It’s dawning on me that this is my first novel, and all my years as an editor in the business mean more or less nada, and more on the less. No one is going to pick up the book because they know I’m an editor, unless they are indulging a morbid curiosity to see if an editor can actually write. Considering all the manuscripts I’ve rejected over the years I suppose there’s the faint hope all those spurned writers will buy copies to burn in protest, but that’s maybe a few thousand at most. Sure, add in all the failed relationships and the number spikes, but alas, I don’t think I can build a career solely on the antipathy of others. It’s going to come down to the story, as it should. I’ll live and die by the story I write, and nothing else. All the contacts and insider knowledge is a whole lot of sound and fury that in the end signifies nothing. Sounds about right.
Publishing, at times, is like going to the zoo and poking a stick through the bars at a sleeping lion. You want to wake the lion up, get it to roar a bit and put on a show. You don’t want the lion to jump the bars and make you its mid-morning snack. A balancing act. So too when courting controversy with your publicity. Choosing a title like Band of Sisters was more than simply creating a sympathetic harmonic with Stephen Ambrose’s best seller, it was also a shot across the bow of chauvinists everywhere; women are in combat, deal with it. Unsurprisingly, some can’t, or won’t. If you’re curious, you can read some of what’s going on at www.militarytimes.com Scroll down to Book Buzz, click, and see what the buzz (the elixir of life in publishing) is all about. You’ll notice, he says affecting an air of practiced innocence, that of all the books they could be talking about, they’re talking about this one. Gratis. And for every sling and arrow sent its way, there are that many shields springing up to defend it. The end result will be increased awareness followed by increased sales.
Detractors almost never buy the book, they save their money and rail against what they perceive to be wrong with it. The great thing about that is that all the gnashing and chest-thumping acts like a beacon for those interested in the book, and they are far more likely to buy it, especially after their blood gets hot reading what the naysayers have to bray. Hmmm, I wonder if this would work when on a date…
Whilst I putter away at the day job and work on the second novel in the Iron Elves series I am also developing a YA/middle school series. My agent looked at it and wondered if it was at all similar to another series already published. Whenever anyone says ‘gee, that sounds just like ______’ your first reaction is probably a short flight off a tall bridge or green-tinged anger that someone would dare take your idea. A few deep breathes later you read the offending book and grow increasingly more relieved when you discover it’s nothing like yours. You’re cloning labradoodles while that other guy cloned dinosaurs. Whew, right? Not quite. When my agent shops my series, it won’t be enough to simply say this isn’t like that. I get submissions daily that sound an awful lot like the submissions I got the day before, and the week before, and just like any number of books already published. Editors are always eye-deep in manuscripts and looking for the quickest way to reject something. A ms that arrives sounding similar to something else and not taking the time to explain how and why it’s different and oh so much better is likely destined for the shredder. You, or your agent, will need to be armed with detail and substance to show how your ms is so much more, and not at all similar…except that it will still tap into that same market and make as much or more money for everyone concerned. Original, but not so original that it can’t be categorized with fifty other equally original books all about say, hot and sexy vampires (maybe yours are different because your vampires are descendant from fruit bats and are devastating Florida’s citrus crops.) Write your story, make it the best it can be, but also be aware of what else is out there, and be able to show, with a good-natured chuckle, how unique your story is…while still slotting nicely among all those other unique books on exactly the same thing.
Almost seven years ago I moved to NY to take a job with Del Rey at Random House. After two years I was ready for a change, and took a job with Stackpole Books located in Mechanicsburg, PA. Barely noticed the difference… After four years in PA I really needed a change again, and my line was growing to such an extent that it made sense all around for me to move back to NY. Doing so meant giving up a three bedroom apartment in a new building with my own washer and dryer and cramming my life into a studio on the Upper East Side, and I’ve never been happier.
To reach this state of bliss, however, I first had to come to terms with the amount of material possessions I had accumulated. To my horror I realized I had become a consumer. I bought because it was on sale, or because it looked neat, or because I had the room, or because I was bored and the endorphin surge distracted me from bigger issues I didn’t want to deal with. What really shook me was when I found myself asking ‘How can I move back to NY when I have all this stuff?’ How long had I let my life be dictated by inanimate objects? Once I recognized what had happened I had this incredibly liberating experience of donating and selling off the majority of the things I owned. Even books! At first it was scary, but the more things I got rid of the more I enjoyed it. The release of endorphins from buying pale in comparison to the feeling I got waving goodbye to furniture, clothes and knick-knacks.
Now I live in the heart of one of the most vibrant cities in the world and feel more at home than I ever have before. I own fewer things and am richer for it…and apparently auditioning to write for a greeting card company, but you get my drift.
Kirsten did her three hours of radio interviews this morning and I’m told they went very well. Each interview was between five and ten minutes in length. The stations were all over the map from Ohio to Oregon. We expect a bump in sales, but as with most of this, how much is the million dollar question. While we wrestle with that, we went back to press for a second print run. Re-orders are coming in fast and furious, so things are happening out there.
Tomorrow our USA Today ad debuts. You may need a magnifying glass to see it, but as with much in this business, it really is the thought that counts. The ad runs Thursday and Friday, and while it is aimed at the reader, it is also aimed at reviewers, bookers, accounts (the chains) and the rest. The reasoning is to show to the industry that we, the publisher, are solidly behind the book. It allowed us to tell everyone for months that we were going to be launching a national ad campaign for the book. True, in the broadest sense. In reality, we have done that in a multitude of ways, everything from spending co-op money on front of store promotions to paying for eblasts to accounts all across the country (which are the sort of thing the reading public don’t see, but nonetheless can impact performance.) Having USA Today (or something similar) as a pillar lends credence and gets a second look. This business is all about getting attention. You can have the best book in the world, but if no one knows about it, it’s next year’s newsprint. Personally, I happen to think Band of Sisters is an exceptional book, and so doing whatever it takes to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible is just part of the job. And all this effort focused now is also laying ground work for future books, both by this author and others. Each time a new contact is made, that’s someone you can go back to the next time. Remember, publishing is a small, small world full of, um, really nice people (see, I remembered.)