Archive for the ‘author’ Category

The Forgotten Story Continued

May 23, 2007

In yesterday’s entry, I wrote about the forgotten story of Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code and some of his not-too-long ago days in the publishing business. I included a short quotation from a court document. Just ahead of the quotation is another element in the story and points to a common situation within book publishing–change.

Authors are trusting of their publisher that they will carry out all of their promises for promotion. These marketing plans are nonbinding since they are normally not included in the actual book contract yet are used to show the publisher’s intentions for your book. These plans are offered in good faith but many things change within a publisher between the signed contract and when the book is actually released into the marketplace. Editors leave. Marketing people change houses and financial priorities shift. Many years ago I signed a contract with one of my books and the editor told us about plans to market the books in airports around the country with distinct displays and other such ideas. In between signing the contract and the release of the book (often separated by as much as 18 months), my editor left and none of those plans occurred. Yes the book was published but in a much more modest fashion.

For Brown’s earlier novel, Angels & Demons, he changed publishers from St. Martin’s Press to Simon and Schuster. Here’s the promised plans from his publisher, “Simon & Schuster said they were extremely excited by Angels & Demons. They promised to give the book considerably more publicity and support than my previous publishers. Their proposed publicity included a much larger print run (60,000), advertising in major newspapers, web advertising, a 12 city tour, an e-book release, and other exciting prospects.”

For a writer like Brown who was financially struggling, such a promise was a major encouragement. Yet the court document continues and reveals what happened: “Unfortunately, when the book came out, my print run was slashed down to 12,000 copies with virtually no publicity at all. I was once again on my own and despite enthusiastic reviews, the novel sold poorly. Blythe and I were heartbroken as we had put so much work into this book. Once again, we took matters into our own hands, booking our own signings, booking our own radio shows, and selling books out of our car at local events.”

You have to understand this incident took place in 1999 or 2000. Angels & Demons has gone on to become a bestseller. After the success of The Da Vinci Code, readers purchase Brown’s other books.

OK, what do you gain from this little historical trip? First, it’s a reminder of the ever changing nature of publishing. Also it’s encouragement for every author to take a pro-active stance with their own marketing and reaching their own grassroots audience. It’s not easy for anyone but if you are consistent (and have a book which is compelling and excellent), then you can eventually find your audience and success. Hold on to the dream yet realize it may take years of consistent work and effort to reach it. Everyone is looking for the quick way and more often than not, there is no quick way. If publishers understood it, then they would use it on the next book and the next book (which so often doesn’t work on a regular basis).

Authors need to keep working on building the audience for their books through forming relationships and the dozens of tools out there. If you need any inspiration in this area, pick up a copy of John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and start something that you haven’t been doing. In this area, I’ve been learning about virtual book tours and teleseminars. Last night my first teleseminar was successful. After the teleseminar, I edited the tape some at the beginning and the end using Sound Forge which is a terrific piece of software. You can get it from Mike Stewart, the Internet Audio Guy. Then I uploaded the file to the replay page using audio generator. I selected the “snazzy player” which allows you to fast forward or rewind the teleseminar. It was not complicated and I believe I created a great result–and learned a bit more about marketing books through teleseminars. Also I helped people learn about a great resource for authors, Author Law.

My encouragement to each of you is to continue forward–learning the craft of writing, forming new relationships and crafting better submissions for the editor.

The Self-Publishing Dilemma

March 25, 2007

During the recent Mega Book Marketing University, I’m still processing the information and people that I met from this experience. It was a well-done conference and if you get a chance to attend one of these mega events, I highly recommend it. There are plans to have them in various cities across the United States so be watching for additional information and dates.

During the conference, I met Shelley Phillips, a children’s book author from the Nashville, Tennessee area. We talked briefly about her children’s book, God Is Love, and she gave me a copy of the book. It’s a beautiful full-color children’s book with a music CD in the back. Shelley has a sophisticated website and asked me to give her any feedback about it. In particular she was wondering if a traditional publisher could possibly pick it up. I took it home and last week I read the book and listened to the CD. It’s a well-done product with a good message. She is selling the book on Amazon and if you follow this link, you will see I added my customer review to the page with this book.

Here’s the self-publishing dilemma: unless she sells many copies, I believe it will be a challenge to get a traditional publisher to take this book. Why? Full-color children’s books with a CD in the back are not inexpensive to produce. Many times, the publisher will like some element a great deal–and often dislike another element in the book. For example, they will love the words and the message but dislike the style of artwork or the music on the CD or _____ (you fill in the blank). The greater the number of variables, the more there is to reject and because of the large volume of submissions, most editors are looking for a way to stem the tide or something to reject. It can be something as simple as the size of the book and whether it’s standard or fits with the other children’s books for a publisher.

