7.24.2006

Filthy Lucre

Miss Snark,

I have absolutely no interest in sales. Not that I wouldn't mind making a small fortune off writing but I don't expect it to ever happen. I know most writer's don't make their living by writing. I write because I want to communicate with a reader. While I don't intend to say this in my query letter is there any hope for me in the cut-throat world of publishing? Am I naive to think if I can write a decent book finding the right agent will take care of the business stuff I don't care much about? If it matters at all the genre is young adult fiction. I've read agency listings in market guides that say things such as, "We want writers who are serious about their career." If so few writers can support themselves on writing why would it seem so many agents want writers who are going to get a rude awakening? (Don't take this as I don't care about the "how" I write. I want to continue writing in both quanity and improved quality.)


You may not care how your book sells but I assure you that every publisher in the world will. Publishers are in the business of publishing books; keyword business. They may not run it with the blunt force trauma sales teams of other retail products but make no mistake about it: if your book doesn't sell "well", you're not getting another deal.

And I care a lot about sales too. I make money from it just like you do, and unlike you this IS my only job.

So, yea, I want someone who is deadeye serious about making the book a success. I want clients who say "what can I do" and "can I do more". People who say "I wrote the damn thing, surely that's enough" are not likely to end up on my list or anyone elses for that matter.

If all you want to do is communicate with your readers sans the filthy tiremarks of the Highway of Commerce, write a blog.

36 comments:

bookfraud said...

i've seen this in other writers. they've written or even published a book, and assume their job is done. they think "the system" does all the promotion and publicity, often to their dismay. i saw this happen to a writer I know, who did nothing to promote his excellent novel; it didn't sell, and he hasn't published anything since. he's really bitter.

Atyllah said...

A recent meeting with a "hot literary author" left me reeling when she responded to my desire to find an agent with "You want an agent, that sounds like you want to make money from your writing." She may as well have added, "Eeeugh, how gross".
I gave her the beady eye and asked, "What's wrong with wanting to write good literature, communicate with your reader and make money."
I might as well have slaughtered the sacred cow. I wonder if some people know how roses smell...?

MTV said...

My question is this: If a person is so serious about writing and communication with his fellowman why wouldn't he want to do it again and again, and to a wide population at that. By earning a reasonable to good income that then would allow a focus on high quality communication, whether it be entertainment or enlightenment.

In general, in the game of life I want the most points for me and those around me. So, keeping my agent fed and happy, as well as my publisher, and ANYONE else involved in the project, would be a high priority!

I can't even imagine it otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark:

Can you give an opinion, please?

A writer friend recently fired his agent, a well-known, good agent. Agent sold three books for him.

The first sales came quickly, a two book deal, then a one book deal. The 4th book went into the publisher this past January. Two weeks later the agent told my friend pub wanted revisions. He did the revisions, but pub passed on the book anyway.

The agent tried shopping the book elsewhere; as far as I know there were no nibbles. My friend felt the agent should have/could have done more.

I think my friend's out of his freakin' mind. He says the agent lost vision.

My questions:how long does a publisher wait for an author to "break out?" Is three books a long time? How fast do the numbers have to show strong growth before a publisher gives up on an author? And how likely is this author to get another book deal (or agent)?

I can't help being jealous of what I see as his blowing is main chance when I can't get past the front door.

Cy

Yummy Kippur said...

I've watched my father work and write for a the past six years, and ten years before that, so I'm told. Sometimes he'll publish a short story in a collection or anthology that's listed in the ISO Book-of-the-Month club, other times it will be a simple blog review. And when the checks arrive, no matter how much he gets paid, he blesses each and every one of them. Then goes out and helps the publisher sell the books in any way possible ( I usually go with him; I attract a lot of people, even if I do upstage him sometimes). Who would want to write, and work so hard, and not get paid? If you cut grass for a living you should be paid your worth...it was hard work. Same for writing, a profession, too. Not just a hobby.

Yummy Kippur said...

On another note....anyone following the Sobel Awards saga...My father asked Brigette Weeks if he could interview her for bestgayblogs.com, to prove her contest was legitimate, and this was her reply, quoted verbatim:

I think it is too soon since the contest is still being developed and doesn't plan to open for entries until September 15. Check back with me then. Brigitte


Yeah right, I may only be a poodle, but sounds like someone "don't wanna talk"....

Osama Bin Tin Man said...

Translation: Editors first, agents second, agent's receptionist third, agent's doorman forth, writers last, so learn your place because you're not going to be around for more than five minutes, chump. If this template had only existed in Herman Melville's day we wouldn't have had to endure Moby Dick in college lit. Oh, so sorry, I forgot, Melville didn't have an agent.

