for them to order from a small number of trusted sources (wholesalers) rather than hundreds of individual authors and publishers (you). Thus, if you’re looking for national distribution to major retail channels, you generally have to be set up with a major wholesaler.
Although you may be listed with a wholesaler, it’s important to note that wholesalers generally do not market, pitch, sell, or push your book to retailers. Your title sits among thousands of other titles waiting for a retail buyer to take interest and order copies, and unless there is a compelling reason for the buyer do so, it’s unlikely that your book will be brought onto bookstore shelves.
This may be sufficient if you are not planning on marketing or publicizing your book. If, however, you are planning on aggressively marketing your book, you will want someone with connections to the national retail buyers to convince them that your title needs to be ordered from the wholesaler and put on bookstore shelves where consumers can see it, and hopefully buy it. That’s where distributors come in.
Distributors serve authors and publishers in two main functions:
1) They set up titles with many wholesalers.
2) They have an active sales force pitching and selling their exclusive line of titles directly to the retail buyers in the hopes of getting as many books as possible on shelves and in front of consumers.
“Why do I need a distributor to set me up with a wholesaler?” you might ask. Many wholesalers have an application process and require a minimum number of titles to be eligible. Ingram, for example, requires publishers or authors to have at least 10 titles before they will make their books available for order; if you have fewer than that, you need a distributor to get you set up in Ingram. You may also wonder, “What’s the benefit of having a someone pitch my book directly to the retailers?” As mentioned above, without someone actively and aggressively convincing buyers that your book needs to be on their shelves, in front of consumers, it will probably sit in a warehouse somewhere, never seeing the light of day. Distributors’ sales representatives often hold a certain amount of credibility in the buyers’ eyes as a trusted source of marketable, salable books. Good distributors and their sales reps are just as invested in selling your titles as you are, and their established relationships in the retail channel give you direct access to the desks of decision-makers at major retail chains.
So let’s recap: You want your book in Barnes & Noble, but you know you need to be listed with a wholesaler like Ingram before that can happen. Because you have fewer than 10 titles and are planning a publicity campaign around your book release, you realize you also need a distributor to get you into Ingram and pitch your book directly to Barnes & Noble. Your best course of action would be to hunt down a distributor who services Ingram and has a relationship with Barnes & Noble.
Clear as mud?
Understanding the fundamental differences between book wholesalers and distributors is important, but equally critical is establishing your distribution and sales goals for the book. If you’re not planning on doing any marketing to consumers and just want your book to be made available for your friends and family, a distributor probably isn’t necessary. If you’re planning on hiring a publicist and doing national media, you probably won’t get very far without one. Thinking carefully about your platform and marketing plans will help you determine realistic goals for your book’s distribution.
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Everyone has a lot on their minds during the holiday season. When it comes to writing a book, you may be just beginning your outline or putting the finishing touches on your umpteenth (and hopefully final) draft. Regardless of the stage, it is important to consider how the holidays can affect your book's deadlines. This holds especially true for books that center around a holiday theme—love and relationships for Valentine's Day, Santa and the joy of giving for Christmas, super-spooky and horror for Halloween are a few examples. Consider this:
- According to literary agent Nathan Bransford, the weeks around major holidays are a time to avoid sending out query letters.
- A certain percentage of book buyers' budgets are allocated specifically toward holiday-related books, often children books. The largest amount of that percentage goes to established authors, titles, and series.
- Most winter holiday book purchases by bookstores take place between July and September.
- If your book has been accepted by a publisher, they will aim for the best release date. For holiday books, this may mean the holiday next year.
- The time between a book being accepted by a publisher and being distributed and in stores can be anywhere from 6 months to a year. Know what holiday season you are aiming for!
The holidays are a busy time for agents, publishers, distributors and bookstores—and, of course, for authors. Enjoy the season, and make sure you know how it may affect your project. Happy Holidays!
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We're teaming up with independent bookselling superstars BookPeople this August for the first-ever Austin Publishing University, a seminar series for authors and aspiring authors on how to get your book published efficiently and profitably.
If you're in the central Texas area, we'd love to have you join us on the first four Sundays in August at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar, Austin, Texas). Sessions cost $15 each or $45 for all four. Attendance is limited to 60 people per session. To reserve a seat call (512) 472-5050 or visit BookPeople.
It's going to be a fun, educational event—one we hope will untangle some of the complexities of getting a book produced, distributed, and marketed, as well as answer any questions on the publishing industry attendees have, whether basic or advanced. Be sure to visit our Facebook page, and if you're the Twittering type, you can tweet about Austin Publishing University with the hashtag #apu09.
Descriptions of the four sessions of APU after the jump.
