Saturday, November 06, 2004

MAD MAX SURVEY: Editors on Marketing

-> I'm extremely pleased to be able to share the completely unexpurgated replies to a series of questions from three of New York's top editors. I asked them to target their comments to what, for lack of a more precise term, we'll call a mid-list-ish title--that is, a book with a first printing in the 7500 - 15,000 copy range.

1. what can a writer do personally to increase his/her visibility--both in-house and out--before the book is published?

As far as increasing visibility inside or outside a publishing house, the writer is presumably limited by finances. Hiring an outside publicity firm can be very effective but is a big expense. Having a professional to create and maintain a website is also an expense. The free or cheap thing you can do is treat your book as a career (i.e. a business) and assume more responsibility than just writing the book. Answer the author questionnaire in as complete a manner as possible and give the publicity department something to work with. Find effective ways to spend a small promotion budget ($500 for an announcement postcard if the house will assume the expense of mailing it). Do some on-line research to see if there are any specific websites that will give good exposure to the book and then use them in whatever way is possible. But these are the traditional answers and more and more it seems as though breaking through the clutter is getting impossible.

ED #2: One thing that is worthwhile, I think, is to plan to visit New York some point early to midway throught the publishing process so you can meet your editor personally. If it's appropriate, your editor may also then introduce you to some of the others within the house who will be working on your book. The economics of publishing prevent a house from being able to fly in every author they sign up in order to meet them, but it's just human nature that people tend to be even more invested in the work of someone they've spent some time with, and know a little bit better.

The other thing to do is simply to make sure that you or your agent ask questions about the promotional strategy--ie marketing and publicity--throughout the process. It's important that everyone be on the same page from the beginning about what the house's effort will entail. Even if it isn't as much as you'd hoped, knowledge is power, and you can make decisions about whether there is something you can do to supplement the efforts of the publisher. Also, though publishers genuinely want to do a good job for their authors (it's in their interest to sell books too!) things are less likely to slip through the cracks or get off course if you keep yourself in the loop.

The caveat is not to go too far and start driving the editor and the house crazy with questions and demands. Hopefully your agent can give you guidance here.

ED #3: Most important is getting over the mindset that just because you have a publisher, they will do everything for you. A publisher is a partner, not a savior. A midlist author really needs to fire on all cylinders, both in terms of honoring all the obligations he has with his publisher as well as aggressively pushing his interests. He (I'm just going to use "he" throughout, pardons to anyone who might be offended) needs to be in close contact with his editor, for starters: he can't just be satisfied with the one lunch at the time the deal is made and no contact until he drops the ms. off. Make the editor your partner, your ally. Call him once a week or so, not to noodge him, but with your thoughts, with a progress report, with what is exciting you about your book. And don't dodge his calls, either, even if you don't want to tell him you're behind schedule.

Also, be really attentive to what the editor asks of you. Author questionnaires are pains in the butt to fill out, but they can be incredibly useful in highighting contacts you might have. Don't have a meltdown over editing. If your editor wants changes, listen to why he's asking for them. Generally speaking, if it's not working for him, it's certainly not going to work for your readers.

A writer should build his base--other writers, media, booksellers. And he should remind/update the editor on his contacts. This requires organization on the writer's part, too: keep a list of contacts as you make them, with names, phone numbers, emails, etc. And if the writer has friends in other cities, get names and addresses out of them, so that you can send postcards announcing readings should you visit that town.

If possible, the writer should try to get published in magazines, newspapers, or journals--writing articles, reviews or essays. That can greatly add to a writer's exposure and name recognition. It also builds contacts.

In short, anything that builds an alliance with the editor and builds the writer's credentials (which means the editor can sell in- and out-of-house without appeals to subjective criteria, such as the editor's own taste or judgment) will be useful.
2. what are the two or three things an author most needs his editor to accomplish in-house to increase the chances that this book won't get lost in the shuffle?

ED#1: Every book needs more than one in-house champion. Presumably the editor is the first champion, but the editor needs to find fans in sales, marketing, etc. And the editor needs to constantly talk about the book to any one who'll listen, but never cross the border into annoying.

