Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing is more than Writing

What I'm reading: Heaven on Earth by Lori Avocato; Untraceable, by Laura Griffin.

I'd received an alert that a local author acquaintance, Beth Groundwater, was going to be doing a program at one of the branches of the Pikes Peak Library District. I figured it was time to mingle with people interested in reading and writing, and plugged the address into my GPS. With only one or two moments of uncertainty, I arrived at the library.

First, I was impressed. Not only was it a large, modern building, but it was busy. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when you'd think people would be out adventuring. On the drive in, I noticed the first parking lot said, "overflow parking." I did find a slot in the main lot, but on the way out, both lots were full and cars lined the access road.

The second surprise I got was that this wasn't simply an author doing a program. It was an entire 6 hour mini-conference, an annual "Mountain of Authors" meeting. I knew I couldn't stay all day, but I found Beth, who introduced me to some of the library folks, and I felt like a writer. I picked up information about local writing groups, and chatted with people about writing, doing programs, and participating in their groups. I'd almost forgotten how warm and welcoming writers are.

The first panel was on "How to Get Your First Book Published" with a panel of an agent, an editor, and a first-time author. Although I'm not exactly an unpublished author, the discussion brought out the pitfalls and vagaries of the publishing industry. I sat beside a woman who was trying to get a book published, and she seemed impressed that I had already "made it." But that's not the case. In some ways, I'm in worse shape than an unpublished author.

How? Why? I have four books in print, with a fifth on the way in July, and a sixth scheduled for June 2011. Of these six, five are also available as digital editions.

I'm not going to ask for a show of hands here, but this is the business side. No guilt trip intended. How many of you have actually gone out and bought one of my books? My guess is very few. Lots of reasons. Price. Not your genre of choice. You read the 1st chapter on my website and were less than impressed. But what if I write the sort of book you do like to read. What are the potholes?

Bottom line, they're hard to find and require special effort on the part of the buyer. I'm no different from the next guy—if I go to the bookstore for a book, I'm a hundred times more likely to pick up something that's there rather than mosey up to the customer service desk and ask, "What's a good (insert genre here) book that you'd recommend, even though I'll have to wait a week to get it?" A tad more likely, but still remote, would be, "Do you have anything by author X; I've heard her name but don't see any books on the shelf."

Mail order via the mega-stores like B&N, Borders or Amazon is a little easier, but it's still an extra step. And almost everyone who I meet who seems interested in my books will say, "Is it at the bookstore?" The answer, "Yes, but only if you ask, and even then, the store might not want to order it," is honest, but doesn't sell books.

The above potholes lead to the jacknifed semi that closes down the highway. Using my case as an example: I'm published with small-press publishers. Two of them target the digital market first, and one the library market. Say I approach an agent and say I've written 5 books, they've been well received by reviewers, and have come away with some awards. Is that an instant in? Not hardly.

(Picture copyright 2007

The first thing they're going to do is look up the number of sales of my books. Low numbers equate to a death knell. Or at least an extended stay in ICU. So, landing an agent, who will then have to sell the book to a publisher who is also going to look at those numbers—it's an uphill climb. Same goes for those who choose to self-publish thinking it's a foot in the door. It can be, but not without some solid numbers demonstrating good sales.

So, as I sit and wait to hear from the agents and editors who have my two manuscripts under consideration, I have to understand that even though the books might be what they're looking for (and that's another story, because what I'm writing targets a very tight market with countless well-known authors already taking up most of the slots), the fact that I am already a "failure" by publishing standards can come back to bite me.

Am I ready to call it quits? Not by a long shot. Being surrounded by writers at all stages always inspires me, even if the marketing side is a challenge. And I'm happiest when I writing. I'll be posting more later in the week.

Tomorrow, my guest is Robie Madison who's going to talk about transformation. Be sure to come back.

As always, if you've found this interesting, please share.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Beth is *everywhere!* I swear, that lady does more promo work than anybody I know.

It's a really tight market right now, but you've got the right plan of attack, I think!


Elena said...

In general I do agree with you - but I'm feeling a bit quibbly over your conclusions. Over time I have had two agents, and have turned down one.

I would not want an agent who looked at sales figures of "my" electronic books expecting to see block buster numbers of a big name beach read writer. Electronic books don't have enough of a track record for anyone to know how to look at their sales profiles. Same for POD's. Same for an agent who didn't know my genre.

What I've heard over and over at conferences and from editors, having a track record of published books works in your favor. You are taken seriously as a professional, therefore likely someone who can produce a good product in an agreed upon time frame.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth, yes Beth does get around!

Elena - One hopes that an agent will look at 'remarketing' but I'm only reporting what was said on the panel. And I did have an intro to an agent at SleuthFest. After we chatted, she said, "of course, I'll have to look up your numbers." Yes, one hopes they look into who the publisher was and take that into account.

I'm still waiting to hear from all the folks I've got pages with.

Denise Patrick said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Terry. It is one of the reasons I'm so ambivalent about joining PAN. I qualify, but mostly through ebook sales, and I don't know how the mass-market publishing houses might look at that.

Right now, I'm comfortable where I am and with my publisher, but I might want to try to move to a mass-market publisher someday, and I don't know how difficult it will be. I suppose time will tell.

Terry Odell said...

Denise - Everyone agreed that publishing is changing. But it still comes down to writing a great book.

Debra St. John said...

Sounds like a great conference. And you hit it on when you said there's more to writing than writing. In the year and a half since I've been published, I've learned a whole lot about the business end of things. And I'm still learning new things everyday.

Terry Odell said...

Debra, I don't think you can ever stop learning.

Pauline said...

Reality is that big wall you run into after the first book sale. There may be people out there who weren't shocked by what it's like on the other side, but I haven't met them.

There are some authors who have transitioned from small press to NY. And there are others who don't want to make that transition. I'm one of them.

I've gotten close enough to a NY sale to realize it wouldn't suit me. What I always suggest, when asked, is that you need to have a very clear idea of what you want in this business and what it will take to get there. If you want a good discussion on the subject, check out The Naked Truth About Book Publishing.

It's a crazy business, but we love it, so we deal with it. Shrug. But we need to make sure we keep the fiction IN our fiction and not let it creep into our business decisions. IMHO. (grin)
Pauline Baird Jones
Girl Gone Nova
Managing Your Book Writing Business