Monday, July 28, 2014

Traditional Publishing

Recently one of our authors attempted to schedule a signing at a book store near him. When the store owner asked if he was self-published, he said he didn't know. Hence the call to my office asking if he was self-published.

I can't begin to emphasize more strongly that every author must learn the publishing industry. You wouldn't consider joining the military and not learning its structure, being employed by the tourism industry and not learning what tourism is, or for that matter, becoming employed by any company and expect to coast through, being promoted almost immediately to the top, and not have a clue what the company does or how it gets the product to the consumer.

Yet, that is precisely what a lot of authors expect.

I see it all the time: first-time authors who do not know the difference between traditional and self-publishing; authors who don't know how books are produced, how they get into the marketplace, how money is made - or that money is expected to be made - how books get to the bestseller lists, how to reach their target or even that they should have a target audience.

To make it in this business, you need to understand the business.

You don't get your first book published and find yourself on the New York Times bestseller list. Oh, sure, you can find an author where that happened, and I guarantee that a lot of money was spent in a promotional and marketing campaign (six figures), targeting those book stores that report their sales to the New York Times. It could happen to .001% of all authors who will ever be published. You have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Yet, time and time again I see authors who don't seem to understand that they have to work to succeed in this business - and publishing IS a business. You have to work at the craft of writing, work to establish your platform, network with others in the industry, work to understand the way it operates, make an effort to stay on top of changes and technology, marketing and promotion.

If you want to succeed and truly earn an income with your books, learn as much as you can. Reach out in every direction - to other authors, to readers, to booksellers, to retailers, to industry experts. Subscribe to their blogs, network with them on social media, attend conferences and functions. Read books on the subject, subscribe to industry magazines, and learn, learn, learn. That is precisely what other authors are doing, and they're doing it day-in and day-out. You'll be left in the dust if you don't do the same.

And what happened with that author?

The author who didn't know whether he was self-published or traditionally published made such a poor impression on the bookseller that when he returned to report that he was, in fact, traditionally published, the bookstore said they were not interested in him or his book. The door closed in his face. They'd made up their mind before he'd come back to report his findings.

Had he known up front that traditional publishing means the publisher pays all costs in producing the work in book format and self-publishing means the author pays all costs themselves, he could have confidently reported he was traditionally published and had a better chance of booking a signing.

Instead, he just looked stupid.

Don't let this happen to you. Learn the publishing industry. Pay your dues. And work your way to the top - the way every other industry works.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Giving Books Away

Should an author give their books away for free?

Publishers are in business to make money so of course it stands to reason that if the books are being given away, they're not making a return on their investment.

But many authors are willing to do just that.

If someone is interested in your book, they will pay for it. 

Consider your own buying habits. If you want something - whether it's food, clothing, a new stereo or television, furniture, decor or books or music, you will buy it. When you are giving away your product - and your book IS your product - you're saying to the recipient that you don't value your work enough to charge them for it.

This isn't to say you shouldn't give your mom a copy... Or give it as a birthday gift to a friend or relative... But lately I'm seeing a lot of books being given away to complete strangers.


Sometimes authors want more reviews. At Drake Valley Press, we allocate a certain number of copies for reviewers - but they are bonafide reviewers. They are not a reader who wants a free book because they don't want to spend their own money, and who agrees to give the author a rousing endorsement of their book. When an author brags continually of how many rave reviews they've received on amazon but they haven't sold a book in six months, it means they are giving away their book instead of selling it. It's the kiss of death if the author wants a real writing career.

Free books do not count in book sales.

For an author to "move up" in this industry, they often need to grab the attention of literary agents and larger publishers. Any publisher can access the sales figures of any book if they are published through traditional methods. Sales figures reflect books that are sold, not given away. So if the author has given away 500 copies of their book and sold 5, their sales show that they've sold 5 - there is no mention anywhere of the 500.

When an author self-publishes and they provide the publisher or agent with their sales figures, it is critical that they provide an accurate number. If they gave away 500 copies and sold 5 but they tell the publisher or agent that they sold 505 copies in a certain period of time, the sales models generated for their next book will take their previous sales into consideration. When they managed to sell only 5, it leaves the publisher scratching their heads and asking "why?"