I wrote Shelley as I promised and encouraged her to use every means at her disposal to sell lots of books. For example, Amazon has a number of easy-to-use and free tools for any author. Notice this book released in 2005 and had no customer reviews–until I added mine to that page. A proactive author can orchestrate a few of these reviews. It’s pretty easy when someone says they love your book, you ask this person to go to the page and type a few sentences of review along with a Five Star review. The stars are important because Amazon averages these stars.

There are no easy answers with a book like God Is Love. I’m sure it was an investment on Shelley Phillips’ part to produce the book in the first place. Now I hope she will find the audience for it. It’s part of the self-publishing dilemma and why I’ve not gotten into this area of the market. Yes, I’ve written some manuscripts and proposed some projects which have not sold to a traditional publisher. If this happens, I don’t self-publish. Instead I figure I didn’t pitch it in the right place at the right time to the right person. Not every idea is supposed to move ahead in my view. It wasn’t the right one since it did not find a place. Each of us have to find our own way and make our own choices with these situations. There are no simple or easy answers in my view.

Publishing Switch and Bait

February 7, 2007

Over the last fifteen years Greg Stielstra, author of Pyromarketing, marketed hundreds of Christian books including The Purpose Driven Life. During that time he noticed a disturbing trend. Some Christian authors sought fame because they believed only celebrities could influence culture. What’s more, they thought selling lots of book required hiding their Christian content. In a sort of publishing bait and switch, some authors thought that if they must achieve a platform with secular books–or at least books that minimized faith content before they could use their new platform for good. The formula was, “First become famous and then make a difference.”

Greg saw things differently. He saw authors like Lee Strobel achieve tremendous success by writing books that helped people with clear biblical content. The formula was reversed; first make a difference and then the platform will follow. “Aim at Heaven,” C.S. Lewis correctly noted, “and you get Earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you’ll get neither.”

Greg wondered how to alert authors to this insidious deception and decided to copy a tactic first used by C. S. Lewis in a book called The Screwtape Letters. The book was a collection of fictitious letters from a retired demon named Screwtape to his young nephew Wormwood on how best to manipulate the human he was assigned to tempt. The book provides a look at temptation from the devil’s perspective and can help us see the battle with new and often clearer eyes. As you read Greg’s modern-day warning to Christian authors remember that because it is written from the demon’s perspective, phrases like “the enemy” actually refer to God.

I wanted you to see Greg’s letter with you in case you have ever struggled to overcome a similar temptation:

My Dear Bookwormwood,

I note with great excitement that your patient has become a Christian author. This is splendid news. Your last letter was a disappointment as you indicated your patient had shown great devotion to the Enemy and a sincere desire to meet other people’s needs. I feared you might fail at your assignment and be subject to the punishments such failures require. But this new development presents an unequaled opportunity for you to change his course. In fact, the temptations now at your disposal are so numerous I feel compelled to apologize, in advance, for the length of this letter.

It is with trepidation that I suggest what you must do first, for it requires a subtlety you may not possess. You must slowly and deliberately turn your patients mind from one kind of thinking to another. Each step along this process is itself a small victory and brings us closer to accomplishing the whole thing. As I mentioned at the start, it appears your patient desires to meet other people’s needs, and in so doing to bring glory to the Enemy. This is where we must begin, but perhaps not in the way that you might think, for we do not aim to change his desire to help, but rather to alter his view of people. Our record of success with this method is impressive. It has been the undoing of many whose names you might recognize. That is why I am confident that you can make it work with your patient as well.

Plant in his mind the idea that thinking of people as individuals is limiting. Better to think of those who may buy and benefit from their book as groups of people instead. From groups you must expand his thoughts to large groups and from large groups to masses, and so on. Each successive step increases people’s anonymity and further insulates your patient from the reality of the reader’s situation. If your patient is allowed to think of them as individuals, then he may accurately imagine the reality of their need, or of their family’s concern, or, worst-of-all, the Enemy’s love for them, and determine to help at any cost.

So long as your patient is thinking of masses he cannot consider individual needs and will search instead for a characteristic common to the group. At this moment you must suggest the idea of money so that your patient thinks of the masses as a source of revenue. Then, before he has the chance to question this thought or consider it further, lead him on to the idea he should divide the masses into groups called Christians and Non-Christians. Done properly, this will all seem quite natural and your patient may even congratulate himself on a brilliant market analysis, or something of the sort.

Now, once your patient has divided the masses into Christians and non-Christians, he may begin to wonder about the relative size of the groups. At this moment you must be ready with a lie your patient is eager to believe. Persuade him that Christians are few and non-Christians are many. “Since non-Christians are the larger group”, he will reason, “I must concentrate my efforts there.”

