Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Can Reviews Be Too Good?

Had a captivating conversation during our last board meeting about book reviews. I've been in this industry for five decades and just when I think I've heard it all, I am floored by something new and bizarre.

We have a job opening for a marketing representative for our line of books, and during one of the interviews, the applicant said he'd canvassed fellow authors about the books we publish. These authors went to the usual sites - amazon, GoodReads,, etc. and they said it was obvious that all the reviews of our books were written by friends and family. "They were too good," they said, "to be real."

Actually, not a single one of them that I've ever seen have been by "friends and family" but were third party reviewers. Some were readers or fans, some were hosts of virtual book tours (who are NOT obligated to provide a good review, but an honest one) and others were from legitimate third party reviewers (i.e., Midwest Book Review) but none that we could determine were friends or family of any author.

So, where did this come from?

Are there REALLY authors out there who believe when a fellow author receives five star reviews, they're somehow faking it?

One quote was from an author who said they only believe they're legitimate when someone bashes the book.

And this is an author?

I have to say, this conversation left me with my mouth open.

So, I'm asking you: where do you stand on this issue?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Books Fail

This blog should have posted yesterday but between jet lag and a case of the flu, my activity has been less than stellar this month. All while DVP author p.m.terrell runs circles around me, completing her next book, editing another author's manuscript, and facilitating and coordinating Book 'Em North Carolina as she battles a massive, recurring sinus infection. Proof positive that women are not the weaker sex.

But I digress. Even while bedridden I cannot escape reading. I've been catching up on queries in particular. About one in every ten warrants a request for sample chapters, and about a third of those result in reading the entire manuscript. This post isn't about how well or badly authors write their queries or manuscripts, but it's rather about why good books fail. The list isn't all-inclusive but these reasons are the ones I have encountered most often:

1. Building a platform too late - or not building one at all.

Half of my decision as Acquisitions Editor at DVP hinges on an author's platform. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've asked an author about their platform only to hear that once their book is accepted, they'll build one. No, no, and no. Platforms are not built overnight. They take time, particularly to build one of followers who will actually purchase your book. Waiting until your book is accepted means you're likely to have slow sales right out of the starting gate, a very bad omen for any book.

2. Building an inappropriate platform.

Given the right tools, it's possible for the average person to amass thousands - or tens of thousands - of followers on Twitter, Pinterest, and/or Facebook, as well as other social mediums. But are they the right followers? I've seen doctors with tons of followers in the medical community, but how many of them are interested in their children's book, romance, or international thriller? Customers, clients, friends and family do not automatically become fans of an author's book. You need to be reaching your target audience.

3. Failure to identify or reach the correct audience.

This ties into #2 above, but reaching the right audience is paramount. If you're marketing your book to the wrong people, of course your sales are going to be slow. The author needs to know who their audience is and how to reach them, whether it's through virtual means or physical signings or both. This is why many small publishers specialize in particular genres, and why larger publishers have divisions that focus on specific genres. Once they have identified a particular target market, other books in that same genre can be marketed to them. I can't begin to tell you how many authors of coffee table books have begged me to publish them. But we don't market coffee table books, and sales are in the marketing.

4. Failure to connect with your audience.

Okay, much of this ties into personality. And quite honestly, the author most likely to be a diva is the one with their first book in print, especially if they are self-published. The ones who get it are the ones who have been in this industry, know what it takes to succeed (a well-written book is only part of the equation) and they work at it just as they'd work at any job. This means when you're in front of your audience, you don't tell them how great you are. You don't make inappropriate demands. You don't expect special favors simply because your book is in print. I've seen fans walk away from authors whose books they were interested in, but they were so rude or self-serving that they turned away their own sales. These are also the authors most likely to blame anyone and everyone else for their books not selling.

Learn the publishing industry. Connect with your readers on a level they appreciate.

5. Giving up too soon.

I've seen authors whose books did not sell well in the first 30/ 60/ 90 days, and they have simply walked away. Sometimes all the author really wanted was to see their name in print so once the book is in their hands, all the promises of promotion and marketing fly out the window. Sometimes a book will start off slow but gain momentum, especially through word of mouth. But the author has to be out there, visible and ready and willing to connect. I've also seen backlisted books get a second life by authors who continued to push them at appropriate times - such as tying them into current events or anniversaries.

6. Not wanting to spend money.

I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had authors whose books were not selling well, ask me to join organizations (at hundreds of thousands of dollars), submit their books to any and every contest (which costs a fee), or pay for travel expenses. Our marketing budget for each book exceeds our out-of-pocket costs for production. The successful authors know they are part of this equation and they use their own money to promote themselves as well. These authors almost always recoup their investments. But others don't want to spend a dime. Drive across town to the book store? Nope, that costs money. Join an organization themselves? Costs too much. Pay for a virtual tour? Too much money.

It is possible to promote your book frugally, or to use a variety of free means in which to market. An author should take advantage of as many of these venues as possible. But to expect the publisher to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a book that the author won't pay a hundred to market does not bode well for the book's success.

These are just a few of the reasons why some well-written books don't sell well. If you can think of any others, feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is Traditional Publishing Dead?

I don't care much for the first-of-the-year blogs that predict what any industry is likely to do. Some are educated guesses and some wild speculation but I'd venture to say if you went back through last year's predictions, you'd find a real hodge-podge of what actually came true and which were greatly off the mark.

I've read a lot over the past couple of years about traditional publishing, and its imminent demise. With the invention of the Internet and web-based sales as well as easier methods of printing and publishing, there's no doubt that a lot has changed. But does it mean the traditional publisher is dead?


A good traditional publisher will spend time and effort in quality editing. The marketplace has stiff competition from all sides so well-written words have never been more important. The vast majority of submissions I receive are poorly written and in dire need of a good editor. If you choose to self-publish, do yourself a huge favor and find a professional editor. 

Typesetting and Formatting

It's true the old methods of typesetting are long gone. With authors writing their manuscripts in word processing software, it makes it much easier and less time consuming to import the text and reformat it for publication. A traditional publisher will know how to do this so it is visually appealing to your audience, whether they're reading from an eReader or a printed edition. We go through the format at least six times before it goes to the printer, correcting every error no matter how small. The worst thing you can do is rush your book into the market before it's ready.

Cover Design

We've experimented this past year with asking our authors for their input on the covers. Sometimes they are well off their mark, resulting in covers that don't grab the readers' attention or they don't adequately portray what the book is about. Someone in the business of publishing knows what colors are grabbing the public's eye. They know whether to use an action-based design, a photograph or custom art. And they also know that a cover must change over time and editions, to keep up with the changing taste of the consumer. Take a look at the New York Times bestselling books. Those covers were not by accident. Sometimes thousands of dollars went into their design. Learn from the masters.


Last year Drake Valley Press moved toward hybrid printing. Before that, we were doing traditional print runs. This meant forecasting the number of copies we'd expect to sell in a specific time period. We have two warehouses, and the overhead with keeping poor-selling books can become quite extensive. On the flip side, if we don't print enough books, we run into a backorder issue, which can cost us sales.

So in 2013, we moved toward a mixture of print-on-demand and traditional inventories. For those authors who have a track record with us, we need only look at their prior sales to know how many thousands or tens of thousands of books to print - and we go with a traditional print run.

For those authors who don't have a track record with us, we opt for print-on-demand until we have an idea of their book sales. POD has its advantages, because we can correct errors and change covers without the requirement of depleting current stock first. Its disadvantage has been its reputation for a lower quality, which has quickly been changing. They also can not be returned by book stores and retailers if they don't sell, but fewer publishers are continuing that tradition of consignment sales. 

Marketing Strategy

A good traditional publisher will help the author with their marketing campaign and promotional efforts. This is where a lot of authors fall short because they think the public will swarm to their new book like flies to honey. First, you have to tell the public that your book exists. Second, you have to connect with them. Third, if your books aren't selling, you need to analyze why and tweak or completely revamp your campaign.

There's a reason why manufacturers of any product spend millions of dollars on marketing. With each book we produce, we will spend more time on marketing strategies than we do on the book's production. It is also our biggest out-of-pocket expenditure.

