[To read the entirety of his original post, click on the following link and then scroll down to the comment that begins, "The biggest downer about this blog, to me, isn't the anonymity. It's the debate over anonymity. So let's get back to some of that famous dialog." ]
Part I: An Entrepreneurial Proposal
Let's start with an excerpt from an anonymous posting.
"I'm an unpublished writer and a business man. I've written my first manuscript and for the last year I've been researching the publishing industry, preparing my business plan, marketing plan, etc. My hope is to switch careers one day. I hear many discussions about how authors can no longer remain solely in the creative mode, that they must promote their book. I find this amazing. Authors should not only promote their book, but they should also take on some of the financial risk. I truly view my career change as a business decision and, to that end, I want to invest in my future.
"People invest in their future when they go to college. They do it again when they start a business. Why do writers somehow feel they should be immune from financial risk when publishing their first book?
"I'm an unpublished writer. Am I extremely naive? I have the impression that first-time novelists, even the ones with the financial means to take on some of that risk, feel they should be immune to financial risk...that their creativity should be all that is required. I just don't think that's reasonable in today's business climate."
Dear Entrepreneur: I want to applaud your progressive views regarding writers investing in their own careers. Especially for those who plan to write multiple books within a single category--for example, business books, self-help books, mysteries, thrillers, romance novels--the sooner you establish an identity in that field, the better the chance of your career taking off. The textbook example of an author investing significant personal capital toward establishing a "brand identity" is thriller writer James Patterson, whose first several novels hadn't found much more than a niche market. That changed with the first Alex Cross novel (ALONG CAME A SPIDER, 1993), in part because Patterson took matters into his own hands, investing huge sums of his own money into national television advertising--a medium that, presumably, he understood extraordinarily well, given his long and high-profile career at J. Walter Thompson.
So Patterson's the model for someone like yourself--a successful professional who, at mid-career, made a decision of the sort you've described (though his contribution to his own marketing efforts ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars). He had the means to do this, apparently, and put his previous professional expertise to great advantage in his second career. The result, needless to say, is that Patterson is one of the most dependable "brands" in book publishing.
The first issue, then, is means: many writers simply aren't in the financial position to apply your model, much less Patterson's. But my private advice to my own authors, especially those whose advances A) extend into six figures and/or B) are not the sole source of income for their families, is that they consider making precisely the sort of investment you describe. Many writers, and many agents on their clients' behalf, might feel that such a suggestion constitutes an act of bad-faith--perhaps because they fear that this lets the publisher off the hook in terms of its responsibility for marketing and promotion. My experience suggests the opposite, however: such willingness to contribute in some fashion tends (if presented strategically) to motivate the publisher to raise its game in kind, to devote more resources than might otherwise be the case.
There are those who'll debate such a scheme on principle, speaking in indignant tones about how it's the writer's job to write the book and it's the publisher's job to publish it. Perhaps that's how things ought to be. But the potential cost of such a perspective, especially if something misfires in the publication of those first couple of books, is almost always going to be far greater to the author than to the publisher; publishers are infinitely better equipped to weather the failure (say) of an individual title than is the writer; and when booksellers check their computers for sales histories on prior books, it's not the publisher whose name they're searching for.
Week after week, year after year, we read in Publishers Lunch, Publishers Weekly and elsewhere about writers getting staggering six-figure advances in hotly-contested auctions for their first novels. What we don't read about are the huge proportion of those writers whose careers barely survive that first pay-day, because the first book failed to perform anywhere close to the level of expectation. And so the level of expectation drops (and with it, the level of the advance) for the next book; and often this spiral continues to devastating effect. One can only guess how many of those writers, if they had it to do all over again, would have invested a substantial portion of their large advance into supplemental marketing.
This is such an important point. Those of you able to dig into your pocket to contribute to the marketing of your books--at any point, but especially early in your career--should do so aggressively. In the end, righteous bitching about the various ways your publisher may have failed you offers no solace whatsoever--the damage is already done. If you have the means to invest in your own publications, do it. Plan ahead. Talk to your agent, your editor, other authors. Find out what your publisher intends to do to promote your book, then figure out what ways you can supplement those efforts.
I feel duty-bound to say that no such investment will guarantee a more satisfactory outcome; nor is a writer who isn't able to follow such a plan relegated to failure. I've had plenty of experiences of books for which I paid a relatively low sum that, having won early in-house enthusiasm, have gone on to enjoy robust publications, supported beyond the level that might have been expected given the size of the advance. But in these days of instantly-accessible sales figures on one's previous books, there are no do-overs; so the earlier in your career you're able to make this sort of investment, the greater the potential benefit.
Next: PART II: AN EDITORIAL RESPONSE
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
- ► 2005 (75)
- Happy Holidays & All That Crap
- Letters of Protest
- PART II: An Editorial Response
- Part I: An Entrepreneurial Proposal
- 'Here I Come, To Save the Day!' or; Dispelling th...
- A Love Letter to Booksellers
- In Defense of the Blockbuster--A Topic for Booksel...
- Inside & Out: An Editor's View
- You Can Trust the Man Behind the Max
- ▼ December (9)