January, 2009

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All The Best Sara

Monday morning, Publishers Weekly Editor-and-Chief, Sara Nelson, posted an article stating that she was feeling optimistic about our country and industry. She mentioned the new government, the economy, and that her hope that layoffs in the publishing industry were abating. A few hours later, the word went out that Nelson had been caught in the PW layoffs.

The irony aside, Sara should feel optimistic about publishing and our world.

The publishing blog Beyond Hall 8 pointed out that publishing seems to belong to the young. To the casual observer, 28 year old phenoms are taking over the media. Even PW has a regular feature called 40 under 40. We should celebrate the energy and innovation that a constant stream of young hopefuls brings to our businesses. We should not begrudge the phenoms their moment in the sun.

But neither should we forget the contributions and value of our industry leaders. Sara Nelson showed herself to be a very capable leader. She grasped and touted new technology and innovations and never hid behind the comfortable “because we don’t DO it that way in publishing.” stance. Age is not the issue in publishing, innovation and willingness to pay attention is the issue in publishing. Sara Nelson paid attention.

Our industry is going to survive and grow because of people like her. Publishing is better off because of Sara Nelson. She is a consistent, classy, intelligent member of our community who spent her time at PW participating in industry events, showing new-comers a great deal of patience, and still found the time to post well-reasoned, well-written articles that kept our industry well-informed.

Best of luck, Sara… let us know how we can help… we owe you!

Job Security

Over the last few months, friends and family members have lost their jobs and double-digit percentage points off their retirement funds. While the financial losses are devastating, it is the emotional losses that are having the deepest impact.

These wonderful, intelligent, people invested their money in and spent their days working for other people’s companies. They believed in the comforting and well-advertised idea that fund managers would increase their wealth and that companies would reward their loyalty.

A few years ago, I traded my savings and retirement funds for the opportunity to start a small business. With that decision, I gave up any comfort my investments may have supplied and, instead, invested in my own future.

While friends and loved ones shook their heads in private while giving their unwavering support, they all wanted to know: “How are you going to deal with the insecurity of not having a real job?”

Today, it is easier to answer that question. I cannot be “downsized”. My portfolio cannot be halved. Today, my risks, hard work and efforts are not a guarantee of security, but the results are more firmly in my grasp than those working for others. A venture-capitalized board of directors will never again have power over my future.

The sad truth is, no one has a “real job” anymore. Real jobs have not existed for decades.

Your query letter IS your cover letter

Would you spend hours working on a resume only to throw together a quick generic cover letter and hope you get an interview? Probably not. In fact, in today’s tough economic times, your cover letter is probably the most important piece of your “package” in any job search.

A good query letter is much the same. This is your calling card. This is your first introduction. This is the one page you have to make you, and your book, stand out from the hundred if not thousands of proposals that publishers and literary agents receive every year.
Writing a good query letter can be daunting. It can be scary. It can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
  1. Address your letter to a specific agent or editor at a specific agency or publisher. Don’t send out something generic.
  2. Make sure that you’re sending your letter to an agent or publisher that works in your genre. One of the biggest mistakes that authors make is not doing their research. Agents and publishers list their interests and previously sold titles on their websites. Check them out and make sure your project is a good fit.
  3. Show that you’ve done your research. Mention a book or an author than an agent has represented in your first paragraph. Identify why you picked this particular agent or publisher to query.
  4. Sell yourself. Give you and your platform a full paragraph. Explain why you are the best author for your book and how you can sell yourself and generate book sales.
  5. Be courteous. Let people know if your project is on multiple submission.
  6. Identify a market for your book. Really. A real market. Add a statistic or two.
  7. Be respectful. Use appropriate business etiquette.
  8. If you’re just sending a query letter, let the agent or publisher know what else you have available – i.e. A full proposal and two sample chapters are available upon request.
  9. Have someone else read your letter before you send it. Even the best of writers needs an editor. Typos have no place in a good query letter.
  10. Be succinct. Keep your query to one page. Identify why you’ve chosen a particular agent or publisher, pitch your book, identify your market, sell yourself, thank them for their time.
Good Luck!

Sued Over Returns

Just saw this notice on PW Daily that Jasmine-Jade Enterprises is suing Borders and B&T over their returns.
http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6627843.html?nid=2286&source=title&rid=856897678

Fascinating… isn’t it the publisher’s responsibility to monitor and manage the flow of stock out into the market? As a publisher, my job is to keep an eye on my stock exposure…

It’s pretty simple. Yes, the retailers and wholesalers will use the returnable aspect of books to their advantage. I have to make sure they don’t do it to me. I use bookscan and sales data to keep my stock exposure below what I can handle in returns.

I hate returns and I despise the practice of returning books at 87 days to pay invoices, but if I sell a book on a returnable basis, I cannot very well turn around and cry foul when they get returned.

That having been said, I look forward to more details as this lawsuit unfolds. Perhaps there is more here than meets the web….

Everyone Will Want to Read My Book…

No they won’t.

The first rule in publishing is to know your audience. For authors and publishers, this means know your reader (the end consumer) and your business partners (retailers).

While you may believe that you’ve found the “perfect” book that is uniquely qualified to be all things to all people, it’s important to really know your audience.

Let’s look at this through the eyes of a potential publisher:

The Retailer—While the publishing business is moving more and more to online sales and marketing and finding a solid audience, it’s still important to ensure your book is “shelved” in the right place. While you may have written a novel for 8 year old girls that can have a positive impact on her 12 year old brother with special advice for mom and dad, that particular shelf doesn’t exist in the bookstore. Your book will be shelved in one category. This is important to know before you ever write your book proposal. You need to identify where it goes in the book store so you can determine what editor or publisher to send it to. They know their retail market, do you?

The Consumer—The consumer is the end audience for your book. This is the person that will pick it up, skim a few pages, and ultimately make a purchase. Whether it be for themselves, as a gift, or required reading for their occupation, that consumer is your audience. That means you need to know: Who they are? What they buy? How they shop? What the competition for their business is? Does your book “fit” your consumer? Do you have the right cover design, price, trim size? Are you shelved in the appropriate category?

These are just some of the questions that agents, publishers—and retailers—ask when they are pitched your book alongside thousands of other books. If you want to stand out in a crowded marketplace, it’s important to know your audience.

What Does Borders Need to Do to Survive?

Borders Books and Music is now experiencing it’s fourth major management shake up in 15 months. Over the last year, several key and not-so-key upper level positions have changed hands several times as Borders tries to find the right leaders to help them reclaim their position as America’s favorite bookstore chain.

Sites dedicated to Borders employee opinion are full of complaints about 2008 staff cuts and management decisions, Borders stock prices have plummeted and they are in danger of being delisted on the Stock Exchange. It is a dark time for a chain that has worked so hard to be the “nice guy” in the publishing retail world.

George Jones has been replaced by Ron Marshall, a CEO who has experience both in books and in turning around companies. George was a good man with good ideas, and I wish him the best. He did what he thought was right and drove down Borders debt considerably.

But my most fervent hopes are with Ron Marshall. If Borders cannot turn things around and bring themselves back to health, things will be very bleak for publishers and authors.

Stock prices aside, Borders deserves a chance to reinvent themselves. I have nothing against, Barnes and Noble, but Borders is a strong supporter of local arts, launches new authors on a regular basis, and works with publishers in a cooperative manner.

So I ask…. why do you think Borders is declining? What would YOU do to improve things at Borders?