20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 2)

stock-624712_640You can catch part one from Monday here on the Watercooler. Feeling discouraged yet? You’re not the only one trying to make a go of it in publishing and it’s a tough business, but my post isn’t over yet, and I hope you’ll find some room to breathe by the end of this post. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

10:The book is poorly written. You didn’t get a good edit. This is more common with independently-published authors who don’t pay for developmental or copy edits, but not unheard of in traditional publishing.

11: All we hear is crickets. The book never got word of mouth or enough great reviews (50+). There is no tangible buzz about you as an author or the book. Like a movie that no one talks about will sink after week two, the same is nearly true with books. Most books can sell 3,000 to 5,000 copies with little buzz. But if a book has sold more than 10,000 copies, it’s because people are talking.

12: Publisher oversight. The ebook didn’t release simultaneously—and in effect the marketing and PR upon the book’s initial release went to naught – without the e-product available “on the shelves” during the launch. Years ago, one marketing director I was dealing with didn’t know Facebook could be used to promote a book (luckily his PR person did). While gross incompetence is rare, mistakes happen out of the control of the author or agent.

13: A book was written and it should have been an article. We’ve all read books that were all but over after chapter 4. The story was predictable or the points over-used. Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, but try to make sure you’re conveying content that you can’t get in a few blogs.

14: One careless word. The book had a swear word in it so Lifeway wouldn’t carry it. This happens a fair amount of times because authors insist that profanity makes it more “real” (which it might) and they’d rather sacrifice sales than not be real. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?” If you want to play in certain sandboxes, you have to play by the sandbox’s rules. Sorry.

15: Setting and storyline. If it’s fiction, having a setting outside of America, England or Ireland. “Because I love Russia (or Africa or Thailand)” just plain rarely sells well in America. Or having a storyline that is not entertaining—and very hard—to read (i.e. child abuse, sexual abuse, deaths of key characters).

16: Changing reading habits. People don’t read as much as they used to. Or if they do, it’s blogs and articles that are free on the web. More true with nonfiction readers. The attention span of today’s internet-soaked reader has shortened radically.

17: Cheap buyers. People are waiting around for the free or cheap ebook that comes out a year later instead of spending $10 to $20 on a new book they know they will get eventually and pay less (or nothing) for. Also, the proliferation of self-pub’d books that have a lower price tag has put a dent in a traditional author’s sales.

18: Life happened. Something happened in the author’s life so that all of their well-laid plans to launch and promote their book flew out the window. Or it happened to the in-house PR person’s life. Or the outside PR person’s life. Or the agent’s life. Or their famous author friends’ lives. “Life happens” all the time, and I’ve seen more than a few books sink because cancer or a death occurred in the family of some key person trying to make the book a success.

19: Book retail has gone bye-bye. If you’re a Christian writer, the lack of stores to sell into can certainly be one place to put the blame. When I first started as an agent 21 years ago, there were 6,500 Christian bookstores. Now there are about 1,000. So . . . “no one walks into Christian bookstores anymore” is fairly true.

20: The industry. Frankly, publishing is hard. Every publishing house is working harder for less money. Every editor, marketing and PR person, sales person . . . is overloaded with work because margins are thin. If there is a “new normal” that will get us back to center in publishing, it hasn’t happened yet.

These 20 reasons, and likely a few others, would all not count a twit if people could just find out about the new books they want to read. Agents and editors are still finding great stories, fabulous writers and motivated publishers. The problem? Creating awareness for these great books! Retail continues to shrink, magazines are all but gone, and with over 100,000 new bloggers (on WordPress alone) starting blogs every day, it’s only a matter of time before most of us are tuning out all of the content coming into our inbox (if we haven’t already). How will people start finding out about all of these good books?

The newest and biggest elephant in the publishing room is this:  How, with the demise of print media and bookstores, do we find and target regular book-buying readers who are interested in a particular genre and book topic?