-c- said...

I don't know if I agree with everyone. I am not at all interested in the sales side of things. I know I would hate it. And I also know I barely have enough time to write as it is, let alone stressing about selling more books. I am not putting "art" above commerce. And there is no way I would ever say "sorry, don't feel like it" to my publisher. But if I do get published, all that promotional stuff is going to suck.

That said, I think busting your ass to write the best possible book and letting the professionals handle the promotion--helping where you must, of course--is the wisest thing if you really want to break out. Unless you are a marketing guru, your efforts aren't going to rocket you to success--they just might edge you into the black. On the other hand, getting obsessed with self-promotion could seriously derail your writing. Or, I believe, it could derail mine.

In the best possible world, I would hire a gorgeous, witty actress to go on my book tours for me. But they're pretty expensive, aren't they?

Harry Connolly said...

Sales=readers.

We should want people to pay for our books because people who pay for a book will read it.

Stacy said...

I was so excited to have the first article I ever wrote published that I didn't even care if I was getting paid. In fact, I never picked up the check from the newspaper.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Yummy Kippur said...

Oh dear "-c-said", after all that time working alone, writing whatever, half the fun is buying a new rhinestone collar and going out to play author. If you do reach a point (I hope you do, too) where you have to promote your own work, get yourself a poodle, like me, (any color will do)to do all the smiling and you own't need a gorgeous actress.

desert snarkling said...

I want my current book to reach readers and be read.

I want to have enough time to write more books that will be read.

I wouldn't care about the money so much, except that the best way to do both of the above is for my book to earn it.

Feisty said...

It you don't want to worry about sales, do nothing. And probably nothing will happen. I don't know what sense there is in writing and then not doing everything you can to find your readers.

I have a book coming out in February (second book). I'm busting my ass NOW to line up reviewers (online), to connect to librarians, to make bookstore connections (that's a tough one), to find every award my publisher can send to, and to do everything I CAN DO to FIND MY READERS. And I'm spending 6 hours a day researching most days.

My first book was left in the able hands of my publisher who did nothing except submit for reviews. Got great reviews. First printing sold out with pre-sales. Went into a second printing. And then went OP.

What a waste. I'm not letting it happen this time.

And if you spend all that time writing and don't care to promote it, I think you're silly.

Anonymous said...

"We should want people to pay for our books because people who pay for a book will read it."

Hah! You should see the stack of books I own & haven't read! By the time I have time to read some of them (if it happens in this lifetime), I'll likely have lost interest.

Bugwit Homilies said...

Don't care about sales or money? You get my special 85% commission!

Don't want to go on a book tour? Make it 90%.

Better yet, pass.

Anonymous said...

Your kidding me right? Never in my life time will I believe this BS.

Don't act like you don't care because, every writer wants to reach his audience and collect $$$. The Audience will have to buy the book or camp out in the library to read it. And thats if your book/whatever even makes in a library. But than again why would you want that anyway?

Man, I've read this kind of attitude before and I don't buy into it. Not at all.

Writing is a real dream to be achieved by writer who wishes to live off his/her craft. A writer will have to work to gain readers and their $$$. No way do they even think that they will not worry about the $$$, booklist, contracts, promotions or fame.

It goes along with the writing and eventually you will have to deal with it. There's two sides to the world of books; the writing side and the business side. They both complement eachother there is not one with out the other.

Your in the wrong business if you think your not going to do one without the other.

Whatever! That's like not HOT:)(paris moment)

Corn Dog said...

Back in the day when Ingram Micro was Ingram Book and I worked there, authors used to parade through the windowless hole of Ingram's telephone sales room meeting and greeting. Ingram's telephone sales people talked all day on the phone to the book retailers who were ordering books. Good PR and it worked. The Ingram telephone sales people appreciated the extra effort and personal touch. They would promote the visiting authors' works. My point is it is part of a published author's job to do everything he/she can to promote his/her writing. Why waste everyone's time if you are not interested in sales? By everyone, I mean agents, editors, publishers, etc. Like Miss Snark said, get a blog. Are you also driving 35mph by yourself in the left hand carpool lane?

Haley said...

Perhaps the author in question is speaking out of fear of the unknown. By that I mean that those of us who remain unpublished have a loose idea of what it's like to participate in book signings and other promotion, but not having experienced it firsthand (yet), it seems overwhelming compared to the singular activity of writing.

Kate Thornton said...

