Search Results for: label/author marketing

How to Produce a Homemade Author Video Blog

So you want to do your own video blog with little or no help, experience or budget? I found a way to combine common productivity programs from Apple, Cisco, and Microsoft to create an author video blog of my own. You probably won’t want to do it the same way I do, but I’ll bet this video gives you some ideas for you to figure out your own model.

Why Do So Many Authors Use Initials Instead of Their First Name on Book Covers?

why did J.K. Rowling use initials instead of full name?Author initials. A.A. Milne. G.K. Chesterton. E.E. Cummings. E.B. White. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien. P.D. James. J.M. Barrie. H.L. Mencken. E.L. Doctorow. B.F. Skinner. T.S. Eliot. W.H. Auden. M.K. Gilroy. What’s with that? Why do so many authors use initials instead of their first name?

I’m guessing F. Scott Fitzgerald never forgave his parents for naming him Francis. But he could have gone with Frank.

When my first novel, Cuts Like a Knife, was introduced, my sister Susan asked me, “What’s with the initials on the cover of the book instead of using your full name?”

My first response was it seemed to have worked out fine for Joanne Rowling—and no, no one has been able to confirm whether her middle name is Kathleen or Katherine. (Do you know why?)

That raises a much bigger question than why I went with M.K. rather than Mark. Why did Joanne become J.K.? To my knowledge she’s never answered that question directly.

When I headed up marketing for a publishing group early in my career we made cover decisions on the basis of the old advertising rule that females will relate almost equally well to a picture of a female or a male—but generally speaking, males relate almost exclusively to a picture of a male.

I’m not claiming that rule is still true, but I suspect there’s significant truth to it. I just can’t prove it. If someone can point to research on the topic, please message me!

I have to assume that J.K. used initials to make her author name gender neutral, which makes sense for the launch of a series categorized as children’s literature.

Is that the same reason why I went with M.K. instead of Mark?

I’ll make a confession. I originally wrote the novel under a female pen name and attempted to sell it that way as an agent. After all, my lead character is a female. I got a lot of interest but to my surprise there was near universal resistance to buying a novel by a pseudonymous author – which I thought would be a marketing benefit. I wonder if Nora Roberts had a hard time convincing her agent and publisher to introduce a mystery series under the name J.D. Robb? (Hmmm. There are those initials again.) On the gender switch, Rowling got “outed” pretty quickly when she wrote as Robert Galbraith for The Cuckoo’s Calling.

But back to the question. Why initials on my book cover? Was it because M.K. is more gender neutral than Mark or is it because M.K. Gilroy fits easier on one line than Mark Gilroy – a decision based on style?

The former. It was a marketing decision. My guess is that is the same reason many authors use initials.

But there is another reason I went by M.K. instead of Mark. And maybe I’m not alone.

My Kristen Conner series was acquired by Jeana Ledbetter who let me know a pen name wasn’t in the cards. But then she said, “But we do think ‘M.K.’ sounds kind of cool.”

Cool. I liked the sound of that. Is it possible J.R.R. Tolkien was showing off by adding three initials to his book covers? His friend and contemporary C.S. Lewis was satisfied with just two.

I’ve always wanted to be kind of cool—so there you have it. Mystery solved. Now you know why so many authors use initials instead of full first name.  We want to be cool!

The Secret to Writing So Others Will Like It

writing what others will like

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it. 

Jesse Stuart

The fact that I have made a living in the world of publishing for some thirty odd years is proof that I have acquired, written, edited, published, and sold what others wanted and asked for many times. I have helped publish a number of very successful books and series that were not necessarily what I might be looking for as a consumer and reader myself—a new devotional for mothers is a good example—but I knew that the material would meet a real need for many others.

I believe in focusing on others and will continue to do so for my “day job”.  So don’t get me wrong. I believe in the discipline of marketing as applied to writing and publishing and business development, especially the early part of the science when you scan and closely observe the world to see what people are looking for and buying, trying to spot new interests and trends.

But having said that, there came a moment in my publishing career that I decided to ignore everyone else and write something for me—to go with my gut feeling and instinct that if I like it, others will too. No way was I going to revert to form and gather focus groups or put out surveys. I decided to go with a jury of one. Me[Read more…]

When Can An Author Quit the Day Job and Write Full-Time?

A week after Cuts Like a Knife hit the market I had a neighbor ask, “when can an author quit the day job and write full-time?” I got the same question from two authors within days. Here is a quick glance at the numbers that helps anyone that wants to start a new enterprise count the cost – I picked a salary with an easy monthly number and then walked authors through the royalty process. Enjoy!

 

Author Interview With Mark Gilroy

As the launch date for Cuts Like a Knife rapidly approaches, I have been doing a series of interviews for radio, print, and internet book programs. Here are a few of the common questions I’ve been asked.