Faithhappenings.com was created to help answer this question. FaithHappenings offers the following unique benefits to authors, publishers and reader-consumers:

  • When a member checks specific boxes on their preferences, it will send readers an email when a new book comes out in any genre they enjoy and buy.
  • FaithHappenings also lists music and videos, independently published books and music, local events of every type, scripture, blogs, devotionals and much more… and all a member has to do is check a box to find out about them. It only takes three minutes to fill out a profile, and it is free to do so.

Check out www.faithhappenings.com. There are 454 local websites that carry local and national info, with a big emphasis on books!

20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 1)

books-21849_640When your book doesn’t move off the shelves or Amazon warehouses in vast quantities, our first tendency is to point fingers. There is something deep in the human psyche that needs to blame someone when hopes, dreams and plans don’t work out. Publishers blame authors, authors blame publishers (or oddly enough, their agents), retail might blame marketing.

The truth is, there will never be one reason why a particular book doesn’t sell. All any of us—author, publisher, agent, retail partner—can do is look in the mirror and ask, “Did I personally do all I could to help the process?” The other truth is, everyone who invests time in writing, agenting, editing, packaging, marketing, publishing, and selling a book wants the book to turn a profit.  We all want books to sell . . . every single book! Otherwise, none of us could stay in business.  So let’s disabuse ourselves of mistrusting motives of the key people trying to help our book—everyone wants to stay in business!

So why don’t books sell? It’s usually not because of a lack of desire, or effort, or skill, or hope, or prayer… it’s a myriad of tangible and intangible factors. Some an author can control, some a publisher can, and many are outside the control of anyone.

Welcome to the world of publishing in the 2010s. Times… they have changed. So what are the reasons a good book may not have great sales?

  1. Hundreds of books have been scuttled because a war or national tragedy took center stage right when a book releases. Suddenly, all of the great PR efforts and TV interviews set up get pre-empted, never to be rescheduled because everyone has moved onto the newest front list of books to promote.
  2. A bad package. It doesn’t happen too often these days; publishers like to make authors/agents happy. But cover designs do sell—or not sell—books. A great title that screams “must read,” a subtitle that grabs, back cover copy that says, “keep looking,” engaging table of contents, endorsements or a foreword by someone of note, a compelling first few pages… these are a few factors that can turn a book browser into a buyer.
  3. Champions leave. With uncertainty in the industry and publisher entrenchment these last five years, editors have been leaving or moving to different jobs at an enormous clip. Without an in-house champion to keep the book on track, details often fall through the cracks no matter who is following up. New editors must inherit projects, but if they didn’t acquire them, sometimes those books get treated like the red-headed step-child.
  4. Marketing/PR failures. A publisher had no effective marketing plan, or didn’t work their marketing plan no matter the agent effort or follow up. The truth is, the 80/20 principle is truer in publishing than likely anywhere else. Eighty percent of their marketing money goes to 20% of their books, because 80% of their income comes from 20% of their books. A huge fact of life in a very tough publishing environment. Sadly, these days, it may even be 90/10.
  5. Author ambivalence. An author decided they’d let others do the heavy lifting in creating awareness about the book. The writer took the attitude that “Everyone, other than me, should tell the world about my book—because I don’t want to be seen as commercializing anything; I’m above that.” Or, “God has called me to write, not to market my writing.” Or, “I’m busy writing my next book. I don’t have time.” Or, “I’m just not good at pushing my own stuff.” Spiritualizing or tossing out excuses about your inactivity likely means one thing in today’s book culture: a short writing career. God will more often “bless” hard and smart work. If you don’t believe in your work enough to champion it, rethink book publishing. Or, perhaps become a collaborator, you can write and not have to worry about promotion.
  6. Author platform. Ah yes, the scourge of authors everywhere. If you haven’t built enough potential readers into your sphere of influence through blogging, speaking, radio or social networking, publishers will just often say, “We can’t help you.” Why? See reason 20.
  7. Friendship failure. An author’s famous friends (the ones your proposal said were on board) who promised to blog, tweet and Facebook about it forgot, or got too busy, or finally read your book and didn’t like it, or have been doing too much of it for every other author friend they have and are just tired of filling their social networking space crowing about someone else’s product (when they have their own to PR).
  8. Small target audience. The book doesn’t meet a broad enough felt need. Niche books used to have a chance. These days they often do not.
  9. Topic overpopulated. The book has been done a million ways from Sunday and there is just too much competition on the subject.

