Friday, June 05, 2009

Want to Win Some $$$

Of course you do! Eileen Cook, awesome writer, even funnier person, is running a contest over on her blog in which you can win a $75 gift certificate, which can buy you a slew of good reads, all to commemorate the six-month anniversary of the release of her book, What Would Emma Do?

Head on over to Eileen's website for details. Happy weekend!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's All About Distribution

Question of the day: How do books get in which stores, their placement etc? I've heard authors say if they don't make it in Walmart or Target, they expect to take a huge hit in their total sales. And that makes up a tiny slice of their total sales. Can you explain a bit more about this process?

Ah yes, this is one of the big secrets that many soon-to-be published authors don't uncover until they're published: distribution (and print run) are king. In many, many ways, much of the success of a book is determined long before it hits shelves, and is up to a team you might not even have thought much about - the sales team.

Here's what happens: you write your book, you and your agent deem it genius, you and your editor deem it genius, and then...from there...a lot of it is out of your hands. Hopefully the art dept gives it a fabu cover, and hopefully the marketing and PR team come up with an incredible campaign, but what really has to happen is that the sales team has to believe that this book can sell the hell out of itself, and thus, when they take it to Barnes or Borders or Amazon or Ingram or Target or Walmart, etc, their buyers want to place big orders. If the sales team just isn't as jazzed up as it needs to be or if they can't sway the buyers to place big orders, your book simply isn't going to get in enough places to make much of a dent. You can hustle the hell out of it and if buyers can't find it, well, they can't buy it now, can they? (I would say that this might be the single biggest complaint you hear from published authors - that no one can find his/her book, and if you feel like complaining, just know that you have company on this one.)

As far as what really makes the biggest hit, in terms of sales? Yes, Target, Walmart and Costco are biggies. In fact, I was just informed that Target placed a big order on the paperback of TOML and named it a Breakout Book from Aug-Oct, and my team (ugh, not to sound pretentious) is jazzed. Because the support of one of these biggies can completely change the trajectory of your sales and your success. That said, can you hit a best-seller list without it? Well, sure, my hardcover did, but you still need a strong distribution throughout the major chains (again, up to your sales teams and the store buyers). There are few things more frustrating than getting great reviews and great press and knowing that people WOULD buy it if they COULD find it, but since they can't find it, they forget about it, and voila, there goes the momentum that a prominent review might have held.

So how do buyers make their decisions? I'm not a buyer, but from what I can tell, it is partially based on previous sales, partially based on trade reviews, partially based on the amount of support and $$ that your publisher is throwing behind you. So they place an order, and these cumulative orders determine your initial print run. If Target or Walmart decides to place a biggie order, it can significantly boost your print run and generate a ton of enthusiasm which trickles down to your entire team...and thus, might help them sway other buyers to place bigger and better orders.

As far as Amazon, I think it depends on the book. I found that Amazon orders made up about 15% of Time of My Life hardcover sales. But then, I had strong distribution in stores, so maybe people preferred to literally get their hands on it when purchasing. Others might find this percentage higher if their book is harder to find or lower if their book is available everywhere (airports, grocery stores, etc).

It's funny to realize how much of this process is out of your hands. Well, maybe funny isn't the right word for it. :) But so much of it depends on outside factors: what buyers think will sell, other books that are launching the same month that yours are, how much marketing dough they're throwing your way, etc. I guess my advice is to go into it with realistic expectations: almost every author I know (barring the biggies) has gotten those emails saying, "I want to buy your book but can't find it!," and it is so, so frustrating, but it is simply how this game is played. Hopefully, your sales team is doing a kick-ass job (a HUGE shout-out to mine for landing me Target - I freaking LOVE THEM!!), and that's all you can ask for at the end of the day.

Other authors want to weigh in? I'm sort of fascinated by this subject.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

FIlm Agents - Yay or Nay?

Question of the day: I have often thought that my story/book would make a great movie (especially for Lifetime!), and my question to you is when it comes to books that are made into movies does that come about from your agent shopping the book around to film agents or you wait and see if interest comes to you?

While I don't have any concrete figures, I would say that 99.9% of the time, of books that actually get made, a film agent has shopped it around. Let's rewind a bit to discuss why.