Noir image of author M.K. Gilroy

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am the father of six great kids – with just one left in the house now. Oh – wait – one came back after college graduation – so there’s two around here somewhere. I’ve spent 30 years in publishing – from packing boxes, writing articles and curriculum and ad copy, editing and managing editorial departments, creating marketing plans and directing art design, and finally serving as exec vp and publisher for three companies. I love book publishing! I’m president of the Ravenwood High School track program (contributions welcome) and participate in our football boosters as well. I freelance publish for retailers, publishers, ministries, and businesses. My lovely wife Amy and I live in Brentwood, Tennessee, and attend Brentwood Baptist Church.

What was your motivation behind this project?

I have always loved character driven mystery and suspense. From the Hardy Boys in grade school, to James Bond and Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe in my teen years, then on to spy thrillers by Deighton and LeCarre in college, and then discovering a plethora of great mystery thrillers from Hillerman, Block, Grimes, Child, Leonard, Mosely, Crais, Silva and a host of other great writers throughout my adult life. I even went through a crime noir faze where I had to reread everything from Chandler and Hammett – The Long Goodbye was the creme dela creme. I can’t forget Graham Greene. The common denominator? Great lead characters. I’ve spent 30 years in publishing and have a couple graduate degrees, but the best training I’ve received to pen my debut mystery thriller comes from the sheer volume of great books I’ve read – and not just thrillers, even if they are my default fiction genre.

I had a tremendous amount of fun writing Cuts Like a Knife – and count it as a tribute to the writers who have brought me so much enjoyment as a reader.  I hope readers fall in love with my lead character, Detective Kristen Conner, in the same way. She’s tough and in-your-face. And she’s a fragile mess. She loves God, her family, the Chicago Police Department – her dad was a cop – and anything you put on her plate. Doesn’t mean she gets along with all parties mentioned above – except the food. Kristen also has a secret – but don’t expect me to tell you what it is for at least a couple of books!

What do you hope folks will gain from this project?

I did my best to write a great thriller that has all the twists, turns, and suspense readers love. The fact that my character is such a “graceful mess” to watch in action should make the experience even more fun – I’ve been told by reviewers that there are some real laugh-out-loud moments. I think there will be deep appreciation for Detective Kristen Conner’s simple and honest faith.

How were you personally impacted by working on this project?

I earned quite a few frequent customer awards from Starbucks while writing Cuts Like a Knife. I wrote early morning and late night so I could do the day job. But I’ve never been one for a lot of sleep anyway! I do feel a sense of gratitude from the critical response to Cuts Like a Knife.

Who are your influences, sources of inspiration or favorite authors / artists?

See above! LOL. Let’s just say I like a great plot as much as the next person – but the writer that creates a wonderful character is the one I read over and over. Probably my favorite character over the past 10 years has been Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. The author that inspired me to try and write a Christian character into a general market mystery was Tony Hillerman. His character Jim Chee is a deeply religious and self-reflective Native American – his faith is part of his inner dialog as he solves crimes on the Navajo Reservation.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

When books don’t do very well you often hear an author complain that his publisher didn’t do very much to get behind and promote the book. Having been a publisher I know there are a lot of factors. I’ve personally worked hard on some books that never caught on – and basically spectated as some others have taken off in the marketplace. But what I can state very boldly is that my friends from Worthy Publishing have done a tremendous job bringing Cuts Like a Knife to market. They hired Jeane Wynne as publicist and she has performed miracles securing reviews from periodicals like USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly for this first-time novelist. If Cuts Like a Knife should fail commercially the fault will be all mine. However, I think we have something special here. The Worthy leadership team has somewhere around 170 years of combined experience in publishing. I’ve asked Byron, Jeana, Kris, Rob and others who holds seniority – but no one will claim most years of service.

How Much Money Do Authors Make?

How much money do authors make?

With the number of author and reader friends I have, I thought a quick snapshot of how much money author’s make would be fun and enlightening.

The attached chart breaks down four types of author: aspiring; self-published; traditionally published; and hybrid (self-published and traditionally-published by design).

This chart is based on Dana Beth Weinberg’s of responses from five thousand authors to the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. To read her comments on the data click here.

Financial Analysis for Publishing

Mark Gilroy teams up with Brian Henson to provide a quantitative-qualitative financial analysis for publishing that will give executives and their full publishing team the tools to maximize strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

  • Industry variances in budgets and results – with recommendations
  • Author performance and recommendations
  • Category performance and recommendations
  • Major deal risk analysis with recommendation
  • Inventory management and recommendations
  • Backlist evaluation and “product mining”
  • Data management – we have experience and tools to extract and organize data (no matter what software plan) to give you and your publishing team the reports needed to enhance decision-making – and fine tune the process

Brian Henson is a 20-year publishing veteran.