Not all is as discouraging as this post might have started out—and how you might be thinking. I’ll continue my post on Wednesday with further analysis, but also a bit of hope that I hope will help shift the publishing paradigm and eventually change how we as authors, publishers and agents approach the industry.

Asking the Question, “How Do I Get Published?”

Woman_talking_on_phoneNothing dispels the misconception that I am unique more categorically than the internet.

Case in point: Every time I embark on some new project—whether it’s growing asparagus from seed or figuring out whether to read a talked-about novel or advising a student about whether she should negotiate for a better grad school fellowship offer—I always begin by asking Google. Invariably, before I get further than a word or two, Google is already offering me the rest of my question in the searchbox, word for word exactly as I was going to phrase it, from one of the millions before me who’ve already posed it. Whatever I’m asking—however stupid, embarrassing, or arcane my inquiry—the e-populace has already considered it and devoted significant effort to answering it. Wherever I go, the virtual multitudes have already been. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

That said, experience has also taught me that there are many who don’t seek answers on the internet. Or anyway, there may be plenty of mes out there asking my questions, but, whoever they are, they’re not the would-be authors who show up at my office or email or call wanting to know how to turn their great ideas into published books.

Computer Workstation Variables from WikimediaUsually, I concentrate my authorial-guru expertise on trying to turn their initial question—how to get published—into something more answerable, like how do you write a query letter? Or, how do you write a nonfiction book proposal? Or, do I really need an agent?

I explain to them things I’ve learned about the publishing process over the years—like that agents play an important role in the publishing process by vetting billions of manuscripts out there to find ones worth sending on to publishers. I tell aspiring authors that the 15% of what they may make and are already so reluctant to shell out for their as yet unpublished (and often not yet completed or even begun) books is every penny worth it for someone who not only knows how to navigate the crazily mysterious publishing world and has the connections to do so but who has a vested interest—namely, the desire to make money—in their clients’ success, since that’s where their success will come from.

“What you should be asking,” I say, “is not if you really need an agent but how to get one. And how to motivate yourself to finish a draft. Or how to get started in the first place.”

But they didn’t come to be nagged. They came hoping I’d help them keep on dreaming.

Here’s the thing. Getting published takes work, that’s all. And every answer you have about it has already been asked and answered, in billionuplicate, on the internet. And in more detail than any single author could ever offer. Figuring out how to get published is a matter of asking Google a question and then making your way, site by site, into the vast inter-universe of answers, refining and reasking as you go.

Interested in finding an agent? Here’s how.

Interested in getting a particular agent? Here’s how.

Interested in what clients that agent has had and how successful those clients have been in the past few years? Want to know how long your dream-agent takes to respond to queries? To requests for a partial manuscript? To requests for a full manuscript? It’s all there, often conveniently consolidated into a single, sortable site. Verily I say unto you, there is no mystery more fully unraveled in the webby bowels of the internet than publishing a book.

Which isn’t to say everyone’s in agreement about everything. Or about anything. Far from it. Finding some small clump of consensus, much less an answer you can trust, is as difficult as getting the educated lowdown on a loved one’s disease from the internet. It’s there, but you have to sort through a lot of obvious and sometimes not so obvious nonsense to discover it. Publishing questions are no different. You’ll have to winnow your findings.

But answers to your questions are out there. And, if you’re selective, what you learn is likely to be as trustworthy as and more informed than the answer of any single expert.