When an author is participating in a Virtual Book Tour, we also recommend that they NOT give away their book as a prize. Visitors to the blogs will not purchase the book because they're not sure if they're going to win it - and they don't need two copies.

And never add a free copy of the book along with the prize, for the same reason. Add marketing materials such as a bookmark or post card, but never the book itself.

If they want it, they will pay for it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Finding Your Target Audience

The number one reason why authors don't sell more books is they fail to connect with their target audience.

The first step in identifying your target audience is to accurately define your book's genre. If you don't know what genre it is, find books that are very similar to yours and find out where they are placed in a brick-and-mortar store, or what categories they're listed under online.

If you market your book as science fiction but it's really fantasy, those readers who download sample chapters or skim the book in a store will not connect with it. Readers have distinctive tastes. Yes, it's possible to persuade someone to read a book that isn't in their normal genre, but to be successful, you don't want to be trying to swim upstream. You want to join the current and ride the waves.

The worst thing you can do is describe your book in an elevator speech and ask for opinions on its genre. Research it. And if you still can't figure it out, learn more about the different genres and improve your writing skills so the genre can be clearly defined.

The second step is to pay attention to who buys it. This is where personal appearances are invaluable. By connecting with fans and readers in book stores, libraries and other venues, you should be forming a mental image of your average reader. Don't make the mistake of assuming that your book will appeal to all ages, both male and female. Maybe it will, but that is not the way books are sold. You need an age range; primarily male or female, and maybe even down to race, nationality, political beliefs or religion.

Why is this important?

Because everything spins off your ideal reader.

Television interviews and radio spots have a targeted audience. By knowing who your audience is, you can connect with them through interviews with news media that reach that audience. If you appeared on an inappropriate station, for example, the viewer or listener will tune you out or turn you off. Connect with the right audience, and you create a demand for your book - driving people into the stores or online to buy it.

Magazines also have specific target audiences. If your book appeals to women in their 20's, an interview in Sports Illustrated may not be seen by too many of your potential readers. Likewise, if you're trying to appeal to men in their 30's, you wouldn't want to target Good Housekeeping. They're both wonderful magazines but the best use of your time and resources is to connect with the audience most likely to purchase your book.

And what if you think you're connecting but your sales don't show it?

You could be preaching to the choir. Suppose, for example, that every time you do a personal appearance, all your friends and relatives come out to cheer you on. You might be tempted to look into the audience and see an adoring public. But once those 20 or 30 or 40 people have bought your book, then what?

If you aren't growing your fan base, you're losing ground.

Similarly, if you have an adoring group of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter that continue to cheer you on but your sales remain in a slump, step back. Remove your emotions, above all else. And critique the situation objectively. Could you be preaching to the same core group, day after day and week after week? Well, then, there's your answer. Unless those people are effectively talking their friends and relatives into also buying your book, your sales will continue to get weaker. How many copies of your book does one person need, anyway?

And what happens if you're not connecting?

Then you're not reaching your ideal audience. Yes, it is invaluable to join authors' groups online and in person. But unless you have written a book for an author (such as how to edit, promote or otherwise assist in their writing career) you should be targeting the reader.

How do you get more readers to buy your book? Find out where they are hanging out. Find out what television news or talk shows they watch, which radio stations they listen to, which newspapers and magazines they read. Find out what websites they visit and connect with them there.

If your sales are not growing or they've fallen into a slump, chances are you can't identify NEW followers on Twitter or Facebook, your blog or other social networking sites who are interested in buying your book. Maybe they've connected because they want to network with other authors, or your Aunt Sally or Uncle Joe told them you post great recipes on Facebook. Or maybe they're following your blog for another reason.

You have to continuously and continually assess your sales and question why they are not growing. And if they are growing, congratulations. Keep doing what you're doing!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Marketing - In It for the Long Haul

How long should you plan to market your book?

The answer is: you should never stop.