ED #2: The first thing an editor needs to accomplish is decided long before the author even signs a contract, which is the editor must have already established him or herself as someone with good relationships in-house. Sales, marketing and publicity need to trust and respect the judgment of the editor based on their experience with him. It's from that platform that everything else will spring.

Secondly, the editor needs to get sales, marketing, rights, and publicity people to read the manuscript. Depending on the house and the book, this may be a no-brainer or the hardest thing in the world to accomplish. And there's no way to control whether this team will ultimately agree with the editor's assessment of the book's saleabilty once they have read it. But everyone is more likely to feel invested and will be able to execute the house strategy more effectively if it has been.

Thirdly, the editor has to develop a very clear and specific vision of who the target audience for the book will be, and then make sure that every element of the publication carries out that vision. If the cover they come up with doesn't convey it, they'll have to keep fighting for the art director's time and attention until it does. If the bound galley, catalog copy and sales conference presentations don't make it all very explicit, they have to keep rewriting until they do. They have to make a serious effort--despite the fact that even the most connected and hardworking editor can sometimes turn up empty-handed--for quotes from other authors to use on the jackets. They have to follow through with sub rights and sales and publicity to make sure that they are all holding up their end of the bargain. There are a million details that the editor must oversee--and each should be consistently targeting the same clearly identified audience/s for the book.

ED #3: It's not up to the editor. Ultimately, editors have little more than enthusiasm. As indicated before, having your editor like you and feels he wants to help you is a good start. At the end of the day, though, despite all the noise you and your editor can make, decisions about how books get published are out of the editor's hands. It's usually a committee (in some houses a formal one, but in most an informal one), led by the imprint's publisher and including the sales director, publicity director and marketing director, that decides which books are to live and which are to twist in the wind.
3. beyond the catalog listing, the advance galleys, the finished book mailings and the related press-release materials, what (if any) additional marketing is this book likely to get?

ED #1: "Likely"? None.

ED #2: In general, most houses will do something online, whether it's just a listing of the book on the house website, posting a readers' guide, or something more elaborate. Other than that, efforts might range from those basics to anything under the sun. There are a million ways to promote a book, depending on its content. If it's a novel, perhaps it is set within a particular ethnic community, or in some other milieu, that provides a likely base for readership. The house might choose to target such a group in any number of ways--via online promotion, postcard mailings, events targeting that community, etc. That's just an example. Or, if the book fits into a particular genre of fiction, then you can find ways to reach readers of that particular genre, whether electronically, by mail, or doing any number of things that might facilitate word of mouth. Whatever additional marketing the publisher does, they'll have to believe it will have a significant impact in exchange for the dollars it will cost. And the economics of publishing usually mean that the number of dollars will probably be relatively small.

ED #3: If a writer makes a plausible case--you have connections, you have an address list, you are willing to address postcards to 100s of people--he might have a shot at a tour. Coming up with innovative suggestions also can help--like using a web site in a new way. Aside from that, the writer shouldn't expect too much. Also, writers should just give up on the idea of advertising. The truth is, ads don't help sell books, no matter what anyone says.

3A. In your experience, how many copies does a book have to ship before there's a chance of print advertising entering the picture?

ED #1: MINIMUM: 35,000. More likely at 50,000.

ED #2: It's a difficult question to answer. For example, a novel with a small printing might still be advertised in one of the specialty genre magazines if that's appropriate. Or there might be some angle (whether the book is fiction or nonfiction) that causes an ad in a smaller, targeted publication make sense.

If you are talking about the New York Times Book Review--which seems to be what many authors see as the holy grail of print advertising--or any other mainstream national venue, it also varies widely. Some houses will do an ad for a 10,000 copy hardcover in the Times Book Review if the reviews they are getting in are extraordinary, and they see the sales of the book as having potential to build. And some houses may publish a book with 50,000 copies, that has a sizeable marketing budget, and just not feel that print ads are the most effective use of that budget.

