Yes, you are in trouble

I was wondering what kind of advice you'd give if one of your authors was in this situation.

Let's say she has had three novels published by a major house. Sales have never been great, particularly for the last one, which tanked. She loves her editor and the feeling seems to be mutual, but her editor has expressed concern about how past sales will affect whether or not the house will want to buy the author's current novel (in progress).

It just seems that, even if the house were to publish the book, nothing would change. It would likely be published as a trade paper original (like the others) without much publicity (also like the others). No money would be dumped into it, no hardcover, no big promotional push. The future seems grim. What would you advise?

Get ready to look for a new publisher. I don't care how much your editor loves you, if the last book tanked, you're in trouble.

But, it might be good trouble. A fresh start at a new publisher with more marketing oomph, or better market penetration, or lower sales requirements to keep the bean counters happy may be a very nice solution indeed.

You also can't count on the publisher, any publisher, to really push the book. You'll have to do that yourself.

This is third down and ten. You're going to need to really focus to stay in the game. You need a comprehensive plan about how to make this work. You didn't mention if you had an agent, but if you do, s/he knows you're in trouble. Work out a strategy with her/him and then follow it.

You're at a critical juncture. A LOT of people do not get past over this "not enough" sales hump.


Anonymous said...

I'm an author in a similar situation. Fabulous editor. Lousy house. I had two novels published by the same commercial publisher, one of the top ten size-wise. Reviews ranged from decent to absolutely glowing. Despite my own aggressive tactics to self-promote, the publisher didn't match said efforts and sales for both books were neither decent nor glowing. I believe the publisher jeopardized my track record not just by failing to promote the books properly but rather by publishing the books only in hardcover (for the library market only, no doubt) and never in paperback, which might have helped me to establish a real following. Readers don't want to take a chance on an unknown author at $25 a pop in hardcover, but they're more willing splurge $6.99 or even $13.95 and hope for a good read. But that's neither here nor there. My agent is trying to find a new home for my latest book, which is more commercially appealing than the previous two, but my sales track isn't helping to reel in the offers. The rejections she's sent to me so far have been glowing in their praise but cite various (mostly undisclosed) reasons why the book just doesn't fit their lists. Have I reached a dead end? My agent doesn't seem to think so, but it doesn't take a literary genius to read the writing on the wall.

Catja (green_knight) said...

What kinds of strategies would there be? I'm not in that kind of trouble yet, but I know all kinds of people who *are*, and the wise man plans ahead.

Deirdre said...

"You also can't count on the publisher, any publisher, to really push the book. You'll have to do that yourself."

Dear Ms. S,

Can you explain further? What's the most effective (and cost-effective) way for an author to promote her books? Website? Signings? Billboards?

Rick said...

For writers whose first books were more literary than commercial, wouldn't the brutally realistic advice in this crisis be to go for the commercial?

Whirlaway said...

It saddens me when publishers say they intend to grow or cultivate an author's talents and help her establish a long career, then kick her to the curb because the sales from one book are lousy. Don't the publishers take any responsibility for sales? They just seem to send books out to book critics at newspapers, and sit back to see what floats.

Carter said...

The mention of bean counters prompts me to ask a question that has been bugging me for a few days. You previously posted about publishers signing authors to multiple-book contracts and using the royalties from more successful books to pay out the advances on the less successful. This is walking awfully close to the line named "stealing" to me. Given the following scenarion:

Publisher signs Author to a 2-book contract with that infamous clause in it. The books bring $5000 advances each. Book A earns back $3000. Book B earns $7000, thus covering both advances, but with nothing left over.

Question: Do the bean-heads look at number of copies sold (which shows A failed, B successful) or dollars (which show A and B to be mediocre)? Also, how do they justify what amounts to requiring the author to cover their losses for them retroactively?