Saturday, August 16, 2014

One Plus One Doesn’t Always Equal Two

I like talking to authors, or potential authors. However, many authors, if you asked them why they are writing their book, will answer, “Well, to be published.”

They say this like, “Isn’t it obvious? Why else would I be writing?”  Most don’t actually say it, but you can read it in their eyes, in the tilt of their head, or they smile with that faraway look in their eyes.

Okay, I’ll buy that this is good destination, but why are you really writing? I know that you think you’ve already told me, but is getting published really your purpose?

Let me put it another way: Is your purpose to make money or just be published? Do you want to be published by a major publishing house, a smaller house, or are you going to self-publish? If your purpose is to make money, do you understand how that’s done?

Sorry to confuse, but these are things that many of us don’t think about as we struggle with plot, point-of-view problems, character, location and all those other issues that take so much of our time. We really don’t have time to think of where we want to be published and what that looks like.  Maybe we just want someone to read what we write.  Maybe money isn’t an issue. If this is true, what does that model look like? Maybe now’s the time to figure out why we started writing in the first place. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Those Were the Days My Friend...

While patrolling J. A. Konrath’s blog, I clicked a link that took me back to when he was just starting out in publishing, circa 2004.

What was great about this older post was it revealed how much things have changed in our publishing world since 2004. Kindle, iPad, Nook, Kobo Readers—none were in vogue in 2004. Amazon, at that time, did not rule the book-buying world and it was assumed that self-publishing digitally was something losers did.

 Successful authors, back then, were published by the majors and were still signing their print books in big box bookstores.  Borders Books and Barnes and Noble were still king.   

To show how different things were then, Joe mentions doing book signings at Waldenbooks in his post.  A kind of the sign of the times thing is that K-mart was booming, and because of that it had enough capital to buy Waldenbooks. All went well with this until a few years later when everything changed.

Not only was ink and paper expensive, but publishing’s whole business model was becoming unwieldy. Many blame the shift on Amazon and its Kindle E-reader, but Apple was also poised to introduce the iPad, so one or the other would have fostered needed change. Whichever it was, the beginning of the end for big box bookstores was inevitable. Although some have survived, Waldenbooks and Borders did not.

 On July 18, 2011, Borders Group filed for liquidation to close all of its remaining Waldenbooks and other stores. Liquidation commenced on July 22, 2011.

Change is difficult. Many in this new world of publishing still deny that anything has changed. Take a trip to the writer boards and you’ll see many there who still believe that book signings are the way to go. Many there still believe that July 2011 never happened. Probably many still believe authors still do signings at Waldenbooks or Borders.  Change is hard, especially when change happens so fast.  

Although the world of publishing has undergone dramatic change in these past 10 years, there is still good news. What I also pulled from Joe Konrath’s historical post are these few simple truths that will never change, including:

“Invest in your writing career as if it were stock. Investing in yourself and your writing does (2)  things:

(1) It compounds your publisher's efforts in establishing your brand.

(2) It shows your publisher that you're willing to invest your own time and money into building a career.

The single most important thing an author must do is to make sure their publisher is happy. That means earning out your advance, being gracious and easy to work with, and making an effort to promote and market your author name as well as your wonderful book(s).

Some promotional opportunities are ads, reviews, library talks, conferences, conventions, internet marketing, snail mail campaigns and website contests. Also, meeting your reader fan face to face can make the difference.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and authors need to find better ways to sell their books, or else they won't last long in this business.

Learn all you can about publishing. Not only from the outside, but from the inside as well.

You're a consumer, as well as a writer. What makes you buy a book? Figure that out, and concentrate your efforts on reproducing that effect for other consumers.” – J. A. Konrath

This was a great post. Thank you, Joe Konrath, for this trip down memory lane.

Contracts: When to Sign on the Dotted Line

What we at Martin Brown Publishers, and most other publishers, offer authors a standard, boiler-plate contract. What boiler-plate means, in general, is a document that assumes to covers a basic agreement between both the author and the publisher.  A boiler-plate document is like a restaurant that offers burgers a certain way. If you want your burger dressed differently, then you have to specify what you want, or don’t want, on it.