ED #3: In my experience, advertising has nothing to do with how many books are shipped. It's about so many other things that have nothing to do with marketing. When it's part of a big marketing campaign, it's just a sign of how big the publisher wants booksellers or media to think the book is. It can also simply be a reflection of a particular deal with a particular author, or how the publisher wants to treat one of its editors. It's random, it's useless, and see above: don't worry about advertising.

3B. Quick estimate: what percentage of your titles get any print advertising at all?
ED #1: 5%
ED #2: Where I work, I'd guess that about three-quarters of the titles get some form of print advertising.
ED #3: 10%.

4. does marketing drive sales, or do sales drive marketing? That is: what (if anything) can a publisher do for a book that doesn't come shooting out of the gate?

ED #1: At this level printing [7500-15,000 copies], it's going to be a case of "catch up." What's likely to happen (if anything happens at all) is that IF it gets enough POSITIVE review attention, the publisher MAY chase it and be satisfied to get the ship up to 15,000 to 20,000 copies.

ED #2: Does marketing drive sales? Marketing can certainly help drive sales, obviously--unless there's a simple basic problem, which is that no one wants the book no matter how much they are told to buy it. Sometimes that happens.

Sales can also drive marketing. Imagine it as the equivalent of trying to build a campfire. Even a modest amount of sales activity is like that little flame or spark that gives you something to blow on, and feed fuel to.

If a book doesn't come shooting out of the gate, you have to really hope that you'll get some great reviews: that's the one main tool that can help get things going. Otherwise, you are really operating in something of a vacuum, and it's hard to get any traction at all. Unfortunately, the house can't control reviews. And even more unfortunately, sometimes the reviews are glowing and still have no impact.

ED #3: The right marketing can help sales, but there you have to have either a brilliant marketing idea, or you have to have a book with an audience that can be targeted. Marketing has almost no effect on midlist fiction.

5. An agent submits you a novel; you read it, love it, and are optimistic enough about your chances of acquiring the book that you request to speak w/ the author; whereupon the author tells you, "I'm a writer; my job is to write--to make this book as good as it can be, and then to begin writing the next one. The marketing of the book is your responsibility--I'm not good at it, and it takes
time and energy away from writing."
To what extent (if any) does this change your enthusiasm for the book?

ED #1: Sometimes, enough to lose the enthusiasmto fight for it, if one has to fight for it. If EVERYONE else loves ittoo, then the author as marketing person is less important.

ED #2: It all depends on what kind of book it is. Having an author who will be an effective element of a promotional campaign can sometimes be essential. Other times it isn't. It's impossible to be more specific than that.

ED #3: Hard to say. It might not change my enthusiasm for the book, but it might change my ideas of how much of an advance I'd want to pay.
5A. Is it conceivable that you might choose NOT to offer based on that response?

ED #1:
Depends on how much I love it. But my enthusiasm would be at least slightly dampened. The author should recognize that, at some level, they're self employed and nothing is going to be handed to them on a silver platter.

ED #3: Oh, yes, absolutely it's conceivable. It would depend on just how much I loved the book.

-> Mad Max would like to extend his personal thanks to Eds #1, #2, and #3, whose anonymity he'll take with him to the grave!


Libertarian Girl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Libertarian Girl said...

Several people have asked whether I, Mad Max Perkins, was one of the three editors whose comments appear above. I was not. A couple of weeks ago, however, I weighed in w/ answers to a reader's post, and it was that exercise that led to this "survey."

If you're interested in seeing the earlier Q&A, here's the link--also Posted [see listings under "Sidebar Whatnot" in the right-hand column] as "What's A Writer To Do?"

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this informative post.

Libertarian Girl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Libertarian Girl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Libertarian Girl said...

Sarah Weinman's terrific CONFESSIONS OF AN IDIOSYNCRATIC posted a link to this article, and is getting some interesting
replies. Check them out.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Got to read this because of M.J. and in a way I'm sorry I did. As a first timer with my book due to come out in May, with a small first printing, it looks like I'll have to climb Mt. Everest to get anyone to buy this book.
But I thank you for posting it.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know how Brian found an agent before he had even finished his firat novel.

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A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"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]

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