Brian Henson has nearly twenty years’ experience in financial management and analysis in the publishing industry. Most recently, he managed all business and financial aspects for the Nashville division of the Hachette Book Group, the second largest book publisher worldwide, where he created budgets and forecasts, performed financial analyses, initiated and contributed to strategic plans, and revamped inventory management. He created many models that were adopted company wide, including new ways to evaluate—and some cases monetize—the company’s author portfolio and overall backlist. He considers his biggest accomplishment that of cutting inventories in half. The various contributions added millions of dollars to the bottom line. Brian played a big part in Hachette’s reacquisition of Joel Osteen, as well as recent deals with Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, John Maxwell, and Joseph Prince.

 At Thomas Nelson, Henson filled similar roles, creating a “company first” dynamic budgeting system from the bottom up for more than $270 million in annual revenues in a complex, matrix style organization. He developed forecasting methodologies and monthly financial packages that are still used today. He also contributed to product development, having several of his ideas published. Henson served as the primary advisor to the Chief Publishing Officer and as liaison between publishers and sales executives – an acute need in most publishing companies. He created tools to help publishers and editors evaluate new product proposals prior to decisions meetings. He was a key analyst and performed due diligence on various company acquisitions.

Henson earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton in marketing and marketing management, and the MBA from Wright State University with emphasis in accounting and finance.

 

Contact Page

Snail Mail:

2000 Mallory Lane, Suite 130-229, Franklin, Tennessee 37067

Presumption of Guilt and the Breakdown of Public Discourse

presumption of guilt and the lack of civil discourse

The meeting of the minds has become a contact sport!

Much is made of the lack of civil discourse and the breakdown of public discourse in American culture today. Is it time we declare the meeting of the minds to be a contact sport with special headgear?

The art of diatribe – a long, angry, bitter, satirical criticism against a different opinion – has always been practiced in the public square across generations and cultures. But doesn’t it seem worse than ever? Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic, but even in my lifetime, I seem to remember healthier expressions of dialog and debate on fiercely contested ideas.

Okay … I was born shortly before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law … my childhood was marked by the Roe v. Wade, the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, Watergate, and economic Stagflation. So it wasn’t very peaceful then either.

But I still seem to recall the mainstream political debates – every bit as contentious as today’s issues – having more civility. I think. Well … sometimes.

The constant companion of the diatribe today is the ad hominem attack – [Read more…]

Don’t Eat That Frog First

Eat that frog?

Eat that frog?

In his bestselling book, Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy tackles the issue of personal productivity with 21 ways to conquer procrastination, beginning with his classic breakfast recipe :

If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen the rest of the day!

If you’ve ever met Brian, read one of his books or heard him speak, you know what a disciplined, talented, savvy communicator – and person – he is. I have a lot of admiration for him. Better to listen to him than me! I’ve been known to procrastinate at times.

But I would humbly suggest that there are some days you will get more done by foregoing the frog for breakfast – it tastes nothing like chicken – and enjoying your Cheerios, oatmeal or bacon and eggs. [Read more…]

Q: How Accurate Are Bestseller Lists?

Q: How accurate are bestseller lists?

A: Not very.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They are great for publicity and will probably help generate more sales. Many people peruse the various lists to help them determine what to pick up next. They are fabulous for an author’s ego. Admit it, wouldn’t you like to have the tag New York Times Bestselling Author under your name every time you published a book? All it takes is once!

Why aren’t they accurate?

Book publishers don’t use a upc code on the back of their books. Why? There is an ancient custom that book retailers should be able to set their own prices. UPC codes include a price. So traditionally, publishers have used an ISBN number and code. A few use nothing at all. That means a whole new reporting system is needed to gather point-of-purchase data. The biggest collector of this data is Nielson’s BookScan system, which is modeled after the music industry’s SoundScan.

But not all retailers feed their data to BookScan and not all bestseller lists use BookScan anyway. The New York Times has the most prestigious list, which is based on several large chains, a number of independent booksellers, and select mass market accounts. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal employ similar methods of sampling, including judicious use of BookScan. Ditto Publisher’s Weekly. However, many large booksellers – like Sams and a number of other mass market retail chains, schools, Christian bookstores, rack jobbers, e-books, and high volume tabletop display marketers – don’t provide their data to BookScan. The largest Christian retail chain doesn’t even provide its data to the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) bestseller list. One wouldn’t, of course, expect the lists to account for other ‘special markets’ including direct sales nor organizational and author purchases. The good news is that Amazon and Walmart sales are now included with BookScan – but several of the lists resisted using Amazon’s sales until the last few years.

