Original vs. derivative vs. inspired by vs. fresh approach vs. knock off vs…

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.

The tyranny of stuff

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. 

As the page turns

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.) 

Radio waves

Things are percolating for Band of Sisters.  We got a nice bump from the News Hour appearance which in turn is getting us noticed by other media.  On Wednesday Kirsten will do a two hour talk radio set of twelve interviews covering coast to coast.  We should get another bump from that, but how big, and for how long?  I’ll be trying to figure that out for the foreseeable future.  If all this sounds like an editor getting into the publicity side of things deeper than normal you’re right.  Stackpole is a small to mid-sized publisher and has a more hands on approach.  It’s time consuming (being an editor, like being an author, means always having homework,) but it’s also what I love so I don’t really notice, although I think this blog is the closest I’ve come to a social life in months. 

Kirsten is fielding several interview requests a day so part of my job is to keep in touch with her, see how she’s holding up, talk strategy – what to focus on for this or that interview – and otherwise keep my eyes and ears open for trends and opportunities.  None of this would be possible without my truly brilliant assistant, Dave.  He’s the one that has to make sure every reporter/interviewer gets a book in time, or a high res image of the cover for an article.  That’s key by the way, always have a high res image ready to send.  A two sentence article on your book becomes a much bigger plug with an image of the cover, and it makes it a lot easier for readers to find it in a bookstore.  The media have a million stories to track down.  The easier you make their job by providing them with clear images, concise statements (ok, sound bites) and a quick response means you’re more likely to see your name in print, and repeatedly.  Oh, and if you are calling in to a show, radio or tv, be on a land line in a quiet location where you won’t be interrupted.  And never hang up until they tell you the interview is over!  Well, unless you’re really miffed.

Post TV, pre-insanity and Amazonian algorithms

It’s not often an author gets on television, let alone a national program, with her first book, so I am very happy with how she performed. I think being an editor is sometimes like being a parent.  You spend a lot of time and energy preparing to send them out into the world to make you money so you can retire in style (that’s what parenting is basically about, right?)  So, what happens now?  We will target all the network shows again with a press package that will include glossy photos of the author and some of the women soldiers in the book.  Why photos?  TV is a photogenic medium and we need to get their attention.  We’ll include a list of all the media the book has received so far (if you’re curious, go to google news then type in “Band of Sisters”) and we’ll also tell them what’s coming up like the ten plus satellite radio interviews that will in turn get broadcast to over 500 affiliates next week (and this is at no cost to the publisher, another publicity tool I’ll talk more about.)

Since the broadcast on Thursday the book jumped on Amazon to the 1,500 range and has been bouncing around there since.  We get numbers from Amazon weekly (mega publishers get this info minute by minute) so I will let you know what that really means.  Whatever the number, it’s a good sign.  We’ve also been receiving re-orders from accounts, the chains and the wholesalers.  Early re-orders are an indication that the ROM (rate of movement) is robust, another good sign.  This is a better indicator than Amazon.  My very rough guesstimate is that Amazon sales are around 10% of total sales.  The bulk of book purchases are still done in brick and mortar stores. 

So now we’re faced with the oh-so-ulcerific challenge of figuring out how many books to reprint.  Obviously, going back to press is a nice thing, although one could look at it as an indication that you didn’t print enough books in the first place.  But you have to remember this business is one of perception.  Going back to press signals to the accounts, the reviewers, the bookers and everyone else that there is DEMAND for this book.  Of course, demand isn’t infinite.  Books, ahem, have a shelf life,  so there is a significant impetus to strike while the iron’s hot. 

On the writing side, I’m deep into researching book two and looking at cover treatments in stores and online to suggest for A Darkness Forged in Fire.  This is a lot of fun as it’s the first time I’ve ever done it for myself.