Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Dumb A** Notion

In my last post (about how much I love Valentine's Day) I quoted MJ Rose's post (about how much she loves being infantilized by publishers) and indicated I might have a thought or two more to say about the editor who appears in this little vignette:

An author who just finished taking my buzz class today told me her editor wouldn't give her the last name of a sales rep who did something lovely for her last book. "Just write to her and give it to me and I'll get it to her," she offered. When the author asked why she couldn't just send it herself, the editor said: "We can't have our authors communicating with sales reps."

Perhaps it was unfair of me to call this editor a dumb a**; what I should have first acknowledged was that she was doubtless just following company policy, stupid though it may be. The official rationale behind such policy is that the editor is the conduit for all author/company exchanges, in both directions (i.e. from the author and to the author)--if another editor wants to ask my author for a blurb, that request will (or should) come to me, because I'm in the best position to know the disposition of the author toward such requests--to know, that he is feeling anxious about completing a draft of his current book, and is consciously trying to cut down on "outside" distractions (e.g. book reviews, magazine articles and--yes--blurb requests)--and, so, to know that this is a particularly bad time for such a request. In that direction, such policy makes sense: an editor, attuned to his authors' individual circumstances, can (if needed) serve as a gate-keeper/filter/contextualizer for the various queries and requests that various departments might have.

In the other direction, though? In a company as large as MultiMerge Inc (the corporation for which most of us work these days), it's in the best interests of both editor and author for the author to have and maintain as many personal contacts within the company as possible. The reasons for this are self-evident: more contacts=the possibility for more love. An editor is but one person; and since it's rarely the case that any of my colleagues is going to care as much about my authors as I do, it's a critical (if unacknowledged) aspect of my job to increase the love, to extend to as many departments as possible an awareness of the author behind the book, the author as (gulp) human being [this tends to work best in cases where the author is, in fact, a human being]--to get others to be invested in, indeed feel responsible for, my author's success.

It boils down to this: an editor's job is to do everything in his (legal) power to further the success of his author. Sometimes this means helping out in arenas (marketing, publicity, promotions, subrights) that are officially beyond the bounds of his responsibility, to ensure that the proper attention & care are being given. Sometimes this means placing a boot where it doesn't, institutionally, belong--in the back, say, of the marketing department or the publicity department or the art department, arenas that are technically outside the editor's official sphere of oversight. Often it means schooling the author in the various ways she can help herself: building visibility by writing for magazines; developing and maintaining relationships within the writing and reviewing communities; taking an active role in self-promotion (via websites and blogs, e.g.); expressing gratitude toward all booksellers, even the ones who've just done a lousy job promoting your reading; building a database of bookselling contacts, and engaging them as personally as possible--by sending thank-you notes after events, and Christmas cards, and personally inscribed ARCs of the next book; maintaining similar contacts with readers who come to your events and website; and so on.

Now let's return to the editor mentioned at the top of this "essay." Friend, tell me this: why would we encourage authors to be so attentive to the bookseller AND the customer, but discourage the same behavior toward the people actively involved in selling the book? It's a stupid policy--a dumb a** notion designed, no doubt, to protect the delicate flowers in sales from the pestering of pesky authors. Yet sales reps as a group are among the best and most passionate readers in the world; they play a HUGE role in an author's chances for success--and, in my experience, they generally love the opportunity to interact to some degree with authors they admire. [And if they don't especially admire your author? An earnest expression of appreciation for a job well done is likely to do wonders...] So when an author wants to take the initiative to write a thank-you note, why not give her the address? Do you really think the rep is going to complain?