So, when you have a publishing question—especially THE publishing question—start with Google. Each question you ask and every answer you receive will take you deeper and a bit more confidently into the publishing world than any one published author can. If you’re lucky, you might even end up somewhere like here, where not just one but an entire community of agented writers are dedicated to encouraging, engaging, and enriching you along your writing journey. Without even being asked.Computer Keyboard

How NOT to Query An Agent

icon-364244_640Working for a literary agent definitely has its moments of hilarity. My most recent reason to LOL? I was pitched to.

Yes. Me. The administrative assistant. And here is the crazy part: I was pitched a manuscript to an email address that really isn’t common knowledge. And on top of that: I don’t get the query emails. Those go to a completely different person.

So why did it come to me, you ask?

I have no idea. Which prompted this post: how NOT to query a literary agent. Sharpen your pencils; get out your note pads, this is going to be riveting (and maybe save you the embarrassment of making common, amateur mistakes).

  • You hear it everywhere. You’re about to hear it here, too: READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ON OUR WEBSITE. Yes, I just used almost every function on the Word program to emphasize that statement. Seriously, all your problems will be solved if you take a few minutes to get these facts straight. When you do, you’re a sight for sore eyes for those of us who receive the queries (or shouldn’t receive the queries as the case may be…).
  • Don’t put your entire chapter outline/back cover copy/reasons why you wrote this story in the query letter. Take an hour (or two) and Google query letters. Figure out how to write a good one. Have a critique partner give it a once-over (at the least). This is the first impression you’ll make. It needs to be a good—GREAT—one.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you are going to be “the next NYT bestseller” or “Nicolas Sparks” or “Janet Oke”. Yes, these points just came through in a query letter that landed in my inbox. If you are going to claim to be the next hot name, please be sure to at least spell it correctly.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you need them to publish their book. Um, excuse me, but duh. Be humble when you approach an agent. They have a ton on their plate. Usually many, many authors whose books and careers they manage. Reading your synopsis takes a chunk of time out of their day. Realize that it’s not all about your needs and frame the tone of your query accordingly.
  • Don’t give your life story. The reason why you wrote the book. The story behind the story. Don’t go there. Stay away. The agent doesn’t care. Now, if he/she picks up the book, reads it, signs you to their agency and you become friends, well, then yes, you probably will tell them the why behind the book. But right now you’re not BFFs; you’re strangers. You wouldn’t walk up to a handsome stranger-dude at a cocktail party, stick out your hand, and tell him all about your dog dying when you were four, would you? Of course not. Don’t do that to the agent you are querying, either.

Yes, that’s a lot of don’ts. Believe it or not, these all came out of a query letter I should have never gotten this week. So: read the guidelines. Write a pithy, word-catchy query. Have a great product to share with the agent. Be humble. Be patient. Email the right person and you won’t become an illustration on some agent’s blog anytime in the near future. ;-)

Seasons of Writing

I used to really love summer: 4th of July, barbeques, fireworks, my birthday, swimming, and relaxing with family and friends. However, now that I am older (and no longer get summers off–soak it up while you can, kids!), I have really come to appreciate fall. My husband watching football on Saturdays while I read or work, pumpkin spiced lattes, baking, crunching through leaves, Thanksgiving, and the upcoming excitement of Christmas all make me smile.

Just as each year has seasons and each time in our lives has seasons so, too, should our writing have seasons. Your writing seasons may not look the same as someone else’s writing seasons; however, everyone should be purposeful about their seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth” (The Message).

When I was in graduate school, a professor told me that summer should be for reading (fiction, nonfiction, and craft books) and writing. The last month of summer should be set aside for editing, but most of your writing should be new. Read, create, write, exercise. Refresh yourself. Lucille Zimmerman’s book Renewed offers some wonderful ideas for how you might employ those breaks that are so necessary for our creative spirits. Consider going on a writing retreat. Summer is the time to allow yourself to be as creative as possible with your writing.

Fall, then, should be about “the offensive.” In other words, submit, submit, submit. What you wrote during the summer is probably not read yet, so consider sending out a previously edited manuscript. You want to make sure that your manuscripts are ready to be seen by an agent or an editor. Don’t forget to track all of your submissions and responses. You can also edit what you wrote during the summer and attend a few writing classes or a conference or two.