New authors, in particular, often become frustrated when their books don't catapult to the New York Times bestseller list within a week of its release. By the time it's been out a month or two and there aren't lines around the block waiting for the book store to open, they're tempted to throw in the towel.

But in reality, the marketing and promotional campaign should just be getting started.

Marketing and promotion is always trial-and-error, regardless of the product you're selling. I am old enough to remember the first commercials for Coca-Cola products. Why aren't they the same today as they were fifty years ago? Because times change. People change. And what worked last year or last month might not work today. It's why companies employ advertising and marketing professionals who are constantly reassessing their place in the market, running sales figures and tweaking the ways in which they try to reach the consumer.

With books, the author assumes the bulk of marketing and promotion, unless you're already famous and have a built-in audience. And even if you've already been on the New York Times bestseller list, or you have achieved fame and fortune in politics or television or the movies, it's no guarantee that your campaign will roll out flawlessly.

Writers are by nature solitary creatures. In order to be successful in this business (and books are a business) you have to be willing to try different things, assess the effects, critique the campaigns, and adjust accordingly.

Marketing is not a sprint. It's a long-distance marathon.

Some of the ways in which our most successful authors have marketed include:

1. Social networking - connecting with their fans and readers. What works one day may not work the next, so we suggest using several - Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, for example - and ramping up in one area while assessing the sales during that period.

2. Blogging is another way of connecting with fans and readers. Drawing people to your blog can be the challenge, which is where social networking can play a part, or teaming with other authors in a Blog Hop.

3. Virtual Book Tours are online "appearances" that can include author interviews, guest blogs, Q&A's, as well as excerpts from the book the author is promoting, and information about the author himself/herself. It raises the author's profile in areas where potential fans might not yet know of them, and it helps to connect the author with other authors and even the tour operators or blog sites. It can also drive traffic to the author's blog, and through social networking, it can increase the number of followers, readers and fans.

4. Personal appearances can be anything from signing books in a book store to speaking at a library or a book event. The books should always be available for purchase on the spot. But in addition to direct sales, authors can establish valuable relationships with book sellers, librarians and readers who will continue to recommend their books long after the event is over.

5. Traditional media includes television appearances, radio spots, newspapers and magazines. We've seen authors pick up the phone and call their local television stations - or email them - and get valuable air time. Many news outlets will even post the interview online so the author can link to it afterward.

Radio spots are even easier, as there usually is no travel requirement. As long as the author has access to a landline (mobile phones often create distortion on a radio show) they can telephone at a designated time and get anything from a five-minute interview to half an hour or more. Some of the shows are telecast nationwide, and again, many of them are available online afterward.

Authors love to write and a great way to get publicity is to write their own story for the local newspaper or a magazine. The news media then has the option of simply cutting and pasting the story or following up with a more extensive interview and article.

The most successful authors use a combination of all of the above.

Of course, it isn't feasible for an author to remain on the road year-round participating in personal appearances. So they stagger their events and in between, they use the Internet or traditional news media to continue to raise awareness of their book.

And how long should they continue to promote their book?

If they have written only one book, they should continue to promote it until sales have dwindled to less than fifty copies per year. They can always revive them later, particularly if the subject matter becomes a hot news topic.

If they continue to write - which is what we recommend for all our authors - they should promote the current book until the next book is released. As they participate in personal appearances, they should request that their backlisted books be available for sale as well as their most current book. With each book that is released, it provides the author with the opportunity to connect with a larger audience. And once the readers love one book, they'll be looking for other books by the same author.

The worst disservice an author can do to themselves and to their books is to give up too early. By throwing in the towel or becoming frustrated in the first three to six months of a book's release to the point of giving up on the publisher, the book and themselves, they ensure a problematic career - or a career that never manages to get off the ground.

When one thing doesn't seem to be working, the most successful authors are able to step back, detach themselves emotionally, and assess why it isn't working. The main reason is that the author simply is not connecting with their target market. More on that next week, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why I Will Publish Your Book

In yesterday's blog, I talked about the main reasons I won't publish an author's work. Here are the reasons I will publish your book:

Reason #1: I Love Your Book

It isn't enough for me to like your book. I have to love it. Before your manuscript is ready for prime-time, I will have read it four to six times. I've read books that grabbed me each and every time; I've read manuscripts in which I discovered additional layers with each reading; I've read books I can't put down even though I've read them multiple times.