I've said here before, but I'll say it again because I think I have a lot of new readers: getting your book published is a very, very difficult task. Getting it made into a movie makes getting your book published almost easy. In order for it to hit your local cineplex, an almost serendipitous stream of events have to occur. Including (but not limited to): 1) a film agent has to agree to take it on. So after finding a book agent, you now have to be vetted even further...these agents take on even fewer project than lit agents, AND there are fewer of them out there, so...the odds are small. 2) A producer (or director or some sort of behind-the-scenes figure) has to want to option it. 3) A studio has to agree to give this producer money. 4) A script has to be developed that all parties agree on. 5) The studio/producers has to decide that despite steps 1-4, it is still worth their time to pay everyone involved their big payouts by greenlighting the project. 6) You have to overcome a wide variety of snafus throughout the process (including but not limited to: weak scripts, temperamental directors, temperamental actors, temperamental producers, studio bankruptcy, etc, etc, etc.)

Phew! And those are seriously just SOME of the steps that come to mind. There are about a dozen others.

Film agents, like book agents, act as a filter between authors and producers/studios. The best agents (and I count mine among them - I'm very fortunate to have her), have relationships with producers, studios, directors, etc, and know what they're looking for, in the same way that lit agents have relationships with editors. Sure, of course, someone could read your book and contact you and want to option the rights. Definitely. But the odds that they'd have all of the other linchpins in place to actually get the movie made? Probably not high. I'm not suggesting that Steven Spielberg doesn't read books and contact authors - he might (though again, I'm guessing it's not his standard way of finding material - he has a team, I'm sure, who is always actively looking), but this route is sort of climbing up and over a mountain when there is a tunnel that offers direct access. But yeah, that tunnel has a pricey toll and doesn't allow everyone to pass through.

Sorry for the bad analogy. Anyway, I wish that I had other news; I wish I could say, yes, I know a dozen writers who have been contacted by legitimate producers who have then not only paid them fairly (I'm not talking about these ridiculous options for basically no money) but have gone on to get the movie made...but I can't. In fact, I know very few writers who have sold movie rights to begin with. Some, sure, but most? No.

But readers, correct me if I'm wrong. What say you? Possible to get your movie adapted without a film agent?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Timing Is Everything

Question of the day: What time of year is the best time to contact an agent? From what I read and understand, the entire publishing industry goes to the Hamptons for the month of August. So, I'm wondering if there's a more opportune time to start down this publishing road of acquiring an agent who will submit it to an editor who will work with their publishing house.

The best time to contact an agent, hands down, is when your manuscript is as perfect as you can possibly get it. I know, I know, this isn't the answer you wanted, but it's the truth. In my opinion, far too many aspiring authors send out a manuscript before it is ready...they're just too antsy and want instant gratification. I'm not just talking about typos, though they're those too. I'm talking about first or second drafts that simply aren't major league ready, and sending out before you are in top form can really impede you in the process. Once an agent passes, he or she is unlikely to take a second look, even if you've majorly revised. (Yes, very occasionally he or she will, but why take that risk?)

So how do you know if you're in game day form? That's the million dollar question, of course. As I've said here, find trusted readers, listen with open ears and no ego to criticism, go through and delete, delete, delete extra exposition and scenes that don't propel the plot forward. Most importantly, I think, is to sit on it for a while. A few extra weeks won't kill you. Take a step away from it and then reread it and see if you still think it's just as genius as before. Try to remember that agents see SO MUCH STUFF that if yours isn't the cream of the crop, they'll likely pass without a second thought, and you'll be shooting yourself in the foot by sending it before it's at its very best.

Now, to answer your question, yes, August is a slow time in the industry. I'm not sure that I'd submit then, nor would I submit over the December holidays BUT, I'm also not sure that I wouldn't. (Gee, helpful, right?) Plenty of agents are still working in August (though yes, the last week is really, really dead, so I'd skip those already clogged inboxes), and things might be slow enough that you might grab their attention. I'm certain that there are writers, perhaps even who read this blog (chime in!), who garnered attention during this so-called slow time.

So again, the best thing I can tell you is sure, to perhaps be wary during August, but just to make sure that your ms is in kick-ass shape and send it in THEN. And good luck!

Readers, what say you? Better or worse times for submission?