When I chatted with Teri a few months ago about this post, I wanted to tackle the question of money and advances and marketing dollars. I was feeling frustrated that certain publishers continued to make seven figure offers on debuts which no doubt continued to take the wind out of the sales of every other book placed in the same publishing season as said book. Why put all your eggs in one basket? Clearly you don’t have a crystal ball to tell you that this one book is THE book that’s going to make it, so why not spread the wealth around a little more evenly?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that’s not totally a fair lament, certainly not for me, the agent, to make. Part of the reason these deals ratchet up into the seven figures is that agents are able to auction books up to that price in a bidding war. I am not innocent of this. I once had an editor say during a best bids auction that he was going to be really mad if he ended up paying way more than he should. He even added that it would hurt the publication. Well, yikes. I responded, I think fairly, that I didn’t have a gun to his head and that he should pay what he thinks it’s worth. But I do think he makes a good point. The whole set up of the auction and competition can lead some publishers (not all) to overpay. All to say that it’s not the big bad publisher that is entirely to blame for my initial frustration.
The general unspoken belief is that if your publisher pays more money for a book, they will inevitably put more marketing muscle into it. But in my own experience, I’ve seen things play out much differently. I’ve seen deals that were made for a lot of money that fell flat, due to a number of variables (and these can range from editors leaving the house to the sales force not getting behind it to just plain bad luck….believe me the list of reasons why is very long). Conversely, I’ve watched books that were given “nice” advances that ended up hitting the best seller lists, earning out, becoming the first of a very lucrative career. I would add that from personal experience, I’ve seen more books go on to sell well with smaller advances than with the larger ones. I for one would be incredibly nervous to accept a seven figure deal on a first time author. It’s just way too much to live up to.
[pullquote]The general unspoken belief is that if your publisher pays more money for a book, they will inevitably put more marketing muscle into it. But in my own experience, I’ve seen things play out much differently.[/pullquote]
All this thinking has brought me to a much more positive outlook on the nature of the business. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a million things to complain about and a lot of things that publishers do that don’t work, but the bottom line is that we continue to try. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the dog days of summer or that I’ve moved out of New York City after living there my entire life, but for whatever reason, I am feeling generally a little more relaxed and positive about things in the publishing business. Yes, it’s easy to point fingers at the mistakes but that’s just going to put us all in terrible moods and not really solve anything. As the risk of sounding a bit self-helpy, I’ve come to peace with the fact that there are many facets of the business which I can not control but that there’s power and autonomy in focusing on the things that we can.
The following are tips for agents and authors that fall within their control:
- I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. Be a professional and positive player in the process. I’ve seen editors (publicists/publishers) do a lot more for a book because they just plain like an author/agent.
- Be aware of the market around you. Two heads are better than one so if you see something being done that seems to be working, share it with the editor. I do this all the time and am pleasantly surprised to find that one publisher doesn’t know something another publisher is doing that’s working. Same goes for those savvy authors out there who may be following other careers.
- Be a squeaky wheel. Don’t send emails just for the sake of sending but if you have news, share it! Brag about that review in the Times, or that blog interview you wrote or that awesome blurb you secured. Agents want to know and will happily pass it along to your editor who will in turn pass it along to the rest of their team.
- If you are so lucky as to get one of those big fat advances, put some extra money aside. A publisher will tell you at the time of the offer that they are going to do this that and the other, but that’s before the book goes out into the world, where sales forces and buyers are reading the book. Things might not be as positive down the road and much of the marketing money will depend on the print run and general enthusiasm in house. So, if you can put something aside, do.
- Do book clubs! Writers, agents and publishers are in the business because we love books. We love to write them (or have no choice but to write them) and we love to read them (dare I say, our favorite way to spend our evenings is with a good book and a good glass of wine.) And at the end of the day, when someone tells me that I just have to read this book, that’s a better way to get me to buy it than some NY Times ad, which I will never see as I read online these days anyway.
- Connect. I for one am on social media so I was thrilled to hear one publisher recently say that they cared less about the number of Twitter followers an author had and more about the actual emails that an author had access to. It’s as if we’ve done a 180 with social media, and perhaps because we are all overwhelmed by the many ways to “connect” the best way is when you get a personal email from an author you admire, telling you that his or her next book is about to go on sale.
For those of you in the process, what have you found that works for you? And, as I had a bit of a hard time trying to come up with something new to discuss here, is there anything you would like to see me write about? If I feel I can shed some light, I’d be happy to!