What percentage of book sales are reflected on bestseller lists? No one knows for sure based on all the above reasons. I’ve heard estimates ranging from 30% to 60%. Anecdotally, one author friend has now sold three million copies of a single book. Of those, 100 thousand have sold in traditional book selling settings and the other 2.9 million have sold direct to consumer, business to business, or through back-of-room sales when he speaks. Those 2.9 million units have never been counted on a bestseller list.

Because bestseller lists do create positive publicity and sales momentum there are more than a few occasions when authors and publishers have attempted to manipulate their book’s placement on the lists. For example, back when it was harder to track single store sales, an author or agent might order the five or ten or twenty or thirty thousand copies of a new book needed for speaking engagements through a single bookstore to ‘force’ a book onto the list. I’m sure this has helped ongoing sales just for the fact that accounts would see the book show up on a list and order more store copies. But point-of-purchase data, at least within a chain, is now sophisticated enough to spot this as an anomaly, not a trend. The New York Times at least used to put a dagger symbol next to books that had large bulk orders. (Do they still do that?)

There is a publisher axiom that says you can get a book on any bestsellers list through marketing but in order for it to stay on the list it has to be a great book that generates word-of-mouth advertising. Longevity of a book on various bestseller lists is almost always an indicator that the book has real ‘legs’. Or, in the case of books that sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of units and never show up on a list, they either need to be great or the author needs to have a great platform for moving product.

So bestseller lists are important indicators of what’s happening in major swathes of the book selling environment but they have information gaps in that environment and don’t even attempt to measure what’s happening in special markets, so they can’t tell the whole story of which books sell most.

About Mark Gilroy

Meet Mark GilroyMark Gilroy has had a long, varied, and successful career in publishing, from his first paid creative assignment as a newspaper sports writer while in college, to serving as head of gift, specialty, and backlist publishing for Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher. Throughout his journey in the world of books he has worked with leading authors such as Max Lucado, Sarah Young, John Maxwell, Darlene Zschech, H. Jackson Brown, Donald Miller, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, Beth Moore, George Foreman, and many others.

Mark has had a leadership role in numerous publishing phenomena, including God’s Little Devotional Book and Jesus Calling—two series that each sold more than 10 million copies and touched countless lives.

Mark won’t claim he has done it all in the world of publishing, but he has packed boxes, edited manuscripts, made sales calls, created marketing plans, directed design and illustration, started companies, consulted, agented the works of others, and written advertising and catalog copy. He’s authored, compiled, and ghost written books that have landed on an array of bestsellers lists and sold millions of copies. His first ghost writing project, The Wal-Mart Way, was done for Don Soderquist, Sam Walton’s longtime right-hand man.

In early 2012 he put on a new hat as a fiction author. His debut novel, Cuts Like a Knife, was released in April 2012 and was met with rave reviews from USA Today, Fresh Fiction, Publishers Weekly, and other leading national reviewers. His second novel, Every Breath You Take, second in the Kristen Conner Mystery Series, released in Fall 2012 to similar acclaim. Kristen Conner returns in Cold As Ice, which releases in Fall 2014.

Gilroy has extensive writing credits. He scripted and served as creative consultant for a two-hour training video that was honored with the Award of Excellence by the International Television Association. He has compiled and written close to fifty books and penned hundreds articles and curriculum pieces for a variety of periodicals and publishers.

Gilroy is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University (B.A.) with a double major in Biblical Literature and Speech Communications. / Journalism. He also holds two graduate degrees, the M.B.A. from Baker University (4.0), and the M.Div. from Nazarene Theological Seminary (magna cum laude).

Mark enjoys his family - which keeps growing!

Mark enjoys his family – which keeps growing!

Gilroy and his wife Amy reside in Brentwood, Tennessee. Their six children are Lindsey, Merrick, Ashley, Caroline, Bo, and Zachary—the youngest has now headed off for college, so he and Amy are officially empty nesters.

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES

Do I Need An Agent to Sell My Book Proposal?

Q: Do I Need An Agent to Sell My Book Proposal?

A: It depends.

Do I need an agent to get a book project sold?

Do I need an agent?!

This is almost like me asking you if I need a realtor to sell my house. Okay, in light of the current housing market, that might not be a very nice parallel. But then again, a quick look at the publishing industry might make that comparison even more apt. But back to the question and topic.

In the “old days” of publishing, let’s say prior to 1990, there was a common publishing phrase that referred to an unsolicited manuscript that was sent to a publisher as something that “came in over the transom.” (A transom is literally a hinged window over a door. Think of the book return slot at a library.) In other words, a writer sent in his or her manuscript to a mail drop, which then ended up in one of several 4-foot high stacks in a junior editor’s office, and which after six or seven months of collecting dust was either rejected with a form letter – or voila, it got discovered and published. One way many publishing companies handled submissions that came over the transom was to hire college interns to sift through hundreds or thousands of manuscripts over summer break and separate the winners from the losers.