Nothing is quite like a book signing - there is no thrill to equal that of having people shyly ask you to autograph *YOUR BOOK* and say something nice to their Mom or daughter or friend or themselves ("That's two n's" or "Could you make it to my son? He's in Iraq.") There is nothing like seeing all these people IN PERSON - there for you, because YOU WROTE A BOOK!!
How could you not be excited and proud and feel a part of everything that is human culture?

Well, book signings aren't all there is to promoting your book, and they can be many and exhausting - but they are also very exciting.

Writing is only half the circle - getting it into the eager hands of readers is the other half. And if you can get $$ too - well, this is a good thing. There's nothing wrong with wanting to profit (good word, that) from your labor. It is one more tangible sign that you have produced something people want and will pay for.

There is nothing wrong with popularity and profit, no matter what the sour grapes bunch says. If Dan Brown can do it, so can you - after all, your book is probably better.

Another Dejected Writer said...

Lulu.com anyone?

Kimber An said...

I think it's a journey and you just haven't reached that point yet. I remember not caring about publication and only writing for the sheer joy of it. So, I never bothered letting anyone read what I wrote. I started to grow out of that when I became a mother. I started caring more about everything. I also learned that in order to get the babies I wanted so badly, I had to go through pregnancy and childbirth first. This taught me that anything worth having is worth working hard for, sacrificing for, and enduring pain and humiliation for.

I have this on-going dream that one day I'll walk into a classroom and shake hands with a young woman holding my autographed book. And she'll tell me reading it made her believe she could get accepted into Harvard, and she has. Maybe she'll get into the space program at NASA and help establish a space station on the Moon.

You can't impact anyone's life with your stories if they can't read them. They can't read them if they don't buy them. They won't buy them if they don't know about them. They won't know about them if you don't go out there and tell them. If you have a story in your heart, you'll get to the point in your life when you're ready to go the distance.

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

I know most writers don't make their living by writing.

But shouldn't that be every serious writers goal?

Not many professions can be done successfully on a part-time basis. Honing your craft is all about having the time to practice it in earnest.

IMO, thinking that finding an agent will 100% take care of the business side of being an author is like thinking a law degree is all you need to practice law.

An agent's job is to sell your book to a publisher. A pubs job is to distribute said book. The author has got to go about tooting the horn to garner interest and get readers excited.

How much of that you actually take on is up to you. But publishers make investments in each book they acquire. If you're not interested in playing a part in helping them recoup their investment, there are plenty other aspiring authors who will.

If you're lucky enough to become an author - and we all know that's a big IF considering the competition - the publisher full well expects you to help them sell the book.

overdog said...

If I make a living at this, then I can write full-time and I won't have to schlep to a crummy day-job that makes me miserable.

That's my BEEG EVIL PLAN.

To each his/her own, I guess.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that publishers absolutely DO market to their customers. But a publisher's customer is the bookstore (distributor, wholesaler, etc.)

The general public never has been the publisher's concern, so either the bookstore, or the AUTHOR has to get the word to the public about the book. In the bookstore's mind, your book is #1 of 300 books to arrive that month. To the author, the book is #1 of 1. Figure the odds on which will work better in giving the book the attention it deserves...

I like marketing and I'm good at it. Since I DO write for money (to the extent I expect it to pay my mortgage, my car payment and my utilities each and every month), I'd darned well better make sure the people with the money in their pockets--the public--go out looking for the book.

But I know plenty of other authors who do absolutely ZERO in the way of promotion, and do just fine. Maybe I'm deluding myself, but since we've earned through and are in the third edition of the first book, I don't think so.

JMHO, of course. :)

Just Me said...

I think Desert Snarkling is right. As long as you're serious about writing good books and getting them read by as many people as possible, would an agent really care whether you care about the money? After all, it adds up to the same thing in the end. If you want as many people as possible to read this book, you'll do everything possible to make sure they buy it, and everyone involved will get as much money as possible - including, whether you want it or not, you.

And don't knock it. The more you get paid, the more you can concentrate on writing.

There's also a sense of teamwork that kicks in (for me, anyway). You and the agent and the publisher are all passionate about the same thing - making that book great and making sure it gets the audience it deserves. You want to help in every way you can.

Richard Lewis said...

Doesn't a book's success depend on vagaries of chance and word of mouth more than it does an author's efforts? Put another way, can a hustling author ala JA Konrath (who spends 70 percent of his time promoting and 30 percent writing), push his/her novel over the critical word of mouth ledge?

