9.27.2005

A Short Seminar on Marketing; Mr Bookner please listen up

The comments column on my post on the new website Bookner coughed up some interesting comments, including this, from Mr. Bookner himself.


-1-Dear Ms Snark, thank you for mentioning Bookner. Despite the negative slant of your review, I am still grateful because at this juncture, any publicity translates into awareness, and that is fantastically good. In fact, we got 12 new members over the last 24-hour period (which is how I discovered this post) bringing us closer yet to our goal. -2-So I won't be rebutting any of the points you make. I would like to point out, however, that it's kind of interesting how it tends to be the -3-people in the publishing industry who do not bother to do more than casually glance at our website before latching on to one comment and going off on a diatribe. I suppose you become that way, over the years, if you have a never-ending stream of manuscripts to review and no system to -4-help you cut down the review time. It's kind of sad, really.


Comments are keyed to the text above (numbers inserted by me)

1. Well, we all know how much Miss Snark loves being called Ms. And this dovetails so nicely with his later assertion that I didn't read his site very carefully. Perhaps he thinks people don't read his site carefully if they disagree with him. News flash: it's entirely possible to read the website with a reasonable degree of care and still disagree with what is said. This is akin to those patronizing politicos who say "we have to educate the voting public to understand our issues". In fact what they need to do is persuade the voting public of their position. We understand Bookner just fine, we're just not convinced.

2. "Won't be rebutting any of the points you make". My fundamental point was you don't understand the publishing business nor do you understand how agencies work. For a guy who thinks he's going to offer major reforms to that process, the idea that you don't understand it to start with is something I'd want to challenge, were I you.

3. "People in the publishing industry". What's hilarious about this is that WE are his target market! He wants agents and editors and publishers to use the website to find clients. If "people in the publishing industry" think his product is whack, it bodes ill for actually like...using it! And what's more, agents are the folks he thinks are going to PAY for this at some point in the future.

4. "help you cut down on review time". When I need help Mr. Bookner, I'll ask. As far as I can tell, literary agents are not asking for help reviewing their incoming queries. I've never had a single conversation with any agent about what needs to change in the current method of handling queries. The only thing approaching this topic, is discussion of e-queries.

Mr. Bookner has made a classic marketing mistake. He's listened to WRITERS talk about what they perceive as weaknesses in the system, not agents. And my guess is he's listened to writers forums online that are filled with people who can't get representation and can't figure out why.

If Mr. Bookner wants to perform a needed service that really would benefit agents AND writers, and improve the publishing industry in general, he'd run the Crapometer full time.

The online anonymity affords the opportunity to speak more freely. If he ran the system, he could also deal with the fall out: the nasty ass emails that come back from people who think you're full of crap cause you don't like their work.

People who can't get published, or get an offer of representation, and are only getting "sorry not right for us" must be frustrated as hell. Even if they paid a dollar a page for a review from an anonymous (and unpaid) agent, they might get an idea of what is holding them back. He could pay for the site, he could even pay for some lessons from Dale Carnegie. Agents would probably be GLAD to do this for free: the problem we face is not the system, but the lack of quality.

Unasked for advice is about as welcome as three day old fish, but what the hell.

38 comments:

jay said...

Well, since you want a debate, here goes (thought perhaps the tone of your post is a little too hostile to be dignified with the term "debate," but I'll overlook that on account of the name of your blog, and the fact that we are, again, getting free publicity):

1. In your first post, you said Bookner is worse than those sites that try to rip writers off (such as for instance self-publishing companies). Now you are likening us to politicians. Please. Are we insulting each other, or having a discussion? You have yet to point out a flaw in our system.

2. Well, the implication in my comment was that I was refraining from using up space on your website to further my points, out of gratitude for the free publicity you gave us. I did actually address two of the issues you raised in my own blog.

