Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lifecycle of a Book: The Naked Truth, Part Two

Last month, I talked about the contract, book covers, and other expectations. We’ll pick up the story from there.

The pre-order pages on Amazon and Barnes and Noble went live and I received a printed book jacket to frame for my wall.

Crispin #2
In the meantime, I was polishing the next book in the series (because the next three were already written), and reviews were starting to come back from the debut. The Big Four industry magazines—Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal—all gave it smashing reviews. The Boston Globe gave it a wonderful quotation as did the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the only big newspapers my publisher's publicist could seem to get to give it the time of day.

No, it’s not going to (ever) get a New York Times book review. (Although, here is an interesting article about the fact that it doesn't mean much.) Probably not USA Today. Not People. Not any big magazine. It’s a sub-sub-genre. It’s not even going to be a bestseller on the New York Times Book Review list because to get there, you have to have sold anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 books that week (as reported by certain bookstores who are official reporters to the NY Times, along with Bookscan records). You see, my print run for the hardcover was only 6,000 (it’s only gone up slightly in following books and goes up more for the trade paperback). And believe me, they didn’t sell out in a week. A nod from President Obama, or a movie or TV deal would be the only things propelling it higher in sales than it goes now. But that’s all right. Knowing these things helps curb disappointment and unrealistic expectations. The books are what they are. Slowly, the readership grows. 

A word about placement in bookstores. You know those tables in the front of the stores and down the center aisle that showcase a boatload of books? And those endcaps with covers facing out? Bookstores don’t just decide to make a nifty display of those. Publishers pay for that. That’s expensive real estate. It’s the Beverly Hills of the bookstores. My little sub-sub-genre novel did not get that treatment. It was not going to get a big marketing campaign. Why? Because as I said last month, St. Martin's knows exactly how many books it's going to sell in any given genre, and that's how many they print and how much time and money they spend on it. Does it make sense? From their point of view, I guess it does. But it is a bit disheartening to an author. If they are going to all this time, money, and trouble to publish it, why not spend a few more bucks putting it out there? It's one of the many mysteries of all traditional book publishing.

Speaking of bookstores, if your publisher has no plans to spend money on an endcap or table, you will only get the push in a bookstore when the book first comes out and ends up, cover out, on the "New Release Mystery" shelf, but that only lasts so long. And the window is small. You’ve got six weeks in a bookstore once it’s released. Six weeks to sell, sell, sell. After that six weeks or less, the bookstore may choose to send any of your books left on the shelves back to the publisher. And further, though my books were in Barnes and Noble (inexplicably, Borders chose not to carry books from the Minotaur imprint. Have no idea why) they weren’t in every Barnes and Noble. Not even in every Barnes and Noble where I lived. So telling readers that you can slip on over to BN to get the books meant that, more often than not, they’d have to order it. There's always the internet.

While in my travels, I’d stop off in area Barnes and Nobles just to look around and often found my books on the shelves (which is a huge thrill I hope I never tire of). I’d bring them up to the front desk and ask if I can sign them while leaving some bookmarks (always carry bookmarks). They were more than happy to allow me to do that and put special stickers on them, saying "Signed by the Author." It is a myth, however, that once a book is signed they won’t send it back to the publisher. Books have been shipped from the publisher’s warehouse to other bookstores where I've done signings, and I found some of the copies were already signed.    

Crispin #3
Crispin #4
Back to the story. A year later, we were offered my first two-book contract for Crispin numbers three and four, with a slight raise in my advance. Still not as high as the St. Martin’s Malice Award, but them’s the breaks. A year after that, we were offered a contract on Crispin numbers five and six. Same advance. (Number five, BLOOD LANCE, will be released October 16, and number six, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, I am finishing up now, with a scheduled release of fall 2013). I began more networking on social media--Facebook and Twitter--and discovered that it brought in more readers than blog tours, and is easier and more fun. I only do blog appearances now when I'm asked. I do my best selling in person.

By the way, if you're thinking about developing an online presence, it's really almost too late to start up a blog or website or social media by the time you get a publisher. Be aware that you should be cultivating your online presence long before you put pen to contract. Where are your readers to come from, after all? Once you have the contract you will want to start an online newsletter (there's a flock of online resources for that). And you might even want to think about getting a PO Box, because you sure don't want your home address out there. Don't forget to buy your domain name (your pen name and real name and even your character's name). And do get your website professionally designed. This is your small business, after all. Treat it like one.

And yes, you will have to promote. I have spent a great deal of money on promotion (including an awesome book trailer) and travel, getting myself to lots of appearances and conventions, and, last year, I went on a multi-state book tour of my publicist’s devising—all on my dime. No, the publisher does not pay for it. I'm pleased that my St. Martin's publicist will do the work to book it. That is a huge burden off my shoulders. But still, I have to pick up the entire tab for airfare, hotel, car rental, and food. Also through my publicist and with the help of others (a book events coordinator--again, paid for on my dime, and lots of word of mouth from librarians and networking with other authors) I push the name out there by doing appearances and wrote articles for specialty magazines and did lots of online interviews. I spend money every year sending out special promotional materials that I design myself (I had a career as a graphic artist) to independent bookstores and libraries. St. Martin’s will also mail postcards that I supply to them, and they send them on to 3,000 libraries on their mailing list. My St. Martin's publicist also gets me booked at the American Library Association Conventions on panels, when the conventions sweep into my end of town. I am grateful to have him. I'm very grateful for all the connections I've made through organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

After a little over a year of hardcover sales of VEIL OF LIES, I sold through. That meant that I made back the advance the publisher paid me, and now I collect royalties. Cool. During the ongoing recession, it has become harder and harder and has taken longer to sell through. 

Russian version of Serpent in the Thorns. Say what?
When I signed to St. Martin’s in 2007, ebooks were included on the contracts but no one paid much attention to them. Now they're all paying attention. Besides e-sales, my agent has now made foreign sales of the books, meaning that he sells the books to foreign publishers. It has nothing to do with St. Martin's at all. This is all free money for me since the books are already written and the foreign publishers are responsible for the translations, new cover design (see the difference between the cover at the top of this post and the one directly above. They are the same book!), and distribution. He just recently negotiated an audio book sales contract with an audio book producer (no, your publisher generally has nothing to do with that either. Audio books are very expensive to produce. You need an actor to narrate, a director, and generally new art for the covers unless they purchase them from the publisher [the publisher owns that art, not me]. And they sell for as much if not more than a hardcover. Sales are smaller but libraries like them.) 

Two years ago, with foreign sales income, royalties, and new advances received, I was able to quit my day job to write full time, but that was only possible because my husband supports us. Sort of. I have a host of bills I’m paying off from all this promotion and travel. It will be a while till it all evens out. I still might have to find a part time job again. 
All in all, I never get to rest on my laurels with the certainty that a publisher will want to continue to take a risk on my books. It’s never a done deal. But this is only one midlist author’s story. Your mileage may vary. A thousand other stories are out there, with a thousand and one variations.

I hope this was helpful. If it scares you, good! Just know that you have your own homework to do. Be prepared. Ask questions. Be professional. Learn the industry. And Don't Give Up.




Sheila Connolly said...

All true. Isn't it interesting that so many readers believe that (a) we make a lot of money doing this, and (b) our publisher is handing us all-expense-paid book tours? Don't we wish?

Leslie Budewitz said...

Jeri --

Thanks for laying it out! And good luck with the future books.

Judy Donofrio said...

Thanks for the mentoring, Jeri.

Monicanslh said...

Thanks for the mentoring, Jeri.

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