Actually, perhaps there's two levels of success--one is the one where the book makes money and the publisher is happy, to which an author's efforts can indeed help especially if he or she spends 8 hrs a day in hundreds of bookstores (ie 200 book stores a year @ 10 copies personally handsold each = 2000 copies which is a large number for a first timer)*, and the other is the bestseller breakout, probably beyond anybody's control, which makes the publisher delirious with joy.

Still, seems to me the very best pr effort an author can do is to write something in the first place that lots and lots of people will want to read and tell others to read.


*me personally, living on a small Asian island, no can do much, which is probably another element in agents' calculations of a writer's geographical location (although I myself am happily agented)

Anonymous said...

When an agent says they want writers who are serious about their careers, I'm not sure they are referring to your desire for profit. I think they mean, are you *serious* about selling this book?

In my job, I work a bit with artists (visual arts, not writers), and there is a huge difference between those who treat their art (displaying and selling it) as work and those who treat it as a hobby. Those who treat it as a business are, usually, pretty easy to work with. They get their submissions in on time, with everything we require; they sign contracts and return them to us promptly; they return our phone calls; they show up when they should, and don't waste our time.

Those artists who are either too artistic to exist on the same planet as the rest of us, or those who treat it as a hobby to be fit in around their other activities, can be a headache to deal with. They are the ones who call us after a submission deadline to say they lost the paperwork, or forgot about it, but they still want to submit, and can we make an exception for them? They are the ones who don't return phone calls, don't return contracts, the ones who make an appointment and then show up hours late, or not at all. They are the ones who want to change their artist statement five times in the two days it takes them to install their show, because apparently they keep changing their mind about what they're trying to say. Being a talented artist does not sufficiently compensate for being unreliable.

Even if you are uninterested in the financial end of things, the agents and editors are professionals. I am sure they appreciate writers who treat it professionally, as well.

Maxwell said...

Like it or not, we live in a capitalistic society. With very few exceptions, our worth is determined by our ability to earn money. This isn't a bad thing, especially for a writer. You're amount of readers is going to be directly related to your amount of sales. I suppose you could produce a body of work that has incredible popularity with the library going crowd, but there's only so many people who are going to read a single copy of your book.

Writing is about communicating with other people. You can't do that without getting your work seen. If money means so little to you, just pop all your manuscripts in the closet and hope you are discovered posthumously. But if you want to connect with other people through writing, the financial aspect is a vital metric in the whole process.

Remember, every author you ever read sold books.

bordermoon said...

Another thing, too -- these days an amazing number of books have "Discussion Questions" in the back. (Book Groups are the hot thing.) Don't think there's a professional Discussion Question Creator at the publisher's, because there isn't. You, the author, will get a missive saying "Please send us about a dozen discussion questions for your book." So think of them now...

Catja (green_knight) said...

If I wanted a sales career, I'd have one.

I don't. I suck at selling. I have a lot I can bring to the process of producing good books - ideas, writing skills, willingness to revise - but if I have to chose between attempting to sell my current book or writing the next one, I'm unlikely to split my time 90:10 or even 50:50, because my efforts in that field are unlikely to make much of a difference.

In the past month, I've read at least twenty solicitations for self-published novels that I have no intention of ever picking up. Someone dropping the single line of 'couldn't sleep... new Tanya Huff' made me quiver and go 'oooh, must check it out.' Why? Because I've read other books by her, and they rocked. So... which is the better long-term strategy for a writer?

I'm not saying 'do nothing'; I *am* saying that writing counts as promotion, too.

Kiskadee said...

I think people are using "sales" as synonymous with "promotion", and that's a mistake. Most, if not all, authors want sales, if only because money earned means time to write instead of doing some other moronoic job to stay alive.

At the same time, many authors I know, including myself, absolutely hate promotion. Writers are often by nature reclusive, and some, like me, are very shy.INtroversion and shyness comes with the territory, and there's nothing wrong with it - just that shy people don't usually have the attitude and elbows that the modern world dotes on.

I tend to clam up and stutter when speaking publicly - not too good for becoming the Next Big Thing. WHich I would indeed like to be - but only in terms of sales, not in terms of being a celeb.

This attitude was my downfall - I had three novels out with a major publisher and did what they asked in terms of publicity - but no more. I have no gift for hustling. My fourth novel was passed on by my publisher, and I'm now starting up again, having written a new, and I think, better than ever book.

You can bet your bottom dollar that this time around I'm going to get over myself. I still don't want to be a writer-celeb, but I do want sales, and I'm already thinking up smart ways of getting my book into the hands of readers.