According to the letter of the law, you behaved appropriately by following MultiMerge policy; and you're likewise blameless for any minor deleterious effects following said policy might have. You're just being a dutiful and conscientious employee--and fair enough. But sometimes duty requires you (to borrow & misappropriate a notion put forth long ago by Jonathan Galassi) to be something of a double-agent. If institutional stupidity presents a roadblock to your author's success, then some degree of circumnavigation is called for....And while working for a corporation as large as MultiMerge often means having to contend with (among other things) a remarkably extensive list of regs & policies,

Statute XI. Clause B: "Editors shall be responsible for and answerable to all Author queries and concerns, and shall serve as primary conduit for same..."
its size also allows editors perhaps slightly greater opportunity to work both sides, since the consolidation of MultiMerge's back-office operations (through its multiple mergers) has left all parties spread, shall we say, a little thin. I'm not advocating for murder, or thievery, or a Tanya Harding-like sabotaging of the competition--just for advocacy itself, and the recognition that the more genuine connections your author has in-house, the greater her chances for success. And, so, for yours.


Sam said...

Company policy is probably based on some solid reasons for it...The word 'pestering' comes to mind - and I'm an author. As a business, a publisher has to act in a professional manner. I don't mean to imply that authors are not professional; but they are not all trained as salesmen or publicists either. I'm quite happy to let my publisher handle selling my books - that is what a publisher does.
However, I would like to be included more in the promotions and marketing department. I would like to have a better idea of where my books are going, how the publisher sees my future with the company, and I'd like more of a communications give and take. But by nature I'm not a 'squeaky wheel' and this is something that I will not demand, rather I will wait until I can speak to someone face-to-face to voice my concerns and hopefully get a bigger share of information.

Libertarian Girl said...

Dear AYM--

Truth is, I think sales SHOULD be answerable to the question of "Why Isn't My Book Here?"--believe me, anytime I find a store that doesn't have stock where it should have, the sales and marketing departments hear from me; likewise, when authors don't find their books, they come to me with the story, which I then relay to sales; and I expect (and get) answers.

You're obviously of the school of thought that "book counters" (authors who make it a practice to check whether or not their books are in stock in their neighborhood stores and/or the stores in towns where they're doing publicity) are being selfish trouble-makers. My view is that they're doing exactly what any person would (and should) do: their book is being published, there's a narrow window of opportunity for that book, there are certain stores that NEED to have the book in order for that book to have a snow-ball's chance of succeeding--why should they NOT be checking on, and holding publishers responsible for, whether or not there's stock in those stores? I don't share your view--distribution is absolutely a publisher's responsibility! Furthermore, guess what? Sales takes extra care to follow up on stock availability in tour cities, for authors with a reputation of being "book counters."

In other words--now I'm addressing SAM [post above]--my advice is, don't shy away from being a squeaky wheel. In a universe of limited resources, the books for which nobody is making a fuss are, like as not, the ones that slip quietly away. Professionalism is of course much appreciated--indeed, will serve you well--but the two aren't mutually exclusive.

And, for the record, I was speaking ironically--using what is a view expressed behind publishers' closed doors about authors who hold their publishers accountable--when I said "pesky/ pestering." Authors provide the raw material upon which this entire industry depends; the notion that they should be discouraged from expressing their opinions about how their books are being marketed and sold is ludicrous.

Back to AYM: Your second example--Author asking sales rep to pimp for him--is (no offense) a rather too sensational example, and rare in the extreme. Likewise, your comments about that particular asshole and the miserable troglodyte [his editor]who should have reined him has to do with the nature of both those individuals as human beings, and as such NO policy is going to curb their narcissistic behaviour.

Finally I honestly don't see how your comment about "tromping over their editors" to get power even applies here. I, too, have had authors "misbehave" at sales conferences, while on tour, et cetera. I can't control their behavior; but they're sure as hell going to hear from me if they're behaving inappropriately.

Sam said...

Thanks for the advice. It is hard, as you can imagine, to go against company policy and still appear professional. Plus, living in another country keeps me far from book stores and sellers. But I will be at RT and BEA, so perhaps there I can speak directly to the PR and marketing director of my publishers and see what I can do personally to help put my books on the bookshelves so that they may fly off them. I'll tell them Max told me to...

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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]

"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."