Many publishers were still leery of agents in the mid-90s. (Many still are.) Since acquisitions is the lifeblood of publishing, they preferred to take the initiative and go find someone with a marketing platform to promote their own work; if that person couldn’t write, the publisher would help them write it with a ghost writer or collaborator. If an author didn’t have a platform but had exceptional verifiable credentials – for example a professor at a university with a reputation for expertise in a particular discipline – the publisher would still take the initiative. Both of these and many other scenarios still happen all the time but even when the publisher is responsible for basic ideation, it is more common to work deals through an agent. And next to never over the transom.

The worry for publishers back in the “old days” was that once an agent was involved, he or she would demand too much money up front as an advance and too much in royalty rates and thus damage the economies of publishing. (Okay, the publishers were right on this point for many deals.) But even with that concern, sometime in the mid and late 90s, agents went from being a luxury for big name authors who wanted to sell projects to one of the big publishing companies, to a near necessity for almost all writers interested in placing a project with almost any size publishing house.

Today, many publishers will no longer receive unsolicited manuscripts from authors. They prefer and require agent involvement. In a sense, the agent, for many publishing companies, has become a way to streamline the acquisitions process – and maybe even reduce head count. (In other words, the agent has become the primary acquisitions editor for a lot of publishers.) The hardcore, full time, certified agent – and yes, there are many former editors and other publishing staffers who moonlight at agenting – earns his or her commission (more often 15%, up from 10% even a decade ago), along with a trustworthy reputation that opens doors to a variety of acquisitions editors and publishers, by carefully screening authors and projects and vouching to the publisher that the author can deliver both great material and can help market it.

What does this mean for the aspiring author? It means that finding an agent who will represent your work can feel – and be – as hard as selling the project.

So, do you need an agent? The answer is YES, if …

1. You don’t have inside connections with one or more publishers who are already disposed to buying a project from you.

2. You haven’t been approached by a publisher to write a project, which is a dream come true for anyone who has toiled with speculative work (you still might be better off with an agent if the deal seems fishy in some way).

3. You don’t have a large established platform (connection to a well defined audience that is motivated to buy from you) whereby you can guarantee a certain number of sales. (Some publishers will make a deal with this kind of author if the author commits to buying X number of copies, which becomes part of the contract. Some authors, particularly if they speak to large audiences, will then determine that they’ll make more money self-publishing.)

4. You want to be with a larger publisher (not necessarily the right option for every author or project) that will present your work to bookstores and other retailers. (I have a friend who has sold more than 1 million copies of his self-published book. He still feels dissatisfaction because the books he published with big time publishers did not do well in the trade.)

5. You have a big idea and a big audience that loves you, but don’t know the first thing about book publishing and aren’t really fond of writing.

That list isn’t close to being exhaustive and even if you can turn each point around and answer it conversely, you still may not need or want an agent. And acquiring the services of a well connected agent who really believes in your work is no guarantee that your work will be purchased by a publisher at all, much less at terms that feel reasonable to you. Plus, today there are many more professional quality self-publishing options available to the aspiring author. (Click here for my blog on whether self-publishing is for you.)

So do you need an agent? Unless you have the ways and means to sell a self-published work or have incredible connections within the publishing community, the answer is undoubtedly yes.

Mark Gilroy Joins Worthy Publishing Team – Press Release

WORTHY PUBLISHING GROWS TEAM BY ADDING
MARK GILROY AS SVP, ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER
Mark Gilroy has joined senior management of Worthy Publishing in Brentwood, Tennessee.
The Worthy offices in Brentwood, Tennessee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn., February 1, 2013Worthy Publishing is pleased to announce that industry veteran Mark Gilroy has joined the executive team as a Senior Vice President, Associate Publisher. Gilroy will manage the rapidly growing Freeman-Smith imprint, working closely with founder Ron Smith, who will continue his creative work in product development and key account management.
Gilroy has had a successful career in all phases of publishing, working with top authors such as Max Lucado, Beth Moore, and Newt Gingrich, and on numerous bestseller projects. His most recent role in the corporate world was as publisher of the gift, specialty, and backlist books for Thomas Nelson.
“As we continue to build Worthy Publishing, we want to attract strong, energetic leaders and Mark Gilroy fits that bill,” said Byron Williamson, president and CEO of Worthy. “In my years of working with Mark at Integrity Publishers and Thomas Nelson, I know he has tremendous passion for books and great understanding of the marketplace. He and Ron will make a remarkable team.”
“I’ve enjoyed my recent work as an author, agent, and book packager,” Gilroy said, “but when Byron calls with a big idea you have to listen. I’m honored and excited to jump on board and work with the talented team at Worthy. I’m not sure how many individuals in publishing can match Byron’s track record for building great companies based on high-impact books.”
In addition to his work as a publisher, Gilroy has an extensive list of writing credits and in the past year has released two novels, Cuts Like a Knife and Every Breath You Take, which were met with critical acclaim in USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and other leading outlets. Gilroy has written with authors on many significant projects, includingWalmart Way, with Don Soderquist, Sam Walton’s longtime right-hand man.
 