SESSION 1 – Ins & Outs: The Industry Overview
Sunday, August 2, 2009 1:00 – 2:30 pm
The publishing industry presents many business models for authors, each with its own set of pros and cons. This class will walk you through the industry and give you the tools you need to choose the best path for your project. Plus, you will gain a basic understanding of what it takes to successfully create and market content in the retail marketplace. Learn the ins and outs of traditional publishing, self-publishing, print-on-demand publishing, and hybrid models—and how to avoid publishing pitfalls along the way.
SESSION 2 – Hot Topic: Content is King
Sunday, August 9, 2009 1:00 – 2:30 pm
So you know you want to write a book, but the blank page is glaring at you and you just don’t know how to begin. Come learn some useful techniques for structuring the writing process, getting past the terrifying first blank page, and presenting your ideas in a compelling and engaging manner.
SESSION 3 – Killer Covers: Boosting Sales by Design
Sunday, August 16, 2009 1:00 – 2:30 pm
Book jackets serve a number of purposes that are essential to the success of your book. This class will teach you how to make informed decisions about your covers by examining a variety of topics including genre appropriateness, the role of research, concept and tone, using photography and/or illustration, branding a series, endorsements, author photos, printing technology, retail durability, Amazon thumbnails, and design trends. We will closely analyze examples of various cover designs including award winning work.
SESSION 4 – Storming the Market: Online, On the Air, and On the Shelves
Sunday, August 23, 2009 1:00 – 2:30 pm
As the old saying goes, it’s easy to write a book: Selling it is hard. This class will discuss how effective marketing strategies, combined with traditional publicity and new media, come together to create a successful book launch. We will review the basic timeline that you should follow, describing what to do before, during, and after your publishing date. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to get the perspective of veteran publishers and retailers from both us at Greenleaf Book Group and BookPeople.
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- Remember Sarah Palin? She got a book deal with HarperCollins. Her memoir, which will cover both the personal and the political, will be co-published for the Christian market by HC-owned publisher Zondervan.
- Amazon made a couple of moves, optimizing its Kindle store for viewing on the iPhone's Safari browser and unveiling its AmazonEncore program, which will put marketing and distribution muscle behind self-published books that they believe have sales potential.
- We lost Google for a few terrifying hours.
- Bloggasm looked at the effect of the free digital release of five Random House books—do free e-copies help or hinder print sales?
- The UK's Richard & Judy got cancelled, but their popular book club (it's sort of like Oprah's is in the US) may stick around.
- Smart Bitches covered the International Digital Publishing Forum's Digital Book conference that took place in New York this week. Also, lots of Twitter coverage (naturally) and a PW piece highlighting the importance of women and the romance genre in ereading.
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Going to press is exciting. Lots of hard work is behind you, and the finished book is close to becoming a reality. But as you print your books, you should be aware of potential complications. Consider the printing of your book as a custom project. The jacket, covers, and text are unique–written, designed, and printed specifically for you as opposed to being interchangeable commodities to be pulled from a shelf.
That being said, it's difficult for a printer to produce the precise amount of books you request. When the printer orders materials for printing a book, he must allow for spoilage at each manufacturing stage. If production runs smoothly and spoilage is kept to a minimum, there will likely be higher yields of the final product. These extra books are referred to in the industry as "overs."
And here's where people tend to get confused: Your invoice will reflect the total amount of books shipped from the printer, meaning that if relatively few books have defects, you'll end up being charged for the total number of books shipped.
Potentially, there are also "unders." You guessed it–that's when spoilage is higher than anticipated, leaving you short on your print run. Unders are less common than overs, but your chances of receiving them rise with smaller runs and more complex projects. Press "make ready" (bringing a press up to speed, setting the proper ink densities, registration, etc.) typically takes the same amount of time and material whether you're printing 2,000 or 20,000 books. Thus spoilage, or lack thereof, can have a greater impact on the actual copies shipped on smaller runs versus larger runs.
When you go to press, you should be prepared to receive up to 10% variance in the final amount of copies. That's the industry standard, but you shouldn't be charged for overs that exceed 10% of the initial run. Likewise, the printer should be expected to provide at least 90% of what you ordered.
Don't, however, assume anything. Communicate with your printer, getting detailed information on their over and under policy, before signing an agreement. Set a print run that takes into account worst-case scenarios. If you must have 2,000 books for an event, order more to avoid too few copies. An unexpected underage can leave you in a tight spot, as you will probably not have time to go back to press. (Average time to allow for reprints can be 5-6 weeks, even longer if you're printing overseas.)
It's best to go in knowing that you'll have to be flexible. But the important thing, as always, is to create consumer demand and sell the books you do get, no matter what the exact quantity may be.