(blows dust off blog)
This article made the rounds today, and I wanted to link it here, because it is very useful in framing how and why agents take things on.
My caveat would be that the writer’s point here, tweetable though the “it’s who you know” is, is actually more complex than just networking. It’s about becoming really good, then having that goodness recognized by people who are already trusted by the agent AND will vouch for your quality as a person and as a writer. If any of those elements aren’t there, all the connections in the world won’t affect the outcome.
I get a lot of things sent my way by people other than the author. Freelance editors, lawyers, conference chairs, my clients, etc. Some of what gets sent is brilliant. Some is clearly not ready for prime time. Think obvious first drafts of novels that came my way via a passing professional acquaintance of the writer’s dad/wife/brother, who is just trying to do a friend’s loved one a favor. If I don’t trust the taste of the person who referred it, and/or they’ve never read the author’s work either, there really is no leg up to having had it come in by those means. I’m not entering the read inclined toward it without that trust and voucher.
So those of you out there doing the good work, the hard thankless seemingly endless work of getting sharper and better every day as a writer, and then seeing tweets about this article and wanting to just light the whole thing on fire? Do not despair that your brother’s cousin isn’t a Somebody who will send your book to an agent. Many of the people who have those connections use them too soon or expect them to be a guarantee. The times it does open the door, as this article actually does a great job of highlighting, it’s because there’s a backstory of daily effort and work that doesn’t make for a sexy slug line. But the not-sexy hard-work part that gets left out of the narrative later is what makes it possible for you to be that “friend of a friend” or slush-pile success story.
Much like the idea of the overnight success, there really is no magic shortcut or right way. There’s only your road to success.
Filed under: Holly Root | 4 Comments
From today’s Publishers Marketplace Lunch:
The Waxman Agency’s Holly Root is relocating to Los Angeles. She will open a west coast office for the agency, and will continue to develop her client list as well as expand the agency’s network of TV and film contacts.
While I make this transition, I’ll be briefly closing to queries, August 22-September 30 (exceptions: true referrals & if I have met you at a conference and said “hey send me your query”–please note that in the subject if it’s the case for you).
Happy end of summer to you all, and more soon from the left coast!
Filed under: Holly Root | 8 Comments
Most agents would probably back me up on this. A not-insignificant percentage of the client phone calls that happen in a given week somehow work around to the phrase “So my friend…” Friends are the often-unsung yet essential ensemble behind the publication of any book, for good and ill. So what can you do to
make my day easier–uh, be the best possible friend on the eve of publication? A quick rundown.
First and foremost, for this one moment as your friend’s book wings its way into the world, repeat: this is not about me.
If the person is truly your friend and you value them, it is worth it to find some way to celebrate with them no matter what your emotions about the release. If you’re a writer at any stage of the journey, and your friend’s book is coming out, it’s natural you would have an emotional response to watching that process, but look for ways to turn those feelings into inspiration rather than competition. And if your book already came out, or has yet to come out and you’re anxious, don’t torture yourself with comparisons of buzz or Amazon rankings or whatever. Your book is yours and your friend’s book is not.
That said, offer the kind of help that seems natural to you. Faking it so hard you crack only adds a ton of pressure to what is already a weird and intense time. Maybe it’s as small as a retweet or as big as hosting a party. Spreading the word on FB, baking cupcakes, reading reviews for your friend and only reporting back about the good ones. Maybe it’s a sweet, thoughtful card. Whatever it is, do what you can honestly do with love for your friend.
It probably sounds obvious, but any heart-of-darkness shenanigans you feel a need to indulge in (reading and relishing the bad reviews, asking around to find any tidbit of weakness) should really not be passive-aggressively revealed to the author, tweeted, posted to an “anonymous” Tumblr, or even made fodder for epic gChat marathons with your other friends. One mercury-in-retrograde slip of the “forward” key and you’ve nuked your friendship over something really petty. If you can’t be even a little genuinely happy for someone, are you really friends?
Consider saving your “Why The Book Is Obsolete And Irrelevant” or “Why Only Shmucks and Sell-Outs Get Book Deals” or “Hey I Am A Huge Fan of Piracy” oration for a point other than your friend’s release party.
Don’t helpfully tell the author all about the scathing, three-page-long screed some pseudonymous person posted on Goodreads and how it has forty-seven comments and then say “But don’t worry, I read it so you don’t have to.” Cats and release-week authors have similar levels of curiosity and comparably pleasant outcomes.
Take your friend out and talk about something, anything, that has nothing to do with B&N placement, Kirkus, Twitter, or books. Watch stuff explode at the movies. Eat Indian food so scorching your friend literally cannot talk about who (other than them) got a starred review in PW. Remind your friend by your presence that s/he has value and worth beyond anything Bookscan can track.
And then, when it’s your release day? Your friend will have a shining example of how to make your pub day just as wonderful.
Filed under: Holly Root | 7 Comments
From time to time, clients have emailed me new ideas they are clearly nervous about, usually with a subject line something like “Here goes nothing” or “Don’t say I didn’t warn you” and then inside they give me a great windup of “So this is the weirdest idea ever, basically, but….”