When I am reading a manuscript for the first time, I ask myself if I am ready to read it again... and again... and again. If I can barely make it through the first reading, I know I won't make it through the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th without wanting to ditch it. I have to be enthusiastic about it.

Reason #2: It Won't Require Significant Editing

When the book is a great read and I can tell that it will require very little if any editing, it's a sure winner in my book. I need to see that the author has invested their time and perhaps the time and cost of a professional editor to make the book shine. Grammar, punctuation, tense, backdrops, characters and the backstory all have to be as good as the plot.

Time is money. When an editor gets bogged down in editing, the price tag for that book goes up quickly. That means we have to sell even more books just to break even, and we'd better be able to defend our decisions to our board.

Reason #3: It's a Genre I Can Market

There are hundreds of genres and sub-genres in the marketplace today. Here at DVP, we have established relationships with companies who market and promote particular genres - specifically, suspense, mysteries, thrillers and romance. If I loved your book but I don't have inroads in that genre, I am not going to be able to help you; there are specific markets for children's books, for example, in which we have no experience.

Reason #4: You Have an Established Platform

Today's marketplace is fierce and the top priority for every author is to break away from the pack and get noticed by potential fans/readers. I will perform Internet searches on an author if the three reasons above have been satisfied. If they have a quality website, a current blog, and they are active in social media for the purpose of selling their book, those will increase the likelihood that they'll be offered a contract.

We prefer to work with authors who have already been published and who have a track record, meaning we can look up their previous titles and see how many copies they've sold. If they self-published a book and sold 500 copies in a year, it has our attention. If they've been traditionally published and they've sold thousands, it receives even more attention.

Authors who contact us with their first manuscript and have an over-inflated idea of their book's importance are not for us. We want authors who understand the publishing business, know how difficult and yes - frustrating - it can be, and who are in it for the long haul.

Reason #5: You'd Be Great to Work With

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, all companies are made up of individuals. We want to work with positive authors who understand they are a vital part of the team. If we run an Internet search and find positive, thought-provoking blogs, social media tweets or posts that do not offend, and authors who don't point the finger when things go awry (as they inevitably will), we take notice.

We want authors who understand that selling a book is not a sprint but a journey that will take months or perhaps years. They should understand that we're going to remain as positive as we can. We'll be ready to think outside the box. We'll have meetings and brain-storming sessions to try and find the author's right audience. If one thing doesn't work, we'll try another. There will be frustrating times. There will be bad days. We make mistakes, too. But if the author is ready and willing to continue trying and avoid finger-pointing, we are, too. We'll go the extra mile if they're willing to go with us.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why I Won't Publish Your Book

As you can imagine, a great deal of my time is spent reading manuscript submissions and in determining whether the author will be offered a contract. Below are the four main reasons why I choose not to publish a book.

Reason #1: Inappropriate Genre

Our website ( clearly states the genres that we do not publish. Yet not a week goes by that I don't receive a query regarding a cookbook, coffee table book (with glossy photographs) or children's manuscript. Every author is best served with a publisher who is interested in their particular genre.

Reason #2: Your Book Is Poorly Edited (or hasn't been edited at all)

It's true that once upon a time, an author with a compelling story could receive a publishing contract. An editor would be assigned to the author and whether it took six months or six years, they would polish it together until it shone.

That time is long gone.

Competition today is fierce. There are so many authors with well-polished work that is ready to go immediately into production, that submitting a poorly-edited manuscript only shoots the author in the foot. Time is money. When I read a manuscript that will require a micro-editor (one who edits every single line, punctuation mark, and proper grammar) I see the price tag go up astronomically. If you have a terrific story but you're a poor writer, either take some classes or do yourself a favor and find an excellent ghost writer.