It is best if you can shelter him from research studies that show how 142 million Americans attend church weekly, or that 187 million Americans attend church with some regularity, or that 252 million Americans consider themselves Christians. However, it may not matter if he discovers these truths, since, thanks to the work our brother Mediawart has done with the national press, he is not likely to believe them. He is more apt to think that, since stores like Barnes and Noble or Wal-Mart are not overtly Christian, that the millions of people wandering their isles cannot be Christian either. This error of logic is precisely what you must reinforce. Don’t let him ponder the idea that the customers in those stores are a cross-section of America and must, therefore, reflect the nation’s religious affiliations and practices to the same degree.

Once your patient believes his book must appeal to “non-Christians,” then you must move him quickly to a second conviction–that it is necessary to dilute, or disguise, or otherwise hide the biblical underpinnings of their message in order to appeal to this audience. Encourage him to imagine this is somehow evangelistic by using terms like “crossing over.” Crossing over feels like progress, since, he will reason, taking even a diluted version of the gospel message to those who haven’t heard is better than nothing. Once he has “crossed-over,” he is ready for you to suggest the idea of “pre-evangelism” which goes beyond crossing over to crossing out. The fools are ready to believe the ridiculous notion that the most effective way to recruit for the Enemy is to avoid talking about Him whatsoever.

Diluted Christian content leads readers to believe there is no real difference between the Enemy’s approach to finances, or sex, or marriage, or parenting, or business, and anything else in life, than the approach favored by our master. With no apparent difference, readers are free to imagine Christianity irrelevant and to happily ignore it.

When the difference is startling and clear, however, so are its benefits. What’s worse, the reader may conclude that because the Enemy’s perspective helped them with one life problem, the Bible’s advice may apply to other areas too. Before you know it they are living successfully by its principles and recommending it to others. Need I say that it would not go well at your performance review were this to eventuate?

To solidify the separation between Christian and non-Christian, you must cause your patient to discount the affirmation they receive from other believers and especially “average people” who have found help and comfort in their book, and to covet instead, the approval of those least likely to give it. Our most proficient tempters have used this strategy with great success in high schools for years. It goes like this: A young girl has a group of good friends and the love of her family. They tell her she is beautiful and adore and respect her just as she is. We, however, convince her that this is not enough–that her friend’s familiarity somehow invalidates their love and praise–that to be truly significant, she must win the admiration of “the popular boys.” And so she abandons her friends, compromises her convictions and sacrifices her virginity in the vain pursuit of their acceptance. They, in turn, take her purity, and then toss her aside when she no longer suits them, and all without granting the acceptance she sought in the first place. It’s really quite brilliant.

Be especially careful not to let your patient realize that the “average people” are loved by the Enemy and that when his book helps one of them, it is as though he is helping the Enemy himself. Such a realization could cause him to concentrate on eternal rewards and lose sight of the temporal acclaim which we want as his focus.

In the same way, it must not be known that the “popular boys” work for us. For with this realization, our strategy may become apparent. Distract him instead with the pursuit of popularity. Popularity is un-tethered to eternal truth and thus we are free to change its qualifications just as your patient seems about to achieve it. In this way we can lead him about, willy nilly, wasting his whole life, while averting the serious threat he might otherwise have presented. Not only is this strategy effective, it can be quite fun.

Popularity makes an excellent goal for the additional reason that no one is ever quite sure when they have achieved it. Its pursuit, therefore, can occupy their every waking hour and persist without end. Use this to your advantage.

Return again to your patient’s mind the desire to help and make it stronger than ever, but with the additional conviction that he cannot make a difference until he has achieved a great degree of popularity–especially among non-Christians. This has the effect of making his pursuit of popularity seem noble, further bolstering him against advice to the contrary.

At this point his conversion is nearly complete for you will have turned his focus from individual people’s needs, to the masses, and then to non-Christian masses, and finally to himself. Your last task is to make your patient forget that his worth is secure in Christ, and to think instead that it is determined by his performance which, in turn, is measured by bestsellers lists, or appearances on Oprah, or book sales, or the size of his book’s marketing budget, or best-of-all, depends entirely on the affirmation of the masses whose individual needs we have convinced him to ignore. Do you see the brilliance of this plan? It is a trap from which few escape, especially if you can arrange for him to be surrounded by, and receive counsel from, others whom we have already tricked in this way.

Oh, Bookwormwood, I have painted the picture of an entire campaign, though I realize you are still at its beginning. But, let me encourage you that it is possible. If you are successful then your accomplishment will be double, for you will have prevented your patient and his book from doing any real damage, while giving him every opportunity to unwittingly exhibit the kind of hypocrisy which has caused so many to turn from the Enemy and join our ranks. Such an achievement would not only remove the stains from your past record, but may even warrant a promotion. How does, “Director of Televangelists” sound?

Your affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE