Many first-time authors focus on publishing the way a pregnant woman focuses on birth. The soon-to-be mother thinks, “I'm going to have a baby!” not “I'm going to have a sullen teenager who hates me and bashes up my car.” Your book won't hate you, but you will hate yourself if you don't prepare for its future. I made a number of critical mistakes in publishing both my print and ebooks. If you don't do what I did, your book won't have so many accidents later on.
My first mistake: I didn't prepare.
I didn't have a website in place several months before my books were published. I didn't create “buzz” by announcing my upcoming book to the relevant audience. I didn't contact reviewers four months in advance of publication (for ebooks). I didn't have a cover for my ebook ready before the publication date (to send to reviewers). I didn't schedule talks and appearances to coincide with the publication date.
Instead of doing all these things before the publication date, I did them afterwards. And now my book has bashed up my car.
This is what you should do:
1. Launch your author's website now. If you don't have a book published, just put your photo and bio on the home page (see the “marketing” entry). Begin a blog. You are a writer, so take your blog seriously. Write about your area of expertise if you write non-fiction. If you write fiction, you can write about anything, as long as it is entertaining and/or informative. Unless it is a sample chapter of your upcoming book, do not post unpublished work on your website! An author's website is supposed to showcase his or her accomplishments.
2. Five months before the publication date start working on your ebook cover. Don't do this yourself unless you have a flair for design. Hire an ebook designer, not a graphic designer. There are many online. Make sure you look at their portfolios first. You can also contact writers who have eye-catching ebook covers and ask them who the designer was.
3. Four months before your book is published, contact reviewers and send them the galleys. (For ebooks, reviewers may request a PDF file or hard copy.)
4. Two months before the publication date, start scheduling talks and appearances.
5. Six weeks before the publication date start contacting groups and organizations which might be interested in your upcoming book. They will ignore you for the most part, but do it anyway.
6. Maintain your blog. Two entries a week. You can blog about everything you did right.
There seems to be no end to the mistakes publishers make - and the Wizard of Oz was one of the biggest. But there have been many less spectacular mistakes as well. The lesson writers should learn from this list is: Develop a thick skin. You'll need it.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
'Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.'
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
'It contains unpleasant elements.'
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
'get rid of the Indian stuff.'
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
'Stick to teaching.'
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
'The American public is not interested in China.'
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
'for your own sake do not publish this book.'
Garfield by Jim Davis
'Too many animals, and cats don’t sell.'
(93 books, 21 films)
'You have no business being a writer and should give up.'
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
'My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.'
For writers, rejections aren't just inevitable – they are a way of life. Every writer gets rejections. Every. Single. One. There are no exceptions. Here is a tally that should, if not encourage you, at least bring you back to reality. The reality is this: keep your day job, but KEEP WRITING!!
The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot, was rejected by 17 publishers
Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times.
Thor Hyerdahl's Kon-Tiki was rejected 20 times.
Richard Hooker's novel M*A*S*H was rejected 21 times.
James Joyce's Dubliners was rejected 22 times.
John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers.
Madeleine L"Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was turned down 29 times.
Stephen King's Carrie was rejected 30 times.
Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 40 times.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen received 134 rejections.
Louis L’Amour was rejected over 200 times before he sold any of his writing.
And the grand prize goes to:
C.S. Lewis, who received over 800 rejections before he sold a single piece of writing.
(My goal is to beat C.S. Lewis. What's yours?)
Doesn't this look good?
Apple Streusel Cake
This is a light, moist cake with a crunchy, cinnamon topping. It is very easy to make. The trick is to slice the apple pieces very thin so they cook completely through. The best apples to use for this recipe are mealy apples (not Granny Smiths). Store at room temperature. Delicious warm.
1 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk (skim is fine)
1/4 cup oil
1 medium sized raw apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Spread finely chopped apples in a single layer over the bottom of a well greased 8 x 8 inch glass pan. Mix flour with baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Beat egg, milk and oil and pour into dry ingredients. Mix. In a separate bowl mix together the streusel topping ingredients to make a crumbly mixture (use your fingers) and sprinkle on top of the batter. Shake the pan slightly so the streusel topping is distributed evenly over the top of the cake. Bake in a 350 degree oven approximately 25 – 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
It was September 2005. I was out in my garden murdering plants and Communing with Nature when the phone rang. I didn't go in to answer it. I never answer the phone, not even when I am two inches away from it. An hour later, when I'd finished Communing and wiped the blood off my hands, I listened to the message. It was someone I didn't know telling me that RH wanted to publish my books. All of them.
I listened to the message a second time and recognized the name of my agent – a person with whom I had spoken several years earlier and who had never given me cause for hope. After two years of waiting anxiously by the phone, I had given up on any chance of publishing and reverted to the comforts of vegetal genocide.
I called my daughter and told her about RH.
“Hey,” she said. “I've heard of them.”
“Why are you making that sound?” I replied.
“Well (harharhar), I never thought (harharhar) you'd actually get published (harharharharhar)...”
My daughter is the only person on earth who can produce completely incompatible emotions in me.