This isn't to say that when a book performs well below expectations, we'll continue to throw good money after bad. But we're more likely to think outside the box and make suggestions to improve book sales than an author trying to go it alone.


No matter how good your book is or how well it's marketed or advertised, if you don't have good distribution no one can buy your book. A traditional publisher understands that income is made when readers buy books - versus a publisher/printer who makes their money off the author buying their own book. 

Distribution means the book is in Ingram's and Baker & Taylor's databases. Distribution means the brick-and-mortar stores as well as online retailers have the book in their system. It doesn't always mean the book will be carried in every book store (unless it's selling millions of copies) but it does mean it is available through all standard outlets.

Are traditional publishers dead?

I don't think so. Until authors learn that publishing is a business in and of itself and they master every aspect of the business, there will always be a need for professionals to fill that void.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Finding Your Audience

I am back from an extended holiday in Europe and if Americans think it's cold and wet in the lower states, they would certainly find the UK less than inviting this time of year. It's good to see the sun again!

I'm starting this year off with a blog on finding your audience. With the number of books being published today and more entering the marketplace every hour, finding and connecting with your audience has never been more important.

We have published books in the past that were wonderfully written and well presented but had disappointing sales. Each week our board meets and goes through the latest sales figures and each editor provides an overview of the books they're representing, the stages they're in, and how they're doing. When a book falls short of the mark, we brainstorm about reasons for this. By far the most common is: the book is not finding its market.

This might sound obvious but to many authors, their strengths lie in their writing abilities and not in their marketing prowess. But with the stiff competition in the industry today, every author must be their own best publicist.

So how do you determine who your best market is?

First, consider the time frame.

When does your book take place? If it takes place during the last fifty years, give some thought to who would connect with that era. If you write a book set in the northeast in the 1970's, a younger generation who wasn't even born during that time will not connect with or relate to the book. You're looking instead for an age group that grew up during that period.

If your book is historical, what groups would be interested in that particular era?

Second, consider the place.

New York City was a different place during the founding of America. It changed again when immigrants began flooding the country, particularly during the early 1800's. It changed further during the American Civil War.

The way of thinking during the 1950's and 1960's in business and theatre is far different from today's. Even the past 20-30 years have seen tremendous changes, particularly since 9/11.

To connect with your audience, ask yourself who would be interested in the location in your book? Whether it's New York City, Gettysburg, London, Helsinki, or a tiny village in Africa - who cares about it?

Third, consider the backdrop.

I could write a book about two lovers in 1860 who meet in a tiny village called Gettysburg. The story would be far different if I changed the dates to July 1863.

Would Gone With the Wind have been the same if it had begun in the 1820's instead of the 1860's? Of course not. The basic story is: girl meets boy, boy marries another, girl tries to win him back. Set that story against the turmoil of a civil war, and you've just increased your readership thousands of times over.

Would the movie Titanic have been the same if Jack and Rose had met in Augusta, Georgia in 1960? Of course not. We know the ship is going down and we know few people survived. The impending threat heightens the Romeo and Juliet storyline of Jack and Rose to a higher level of suspense.

Fourth, consider tie-ins.

Look at your book from different stances. Take each character and ask yourself who could relate to that character, whether it's a kid being bullied in school or a ruthless tycoon.

Take each scene and ask yourself who can relate to it, whether it's an employee who tires of their boss' abuse or a young man who just lost the love of his life to another.

Look at anniversaries: does your book take place during a time of civil unrest, prosperity, tragedy? Take a calendar and mark those dates and then plan your strategy around them.

Writing for the Market.

What you're doing in each of these instances is writing with a particular market in mind.

If 1970's New York wouldn't appeal to too many folks, what would happen if you changed it to 9/11? Or the Revolutionary War? Or today?

If Smalltown USA isn't that appealing, what backdrop would be? A ship in the middle of the ocean? A village in Syria? A spaceship?

How can your story be enhanced by weaving historical data through it? Or current events?

If you write your book with a particular market in mind, it's the first step to being able to successfully sell it. Then you can:

Look for people interested in that time frame.

Look for people interested in the particular locale.

Look for people interested in the historical backdrop.

Look for people reading about specific anniversaries of real-time events.

More on finding your market in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned.