Saturday, March 05, 2005

Invitation

I'm running out of gas. If you have a topic you'd like to write about pertaining to the world of book publishing, or a question you'd like to see discussed that seems appropriate, please contact me by email [madmaxperkins@hotmail.com] and let me know what's on your mind. Thanks. --Max

40 comments:

Bob Liter said...

Hi Max. I've been reading your blog with interest for some time. I'm published by Renaissance E Books (Seven novels) and would be interested in your thoughts on the future of ebooks, if any editors look at ebooks for acquisitions, etc.
Thanks,
Bob Liter

Anonymous said...

Max,

I'm curious about what it takes to get one of the coveted front of the store spots at Borders. When I walked in yesterday, Danielle Steel's new book, and Jodi Picoult were there, among others. Last week, Celia Ahearn's Rosie Dunn, was there. Does it cost a fortune to get that? Or is it up to the fancy of the store manager?

Mad Max Perkins said...

Anonymous:
The short answer is, it costs a fortune. That coveted real estate is bought & paid for--same with the step-ladders and stanchions you see when you walk into a Barnes & Noble. The discretionary aspect of paid-for "placement" is, in fact, the reverse of what you might suspect: usually demand exceeds supply. Which means that even if you WANT to pay a fortune for the coveted positions, the store in question has to weigh WHICH of the books given the prime placement are going to result in the greatest sales overall. (That's their bottom line, of course.) This is why the majority of that "placement" goes either to well-established authors or books that the publishers are supporting with huge marketing and advertising compaigns, i.e. titles the bookseller is gambling are going to be the new breakout hits.

Anonymous said...

What I would like to see is a discussion on the process and results of creating book covers. Considering that, aside from hand-selling and word-of-mouth, the covers play one of the most vital roles in marketing a book (even the spines, especially if a publisher can't get or can't afford co-op at the major stores).

When a book sells well, everyone congratulates the author first (of course), then the editors and marketing department, but rarely the designer. However, when a book bombs, the design is likely the first thing blamed (I've seen it, having worked in book design for seven years).

Yet, the process is collaborative, and more times than not, the art director and designer are overruled by editors and marketing folks on critical design elements - as if the art director doesn't have a notion on what works in the market. As if a designer isn't trying to sell the book, too. I'm speaking for good book designers, ones who have invested time in this specific industry, who know what can work, what can push the limits, when its good to hold back.

Further, smaller publishers feel that it is an unnecessary expense to hire a qualified designer, opting for inhouse drek from their production manager or the guy doing their catalogue - and wonder why the book can't get out there for sales. If anything, investing in good design - and I don't mean the hottest, latest, most irrelevent design, rather quality work that best reflects the intent of the book to its audience - can easily translate into more sales, especially with younger audiences.

With larger consortiums, if marketing gets their thumbs too far into the pie, then the product ends up looking like everyone else out there - not a good thing to do, but 'safe' for marketing (hey, it worked for this book in the same category, let's steal the idea). This does a disservice to the whole publishing venture, especially to the author, who has a new point/focus on a subject, or a new story to tell.

Look at the dream team at Knopf US. Look at Little, Brown. And then look at others, where the end product so ill-suits the interior that the book dies. And who's to blame, when everyone had a hand in that pie?

Brendon said...

All of the previous comments are right on--I'd love to hear about that stuff too.

My big question has to do with an author's "platform." What the heck? Some rationale would be great, especially for the casual reader of your blog, but more importantly, I'd love to see a "how to" and a checklist of what to include!

Anonymous said...

First, let me say what you need to cover, here: more dirt. And how about discussion of upcoming events, such as BEA or whatever.

Second, I only score a 50% on the following list. Help me out! (And I think you should develop a test-your-publishing-IQ quiz along the same lines.)

Sonny, Binky, Gary, Phyllis, Star, Sloan, Suzanne, Jane, Esther, Nicole, Andrew, Marty, Morgan, Mort.

Anonymous said...

How about a definition of what a B & N "national order" is, what it means (and also how big it has to be to be meaningful), and how a book gets one?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and another thing: I don't grasp age categories any more. What is this new thing with "young adult" stretching in to the mid-twenties? Yet it was always a kid category in marketing... While I don't like these things, I think they should be accurate if they're going to be used.

Danyel said...

Max! Do not run out of gas! you are needed.

JoAnn Chartier said...

Max, you need to have more fun! Your insight is valuable and the people who respond to your insight by posting comments offer additional perspectives on an industry that needs a creative kick in the pants. So, here's my idea for a pit stop to revive the blog driver: give the MAXimum Award to the most creative idea for a publishing business plan (note I do not say marketing plan)that maybe has the potential for fixing the ills of the industry -- or just makes for bizarre reading. I'm talking creative here -- not just a bean counter's perspective. Like, for instance, science fiction writers and their agents buy a press in a crumbling warehouse where aliens from Mercury (god of communication)and ghosts of publishing past advise them on what's the next best thing and they (authors, agents and extras) turn out books and then link with a rogue hypnotist and wifi expert to interrupt a regularly scheduled program on Megaradio and persuade people to buy those books so, instead of going to work in the morning, all those communters peel off and head for the nearest bookstore. Which the AltPub group will soon control...or is that too out there?