And thus begins the first emotional stage of Publication: Ecstasy. The other five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I'll get to those later when I talk about contracts.
Before I could say New York Times Bestseller, I found myself scurrying to comply with my agent's agenda. I was instructed to come to The City to lunch with The Editor and to tour RH. I was also instructed to cut my hair and make myself presentable. (This last task proved beyond me.) I got into a car, then on a train, and then not into a taxi (why aren't there ANY available taxis in The City?), and then ran, in the rain, fifteen blocks to RH. By the time I arrived, I was wet, disheveled, and my stockings had fallen down to my ankles.
“You look just like a children's book author should look,” said the agent's assistant. Her lack of irony was unsettling.
Silently, my agent bade me sit.
There was only one place to sit – a bench made out of something very hard and very unforgiving.
“Just take it in,” said my agent in soft, reverent tones.
I took it in. We were clearly in the belly of the beast. BERTELSMANN was displayed in large brushed-steel letters on the wall opposite the entrance. There were matching elevators. A bored young person sat behind an enormous bulwark. Behind me was a huge, brutally lit wall encasing the hundreds, nay thousands, of famous books RH had published.
I knew I was in for it.
After receiving permission to ascend, we took the elevator to the 10th floor where I was introduced to my editor, and to 200 other children's book editors. Some of them shook my hand. Others turned their backs (these were the writers of the Golden Books - a disgruntled lot). I met the person who would be in charge of marketing my book. She gave me the look my attire deserved.
Then we went to lunch. My agent had given me instructions to keep my mouth shut. So, I sat there and ate sanitized quasi-Greek food while my editor and agent spoke in hushed voices.
Because all the other agents and editors in the publishing industry were at adjacent tables trying to eavesdrop on one another's conversations and potentially steal … something. The conversation at my table revolved around “buzz” and other marketing terms. As it turned out, I actually didn't have to say anything, because there was nothing to say. By anyone. RH was a machine, a behemoth, a juggernaut. Nobody could stop it. Nobody could influence it. We were all just tiny teeth in its gargantuan devouring maw.
“The publishing industry isn't just about bestsellers,” I muttered. “Books are ideas. Sometimes you have to take a chance on a new idea.”
My editor leveled her gaze at me and said, without a hint of remorse, that she had turned down J. K. Rowling because her books were “too long, and nobody would read them.”
It was at that point that I began to enter into the next stage of Publication: Denial.
William McKeen liked this “review” so much he had it framed. HST is Hunter S. Thompson, the notoriously foul-mouthed journalist who wrote – and apparently lived – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
William McKeen is the chair of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. He has a great sense of humor. McKeen's biography of Thompson, Outlaw Journalist, is described as “painfully honest.” In keeping with that sentiment, this review can only be considered "heartfelt."
A page from World's End
There are all kinds of editors, good ones, bad ones, and many in between. A good editor is one who will give you a run for your money. She will not only correct all your grammar errors, but will question you on every detail, find logical inconsistencies, hold your feet to the fire. Odds are, she will write, “Show, don't tell!” somewhere on your manuscript.
A bad editor will not do anything at all. Increasingly, editors – who are generally underpaid and overworked – simply don't want to put any time or effort into a manuscript. Like a homeowner who doesn't want to fix up a house before putting it on the market, they want to publish a book “as is.” Writers who have dealt with editors who are real sticklers may think this is sheer heaven. After all, editors who do nothing are great for an author's ego. But, believe it or not, there are errors in your manuscript – of internal logic, of grammar, and of sense. There always are. Trust me, you don't want your readers (or reviewers) to point out your mistakes.
Good editors are a dying breed, but great editors – ah, these are the ghosts of the past. A great editor not only gives his authors a run for their money, he brings out the best in them. A great editor puts his own ego aside (a rarity), and instead of adhering to a rule book (“Show, don't tell,” “Only one POV allowed”), follows the author's lead. Great authors break the rules, and great editors let them. A quick look at the rejection posts on this blog will give you an idea of what great authors have in common – and why editors/publishers (who were not up to their jobs) rejected them.
I had a good editor at RH. She forced me to examine everything in my manuscript – every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark. I fought her every step of the way - and sometimes I was right. When I caved in to her insistence on following the rule book it robbed something from my story. But, more often than not, she was right. The trick to working with her was to understand what she was getting at, and then adjust my manuscript – slightly. In editing my first book - and this will always haunt me - I deleted too much. This is a common mistake for first-time authors. They throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I have learned through trial and error that the best way to work with editors is to walk the middle path. When they say “Jump,” don't ask “How high?” In other words, don't slavishly follow every suggestion. Use your judgment. On the other hand, don't, don't, don't tell them to sod-off – even mentally. They may be right. Take a step back from your manuscript, take a deep breath, and then exercise your skill as a writer. Make your manuscript shine as only you can – with their guidance. If the editor is good, the final product will be well worth it.
Gertrude Stein's rejection letter merits a special place among rejections, if only because the publisher put so much effort into it. This parody demonstrates the principal character flaw of publishers: they believe they are the final arbiters of literary taste. One hardly needs to point out that being a music critic does not make you Rachmaninov. Or even a Rach knock-off.