Reason #3: You Have No Platform

Once again, it was true that publishers used to fund an author's marketing and promotional campaign. But that, too, has changed over the years. There are two reasons for this: the Internet and savvy authors. The Internet has made it possible for anyone to create a platform for their book. Blogging, social media and author websites are the norm. You might be a great writer but you have to understand that you're competing against authors with some very savvy marketing skills.

We want to know that once your book is released, you have fans and readers who are ready to purchase it. Unless you have thousands of family members, that means you must have a platform. Waiting until you get a publishing contract is too late to start.

Reason #4: You've Proven Difficult to Work With

Let's face it: all companies are made up of individuals. At Drake Valley Press, we love what we do and we enjoy working with authors who are willing to work with us, have a positive attitude, and appreciate the amount of time and effort we put in on their behalf - 99% of which is behind the scenes.

We're going to run Internet searches on your brand name (or pen name) and if we find blogs, tweets or comments filled with negativity, deriding your last publisher, criticizing the general public for not buying your last book, it gives us pause. If you have a political platform or agenda that offends half the population, we're not the right publisher for you. There are publishers out there who thrive on adversity and self-inflicted drama. We are not one of them. We want authors we enjoy working with who enjoy working with us. The entire process is a team effort and when half of the team wants to fight us every step of the way, you're just not worth it.

Authors We Love: Coming Up Tomorrow

Friday, May 16, 2014

Authors Taking Control

For nearly twenty years, Drake Valley Press has partnered with other small to mid-size publishers, providing services and support in a variety of areas. I am very pleased to announce that we have opened our services to authors who wish to take complete control of their writing careers in becoming their own publishers.

Today there are more options than ever before to help writers get published. But getting a book into print or eBook is just the beginning of what can be a long and exciting journey. It is easy to become confused with the myriad of options available. Our team's average experience in the publishing industry is more than thirty years, and we're interested in helping authors realize their dreams.

What we are not: a self-publisher.

What we are: consultants. 

If you'd like to go the Indie route, become your own publisher and take control of your own destiny and writing career, here are some of the services we can offer you:

  • editorial
  • interior book design for both printed books and eBooks
  • custom cover designs in a variety of genres
  • website development and maintenance
  • social networking assistance
  • custom book trailers
  • press kits
  • marketing campaign advice
  • distribution advice (how to get your book in the hands of readers through wholesalers, distributors and bookstores)
  • consulting advice to help you successfully navigate this industry.

Over the years, we've noticed a sharp upturn in the number of authors who are more satisfied with their writing careers when they can call all the shots - from the finished product through the sales channels. We can help you get established and make your journey a smooth one, eliminating frustration and confusion.

If you're interested in knowing more or you have questions or would like a price quote, contact Don Freeman at dfreeman [at] drakevalleypress [dot] com. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Switching Genres

I've had several conversations lately with others at Drake Valley Press about authors who want to write in multiple genres - and of course, be successful in each.

An old point of view is that an author should select one and only one genre and stick with that. The more modern point of view is that a good author can write in multiple genres. But to be successful, there is a right way to go about it.

I observed an author last year who wrote in multiple genres and could not figure out why she wasn't selling more books. An analysis revealed that the audience for her children's books were vastly different than the audience for her non-fiction and both were vastly different than her erotica. Yes, readers often have eclectic tastes but I'd venture to say the readers who devour the erotica aren't automatically going to rush out and buy her books for their two-year-olds.

It all boils down to one thing: the author's target market.

Only the author truly knows who their fans are; who they are writing for; their image of their readers. And even if you're switching genres, you have to keep in mind who your audience is already and seek to write something that will interest them.

For example, several years ago we had a very successful suspense author who wanted to write an historical book. The subject was textbook material. Had she written it as a textbook, that genre would have started from ground zero; we could not automatically assume her suspense readers would automatically want her textbook.

She opted instead to write the historical book as suspense. It was still factual; but by getting into the head of the main character and writing her adventure as suspenseful as she'd written her other books, it ensured that her fans would follow along. They did - and she broadened her audience by also appealing to fans of history. As a result, her historical book is still her bestselling book, even years later.

The author needs to pay attention to who their fans are and seek to keep those fans even while broadening their fanbase.