Leslie said...

How about a discussion of blurbs? Are they worth the effort; does their presence actually get people to buy a book? I find getting them for my work to be an irritating exercise in humiliation, yet publishers seem obsessed with acquiring them.
(Please don't leave us, Max!)

Allison Brennan said...

Leslie, speaking as a reader, the blurb is the single most important thing I look at before purchase. Even if a friend recommends a book, I always read the blurb before I buy it. There's only a handful of authors on my auto-buy list (because they've never disappointed me). Now that I'm writing full-time, I have less time to read so when I pick up a book, the blurb should make me want to find out what happens -- I should already be invested in the characters or premise.

As a writer, I love writing blurbs. I'm much better at them than full-length synopses.

Angry Young Man said...

In my experience, all covers start the same way: in a meeting with the art director, an underling or two, the publisher and a marketing rep, an editor describes the book, then suggests some ideas for the cover, presumably having already solicited ideas from the author and agent and usually in view of what the market is looking for. Then everyone chimes in, ideas are bandied about, and considerations about real estate (how big to make the author's name and where to put it, whether there will be a blurb, etc.) are taken into account.

It's the next meeting, when a cover draft is presented, that makes or breaks a cover. In some houses, such as Little, Brown, the art director has such power that whatever his department draws up has to be accepted, even if the cover is more a work of art than an effective advertisement for the book. In other houses, especially those publishing a ton of books each month, there might be more give and take but the workload prevents much revision after the initial draft. An editor might get a color change, for example, but he's not going to get a full-scale revision. And then there are the houses where the follow up meeting features several different cover drafts from which one might be chosen or elements of several might be cobbled together into a more workable whole that will be discussed at a third meeting. This is the best way to go. During the revision phase the author and agent will be brought on board to give their opinions, which may or may not be accepted for various reasons.

For your giant authors, all this goes out the window because the authors are much more involved and demanding, plus a cover might be designed in conjunction with the rejacketing of some backlist titles that will be repromoted with the new release.

Sales doesn't have much to say about covers at this point, but certain "rules" (in publishing that means unfounded opinions considered hardcore facts) apply: certain colors sell and certain colors don't sell, and these can be the same colors depending on who you ask.

In addition, some types of covers have templates. Low-level historical romance? You get the clinch or some variation (woman on her knees with her head near a man's crotch, woman bent back over a rock, etc.). Mid-level historical romance? You get a smaller piece of art suggesting time and place and the type is bigger. Upper-level historical romance? You get your name and title in gigantic embossed and foil script letters with some little piece of art to suggest the book is a historical romance.

Here's some dirt. A romance editor I know told me a cover for one of her books featured a woman with, I think, blonde hair. Problem was, the protagonist had brown hair. Change the cover? No time for that. Lots of covers to do. So change the book. At the last minute, the protagonist got a 400-page bleaching.

Are covers ever tested on the Man in the Street? Never, but you will hear about a bad book cover from the bookstore buyers, especially at the chains and in particular from Sesselee, the fiction buyer at Barnes and Noble. Buyers will lower their buys if a cover isn't going to change, and revisions have been demanded in certain cases. Sales with short circuit this disaster by presenting their disgust with a cover behind closed doors in "break out" sessions, which means here they "break out" of the corporate mold and speak their minds freely.

As for blurbs, they can't hurt and I strongly believe they help by positioning a book for readers and by offering those readers a personal recommendations. Of course, certain people are utter blurb whores and can be disregarded, such as Nelson DeMille, who would blurb a ham sandwich, and any blurb on a book of poetry is an exercise in obliqueness, obscure intent, and empty, desperate metaphor, much like most poetry today.

OK, back to work.

Anonymous said...

Don't leave us, Max!
I'd love to see you report back on the results of your author survey from a few months ago -- about being published by more than one house, what works and what doesn't.

Anonymous said...

ooooo. good stuff.

BEA: where the best scoops are heard in the ladies room (it's where the buzz for Lovely Bones began two years ago). Keep your ears open ladies. Gentlemen, I have no idea if you even talk in the men's room, much less whether it might be about books.

Covers: Yes, what are you people thinking? Did you run out of ideas, money or both?

The independents are gone; the other chains have disappeared, only the big B&N remains to govern the literary planet. What would that look like? What would that read like?

Blurbs. Hey, what's with comparing a novel to movies? I'm seeing more and more of that and it irritates the hell out of me. I look at blurbs and particularly pay attention to those blurbs written by authors or sources I already admire; however, the author loses credibility with me if I start seeing his/her blurbs on lots of books. Take care!

Is Booksense making a difference? How? to whom?

What's the economy doing to the book industry right now? How is it affecting the entire tier from author to publisher to bookseller?

Just a few thoughts, queries. Max. stick around, will ya? I'm spreading the word, granted it's slow and there's so much out there...but one by one...

Anonymous said...

ooooo. good stuff.

BEA: where the best scoops are heard in the ladies room (it's where the buzz for Lovely Bones began two years ago). Keep your ears open ladies. Gentlemen, I have no idea if you even talk in the men's room, much less whether it might be about books.