3. Thank you for the lesson in marketing. However, you are not our target market. Our target market is literary agents and publishers who are open-mindend and willing to entertain new concepts. Clearly, you are not what marketing types call an early adopter, but, eventually, you might join our target market. The reasons for this are given here: http://www.bookner.com/strikes.html

4. This is a natural reaction one encounters whenever a new idea is introduced: "The current system works just fine and there is no need to change it." You do not only not see the need for a solution prior to the introduction of the solution; you actively resist the solution when it is presented to you. Then, when you do end up trying it, you find that it is immensely to your liking. (Hasn't that ever happened to you? Electric toothbrush? Massage chair? A new kind of food?)

Jason (that's Mr. Gonzales to you, Miss Snark)

Bill Peschel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Miss Snark said...

Mr. Bookner-Gonzalez writes:

<< 3. Thank you for the lesson in marketing. However, you are not our target market. Our target market is literary agents and publishers who are open-mindend and willing to entertain new concepts.>>

I'm EXACTLY your target market. I run my own shop, I don't have permanent staff, only interns and I get 100 query letters a week. I have a very full client list so query letters are pretty much a chore. If someone like me isn't on your radar, who ARE you looking for?

I'm very interested in finding out who exactly you ARE talking to about this system? Did you survey agents? Survey writers? What's the source of your belief the system is broken?

occasional_anonymous said...

Mmmmm, three day old fish.

occasional_anonymous said...

Interestingly, Bookner himself admits that the reviewers he's recruiting (unpublished writers) aren't the right people to make the 'is it saleable?' assessment:

Second, it is neither agents nor editors nor successful authors who determine which books make it onto the New York Times Bestseller list.

It is untested readers who aren't even writers.


So, why not get some of THEM to read the MSS on the site?

jay said...

Miss Snark, interesting question. I surveyed no-one. I am a programmer and a systems engineer; I analyzed the system and found inefficiencies. This is what I do. I might not be able to find inefficiencies at a Toyota plant in Japan, but the publishing industry looks like General Motors in the early 1980's.

Occassional Anonymous, indeed, for results that are most valid statistically, it would be better to survey a large number of readers. But we're limiting access to manuscripts to writers (peers) for security reasons; a lot of people are justifiably concerned about who gets access to their manuscript. Also, members with a vested interest in the success of the system are more likely to take the review process seriously than casual web surfers. So what we have is a compromise: aspiring writers reviewing books in their capacity as readers - I haven't yet met an aspiring writer who doesn't buy and read books.

harridan said...

Hmmm, this is an interesting concept, but I do see major flaws within the system.

First, in my humble author opinion, what is being offered on the site is a modified critique service. Or critique group, if you prefer.

No one is obligated to read the entire manuscript. The site states that you can flip to various pages as you would do in a book store, and determine a manuscripts saleability rating. The site states that your review of another title can take as little as 15-20 minutes.

And while the site states that you can opt out of certain genres, the real problem exists in the fact that the service really doesn't address target markets. Or should I say target publishers/lines.

That is a huge factor in determining saleability and marketing value.

I am a romance author, and I can tell you that the diverse criteria for each and every publisher and each and every line is astonishing. You absolutely MUST do your homework!

And on a continual basis.

A change in the head editor for a line can completely change the feel of what will sell to them next month. Such is the nature of the business.

Hence, at least for my genre of choice, to place my manuscript up for review by other authors who know nothing of my target market, well ... it's just plain silly. The person on the reading end would have to rate me based on reading other books in that line. What are the chances of that?

Just my little bit of rambling.

harridan said...

Oh man, Bookner

Now I get it! You are an Engineer!

Boy does that clear up a whole bunch of stuff for me.

I was a Quality Engineer by trade. Specifically, writing QS 9000 procedures for compliance to the big 3. My expertise was statistics.

And yes, your sampling size sucks, and will suck for a very long time. Nothing can be determined adequately. Sorry but it's true. And I will say (without any snarkiness, truly) that I think you need to actually know about the system you are trying to revise. Making it a blind test doesn't remove the faulty nature of the study.

Okay, thats my three cents

jay said...