Members of my client list, do not take it upon yourselves to prove this untrue, but—I LOVE THAT.
If you’re a bit scared of a book, I usually think it means you’re on the brink of something big. A breakthrough, the book you should’ve written two false starts ago, the story that is going to take off when it hits editors’ desks. The book that makes me go, “Oh, I guess I like horror/vampires/boy action-adventure/whatever I thought I didn’t, now.”
But in part, I think I’m so stoked to get “you might hate this” emails because like anyone else who is immersed in books for a living, I crave novelty. Jadedness can come up on you so easily. If anything, it’s harder for you if at first glance your book seems to be another been-there-done-that dystopovampilove story (or, if paranormal’s not your thing, book about the bullied girl, or the contemporary romance with a movie star hero in hiding, or the women’s fiction about a cheating husband and the wife moving on)–my natural inclination, in these hibernation-inducing days of winter, is to channel Bad Willow and go straight to “Bored now.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still have to be able to describe it, shelve it in a bookstore, tell an editor what to compare it to. But here is what 2011 is not about for me: Chasing trends. Trying to jump in on something while the market-check’s kiting, cashing in on as much as I can get before everyone wakes up to realize middle grade weremonkeys or whatever actually weren’t the wave of the future. Nuh-uh. I want something that will endure, a book we’ll be toasting to in three, five, fifteen years. And those are very rarely the books that seemed easy.
So dance with the scary idea. See where it takes you. Even if it isn’t the one that Does The Trick (whatever the trick is for you), I bet it’ll make you a more interesting writer. The same is true for me—I know I’ve got something good when I have to breathe deep and ask, “Am I agent enough for this book?” New challenges keep you fresh, and that’s good for us all.
Filed under: Holly Root | 25 Comments
First thing, let’s define what ARCs (Advance Readers Copies [sometimes also referred to as galleys or bound galleys or AREs—Advance Readers Editions]) are, so we’re talking about the same thing: An uncorrected proof of the book that is bound into book form for easier reading. They are expensive for houses to make, because they do not benefit from the economies of scale of finished editions, so much so that each ARC produced actually costs the publisher far more than the amount it costs to print final books. For many titles, the ARCs will represent one of the biggest outlays of marketing money the book will receive.
If they are so spendy, why do them? The best way to get people to be passionate about a book is to let them read it. Thus, ARCs, designed to make sure the people who make purchasing decisions get to experience the book far enough out from when orders are placed. Ideally, that pays off like this: Bookstore Buyer X, who is responsible for deciding if his or her store will carry a title and how many to order if so, reads an ARC, falls for it, and orders twice as many copies as Store would normally order for a book of that type. Or Librarian Y encounters a deeply special but maybe not splashy novel and begins beating the drums for it, leading to other librarians discovering it and to a solid performance in the institutional markets. Everyone wins, hooray!
ARCs were once pretty much only available to trade publication and mass media reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and others who, in order to achieve the desired outcome, had to read the book before publication. But over the last few years ARCs have taken on another role—tool in creating the intangible thing known as “buzz.”
“Buzz” is lovely but only insofar as it translates to sales—this is after all a business. And here’s where I warp into Mayor McCranky. Because remembering from above that the goal of an ARC is to create a stronger entry for the book in the marketplace—why do we now have an ARC culture where people collect them like trading cards, or display them like spoils of war after a trade show, or go online to sell & buy them on eBay, or pass them person to person so everyone on the internet with even a passing interest has read the book two months before it even hits shelves?
This stuff is hard to talk about, because I don’t want to sound like I am dogging on fans, or bloggers, or Twitterers, or any other group of people who love books and want a piece of them as soon as possible. I love that passion. But I don’t love the sense that an author “owes” their fans a freebie, or that waiting however long for a book to publish is torture beyond the pale that justifies the effort of seeking out a galley when you don’t fall into one of the must-receive categories above. There’s a lot of entitlement around ARCs that I find honestly baffling when you consider they are a business marketing tool.
Sometimes I see posts that aren’t much more than “Look, I have it and you don’t!” (Honestly, this is one of the things that concern me about book-world social media overall—the risk of creating The Insider Club You’re Not In Gee If You Were Awesomer You Would Have ARCs Too. Not true! Or at ALL the point!) Or I’ll see a site run a giveaway of a book that came out five months ago and do a giveaway of the ARC. Where’s the “Advance” in that? Give away a real copy if you feel like you have to do a giveaway, or just do a review. After all, the reason the ARC came through in the first place was in hopes your words would introduce people to a title they’d want to buy. Are the words you create powerful enough to sell someone on a book? If you’re really an influencer, a key part of the bookselling ecosystem for which ARCs were designed, they should be.
I’m a huge fan of e-galleys because they seem to circumvent some of these undesirable uses of ARCs. An e-galley gets the book into the hands of people who need to read it—and then when the book publishes, it expires. Not languishes in a stack for three years. Not gets sold on ebay. Not whirls off to fourteen friends (I’m not anti-book-loaning—you buy it, you can do whatever—but it’s sort of antithetical to the point of ARCs).
