As a seasoned book publicist who doubles as a literary agent, I sometimes stumble on evolving trends that give me a unique perspective into the publishing business. Here is an example. This afternoon I've been calling chain bookstores in the Los Angeles area trying to set up a signing event for an author who is a publicity client. A few years ago this was a fairly simple process--call the store, tell them when the author would be in town, set up a signing date 6 weeks to 2 months in advance of the event so that the store could order books and announce the event in their newsletter.
Not so easy now. The events managers I spoke to wanted to know what the author's connections were to the bookstore's neighborhood. Could the author provide a 150+ mailing list with LA zip codes? It seems the competition is so fierce for signings in big metropolitan areas like LA that authors have to come equipped with their own fan club--folks who the store can be certain will show up and buy books.
This situation speaks to just how competitive the book business is--from query to book promotion--you've got to be head and shoulders ahead of your brethren if you expect to make it. If you are fortunate enough to snag an agent who is fortunate enough to snag a publisher you are still not home free. Often times the publisher's publicity staff is small and overworked and you will be expected to play a huge part in the publicity program to get attention for your book. Sometimes that means contacting all your Facebook friends and asking them to come to your book signing. You may need to call Aunt Lucy and Uncle Herbert too--authors can't be shrinking violets anymore.
Traditional venues for book reviews and media interviews are shrinking, unfortunately--especially book reviews.
Galley Cat, a fabulous source of book publishing wisdom says, "Space, resources, and freelance budgets are shrinking at traditional book review outlets. But one thing hasn't decreased: the number of incoming galleys."
Check the photo above: Galley Cat says, "You are looking at the July fiction reviews bookshelf of the Philadelphia Inquirer. These are the galleys that the Inquirer is considering for reviews during the month of July. Mind you, this is only the fiction section; the nonfiction section has a cabinet with just as many galleys waiting for review. This is only for the month of July, and these are the survivors after a severe winnowing down of all the galleys the newspaper received for this month." [Note: Yen Cheong, Viking/Penguin assistant director of publicity and author of the excellent "Book Publicity Blog," is collecting photos of book reviewers' "to be read" piles.]
Sobering, huh? But this is important information for any aspiring author. You need to know that publishing a book is a mammoth achievement. If you want to capitalize on that achievement, you need to do everything in your power to become a publicity-oriented author. Write a blog, give speeches, visit schools, keep yourself informed by reading everything you can get your hands on. Books are still being published, books are still being reviewed and authors are still being interviewed. It's just much harder in this brave new world.
"You may well have passed on the next Henry Darger," said Redleg in response to yesterday's post.
Jon immediately knew who Henry Darger was; I did not and did some Googling to find out. Darger was a self-taught artist who lived in relative isolation and plastered the walls of his apartment with wild and beautiful, if controversial, art. The amazing works were discovered after Darger's death.
We get very cocky about our wired world and tend to discount any would-be authors who cannot or will not keep up with the current technology. Perhaps we do it at risk of passing over a literary Darger. I appreciate Redleg's take on this and will keep it in mind.
However, I don't think the call I received was a budding Darger. Sometimes people are just ill-informed and even lazy. We can't take the time required to tease them out of their ignorance and teach them how to write. There are ample resources available for ANYONE to learn this business. All it takes is some initiative.
I'm sure there are brilliant writers out there toiling in isolation and we and the entire publishing world will never hear about them because they don't use the Internet and they don't immerse themselves in the "proper" way to secure an agent and publisher. Like Darger, they pursue their craft out of passion, not in order to be published. We can hope that these writers will be discovered by someone who recognizes their talent. If not, their work may simply die when they do.
Thanks, Redleg, for reminding us that this work is not all slick and digitized. Fine writing is fine writing, no matter how it's done.
It's been hotter than blue blazes here in beautiful Pennsylvania. Humid too. This extreme weather causes people to act strangely sometimes, even if they don't live here. Last week, as I was trying to finish up the revised manuscript of a new client, the phone rang.
"Is this Kate Ienster?"
"Yes, this is Kae."
"OK, what do you do?"
"I'm an agent and a book publicist (now I'm getting antsy). How can I help you?"
"Do you publish books?"
(Really getting steamed--looking longingly at my most excellent manuscript.) "We don't publish books. We are agents. We are publicists."
"Do you take women's fiction?"
"Like I have this book I'm working on, but I don't know where I should send it."
(Inner monster has arisen--fangs are now unsheathed.) "You need to go to the library and read The Writers Market 2010. You need to go online and learn about the industry."
"Learn about what?"
(Monster salivating now, making low moans, putting claw over phone and making obscene gestures to Jon. Now, taking deep yoga cleansing breath...) "You need to educate yourself about the industry. Do you ever go online."
"Online? What do you mean?"
(Now monster is being tempered by good fairy on right shoulder. Be kind!)
"Do you have a computer?"
(Monster is now weeping slightly and glaring at good fairy.)
"You need to learn about computers. You need to learn about publishing. Most publishers today want electronic copies of everything."
"What is an electronic copy?"
(Monster in a pool of tears.)
"Go to the library. Learn about publishing. Learn about computers. Write your book. Then send me a query."
(Monster goes up in puff of smoke.)
"What's a query?"
(Good fairy explains query and quietly finishes conversation.)
We launched our literary agency in 2006. Kae was publicity director at Rodale before launching KT Public Relations in 1993. Jon, a corporate veteran and frustrated literati, joined the public relations business in 1995 after getting his Masters in library science.
So, here we are, running two parallel publishing-based businesses. It’s an exciting time—doing what we love and learning something new each day. Stay tuned. This is a work in progress and we invite your participation.