What we assume when we send out a contract is that the receiving author is an adult and is a publishing professional. This assumption assumes that the author will come back to us with a list of changes or additions the author feels he or she can, or cannot, agree to in a contractual agreement between us. At this point, negotiation should begin. Unfortunately, in most cases what we receive is a signed agreement.

Negotiations do not begin after the contract is signed. Once a contract is signed, it’s called an agreement.

Everyone ALWAYS has the right to negotiate any and all contracts. No one has a gun to your head. Negotiation is expected and is a very standard procedure. If a publisher says they won’t negotiate, then, at that point, it’s up to the individual to ask him or herself if this is a company he or she wants to work with.

A contract is a legal instrument governing BOTH parties mentioned in the contract. Contracts, not word of mouth statements, protect BOTH parties and therefore are invaluable if questions or disputes arise at a later date. Therefore, it is vital that a contract be in place. It is also vital that there be COMPLETE understanding of what’s inside this vital instrument.  

The main crux of any contract, literary or otherwise, is to explain what each party is responsible for and must do, or not do, to comply with clauses contained in the contract. It’s that simple. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. If you still don’t understand, get help.

A word used again and again in contract is understanding, so if you don’t understand, ask questions. The word NEGOTIATE is also important. NEGOTIATE until there is complete UNDERSTANDING. If you don’t understand something, DO NOT sign the contract. If you still don’t understand, get legal advice. After you sign, in many cases, it’s too late to say you didn’t read or understand this or that particular clause and so this particular publisher is not recommended because he or she has a bad or unfair contact. No contract you made legal should be called a bad contract.

Contracts are agreements between two adults.  Contracts are not for children, even if some adults act like them. Always read and understand, FULLY, any and everything you affix your signature to.  Your signature says you agree with the terms and conditions within the contract. That means you agree with every word in front of your signature.  So it’s vital that you understand every word in your contractual agreement.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

If Stone Were Paper

I just read another wonderful novel—so wonderful I sobbed though literally half of it.  Such rich, full characterization. Its sadness was palatable. Its happy parts warmed my heart, revealing and funny in some places. I fell in love with the beautiful characters, I lived their lives, felt their suffering, ate their food; even shared their beds and their heartaches.

I’m a publisher. I want to add this book to my list. I want to publish this book. But…but and there’s always a big, big, fat hesitative BUT.

I probably shouldn’t have Googled this author’s name. I should have gone with my initial gut feelings and blindly offered on it. Now I’m skeptical. Why?

When I Googled I found nothing—a big flat empty nothing. No Facebook, no Twitter, no MySpace, no blog, no Web site, no LinkedIn, no Pinterest—nothing. A few years ago this would mean little.  Even today this means nothing to the average author, BUT HOW ABOUT HIS OR HER READERS? 

Does it matter to them? No. Probably not at all because there are plenty of books to read. What matters if one grain of sand is missing? So if a reader can’t find this wonderful book among the masses of other wonderful books…?  To the reader with plenty of books, it matters not a whit.
So how does an author whose name is a vacuum rise out of this nothingness? Can it be done? How was it done in the past? How many authors fail because no one knows who they are? Not as many as today, I’m thinking. Today there’s no shortage of amazing books to read.   

There are million upon millions of books on Amazon, many of them free. Barnes and Noble has huge numbers as well, as do many other online bookstores—and most are amazing reads. An average big box bookstore has around 80,000 books on their shelves, and there are thousands of big box bookstores. Of course, not as many before.

What am I getting at here? Where am I going? What’s the concern if I loved the book? That’s just it, I—love—this—book. I love it so much that I want others to experience what I experienced.  Is that selfish? Should I say the hell with it and forget it—or should I publish it, promote it as much as humanly possible—take the risk and hope for the best? Every publisher has faced this dilemma since stone cutters hacked pages out of stone.  But stone was hard to hack, so there were not many pages.