We often hear authors lament that their publishers (whether large or small) need to know more about their fanbase than the author does. This always piques my curiosity. We may be working with dozens of authors at once; some publishers work with hundreds over the span of each year. Yet the author only has one person to track: themselves. While we can identify a broad market - romance readers, suspense readers, adventure readers, etc., if the author can't drill down to their fans, it means they are not connecting with them. That connection could be through personal appearances, through blogs and comments, through social networking, or any number of ways.

When writing in multiple genres, the author first needs to identify who is purchasing the books they've already had published. Then they have to ask themselves how they can write the new genre in such a way that it will appeal to their established fanbase.

If the genre is so vastly different that it would not appeal to their current fanbase, they might as well publish it under a completely different name, because it's the same thing as starting completely over with the very first published book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making a Bestseller

I've heard a lot of new authors recently compare themselves with bestselling authors, expecting to see their first books skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

It might come as a surprise to some but reaching the top of the bestseller lists doesn't mean your book is the greatest one published that week or that millions of people are buying it.

Book lists, like the Oscars, are often the result of networking, politicking, and a whole lot of money.

Recently a blogger posted an expose of how an author reached the New York Times bestseller list. It involved hiring a publicity firm at a cost close to a quarter of a million dollars. The strategy included mailing copies of books to book stores throughout the country who report their sales figures on a weekly basis to the New York Times.

Now before you rush out and start stuffing envelopes with your books, consider that the list of stores is a closely guarded secret. Some of them are in areas with populations of 5,000. Two book sales of one title in one week constitutes a bestseller in their market. It isn't all about selling millions of books, contrary to what the typical reader believes. It's about understanding the system and manipulating it.

A look at the national bestseller lists will show imprints from the largest New York publishers - because they are typically the only ones who will be able to spend so much money on making a book a bestseller. They determine which books will reach that list before the book is even produced. Their decision typically revolves around those who already have a massive platform - politicians, celebrities, and authors who have previously made the list. They allocate a huge budget to that book, often to the detriment of other books by other authors who are just as good or better than the ones selected.

They push that book to the wholesalers and the book stores, stacking the scales in their favor. Money, advertising, review copies, and more money is needed, along with a dedicated set of staffers whose jobs are to ensure that book makes all the lists.

If you're a new author and you believe with your first book's release, you're going to skyrocket to the top of the lists, I hope you have one of the New York Big Five pushing you. If you don't, your success may be in other ways: mid-list authors often make great incomes; or success can be found in other ways such as self-satisfaction, giving something you believe is valuable to the world, connecting with fans and readers, and simply fulfilling your dream.

Will this change in the future? Undoubtedly. With eBooks selling more briskly every year, it levels the playing field. Anyone can publish these days; even self-published authors can earn good and steady incomes. But by and large, the system of reporting brisk sellers will have to change for anyone other than authors with the largest publishers to expect to reach the top of the charts.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How Much to Reveal

I recently had an author ask me how much she should reveal of herself and her personal life to fans and readers. The question is an intriguing one and one that requires more than a simple answer.

It all goes back to your author image.

I know many authors who prefer to keep their private lives private. However, sometimes fans want to know something personal about their favorite authors; perhaps after reading their work, they see themselves as connected in some way. Authors who prefer a more private existence often respond with something they wouldn't care if the world knew about, such as their love of animals or children or their favorite charities.

Other authors let it all hang out. This can be dangerous, depending on the type of books they write. For example, talking politics, especially in a controversial manner, is great for those whose careers are built on it. But controversy doesn't always sell. We all have heard stories of authors, musicians or others in various fields who put their political agendas in front of the public only to have it backfire.

So I advise authors to ask themselves: how much of your personal life will help you sell books? How much of it could harm your career?

I am (in case you haven't noticed) a slow blogger. I write a blog when I believe I have something to say. I've seen others who will blog seven days a week even if it's only to describe what they had for breakfast. Unless you're a chef and your breakfast recipes are in your latest book, you have to ask yourself whether that post will help your career - or if it's just clogging up someone's inbox with minutia.