Covers: Yes, what are you people thinking? Did you run out of ideas, money or both?

The independents are gone; the other chains have disappeared, only the big B&N remains to govern the literary planet. What would that look like? What would that read like?

Blurbs. Hey, what's with comparing a novel to movies? I'm seeing more and more of that and it irritates the hell out of me. I look at blurbs and particularly pay attention to those blurbs written by authors or sources I already admire; however, the author loses credibility with me if I start seeing his/her blurbs on lots of books. Take care!

Is Booksense making a difference? How? to whom?

What's the economy doing to the book industry right now? How is it affecting the entire tier from author to publisher to bookseller?

Just a few thoughts, queries. Max. stick around, will ya? I'm spreading the word, granted it's slow and there's so much out there...but one by one...

Anonymous said...

Re: Angry Young Man

I really WISH that covers could be vetted by the general public, but finances don't allow for that (and then, you have to remember that Hollywood test drives so many blockbusters that bust just because of test audience feedback).

I've had it where a cover that was considered great, but everyone inhouse was fearful of backlash, was submitted to key booksellers - people in the industry that the publisher trusted for their taste - for feedback. Where warranted, that could be a good thing for a publisher to try.

Further, you have a North American audience that is becoming more and more sensitive to the trends and styles of graphic design. This is acknowledged in the UK and Europe, but US and Canadian publishers lag behind sometimes (not always) in terms of their audience. Its almost like they take to heart the saying 'never underestimate the taste of the American public' (I paraphrase here). However, look at your audience - it isn't necessarily the same as for movies (and they do have amazing graphic design in their marketing of their films).

If you are running the risk on a publication, its a good thing, not a bad thing, to run a small risk on quality, thoughtful design. Little, Brown does run rampant sometimes, but so do many publishers (in the scope of list, on certain publications etc.). Yes, reign them in when its more art than communication, because if it doesn't serve the book well (in terms of translating the ideas and mood of the interior), then it is superfluous.

As a freelancer with a wide array of reading friends - none of which are designers or artists - I turn to their opinions on spec covers before I send to the publisher. Why? To bolster my argument - and I DO have an argument behind any cover I submit, and in terms of its proposed effectiveness in the market, not in terms of its aestheic appeal - when facing both editorial and sales. Editors aren't designers, aren't trained as visual communicators. Sales knows what has worked in the past, and the best of them can see what I'm doing and respond positively to it, on a trust basis sometimes.

When I was an Art Director, I asked the Marketing and Sales staff to respond to covers on a professional level, rather than a personal level. Hate black? Ok, but what about the fact that it may work for this title, based on the TI sheet outline. Don't like scripts? Well, is it truly illegible? The general public has responded positively to scripts in advertising, movie posters etc. and its short and legible and means something to the book itself.

YA being adult is something I can see - I do have friends that are in their 30s that prefer reading YA over adult books. As well as them, the actual teenagers are identifying as older than even I identified when I was a teen (who eschewed most YA as too young for me, and went straight for the adult books). Teens want to read above their age, specifically because they are trying so hard to grow up and act adult. It makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Me again... sorry for any spelling and grammar errors in the past post. I was excited (and, well, I'm not an author nor editor).

One thing I do as a designer that might be food for thought:

In a lecture I did a few years ago at an art/design college, one of the students asked how book cover design relates to CD/album design. I thought a bit, and came up with the response that, well, they don't.

Music is a language unto itself, very emotive, transcending time or reminding one of personal moments in time. Books, however, are thought and response (emotionally, logically) to the content and within context of a person's reading at that particular time (notwithstanding rereads).

The analogy me and my co-presenter came up with was that book covers are closer to interior design than CD design. Before you get your back up, hear this:

For fiction, nonfiction, genre fiction, self help, I imagine the reader. Where are they? What do they want around them that best reflects their mental state, their sense of self? I then try to translate those ideas into the cover alongside the actual intent of the book - powerful clean design for business nonfiction, for example, to reflect the corner-office dream (or reality). Fiction that screams middle aged woman? Softer, tonier, perhaps dreamier (if the book warrants).

People put books out in their home, and want to be proud of their selections. They become the ubiquitous coffee table book to show friends what they read, they sit on the shelves in their living room or bedroom to remind them of the journey they took with that book, or the lessons they learned. They aren't furniture, heavens, but I've found that the better sellers have covers that reflect the tastes of their intended audience.

Thoughts? This may seem facile, but its one of my only ways into the mindset of a general buyer. Those I deal with in publishing - much less myself - are more voracious about book reading than Joe(anne) Public out there, and I need to figure those people out when I'm designing, otherwise the book may not be picked up (or sell).

JoAnn said...

Hey, Anoymous Book Designer--right on!! Book covers are crucial -- and designers, like writers and other artsy types, often get no respect -- yet designers are the first wave of Marines on the beach. I read across all genres, write non-fiction, and have four books in print with great covers, for which I have to thank the design folks at my publisher whose names I don't know and whose workload I can only imagine. Thanks to all who delight the eye and lure folks into a book.

JC

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