Mark Gilroy joins Worthy Publishing team.
Worthy Publishing (www.worthypublishing.com), a privately held, independent voice in Christian and inspirational publishing, manages editorial, marketing, publicity, and distribution from its home office in Nashville, Tenn. Worthy Books focuses on a boutique list of new titles each year across a broad spectrum of genres, including fiction, current events, biography, devotionals, as well as spiritual and personal growth, and specialized Bibles. Worthy owns Ellie Claire, Gifts and Paper Expressions, as well as Freeman-Smith, a specialty book imprint.

 
CONTACT:
Morgan Canclini
817-944-1071


Q: How Well Do Publishers and Booksellers Work Together?

A: Publishers and retailers work together well in some areas – but there is a huge disconnect based on competing self-interests that make it difficult to help each other succeed.

What makes for a successful retailer? More revenue than expenses, of course, but not just a simple profit and loss reckoning, but profitability within a biz model that includes a positive monthly cash flow. Healthy cash flow is achieved through healthy inventory turns. What are turns? For a bookstore that mean ordering copies of a title on payment terms (often 60- and more often 90-days to pay) and then hopefully selling those copies and getting money for them at the cash register before writing a check to the publisher.

How likely is that to happen if you are stocking 200 thousand inventory items in a big box national chain? Not likely. But hot selling titles will hopefully push overall performance numbers up. But what happens if there’s no new Harry Potter or vampire title to average in with the laggers (and even help them move more briskly because of increased consumer traffic) on the aggregate? What if you are a retailer and your inventory piles up to the point that you don’t have the funds to buy new books (referred to as ‘open to buy dollars’)? Simple. You return slow-moving titles, of course.

Store buyers place their orders with publishers (and/or distributors) based on projections of how many copies of a book his or her stores will sell in the first four to six weeks. How does the buyer come up with those projections? He listens to the publisher’s sales rep give the key selling points, comparable titles, and publicity plans. He then combines the sales rep’s projections with what his reports on the comps and his own gut tells him, and then places his order a couple weeks or months later. With the large chains the buyer will get a personal report card based on how well his titles met those projections. He has the further accountability of a finite dollar number in his corporate check book. Once that number nears zero without being replenished, his ‘open to buy dollars’ are done. So not only will he return books if they are not coming close to meeting forecasts, but he may be forced to return some borderline performing titles in order to have more dollars available to purchase a hot-selling title. To the publisher this feels like the retailer is paying his bills with returns.

The preceding paragraph sums up what is in a book retailer’s best interests – and what their challenges are. What about the publisher?

A publisher feels like she will do well on a single title when she adds up pre-press expenses (cover and interior design and editing), manufacturing expenses, direct marketing expense, overhead, a return reserve (usually an aggregate percentage applied to each title that assumes not every copy printed will actually sell and will have to be disposed of as an overstock or remainer), and royalty expenses (including advance against royalties), and then subtracts that number from sales projections – usually three-month, six-month, and 12-month projections. How does she come up with those projections? She reviews the performance of comparable titles and considers the author’s ability to help promote sales of the title to come up with her own number. She then shares her thinking with sales and marketing teams who will listen and agree or disagree in some measure and come up with their own projections. Different companies settle those differences in different ways. The publisher will do well on a single title in reality when the retail buyer brings in the number of titles projected (sell-in) and consumers buy enough copies of that title off the shelf (sell-through) to generate reorders. The publisher will get her report card on the basis of meeting or exceeding the original projections. She will do particularly well when overall sales pay off any advance against royalties and re-orders are frequent enough to keep inventory levels down (books sitting in a warehouse are like bananas – they can go bad overnite!).

The common success denominator for retailers and publishers is managing inventory levels. The retailer tries not to over order in the first place and is quick to return laggers. Both dynamics hurt the publisher who saves money on higher press runs and gets killed by returns. When publisher and retailer both get too conservative in order to combat this, another negative occurs. Stock outs. What happens when a customer comes to the store and the book he is looking for isn’t there? He forgets about it – or if he is persistent, he orders it online and waits for it. That kills brick and mortar retailers. Another less obvious impact of conservative buying patterns is the lack of merchandising. There was a day when you would walk into a bookstore and there would be numerous titles stacked high to capture attention and send the message that this was a book that just had to be purchased. With a few notable exceptions, like the afore-mentioned Harry Potter example, title emphasis is more subtle – and much easier to miss (or ignore).

