Wednesday + Josie Brown = Hype Hell
Horoscopes use sun signs to categorize the fate of humankind on an annual basis.
The Chinese calendar draws comparisons between people and animals, anointing one as king of the forest during any given year.
Perhaps for better luck the publishing industry should consider some annual theme of its own. I suggest that we adopt values (no, I’m NOT running for office) since our books are supposed to inspire our readers to based on.
That said, I nominate TRUST as our value of the year. Yeah, now that sounds great! Let’s make 2007 The Year to Trust Your Gut.
This year will not be an easy one in which to sell your novel. Book sales are stagnating overall. Fiction has modest increases in some categories, but not all. The chains are chagrined because the stock pundits are grudgingly hedging their bets. So to get back in their stockholders’ good graces, they buy less books. And what they are purchasing is the same old tried-and-true names. Worse yet, they send more books back to the warehouse, and in a shorter period of time.
Then, to make the point that they get the fact that the bottom line is the end all, they redefine bookselling in business terms: their staff members are now called “salespersons” as opposed to “booksellers.”
Yeah, now THAT should move a few more books.
The ripple effect has been seen and felt for at least a few months now: editors are second-guessing themselves on manuscripts that, even eight months ago, would have been an automatic bid. Forget the newbie! Now even some high midlisters are being passed over, if not reduced to single book buys, with one-book options, or none at all.
All of this doubt is setting up our industry for failure.
But hey, the nom de plume Cassandra fits me poorly. I prefer Holly Golightly. Or perhaps Pollyanna.
Which brings me back to my designated Emoticon of the Year: Trust.
Will the publishing industry grow a pair any time soon? Will it trust its gut ever again?
I think it can, I think it can, I think it can . . . And here’s how we can start:
#1: Trust that if you sell it, they will come.
Variety is the spice of life. If you only carry bestsellers, you don’t give your customers reason to browse, or to pick up on impulse. Brick-and-mortar bookstores cannot survive on bestsellers alone. Hey, just face it: up against the online behemoth Amazon based on price point alone, YOU CAN’T. So get smart and offer your customer what the want more books to open, touch, sample…and BUY ON THE SPOT.
Case in point: I was in a chain bookstore the other day. A woman was asking a bookseller about the four mystery books on her list, which she couldn't find on the bookshelves. Of the four, two were debut novels that had received some positive reviews; the other two were books by tried-and-true midlisters.
"We have them in the warehouse," said the bookseller.
"What are they doing there, instead of here?" was her response. Good question, I thought to myself.
"Can I order them for you?"
"No," was the customer's immediate reaction, and she walked away.
Perhaps she found them all four at the mystery indie down the block, or ordered them online. Bottom line: the store lost a sale to four books.
#2: Trust that DESTINATION is just as important as LOCATION.
You’re in a highly-traffic mall. You’ve got great signage that can be seen from the expressway. So what’s with the too many dead nights, lazy mornings, and lousy browsing-only afternoons?
People like a show, so give them one.
Like instore book clubs that strike all stripes and fancies. And author-driven events. Or demonstrations. Judy and Mickey knew how to put on a show. You need to learn how, too. Oh, and while you’re at it, LET THE PRESS KNOW. Or, in the words of that great stripper/author Gypsy Rose Lee, “Ya gotta have a gimmick…”
Every book has an angle. If you can’t find it, ask the author to point it out, then run with it.
#1: Trust that your story’s concept is sound.
The fact that it came to you in the middle of the night, or in the shower, doesn’t mean it’s not valid. It just means you’re fertile. And that’s what you get paid for, remember?
#2: Trust that your agent wants to help make your story as strong as possible before putting it out there.
That said, listen to her suggestions as to how this can be done. THEN DO IT.
#3: Trust that you must be an integral part of the process every step of the way.
From molding the book proposal, to suggesting any editor contacts you know or have heard from your other author friends may be looking for just this kind of thing, your agent wants and respects your insight, inputs and opinions. So DON’T BE A PANSY, SPEAK UP.
FOR EDITORS, only 1, and it's a BIG 1:
If you run across a manuscript that makes you laugh, cry, or stop to ponder, THEN BUY IT.
Editors are the worst at trusting their gut. They are told to acquire, and are given budgets with which to do so. To get to such position, they must already have a good nose for material, and track record for a few winners.
Well, that’s no reason to sit on your laurels, or to get lazy.
Or to doubt yourself in a slow market.
Sure, you may have plucked a few of those manuscripts from the slush pile, but for the most part you depend on agents to do the brunt of the weeding. And since most of the agents you know take this part of their jobs and their reputations quite seriously, trust that they feel something is special about the ones they send you.
And if you feel that way too after you read it, don’t ask your inhouse reading committee to second-guess you.
One of my closest, dearest friends, Richard Levy, is the author of some twelve or so nonfiction books on the toy industry and the business of inventing, and the co-developer of some 200 games and toys, including the enormously successful Furby. Just the other day he told me a wonderful story that so perfectly illustrates every reason editors should trust their guts:
Once upon a time (long before Parker Brothers was sold to Hasbro) Parker Brothers’ product managers had a meeting with upper management to discuss new games and toys that had been submitted to the company for consideration. As it was passed around the table, one particular toy had everyone laughing out loud. However when it came time to vote on whether or not they should bid on producing the toy, the first product manager asked hesitated before giving a resounding “No”. All the others around the table followed suit.
Finally it was time for the senior vice president to give his vote. Instead of answering, he asked that first product manager: “What was your first reaction when you played the toy?”
“Well, it…it made me laugh,” The product manager answered.
“And that’s why it will be a hit at Toy Fair,” explained the senior VP. “Because your gut instinct was to enjoy it. Well, guess what? Toy department buyers will have the same reaction as you. Now, let’s all get behind it.”
He was right. And who hasn’t played with a Nerf ball?
So, Editor, why did you recently pass on that manuscript that made you laugh, or cry, or stop and think?
Maybe you should dig it up again. Go ahead, ask the representing agent where it stands, perhaps have an open, honest conversation regarding why you passed, maybe even go over any of the niggling doubts you have about its marketplace viability.
Then, go back and bid on it.
In other words, TRUST YOUR GUT.
After all, that’s what they pay you for.
READERS: What other value should the industry consider in 2007? Your comments are welcomed . . .
Josie Brown left the advertising industry to become a crusading investigative reporter. Sadly, in our voyeuristic culture vulture society, there is an insatiable demand (and better pay) for celebrity journalists, which is how Josie came to rub elbows (not to mention egos) with the rich and famous. She still writes about celebrity, sex and scandal, only now as fiction (which, she insists, is just as strange as what she knows to be fact). Her latest novel is IMPOSSIBLY TONGUE-TIED.You can read about her books on her blog: http://www.josiebrown.com.