Harridan, thank you for your insightful feedback. I will do some research on this issue to see if my understanding is correct, but my response right now would be that Bookner is designed less to deal with manuscripts being delivered tailor-made for specific lines, than as stand-alone works of literature. There are, unfortunately, a number of manuscript types that Bookner cannot handle, such as short stories, picture books, science books with a lot of diagrams, textbooks, etc. I suppose I would be adding "books designed to fit publishers' lines" to that list.

P.S. Mother Snark, hope you don't mind me carrying on a discussion with one of your beloved Snarklings, eh.

jay said...

Harridan, we are not delivering machinery to 99.9998 % of accuracy. It is OK for Bookner Ratings to be slightly imperfect because when people buy books, their decisions are imperfect also. Who hasn't bought a stinker that ended up being little more than decoration for the shelf?

(Now, I know. Engineering-wise, there is a lot of fault to be found with my reponse, but let's just leave it at that, shall we? What's an engineer doing writing romance for lines, anyway? That's right on the opposite end of the human occupations spectrum. And I thought I was weird.)

harridan said...

Ah, but you see Bookner, that is the problem.

Romance makes upwards of 45-50% of all book sales, often paying for the literary works that haven't quite busted out.

So knowing the target market is key to knowing sales ability.

It is your site, so you have to follow what you think is right.

Wow, I'm putting in a lot of cents today. LOL

jay said...

Harridan, "Romance makes upwards of 45-50% of all book sales" does it? Well, now I know for a fact that this world is horribly askew and that Bookner will definitely be a most welcome breath of fresh air for the publishing industry. Thank you for your many dollars; I'm off to do an interview.

Jason Gonzales

Jonquil said...

"Harridan, "Romance makes upwards of 45-50% of all book sales" does it? Well, now I know for a fact that this world is horribly askew and that Bookner will definitely be a most welcome breath of fresh air for the publishing industry."

So -- half the market for books is romance, and you plan to 'solve' this? How?

Miss Snark said...

and a snob to boot.
great.

harridan said...

Wow,

I guess that was a hugely grumpy response.

I was only stating the facts. It wasn't a slam by any means.

occasional_anonymous said...

So what we have is a compromise: aspiring writers reviewing books in their capacity as readers - I haven't yet met an aspiring writer who doesn't buy and read books.

I, on the other hand, have met many, many avid readers who don't write, don't want to write, and think books are delivered by the stork. They are the ones out there buying fiction hot off the shelf. All my writer friends are out there buying non-fiction to inform their writing. Then dropping by the used bookstores or thrift stores to pick up something to read that was probably hot about a year or so before.

How do you propose reforming an industry that you don't--looking at your response to Harridan's post--know the first thing about? Apparently by cutting off the cash cows! Is that ever nuts...

bordermoon said...

Is this guy for real? I mean, is he actually =serious= or is this some longwinded joke? Let me see: he knows nothing about writing, agenting, or publishing, despises one of the most profitable genres in the industry, and yet plans to "fix" what's wrong with the system. I wish I had his free time!

Diana Peterfreund said...

Having spent far longer than a minute trying to read the text through the glaring neon orange background (I hope the actual books aren't posted against the orange), I remain confused. I admire Bookner's purpose, but fail to see how it addresses the stated problem, which is the abnomalities in the publishing supply chain. According to the info on the site, the purpose is to provide, through a system of peer review, a "salebility ranking". But I know plenty of people who have clear "saleability rankings" in the form of peer-reviewed contest wins, etc., and are still lacking in book deals, while others could give a fig for how other writers view them, because readers think they are hot stuff. (And, I can add that I know many so-called aspiring writers who don't bother reading.)

In addition, the process page discusses that once an editor or publisher is interested in seeing the excepts posted, they could contact the author directly and Bookner gets out of the way. Well, that's all well and good, but as Bookner itself points out, an editor is often not the final stage of the game in books getting bought, and if half a dozen people on the publisher's payroll aren't enough to qualify as an adequate critique for the marketing depts., then maybe a dozen or more Bookner rankings aren't either. Even if an agent does fall in love with a Bookner excerpt and offer representation, the hurdles to publishing greatness remain. Bookner does nothing to prevent the "horror stories" linked to on the site. There is no guarantee.