Two relatively recent technological developments that are helping publishers more than brick and mortar retailers are print-on-demand and the e-book. Print-on-demand vendors provide a pretty high quality book (and the print quality is getting better all the time) – though without bells and whistles like foil and embossing – overnight and at a reasonable price. Not as good a price as printing 100 thousand books on an offset press, but a good enough price that beats the heck out of an excess inventory fall bonfire! An e-book is never out of print. Add those two dynamics together and any book is technically available within 24-hours to a retailer or individual consumer without the risk of large print runs.

But back to the publisher-retailer relationship. Even print-on-demand can’t totally mitigate the damage to performance numbers that occurs because the two parties have conflicting interests when it comes to inventory management.
Is there a solution? If you follow the financial reports of major publishers and retailers, neither side of the equation is doing well enough to give much in the give and take of business.

The solution for the author who wonders why his or her book isn’t selling like it should is to look in the mirror and ask him or herself what he or she can do to build demand. The book publishing and selling environment isn’t currently emulating the Fields of Dreams. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it will sell.

Bestselling Books of 2012

2012 was a good year to sell books as an author if your last name was James or Collins.

The January 4, 2012, online of edition of Publishers Weekly provided a chart with three bestseller lists, all dominated at the top by Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

Bestselling Books of 2012
Nielsen Bookscan Top 20
Amazon Kindle Top 20
Amazon Print Top 20
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Greyby E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darkerby E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)1
4. The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
9. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
9. Bared to You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
10. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
10. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
10. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
11. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
11. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
11. The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
12. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
12. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)
12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
13. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
14. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
14. War Brides by Helen Bryan (AmazonEncore)
14. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition by the College Board (The College Board)
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)2
15. A Game of Thronesby George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
15. A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1–4 by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)3
16. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)
16. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
17. The Hunger Games Triology Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
17. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
17. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Amer. Psychological Assn.)
18. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
18. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)
19. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
20. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)
20. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
Nielsen/BookScan (week ending Dec. 30, 2012)
Amazon Kindle (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
Amazon (as of Dec. 31, 2012)

The Pillars of the Earth – Building a Cathedral to God’s Glory

Ken Follett. Penguin. Published in 1989.

My first exposure to Follett was in the early 80s with a trio of spy thrillers, Eye of the Needle, Triple, and The Key to Rebecca. I like the spy genre and though I didn’t think Follett had the nuanced political and psychological depth of a LeCarre or Deighton, he delivered intrigue, twists, and turns at a Frederick Forsythe (Day of the Jackel) level. Smart, action-packed escapist reading!

Follett wrote The Pillars of the Earth in 1989 and I completely missed it. For 20 years. Once I’ve read an author a couple times and like him or her that usually doesn’t happen. But it should have come as no surprise. In Pillars, Follett switched genres from international political thrillers to historical fiction with this 973 page tome. I’m sure his publisher was aghast when he brought the proposal to the table. Follett was undoubtedly told that this was a bad “self-branding” move for any author, that he would confuse and lose his core audience. I’m Exhibit One that his publisher was probably right in a business sense. But if Follett had listened, we would have missed out on a literary treat. It hasn’t turned out too bad for Follett either, as Pillars is his backlist title that continues to sell the most copies every year.

So what prompted Follett to write a book that features a devout and godly monk who dreamed of building a cathedral to God’s glory; the ups and downs of a couple of stone masons and their families; and some really rotten earls, barons, sheriffs, bishops and priests? Was it Follett’s own act of devotion and religious fervor? In his preface he claims to be an atheist despite a Plymouth Brethren upbringing. But he did have what can be described as a near religious experience on a business trip to Peterborough for the London Times. He had recently read a book on European architecture and was fascinated with Nikolaus Pevsner’s description of all that went into the building of Gothic cathedrals. With an hour to spare before his train left for London, Follett took a tour of the Peterborough Cathedral and says he was instantly “enraptured.” This began a personal hobby of visiting and studying cathedrals all over England and Europe.

Follett may have left modern politics behind in Pillars but not the politics of 12th Century Europe. With the death of King Henry, Stephen and Maude wage a civil war for the throne spanning decades, with a constant and ensuing political fallout for earls, cities, and counties. Even the building of a castle or cathedral became a political roller coast ride with access to lumber, stone or labor determined by which combatant won the last battle of the season and which barons and earls had the right allegiance to be rewarded or punished.