If you’re someone who does get ARCs on a regular basis, you have the potential to be a force for the success of the books you loved, and that’s fabulous. All I’m asking is that you think of how you use your galleys, relative to the bookseller who decides to carry a title she might have initially planned to skip or the librarian who starts an institutional push. The publisher’s return on investment in those scenarios (One galley yielding, say, 10 or 20 or 200 additional sales) is looking pretty good. If you’re getting your hands on ARCs, what does the publisher’s return on investment look like for you?
Ways you can use your galley access for good:
- Spread the word, not the galley.
- If the publisher asks for it, give feedback! Let them know if a book resonated particularly well with you. Let them know if you’re spreading the word, and how.
- You won’t love every title, and you don’t have to. No need to be the Reader Who Cried Five-Stars. Save your enthusiasm for the titles you’re truly passionate about and people will listen.
- When you do speak, make it count. The internet is great, but there are other ways to advocate for a book. Request it with your librarian. Ask if your local bookseller will stock it and tell them why it’s so wonderful.
- Continue to contribute to the book economy in whatever way you are able. Buy debuts too, not just Book 6 in the mega-series (because there wasn’t an ARC so you didn’t get it free). Donate $20 to a teacher to add to the class library, or for the kid who might not have the cash to participate when the Scholastic fair comes through your local school. If you love books, support them at whatever level you are able.
I’d love to hear what you think about the subject as well in the comments. How have you seen ARCs used for good? What do you think of e-galleys? Should I see if there’s a vacancy in Oscar’s trash can because I too am a grouch?
Filed under: Holly Root | 79 Comments
So, you might’ve seen the news that authors can now see (as I understand it) a rolling, four-week window of their book’s sales, as reported by Bookscan. I have something of a love-hate relationship with Bookscan. It’s the only widely-available reportage we have, but it’s also got a reporting gap that is likely only widening as ebook sales increase and already aggressively underreports in certain categories (romance, young adult key among them). Sarah Weinman did a great rundown of some of the issues, which you should read if you haven’t already.
But if you’re sitting at your computer, Amazon author account in hand, wondering why exactly you’re huge in Raleigh, you might be wondering how you can make it work for you. A few ideas:
I’ve seen authors dive into the numbers with an almost forensic glee. “200 total? But I sold 42 at my signing on Saturday…would that be this week’s numbers or next week’s reporting period? And then my aunt sent out an email, and that’s 14 in Region 4…carry the 2…” I often tell authors that with Bookscan, the one thing you can count on is that you sold at least that many. And if that’s all you’re able to take away, so be it. If you’re the kind of person who will be spurred on by this, or reality checked into making more reasonable business decisions as a result of having numbers, then this service will be great for you. If you’re a tea-leaf-reader personality, maybe not.
Use it to determine what promo efforts to put your money/time into.
Did your blog tour move the dial? Want proof that in-store co-op still works? Here’s some data to help you divine. Remember that often it’s a combination of efforts rather than one sole thing, but you can watch for trends, and draw gentle extrapolations. By the same token, if you spend a ton of cash or time on a promotion that results in no uptick over a month of sales, you can probably retool or retire that particular strategy. Count this one a solid advantage of having access.
Remember which pool you’re swimming in.
A Bookscan report of 500 copies a week can be a giant floptastic failure or a raging success, depending on the book you’re talking about. If you value your sanity, focus on your numbers and your numbers only—not your Twitter friend’s, your same-pub-day frenemy’s, etc. Your agent should be able to contextualize this for you (once—not every day or every week, please) with a sense of your print and ship numbers and help you craft reasonable expectations based upon those.
Kindness and discretion will never come back to haunt you.
Quite frankly? Any data gleaned from this service is no one’s business but yours, your publisher, and your agent. Don’t feel compelled to talk about the intricacies of your reports with others. Or even look at it, for that matter, just because everyone else is.
Don’t let the number defeat you.
There are a million different ways for a successful book to become successful. Some books take off right out of the gate then drop off. Other books sell a steady quantity over the life of the edition. Still others start slow and gain momentum as word of mouth or some other force kicks in. It can be really frustrating to see a number that’s not what you hoped (even if that number is empirically good!) but this is the very definition of things that are beyond your control. I really, really hate when an author pleads for these numbers, then upon seeing them throws up their hands and quits promoting entirely. Don’t drop out or give up. Just change your approach, adapt, evolve. Don’t let one subset of data be the boss of you.
Don’t let the number define you.
Your worth as a writer and, more importantly, as a human is not measurable at point of sale. While your future advances might be based in part on Bookscan, it cannot become the driving force behind your writer-self. If you’re someone whose writer-self and business-self are inseparable, consider whether the information to be had there is worth the emotional processing costs to you. Only you can be the judge of that, and it’s the one part of the whole sales thing you can control—your own actions.
Filed under: Holly Root | 5 Comments