In the end, everything you put out in public - particularly on the Internet - should be something you wouldn't mind seeing repeated on the front pages of national newspapers and it would help, not hurt, your career.

Only the individual author can determine what they want their legacy to be, and how they want to be remembered.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Honoring Commitments

At a recent meeting of several publishers, editors and book store personnel, we heard an earful about authors who do not honor their commitments to appear at booksignings. In some instances, the author submitted their photographs and biographical information and the stores issued press releases to local media; placed the author on promotional literature in the store, which was picked up by book clubs and store patrons; and sometimes posters were developed in-house advertising the author's upcoming appearance.

Then the author does not show.

Sometimes the author will call or email and tell the store that they are backing out. The excuses range from no excuse at all... to they didn't feel like making the trip... to a legitimate emergency. When it's an emergency, the store understands and will usually try to reschedule the appearance. But when there is no excuse given at all or the author backs out because they didn't feel like it or they got what they believe is a better deal elsewhere, it hurts not only that author but other authors trying to get an appearance in that store.

Authors who have been in this industry for any length of time know that every commitment reflects on their professionalism and ultimately, their image.

Authors who are new in this industry often do not realize just how small a community this is, and how long the memories.

To be sure, there are a host of problems from the other side as well: book stores who don't order the books for the signing, or who fail to tell anyone else in the store or out of it that there is a signing... And publishers are trying to work with those venues to make things easier and smoother.

But when it's the author who simply does not show up or provides a flimsy excuse at the 11th hour, it reflects very poorly on that author, on their publisher or publicist, and impacts other authors. Book signings and appearances are like any "real" job. Would you take a job as an account executive, for example, allow your boss to schedule you for a convention, and then fail to show up there? How long do you think your job would last if you kept doing this?

Why do some authors believe their commitments should be anything less?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Author's Face

Does the author's face sell a book?

This question was posed during one of my recent meetings, and I am soliciting opinions.

Some authors want their photographs on the cover of their book. A cover is like expensive real estate so when we take up space with their faces, we'd like to know that those faces will help to sell the book. If the faces don't sell the book, then what is the purpose of having them posted there?

Other authors are good with having their photographs inside the book, usually accompanied by "About the Author" which follows their story. But is it really necessary to have their faces in front of the public? Or is reading about their qualifications sufficient?

I have to admit, when I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can't picture him. Neither can I picture Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams. I know I can Google their images, but did their faces help sell their books to me? Obviously not.

Some authors are opposed to having their faces on their books, and they avoid them on their websites. This could be due to a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes, they write under a pen name and they wish to keep their private lives and their public writing completely separated. Sometimes they have issues with the way they look - maybe they think they're overweight or they have a physical handicap or they don't think they take good pictures.

At Drake Valley Press, we solicit the author's opinion regarding using their likeness, and we try to accommodate them - whether it means their picture will appear on the cover, inside the book or not at all.

But I'm wondering: when you are considering purchasing a book, how much does the author's photograph sway you one way or the other?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Love of the Printed Book

As Senior Acquisitions Editor at Drake Valley Press, I receive a copy of each book that we publish, in both eBook and printed book format. And while I am an avid eBook reader, I have to admit that as a publisher I prefer the printed book.

eBooks have qualities that I enjoy as a reader, such as the ability to change fonts and font sizes. But that also means, as a publisher, I am constrained in what I can do to make the eBook more visually appealing.

In contrast, I can select various fonts for the printed book. I can have beautiful symbols underneath chapter headings or as section breaks. I can arrange a 1/3 or 1/2 page drop at the beginning of each chapter, drop caps to begin each chapter or section, and I can make the appearance an extension of the story itself.

But with an eBook, I am limited to a few fonts and symbols, page drops and drop caps will often appear funky on certain devices. I expect this to change as technology changes, which means at a later date we'll take the most popular books and bestselling books in our arsenal and redesign them to take advantage of the improved format opportunities.

However, eBooks allow us to release up-to-date versions more readily, and they also permit us to change the covers as the market changes, without the concern of an inventory that we must sell first.

Which do you prefer - the printed book or the eBook format, and why?

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.