And, should the site take off, there's an additional fear an Amazon flame-style backlash, wherein folks gang up on writers for personal reasons to drive the saleability ranking of the work down. That would be an even worse fate than sending in your query cold to a publisher who doesn't know you from Adam and so is judging you on the basis of your work -- the idea that, for no real reason, your work would never have a chance of being read since it is tagged with an inappropriate low ranking.

Finally, if the point of the site is to truly find books that the public is interested in reading, to dismiss something that 50% of the reading public reads is pretty shortsighted. I don't think they are reading it for nothing. Better would be to say that the site hopes to address how books that *don't* fit into a publisher's specific imprint might still find a large audience.

romance phd said...

I would be interested to know what definitions of "romance" and "literary" fiction are being used. The dismissive tone used about romance really indicates a basic misunderstanding of the genre and of publishing. Perhaps Bookner and/or Jason Gonzales are unaware that many, many New York Times Bestselling authors have firm roots in and ties with romance writing--you know, those books that readers buy and read? That terming something "literary" does not make it good and calling something "romance" does not make it bad. That many, many romance authors--Eloisa James, anyone?--have advanced degrees including masters and doctorates, that quite a few are lawyers and doctors and other "non-romance" professions, and that many teach literature and give writing workshops?

Ignorance is an excuse only before you open your mouth or create your public statement, as I tell my students.

harridan said...

Ah, Romance PHD,

I am sure you understood my meaning of "romance" versus "literary."

I was speaking in terms that I felt Bookner could identify with. (No diss to you, Bookner, but the truth is as PHD says. Some of the great writers started in, and still write that "evil" romance.)

Writing romance has its own set of rules, and they are not easy to master by any means. Try it sometime if you think its a cake-walk.

mysterygirl said...

Okay, so Bookner's concept is to help connect agents and publishers to quality manuscripts. But what's the quality of the agents and publishers? Here's what his site says: "Any literary agent and publisher can sign in and view the manuscripts and their ratings."

Any.

I can already hear the pitter patter of fee-charging agents and subsidy presses scurrying to the site.

harridan said...

Hmmm,

Methinks we have a very decent survey starting here. 6-7 responses from various individuals is better than no survey at all.

jay said...

Jonquil - By continuing to develop a system that will help good books find publishers. Clearly, the publishing industry is conservative and heavily prefers sure bets, i.e. romance.

Snarky - Hey, I don't hate romance any more than a host of other genres. I just think it's sad that one genre dominates the way it does. I said the world is "askew." It doesn't mean that romance is bad; just disproportionately represented.

Harridan - I never said it was a slam. I even thanked you for your input, and explained why I had to leave. What, you want a smiley with every comment? <-- Now *this* is a grumpy response.

Occasional Anonymous - Yes, and? What's your point?

Bordermoon - I never said I know nothing about those disciplines. Nor did I say that I despise one of the most profitable genres in the industry.

Diana Peterfreund - You need to spend a few more minutes at our site. You've managed to get a lot of things wrong, probably by assuming that Bookner is like a lot of the other sites out there. Just by way of example: We don't do excerpts. There is no such thing as a Bookner excerpt. Also, an Amazon flame-style backlash cannot happen at Bookner. These are just examples of your misconceptions. Please go back and read some more.

Harridan - Please stop calling me Bookner. I am the person representing the site. I am not the project.

Mysterygirl - Whether you entertain them or not is up to you, just as it is elsewhere. There are any number of resources writers can use to decide whether to take an agent's call or not. Bookner is not a business club. We supply ratings, that's it. I would like to add though, that with "literary agent and publisher," we mean "any bona fide literary agent and publisher." Obviously, we will try to avoid sending invitations to fee-charging agents. But even if they do manage to get in, it's not the end of the world; just ignore their email, or tell them to go to hell. I might even incorporate a "block" function if demand is strong enough.

Right. Is that it? Any more? I feel like the protagonist of a kung fu movie, fighting off a dozen assailants at once. You'd think I have a website inviting people to, oh I don't know, pay to get their book published, or something equally stupid.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Well, that's nice and vague. A small suggestion: if so much of the fabulousness of the site isn't readily available to those here who have been looking, maybe the problem is not that they aren't looking hard enough, but that it's too well-hidden.

Though I would be interested to hear how people are unable to lie on their rankings. That would be brillaint.

jay said...

Diana Peterfreund - If it weren't for your presence here I could swear you're not using a computer. Right at the very top of our website it says, Welcome! The second sentence after that includes the word "peer-reviewed," underlined to indicate that it is a link. Click on that link and read the article; you will see that all reviews are handled anonymously (something which is pointed out in bold text). Also, you could go to the little box on the right margin, which says "IMPORTANT!"

harridan said...

No, Jason (sorry for calling you Bookner all this time, it was an honest mistake.)

Your parting comment said:

Harridan, "Romance makes upwards of 45-50% of all book sales" does it? Well, now I know for a fact that this world is horribly askew and that Bookner will definitely be a most welcome breath of fresh air for the publishing industry. Thank you for your many dollars; I'm off to do an interview.

After your second sentence, the "Thank you for your many dollars" seemed almost hostile.

Maybe that is only my skewed perception. But that is one thing about the internet, posts can be misinterpreted, and bastardized.

Internet posting is an art in and of itself. And its one of the first things a published author learns after selling (if he/she wants that additional exposure.)

Where am I going with this? Hell, I don't know. I have writing to do.

All my best,
Jewell (oh, almost out of the closet)

occasional_anonymous said...

My point was clear enough, but I'll restate. What confidence can anyone have that the choices of unpublished writers regarding what books they would or wouldn't buy are an accurate indication of the choices the general reading public would make when faced with the same books?

What steps, if any, do you intend to take to try to ensure each book is evaluated by a cross-section of the market for which it is intended?

archy said...

so much polemic
so little diplomacy
are unlikely to draw
the folks bookner most needs

harped claims
of publishings failure
wont woo the editors
bookner calls broken

why not invite with flowers
rather than fists

but what do i know
im just a bug
and we bugs like flowers

Shadow said...

Wow; what a cat fight. Shadow loves those!

Jason, I agree with you that as an industry, publishing is currently working with a flawed model. Hell, the statistic is that 50% of published books flop. That's half of the books that an agent, an editor, a publishing board, an art department, a marketing department, and countless other participants in the process thought had a chance.

But you, by your own admission, know nothing about publishing. While I agree with the problem, your "solution" is a non-starter on so many levels (and I _did_ read your entire site; carefully.) Check out the Shadow at shadowmicropress.blogspot.com for a more complete discussion.

BTW, can anyone let me in on the secret to inserting hyperlinks in comments?

kitty said...

BTW, can anyone let me in on the secret to inserting hyperlinks in comments?

Shadow, I'll e-mail the answer to you. It won't let me post it here.

harridan said...

Yes Occasional Any,

You are so on the mark.

The thing is, if you give a group of aspiring romance writers a Nora Roberts book in disguise, they'd pounce all over it for not following the rules.

They'd scream "head hopping" and such.

Honestly, I have always loved her books. I didn't know what "head hopping" was until I tried to write.

Nora writes seamlessly, and she is highly prolific. Who in this world is going to tell her she breaks that rule?

The trouble is (and what I think will be a flaw on the Bookner site) is that you will match a sci-fi writer with a romance author. Or a sci-fi writer with a straight historical author.

Can you judge the punctuation and such...sure. Can you try to say what you do and don't like about the passages you've read...sure.

But can you by any means judge it as a marketable book if you don't read the genre?