During the winter months, you might take a short reading break again and follow up on your submissions. During the winter, especially, you should concentrate on editing. Allow yourself time to work through your manuscript at least two, if not three or four, different times. Consider hiring an outside editor. If you cannot afford a professional editor, you might want to look into hiring a college student who would be happy to read through your manuscript for a few hundred dollars and a letter of recommendation.

In the spring, start something new and begin lining up the books that you are going to read over the summer. You might also use this time to take care of the business side of writing: double check editor/agent contact information, complete your taxes, and straighten up your paper and digital filing system.

Again, while everyone’s seasons will look different, determining what your seasons will look like allows you to be prepared and to have an intentionally-focused writing life.

Have you ever thought about having writing seasons? If so, what do they look like? If not, how might you fashion your writing seasons? Also, what’s your favorite season?

A New Resource for Your Platform

My right pointer finger was getting sore. Why? I had smashed the delete button on my computer to that “not for us” email from another editor on a book proposal they said they wanted, and one I really believed in.

And my thumb had a bruise. I had pressed “end call” on another kind phone rejection for a project everyone had said they were really excited about.

Yelling from my office to my at-the-time assistant Jason, “If I hear, ‘the author doesn’t have enough Facebook friends’ again I’m going to scream. Really?! Mark Zuckerburg is determining what Christian publishers publish now? Is that what this industry has come to?”

It’s not that I didn’t know social networking results weren’t the first questions out of editor’s mouths (yes, before passion, craft and story). I’d been hearing it for a few years. And my authors were working it! Dozens of authors trying to build their platform with Fan pages, Twitter, blogs, guest blogging, guest Tweeting, personal messages, Pinterest posting.

Noise, noise and more noise.

Yes, it was working for a few superstars who hit the blogging thing at the right moment with the right content. But now there was just the tsunami of words in everyone’s inbox. I kept thinking, Certainly we’re getting close to a tipping point where most people are just going to delete everything that comes in.

I felt bad for my authors; felt bad for the editors and marketing directors who couldn’t buy a book anymore just because they loved it. And I felt like something had to be done to help my authors out with their platforms. Perhaps there is something I could do…

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

FH Logo - approved 0714That was about 18 months ago. And my life has totally changed.

What once was a staid but exciting “work from home” literary agency has turned into a literary agency AND this huge potential of a marketing vehicle called www.faithhappenings.com. I now have 454 local websites with national content populated everywhere and local content being slowly added week-by week.

What I hoped would help my authors get the word out on their great books to people who aren’t walking into Christian bookstores anymore, has turned into something a bit larger.

YOUR COMPLETE, TAILORED, FAITH RESOURCE.

I felt a broadly-based Christian website that served people locally would not only help readers bump into books, bloggers, and speakers quite a bit more, but might also make a dent for the Kingdom in ways no website has before. I wanted the site to be able to hold anything and everything—locally and nationally–that was “soul-enriching,” “marriage-enriching,” “family-enriching,” and “church-enriching.”

So we launched June 6th, and now have this membership-free-to-everyone national website that has completely automated your ability to find out about:

  • Events in your area (concerts, speakers, conferences, fundraisers, author events)
  • Products that release from publishers, self-published authors, music, indie music, audiobooks, videos—in 80 different categories. Simply check a box on what you want to hear about when it releases, and you get an email once a week. Never miss a new release in your favorite genre again!
  • Daily Scripture, devotional content (including video), blogs, personality profiles, “resource specials of the day” and much, much more.

If you’re an author, speaker or blogger, the site is made for you. If you’re doing an author event for free, my space is free. You just fill out this quick-and-easy template.

If you want to get the word out on your blog, we can do that.

If you want to speak more in your local area and the areas surrounding you, our site can advertise you as a speaker, but also any and all local speaking events open to the public.

