Sunday, November 22, 2009

What's Your Name? Is It Peggy or Sue. . .

Let’s be truthful. The real reason most everyone wants write is because it’s one of the cheapest start-up businesses on the planet. Isn’t this also the reason why literally millions want to write for publication? After all, most everyone has a computer and virtually anyone can write. Writing requires little space, little money and little knowledge of the process to begin producing a product, and it’s a stay-at-home job.

This isn’t bad in and of itself; however, a bigger problem comes about when those who dabble at writing begin believing that if they can just get an agent, they’ll be published and soon after become rich and famous. After all didn’t whatshername do it? Now she has homes all over the United States, and takes trips to Europe every year!
Is it or is it is not true that most feel the road to publication goes something like this?

1. Begin writing a novel and finish it as quickly as possible.
2. Find an agent to unload said work upon and get back to the real work—that of writing.
3. Get published because what other purpose does writing serve?
4. Begin the next project.

Four/four rhythm is captivating and many dance to its beat. Some dancers feel nothing beyond this, nothing about who might be in their way on the dance floor even. Writers get caught up in a singular beat and struggle to finish their book project, never thinking about writing skill , their competition, where their book might fit in bookstores or, if it does fit, what are the odds of anyone finding it in those intimidating stacks? Marketing is assumed to be the responsibility of publishers, not something about which writers should be concerned. After all, aren’t contractual rights granted to publishers, permitting them to print, sell, distribute and license other to print, sell and distribute? So isn’t it the publisher’s job to worry about producing and selling books (big sigh of relief)?

It’s true that if you just want to produce writing you must put ink to paper. It’s also true that you tie yourself to your keyboard and you pound out a certain number of words a day. BUT, and this is a big but, if you want to write to be published, you must first think quality and how you’re going to sell what you write.

A book, after all, is just an entertainment device and, as such, is actually a product. So if writers can at least get their heads around that concept, doesn’t it also make sense to think of test marketing said product before, not after, it’s produced? Authors, to be successful, must think of themselves first as businessmen and women who produce a high quality product for the entertainment industry and after that all the other ramifications of the industry in which they want to become a player. Yes, Toto, we are no longer in Kansas.

No matter by whom one is published, he or she must think about those stacks; those silent bookstore shelves filed with books standing shoulder to shoulder, one inch apart. A few wise authors wonder how Joe or Josephine reader could possibly find their simple title when no one knows what to look for. Isn’t it a fact that readers need a name, not just a book title to find a book? But that consideration is swept aside by most in the daily toil of getting that damned book written and out there.

Very few consider that it’s just luck of the draw that an unknown author’s title gets pulled from the stacks, read and bought. Those stacks are the new writer’s enemy, a place where an author’s future lives or dies. It’s a book graveyard, where tomes standing so bravely are allowed to stay only a few short months before being returned to the publisher and turned into book soup.

Even when the Golden Fleece is within reach, little or no understanding or thought is given to returns until months later when that first royalty statement arrives and the author sees that his or her book didn’t fare well; that returns far outnumber sales. Of course, because an advance had to be paid back, there is little worry that a check didn’t arrive with the statement. Possibly a note fired off to his or her agent and this disappointment is quickly forgotten, left to agents and publishers to figure out. Along about four statements later, however, the truth finally sinks in that there probably will never be a royalty check coming with any statement. But that’s okay, right? Most writers never receive royalties beyond their advances, right?


So what happens if an author decides to let the publisher carry the marketing load? In many cases an author won’t get another publishing opportunity. If your first book fails, you fail as a businessperson, as not many publishers are going want to waste more money on your product. You’ve now been tested and your product hasn’t proven itself. After publication, if a novel has high returns it won’t pay out its advance, and novels that don’t pay out their advances are looked upon with disdain.

Put yourself for a moment in the publisher’s (also a businessperson's) position. Would you want to risk more money on a unsuccessful product? Even worse, would you risk more on an author who put forth little or no effort to keep his or her failure from happening? If you are among the more fortunate and your book does get published, work very hard to make sure your novel or book is a great success. Build yourself a name before you’re published (more on this later).

Knowledgeable authors learn that name recognition-- their name first and a title or titles later--are what readers look for in bookstores or on Readers know that nothing else matters because it’s a daunting task to find anything to read without those two identifiers.

Therefore, if you want to be a successful novelist, you must get beyond just writing. Something must be done to let lots of readers know who you are and that you have one hell of a tale to tell.


Scott Jensen said...

By your "(more on this later)", this looks like the beginning of an interesting series on this topic. :-)

So are what you're saying is that publishing is now celebrity driven? That it is more important who you are than what you write? That writers that became famous for their writing ability are once-in-a-blue-moon random chances and that a writing career is now merely one of the perks of being a celebrity?

That if one wants to be a successful author, you need to first devote time in making yourself into a celebrity.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Scott: Not exactly. What I'm saying is that writing is a business and books are products. This being the case, Irene and Thomas Writer need to think as businesspeople think--name before product. You don't have to be a celebrity to be known as a potential author. You just have to begin promoting your name. If you're serious about building a career as a novelist, you need to do more than put some ink on paper. To sell books, readers have to know you write them and to maintain a career as an author, you have to sell books. Celebrities usually are celebrities first. They usually gain celebrity somewhere else beside writing. I'm speaking of celebrities like Sarah Palin and Brittany Spears or Snoop Dog. When they decide to write a book they are offered a million dollars before it's written. Why? Because they have name recognition and that name automatically gives them and audience. An author can do this on a smaller scale--build a name and a group of followers. That's what I'm speaking of in my post.

Kurt Chambers (emailman) said...

I totally agree with you. I have been taught by the many authors I have met in my travels that networking and self promotion is one, if not the most, important part of becoming a successful author. I took that advice on board and was lucky enough to be given the chance to become a guest author on the Blooding & Crew web site. I began building and promoting my own wed site, and I've even had my first online interview as an author even though I haven't been published yet. I'm also in the planning stage of going to my local schools to do a talk with the kids as they will be my targeted audience. It's surprising the following I already have even though in real life I'm still a carpenter by trade.

Self promotion is important. As the saying goes, if you want something done properly, do it yourself!

Scott Jensen said...

That's what I thought you were talking about, but because your post would be viewed in a different light is why I asked those questions as I thought others might be thinking them as well.

I assume you will be talking about name building for wannabe authors in your next post so I won't ask questions about that here. And I am especially interested in reading how you think a fiction author can do so.

corine said...

And this is why Nick Horby's entire oeuvre is stocked at Target. Name recognition is often the only tool of selection a reader has when selecting a book.

Gary said...

I would think a first-time novelist needs to treat their publishing accomplishment the same as if they had just self-published their work. Once you receive an ISBN it's pretty much up to the author to move units--otherwise there won't be a second chance.
Isn't that about right?

David J Griffin said...

Interesting post, thank you.

I write novels, first and foremost, to be read (eventually). If it makes a few bob (UK expression), all well and good!