Follett shows Medieval churchmen at their superstitious and barbaric worst – and their enlightened, progressive, spiritual, and charitable best. I think he is very fair to represent the true spirituality of the Medieval – and modern – believer. He doesn’t succumb to the temptation to paint crude caricatures. My own reading of Medieval history is cursory but from what little I know, Follett actually helps dispel the myth that these were simply “Dark Ages.” Watching Jack – a stone mason and master builder – wrestle with how to make his cathedral roof taller but still safe and finally discover the pointed arch is a marvelous glimpse into the technological developments of the day.

Pillars is set around the building of the Kingsbridge Cathedral, but Follett takes us on a historically plausible side journey through France, over the Pyrenees, and into the Iberian Peninsula, where Medieval monks traveled to the library of Toledo, Spain, and were introduced to Euclid (his algebra and geometry play a role in the building of cathedrals), Plato, and other great writings from antiquity. Throughout the story Follett introduces the historical seeds that blossomed into the modern political mind and arena, from worker’s and women’s rights to the question of whether kings and nobility must answer to the law.

Toward the end of the book, Prior Philip, the stern, austere, kind, hard nosed, fair, loving hero of the story witnesses the assassination of Thomas Becket at Canterbury – carried out under the urging of his nemesis, Waleran, a bishop who made Machiavelli seem like an author of positive thinking and encouragement titles. Philip faces his ultimate test of faith, namely whether he will keep his faith in God and whether that faith in God has the efficacy to make the world a better place. As a reader, we have followed his life as orphan, monk, reformer, and builder for sixty years up to the year 1174 A.D. But the question he must face in the closing pages of Pillars is just as relevant today!

Q: Why Won’t a Publisher Read My Manuscript in a Timely Fashion?!

Q: Why won’t a publisher read my manuscript in a timely fashion?!

A: A better question might be this: Why should he or she give two or three hours in his or busy schedule to pore over what you’ve written in the first place?

Let’s start with the simple reality that most of the publishing world is situated in a low demand, high supply section of the supply-demand curve. That means publishers must deal with the fact that we publish more books than there are interested readers. You, the writer, are likewise part of a supply group that is sending more manuscripts than a publisher has demand for in his or her world of limited open slots.


Note that the third variable in the SD Curve is Price. High supply + low demand = low price. Price, for you the aspiring author, is the publisher’s motivation to read your manuscript. Don’t get mad that the price you can charge is low, just understand it and do what you can to change something on the graph. Incidentally, I know a lot of publishers and acquisitions editors who are very nice people and would love nothing more than to encourage and help you. Those who spend a lot of time doing this, however, tend to be ex-publishers and ex-acquisitions editors. It doesn’t pay the bills nor justify the salary.

Publishers aren’t looking for more manuscripts to review but we’ve got to publish something, so unless we have a strong cadre of proven authors signed to long term deals we do want to read the right ones. (See my blog on whether you need an agent to round this discussion out.) What makes a manuscript the right manuscript? Bottom line: It offers something unique and compelling to a well defined audience. If you can’t articulate in a sentence or two what makes your book special for a group of readers that the publisher has some history or means of reaching, then an acquisition specialist probably won’t sort through your material to help develop your “elevator speech” with you. Let’s break down the components of the sentence that is set in bold face.

1. Articulate: Is your sales pitch as well articulated as your manuscript? (Both are well written, right?)

2. In a sentence or two: When you skim book shelves or magazine contents or advertisements or any other message, how long do you give it to catch your attention? Five seconds? I doubt it. Why would you expect a publisher to be any different than you, particularly since he or she knows that the finished book will have the same requirement to nab attention in a second or two put on it by consumers. Hint: There’s something that goes on the cover of a book that serves as the best sales pitch available. (I’ll address titling and subtitling in a future blog.)

3. What makes your book special: If you have quoted someone else’s work in every chapter, there’s a good chance your book is not needed. If you haven’t created something with a new angle, a new discovery, a new application, a new character, a new anything that is important and compelling – why bother?

4. For a group of readers: Chances are your book idea will not appeal to everybody. So bold assertions that millions will want to pick up this book is a real turn off and indication you haven’t thought through who will actually take the time to look your book over and purchase it. Better to be honest about the size of the group that your book appeals to.

5. That the publisher has some history or means of reaching: Textbook publishers don’t effectively market to fiction readers and fiction publishers don’t do a good job of marketing to preachers and ministry publishers don’t tend to reach romance enthusiasts and so on! When you determine who to send your manuscript to, make sure that the publisher has published comparable titles.

This Q/A is as philosophical as it is practical. It’s about helping you measure your expectations and understand why the process is frustrating without getting to frustrated. I’ll come back to the major points of a good book publishing proposal (because whether or not you hire an agent, you’re going to be the one who has to write it!), which will have significant overlap.

Okay, back on topic. Why won’t a publisher just read your manuscript and proposal? Don’t blame him or her. You haven’t yet articulated a concise and compelling reason to do so.