NOPE!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Wow...yu'all got your gotchies in a bunch! Everyone, to your respective corners....spoons with peas on them at twenty paces. Now shoot at your monitor. If anything sticks it will be more profitable than this discussion because everyones point seems solidly entrenched. Oh, Jason, I don't know how Miss Snark feels about the "Mother Snark" comment, but it's kinda' rude to go to someones site and dis' them. Miss Snark, you did well to stay out of the middle of this. Now if you could just figure out how to get paid per line of comment, you'd be rollin' in the dough!

Ric said...

Miss Snark,

Having just spent waaaaaaaaaaay too much time going over the fine print on Bookner, I'm going to have to agree with everyone else. What is his point? Who would use this thing? There is an outfit, under the guise of Literary Agency, operating in the Rockies, that accepts nearly every book submitted for representation. These books are put on a web site that is "read daily" by "prominent editors". But at least she still gets her 15% - or would if she ever sells a title.

Bookner doesn't have a way to make money - though the whole copyright thing gave me pause. Is this a backdoor PublishAmerica scheme?

Enough time wasted.

Kelly said...

Wow. I never knew my little old question would start such a firestorm. Jason, I think your heart is in the right place, really. (Not sure how your site could be compared to PublishAmerica.) But you're not going to change anything. There are a handful of great writers who don't get published because they aren't writing what's hot right now, but they're not going to consider your concept worth their time. You're only going to get wannabes.

harridan said...

Dang, didn't really want to look at this discussion again but ... sigh.

Bonnie,

Some of us do have our knots going on. There is a reason. As aspiring writers we went up and down the ladder. A high one day, a low the next.

But the trouble is (or the really good part) is that we shared information. We searched and researched things that could be either great--or harmful--to our careers. Not always anonymously.

Granted, our crit groups or partners were anonymous, but in the long run--when it truly came down to brass tacks--we shared information about possible no gos to every writer we could.

No gos meaning, be verra verra careful.

I do not doubt Jason and Bookner are trying to be a decent go at this, and be reputable.

The trouble is copyright, new authors getting no real input, good authors getting no real input, yada yada.

We are not trying to fight here. We are just trying to protect the innocent. I think its my duty as an author who if nothing, knows a little more than a newbie.

Play it forward, as it were.

roach said...

Mr. Gonzales, your heart may be in the right place but this idea of yours will never work. Ever.

Sorry but that's the cold hard fact.

Why won't it? Because it has been tried over and over again and I have yet to see any website accomplish what you are trying to do. I've been involved in publishing since 1997 and have seen others try this and they nearly all die off a year or so after opening. Those sites that are still running have yet to trumpet a manuscript that has been bought by a commercial publisher or signed by a legitimate agent.

If this concept worked, it would be the status quo now. The publishing industry may be slow to glom onto a new way of doing things, but if something works it will generally be adopted sooner than later. (POD the technology being one example as some of the larger publishers are making use of it for advance review copies, small print runs, etc.)

Sometimes the system really isn't broken.

bordermoon said...

Gosh, this is such fun I may make it my regular lunch hour break amusement. "Bookner-guy" doesn't need to SAY he knows nothing about "these disciplines" (writing, agenting, editing, publishing) or that he despises romance. It was implicit, as well as explicit, in his posts.

Do you suppose he's retired, or has just won Lotto? I can't imagine how he has enough free time to read and comment on all this.

-Ann said...

"Bookner is designed less to deal with manuscripts being delivered tailor-made for specific lines, than as stand-alone works of literature....I suppose I would be adding "books designed to fit publishers' lines" to that list. "

You've got to be kidding me, right? Have you done the littlest bit of research about writing? It's ALL about the audience. It doesn't matter what you're writing about - your content MUST be tailor-made for the audience.

To me, your quote above completely undermines your whole "Saleability rating". In order to be saleable, a book must be designed to fit the publisher's line. Editors and agents know who reads and buys which books and what they look for. Unpublished writers do not. It's that simple.