Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Meet Your Publishers; Connect with Other Authors; Sell to Libraries

Meet your publishers before you sign your name on the book contract.

That said: Even though my book was released last May, I just met with my publishers for the very first time in October. And once I did, I discovered why it's crucial to meet publishers in the beginning of a project. You gain an understanding about office relationships and you'll notice many things that you can't ever realize from phone conversations and emails.

Why didn't I consider this in the beginning? Because I'm often impulsive and I always see the picture more clearly in my rearview mirror. Those ah ha moments--they grab you and a lightbulb illuminates what wasn't obvious before. I didn't realize at the time I signed the contract that for better or worse the publisher-author relationship is like a marriage. Like a child, the book forever links you together, and if you want to make sales and get your platform out there, you have to find a way to make the relationship work. So take your time, find the right publisher, meet them first before you take that big step with your baby.

Why wait this long to actually meet the publisher? For one thing, Timber Press got my book from a publicity agent. No one ever said, "Come down to our offices, lets's meet." The proposed book was supposed to be an easy revision, just a few incissions and additions here and there. But the project morphed into a complete facelift and ended up with me missing 4 deadlines. Much of the original text required significant revisions, and by then my conversations with the publisher were only by phone or email. Also no one at Timber Press ever asked me to stop and meet everyone at the office, not until recently. When you think about it, it's like getting married to someone on the Internet; you'll never know all the details until you acutally meet.

From all those emails and phone conversations, I'd formed opinons of people and even pictures of them way before the meeting. Once I met them I realized I never could have known about the nuances of relationships and how the company operated. If I had more than rearview mirror wisdom, I might have done things differently in the beginning of my book project.

When my publicist asked me to stop by for lunch in October, we were joined by my acquiring editor an another author. Luckily the day was sunny and warm for this casual lunch get together, but the meeting wasn't what I'd hoped for. I'd been counting on picking up great marketing tips from my publicist and getting excited about marketing for my so called "book tour." But lunch was all lite jokes and small talk, and after I left, I realized that what my writing mentor and friend Roberta Cruger said was true--book publishers today are little more than distributors. They get your book out there, but if you want to rack up sales, it's up to the author.

One thing I discovered at this meeting was Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo had also submitted a manuscript to Timber Press. The aquiring editor and publicist spoke as if the Rancho Gordo book would be out next spring. I didn't catch much more than a menion of the book but I was intrigued and impressed. I love Rancho Gordo beans. Timber Press really was branching into foods, I thought. This was one book I'd definitely want to read.
Connect with other authors. I never thought about connecting with other Timber Press authors, it just happened, quite by accident. First, I was shocked when Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm said he had just submitted his manuscript for a book about corn. I was immediately intrigued because Anthony and Carol Boutard grow corn for polenta and corn for popping and because I know any book by Anthony Boutard has got thorough and it's bound to be good. So when Anthony and Carol mentioned the book, we shared experiences, discussed opinions and details about our writing and submissions as well as the ups and downs of working with editors.

Then a few weeks later, when I stopped at the Rancho Gordo booth at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers' market, I hoped to connect with Steve Sando, but he wasn't at the market that day. So I left my card. Later I blogged about the encounter. I didn't think anything more about it and was so surprised and delighted when Steve contacted me and told me about his book project and how it was for him working with Timber Press. This kind of information between authors is valuable and is so much more useful when trying to decide which publisher to submit your manuscrip to than discussing details after publication. Not that I have any regrets except that I was impulsive and I assumed it would be an easy submission when I signed the contract.

I loved hearing about Anthony's project and I'm very intrigued about what the Rancho Gordo book will be like. I'll definitely buy both books next spring. But that's all fun and excitement, the big learning curve here was contacting other authors.

If you haven't got a book contract yet, contact other authors and for better or worse, get a bigger picture of the publishing company. And don't just go with recommendations from your publisher. Seek out authors and find out what their experience was like, it can only enhance your book publishing experience, should you decide to go the traditional publishing route.

Sell to Libraries
According to the American Library Association libraries buy more than 1.8 billion books annually, and in this economic downturn, many more people are turning to libraries for books and entertainment. Even though events tend to be free, libraries often pay for speakers to address timely topics, so it's a good idea even if you have to donate your book to a library to get their attention.

I decided to contact the library near my home and the librarians I initially spoke to were uncertain about how to get my book into the library system. Eventually I connected with the right person and the library had purchased 9 copies of my book for the Sno-Isle library system. I was also shocked that the cover displayed at the library was not the one that is really on my book, but I can't complain about details now because I'm a scheduled speaker in March for their spring line up.

Speaking of libraries, I'll be at the Port Townsend Library tomorrow for their 4th annual dessert auction. This library selects a cookbook to feature at this event and I was honored this year when they chose my book. I'll be making a Cranberry-Raspberry Slump, then I'll be signing and selling copies of my book. Check out the recipe on Food Connections; I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Advice from Agents

I'm planning on interviewing a friend who has an agent and is looking for a publisher. She's bound to get one because her book is timely, and it's a memoir. I had my questions for her mapped out and suddenly I thought why not look through old issues of The Writer, for better questions. So I scanned issues for interviews.

But I continually got distracted. A good article here and there and then I stumbled across one titled: "Timely Advice from Agents" in an issue from 2009. It's about grabbing an agent's attention and every agent mentioned the crappy economy. Is it a little off track from book marketing? You be the judge; check out these five tips about selling your book in a down economy:

1. Develop durability, market sense. "Have a solid platform, marketing savvy and basic durability," says Rita Rosenkranz of the Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in New York. Her best advice is to stay in touch with your audience. Connect with them in a consistent way. (Possibly giving things away as in number 3.)

2. Now is the time to be writing. "It's harder to sell a book to a publisher," says Peter Rubie the CEO of FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. (Got to love this kind of optimism.) "Authors have to go that extra mile in polishing their manuscripts and coming up with a truly compelling idea or concept as well as establishing strong platforms." His best recession advice is it's better to be writing the book rather than trying to sell it in this economy. (I'll second that. Selling a book takes persistence and consistent marketing.)

3. Build a Web following. "Give your work away for free. Use every chance that comes your way to expand your audience," says Ellen Geiger, a senior agent with the Frances Golden Literary Agency in New York. (Not sure what you live on while giving it all away--maybe just put in lots of extra hours. She should have added: skip the sleep, it's highly overrated these days.) Her best advice is to live modestly even if you received a big book advance. These are uncertain times for writers.

4. Develop your own brand. "Writers need to develop their own brands rather than identifying too closely with a particular publisher or medium," says Robin Mizel, a literary agent in the Midwest. Relying too much on one medium or one form of publicity to generate income is too risky at a time when publishing companies are downsizing and losing jobs. Do consider posting a video for your book on YouTube and proposing a column for a magazine or newspaper.
Her most encouraging words were "It's a great time for writers who are willing to take risks and try new things." (I was just wondering who would loan me a kitchen to make a video.)

5. Platform is crucial. "Platform is more important than ever, especially for nonfiction writers," says Janet Rosen an agent for Sheree Bykofsky Associates in New Yourd City. Her best advice is timeless: "Write well, meet deadlines, give people something they really need and want to read." Give the reader a reason to care deeply about your book. Take time, build community, and deliver the book your readers have been waiting for. (More giveaways--it's that economy story again.)

Maybe I didn't pick up more ideas for questions for my friend's upcoming interview, but it's an eye opener when they can't get any more depressing about writing a book today. Every agent mentioned giving things away in various way for marketing. Who's on board to write that book now? Only the truly passionate writers as it has been in all times. It adds up to working more for less and budgeting wisely when marketing a book for most writers.