Kanani said...

Well, it's a matter of taking ownership of the things you create.

Think about it. You've worked for 5 years on this novel. Not only have you learned to write, you've also done a lot of research. You've written 3 drafts, of the novel, and gone through reams of paper. You've endured critiques from your peers and professors, you've worked your 8 -5 and come home and have written away a good part of your evening.

And now you say, you don't care if you sell it or not?
Your indifference will come across in the craftsmanship of your work, which will get noticed by your peers and your agents.

Consider the learning the business side of writing just part of being a writer. You sell stuff, that means you can write more.

HawkOwl said...

Oh man, I can't believe I missed this discussion while on vacation. Can I still chime in?

I say we all write for the same reason: personal gratification. Some people get that from money, some from fame, some from "reaching others" or communicating or whatever else, and some just from time well wasted. Saying that no one could genuinely want to write without getting paid or that you can't get good at it if you're not doing it for pay, is rather like saying that writing is so tedious that only money could possibly make it worth doing. Lots of people get really good at sports, music, crafts, arts, cooking, etc, without ever making a penny at it, and no one thinks "this dude couldn't possibly be a competent hunter / golfer / woodworker / barbecue cook / dog trainer - he's doing it for free." Why is writing different?

Some things are actually so pleasant that one would do them, and do them well, just for the sake of the time spent doing them. To some, writing is one of them.

Also, sales are not a measure of literary skills. Danielle Steele moves books by the truckload and they're some of the worst drivel imaginable. It's a highly commercial formula, not a sign of literary merit.

That being said, that's not Miss Snark's point. I think Miss Snark's point is, writing books might be your hobby, but selling books is her job. That she makes her money at. If the book doesn't sell, it may be no skin off your nose, but her rent isn't getting paid. So if writing novels is your hobby and you don't care whether they sell, take it to an agent who sells novels as a hobby and doesn't care whether they sell, rather than wasting Miss Snark's self-employed time. That's what Miss Snark's point is, I think. And I agree with her. You wouldn't go to a trucking company and say "hey, I want to drive your trucks around and around for entertainment, do you mind?" Yes, they mind. Same with agents. If you want to do business, they'll do business. If you don't want to do business, leave them alone.

Bebe said...

As an editor, I can't tell you how many times the phrase "big self-promoter" has come up as a plus in editorial meetings when discussing whether to acquire something.

So not only does self-promotion help make you, your agent, and your publisher at least a little more money, it also helps get your book sold in the first place, and really helps your next book get sold. Just doing some self-promotion in your hometown helps--not every author has to do a nation-wide tour to be considered a great self-promoter.

As others have said, if you just like to write, but don't care if people read or buy your book, that's fine--but there's no reason to get published.

wonderer said...

Thanks for your post, hawkowl. That's what I was thinking too.

I know too many writers, all writing for different reasons, to dismiss those who aren't interested in publishing their works and/or making money off them. But, as hawkowl said, if you are interested in publishing, you have an obligation to your agent to do your best with that dreaded promotion stuff. (I don't like the idea of it either, but if and when I am published, I'll do whatever I can to sell that book. To chime in with overdog, down with the day job!)

Authorix said...

Bebe, it's great to hear that editors and sales teams care that an author promotes--considering that those who do put a large portion of thier advances toward this endeavor.

Sadly, my experience with my last publisher was to get my hands slapped for everything I tried/wanted to try/or encouraged them to try on my book's behalf. Besides touring (on my own dime) into several major markets for signings which I promoted along with the bookstores (which drew anywhere from 1 to 50 people), garnering press in some major papers, and doing stock signings and shaking hands with every bookseller within the geographic area (I have the maps and mileage to prove it) and following up with thank-you cards...not to mention spending half of my advance to do so--
my reward from my publisher was to do even less for my next book.

My agent chastised me for doing any promotion whatsoever. She saw the writing on the wall: despite a hefty advance, if they weren't willing to put co-op aside for the book, then in reality, they were throwing it on the shelf. End of story. "Just write a great book," was her answer.

I know a lot of great books that get lost. Don't you? And I've seen a lot of horrid books which, with the right promotion, make it onto the bestseller lists.

I think that the best thing promotion-savvy authors can do is have an honest understanding of what the publisher is willing and truly committed to do for them, and to have an editor willing to go to bat for co-op. Hey, you believed enough in it to buy it, right? Now stand up and fight for it to get noticed in bookstores! After all, authors can only do so much--and the one thing that they AREN'T allowed to do is buy co-op...

Or believe me, we all would do so!