Stein, whose salon eventually became the center of the Parisian art world, was the author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a bestseller.
The letter reads:Dear Madam,
I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.
Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.
Letter image from http://www.flavorwire.com/232203/famous-authors-harshest-rejection-letters
The wacky world of publishing continues with this second installment of Publishers Say the Darndest Things. There is a lesson to be learned from these rejections.
(Theodor Seuss Geisel's first book was rejected by 27 publishers - this is why)
'too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.'
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
(LeGuin's book went on to win both a Nebula and a Hugo award and to reshape a genre)
'The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable.'
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
(winner of the Nebula award)
"We've already published our feminist novel this year, so we don't want another" … "I'm sick and tired of these kinds of women's novels that are just one long whiny complaint."
Mary Higgins Clark
(rejected 40 times)
'Your story is light, slight, and trite.'
(Colette went on to publish 50 books)
"You won't be able to sell 10 copies."
Bridge Over River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
'A very bad book.'
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
"We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless ... we don't think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves."
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
(sold more than 7.25 million copies)
"Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback."
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
'An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would "take"...I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book'.'
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
' ...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes ...hauls out every terrible show biz cliché in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly ...'
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
'I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn't. It won't sell.'
'(Your poems) are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.'
Edgar Allen Poe
'Readers in this country have a decided and strong preference for works in which a single and connected story occupies the entire volume.'
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
'We regret to say that our united opinion is entirely against the book as we do not think it would be at all suitable for the Juvenile Market in (England). It is very long, rather old-fashioned...'
'(Your book is) forbidding and depressing.'
The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway
'It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.'
'I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language.'
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
'Good God, I can't publish this!'
Marketing is the bane of an author's existence. It distracts us from what we really want to be doing: writing. It forces us to enter into the uncivilized world of advertising, where strident ads claw their way into the consumer's consciousness, convincing the public to buy what they don't want, can't use, but must have. It's a jungle out there and, frankly, we don't like getting our hands dirty. Writers are shy, reclusive creatures, who would much rather sit at home, sipping Darjeeling in our pajamas, quietly composing the Great American Novel.
This is a fantasy. Whether you are an unpublished neophyte or an author who has hit the big league, marketing is the name of the game. And like any other game, there are rules.
Rule #1: You are not selling a product – you are selling yourself.
Regardless of the concerted efforts of the publishing industry to turn books into products, they are not. Books are ideas. They represent what is in the author's mind – nothing more. Even if a book turns into a fad, which is what every publisher hopes, it is still an idea. Your idea. Which means that what you write is inextricably bound to who you are, or, who everyone else will believe you are. (I know what you're thinking right now. You have no choice in this matter, so don't even go there.)
This is how you begin:
First: Define yourself. Who you are is not determined by who you actually are, but by what you write. For example, if you write children's books you are cheerful, accessible, and any mother would be happy to leave her only child with you for a week. Your photograph will show that person – a friendly smile (with teeth), wearing parental clothing, in pleasant colors. If you write horror-thrillers, you can go with a brooding photo, either in black and white or in very subdued hues, no smile – or if you must, a Mona Lisa impersonation. Avoid portrait studios. Your picture is worth a thousand careers, so make sure it doesn't look like the one in your high school yearbook.
Second: Project yourself. Your website (and you must have one) should reflect your image. Of course, your writing will be showcased, but the site's mood will be determined by your writer persona. Same for the blog (and you must have one). Your picture will be on the first page of your website along with a brief above-the-fold bio. A different, smaller portrait of you must be at the top of every other page on your website. Anyone who views your website must feel as if she or he is getting to know you. Your blog should have a theme in keeping with what you write. (That means you cannot blog about your cat unless you write books about cats.) You can blog about writing, of course, but a lot of people do that, so unless you are famous, competition will be fierce. And remember: You are a writer - even when you are blogging. So give it your best.
Third: Establish yourself. After you have set up your website and blog (and you don't need to publish anything first), join online groups appropriate to your writing themes, get on forums, and make comments on other blogs. Use the name you write with – for example, if your author name is your full first and last name, that will be your “handle.” Be proud! Let people see your name, and your face. And don't write anything that you would not want to be read, out loud, in court, by a judge.
Fourth: Share yourself. After you have spread your name around, it is time to spread your website and blog. Join Linkedin, and post your website and blog on the appropriate discussions. If there isn't a discussion about sharing blogs or websites, then start one. Even as I type this entry, there are several ongoing discussions on Linkedin that encourage writers to share and “like” one another's websites. Join every group you can think of, alumni associations, Writer's Digest, Librarything, Goodreads, and post a profile with as much detail as you can muster. Needless to say, Facebook, Twitter and any other form of social media that has been invented in the last five minutes are valuable tools for building a following.
Now you can go ahead and publish. (More on how to accomplish that task to come.)
Good website: http://misaramirez.com/for-writers/marketing-and-promotion-part-one/
One author's feedback after five months of self-promotion: http://www.theloneliestplanet.com/2012/08/book-marketing-my-five-month-progress.html