If you have a self-published book and wonder how people will find out about it beyond your social media universe, we can help.

And if you want to offer your product as a special of the day to create awareness about it, we have a daily “Resources of the Day” (25/day max) to help get the word out.

Throw in about two dozen other local and national features and you have a site with the potential to make it so you never have to Google anything local and faith-based again. It will all be there in one website. Your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource.

So I invite you to go to www.faithhappenings.com, sign up in your local area, and then look around.

And if you like the site and feel like you could perhaps help us out, we’re looking for a few thousand people for paid and commission-based sales positions:

  1. Affiliate Partners: Are you an author/blogger/speaker who has worked hard at building a platform? Then instead of just asking you to do us a favor by spreading the word, we’ve created a way for you to make money by helping us find members and vendors.
  2. Lead Community Associates: We need about 400 people to take the lead in populating their local site with local content.
  3. Community Associate: Someone who has between 5-15 hours/week to spread the word about FaithHappenings to their networks (and who wants to make between $200 and $1000/month), and then also to meet in their neighborhoods with churches and potential vendors about being a free or paid lister on the site. A CA works independently, but also as a team member with a Lead CA or other CA’s to canvass a community with the benefits of this one-stop resource.
  4. Area Coordinators: This person has between 25-35 hours a week to recruit, train and supervise other CA’s within a larger area. Generously commissioned-based, but a huge income potential for those who can wait to build a strong local foundation.

To learn more about any of these jobs/needs, please email us at workforus@faithhappenings.com. Let us know which job description you’d like to see and which area you are interested in serving.

A View From the Assistant’s Desk

alphabet-15461_640Working for a highly respected literary agency is not quite all it’s expected to be.

Some things I wasn’t fully expecting:

It’s a lot of emails. A lot.

It’s a lot of report filing.

Spreadsheet documents and, oh, spreadsheet documentation.

I am far from bored since I started working for Wordserve Literary and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

So what do I see from my small desk in the publishing world?

  • Self-help books are really in. True, our agency has a felt-need and a niche in this market to pitch to the nonfiction sector, but it still surprises me how many marriage, parenting, general life/encouragement/devotional books continue to come through our office doors.
  • Book deals really aren’t that awesome. While this didn’t surprise me, as a writer myself, I’ve always wanted to know what dollar amount writers were forever bemoaning. Makes me that much more grateful for the novels I consume on a regular basis and the authors who continue to write them.
  • Social media is huge. Something I already knew, but a platform is so incredibly vital to a writer. It’s the main reason Greg Johnson started FaithHappenings.com. Writers with a great story and no platform are getting passed right on by without that audience to market to.
  • Self-publishing is becoming more and more the norm. Writers who can’t get a deal for their great new book, or who don’t want to wait a year or longer for readers to have their next content, are pushing the “send now” button into the great wide world of indie publishing. It’s not the same as it used to be years ago. Indie is becoming a good opportunity to take advantage of with new cover options, quality printing companies, and more opportunities out there to publish a good product. Self-publishing is walking away, though slowly, from the stigma of poor quality material.

Publishing is a swiftly changing monster. But I don’t need to tell you this. Even if you are not published, the reality is that you can’t be a book lover and not notice that things are always changing. Publishers are trying to find new ways to get their books to capture your attention—and are buying less content. Authors are pounding the pavement harder. Literary agents are pitching the right book to the right house and still hearing no, for seemingly no reason other than “it’s not the right fit for our house.”

Does that make publishing a discouraging business to be in? Well, maybe, if you only look at the negatives of the business. But with changes come opportunities to rise to the occasion and come out on top with a great idea. A great book. The opportunity to impact lives with your words on the page. Because whether publishers are buying or not, a great book is still a great book. And passion for story can’t quell that. Ever.

The gift of a literary agency is the team behind you, believing in your product. It’s not just you. It never has to be just you. So even when the wait seems long and the emails slow in coming, we are behind you. Fighting for this book.

Keep on writing.