Publishing is a business

Publishing is a business.  Depending on your perspective that sounds bloody obvious, bloody cold, or bloody immoral. If you write in the hopes of one day being published AND monetarily compensated for it, then it’s all of them.  If you accept this premise then you should also take this on board – you are both writer and businessperson.  That means it’s incumbent upon you to learn enough of how this business works so that you can make informed decisions.  If, on the other hand, you find writing for money  unpalatable, then you probably aren’t reading this so I’ll carry on.

I remember a time in the not-too-distant past when I didn’t have a clue how any of this worked.  That was last Tuesday.  I’m no Maxwell Perkins (and if you don’t know who he is then Google him and learn about one of the greats in the publishing world,) but I’m muddling by.  One of the reasons for that is because I have the help and support of a lot of friends and colleagues who know infinitely more about this than I do, and I know just enough to know when to ask for their help. I’ve done that now, and the results will be showing up in this blog in the near future.  Guest bloggers (writers, editors, sales people and more) will be dropping by to offer their insight into the business.  I thought I could do this on my own, but as I started to make a list of my best advice I noticed a lot of it had to do with knowing where all the exits are and always having tupperware on hand in case there’s leftover food in a conference room.  Sage, to be sure, but perhaps not the most salient.  I’m hoping my future guests will have more to offer.

Publishing is a business, but it’s an amazing business, and there’s no good reason you can’t succeed in it,  and a lot of bad reasons why you might not.  If nothing else, this blog will aim to illuminate the good from the bad. 

PS Simply knowing where the exits are isn’t enough.  Check the doors and windows to see that they actually open before pandemonium breaks out.  Trust, but verify. 

Scheduling writing and thoughts on marketing

I write primarily in the early morning, usually from 6 to 8.  It’s not an inviolable rule, but it’s what I aim for most days.  For me, this is the ideal time.  I put on the coffee, read a little news on the web, check work email and then read over notes I made previously about the novel.  At this point in the day everything is still ahead of me and all I see is potential.  No one is calling yet, no one is in the office, and the traffic outside is still quiet.  Perfect.  I write, have a light breakfast, then go out for run in Central Park, shower and clock in to work around 9.  Some days I will write in the evenings as well, but usually the bulk of my writing gets done early.  As for word count, I don’t really keep track.  I’ve tried at different times, and now that I have contractual obligations I will likely pay closer attention to my progress although I am loathe to get too caught up in that lest the word count drive the story, and not the other way around. 

I landed a big book for next summer that should find itself right in the middle of election politics.  It’ll be formally announced shortly, but I’m excited because it’s not a polemic and should shed some light on a very divisive subject that needs it.  Meanwhile, there’s been interest expressed by a national television show in Band of Sisters.  Marketing a book today is in large parts trying to create critical mass, and doing so from the bottom up.  Readers, and that’s all of us, don’t like to be told what to read.  Well, a lot of readers don’t.  They like to discover an author.   Publishers can and do spend massive amounts of money to promote a book, but the only thing that guarantees is that the publisher spent a lot of money.  Word-of-mouth is the Holy Grail.  You need people to take up your cause as if it was their own.  Nothing really new here, but it’s worth remembering because an author can and should play a large role in this.  As an editor, I judge the commercial viability of a book on more than just the written word.  An author who can help him/herself is a huge asset. 

The Charlie Effect (soon to be a major motion picture…well, it should be.)

I’m hiring Charlie as my publicist!  Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to drop by and say hello.  And a big merci to Charlie for introducing me around. This really caught me off guard and threw my plan to update my blog once a week right out the window.  I’m a ‘babe in the woods’ here so please bear with me (hmm, perhaps I’m more a cub in the woods) as I learn the finer points.  I haven’t had a chance to look at many other blogs yet, but over the next week or two I plan to. 

Not a lot new on the Iron Elves, not since yesterday anyway, but things are progressing well with Band of Sisters.  We’ve used some of our co-op money for front of store placement in B&N starting the first week in July which should raise awareness of the book dramatically.  Co-op, in case this is an unfamiliar term, is money that a retailer holds back from the books it sells that the publisher is compelled to spend in that chain promoting future books.  Essentially, it’s the bookstores’ way of saying ‘help us help you.’  You probably already know this, but all those books at the front of the store, or on end caps or otherwise stacked and displayed in high traffic areas or near the cash registers got there because a publisher paid for that placement using co-op money.  In turn, the bookstore will order more books from the publisher based on the co-op buy and the marketing the publisher is doing.  Both sides are working together to sell more books.  It’s no guarantee of course, but it does fit with the adage that perception becomes reality.  If you see twenty copies of a book stacked five feet from the door as you enter the store it’s hard to ignore it.  Even if the sale isn’t made then, the odds have increased that someone goes home, logs onto Amazon and buys it there. 

I’ll try to come up with more interesting things to talk about in the future, I promise!

A little more backstory

I’m writing a fantasy series entitled The Iron Elves.  The first book, due out July 2008 in hard cover from the nice folks at Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster) is titled A Darkness Forged in Fire.  At the moment, it’s a bit of a beastie at 160,000 words so some judicious editing is in order.  My editor at Pocket is currently reading through the ms and will be sending me his revisions shortly.  Concurrent with that, my agent, Don Maass of the famed (dare I say world renowned) and eponymous literary agency, is finalizing the details of the contract with my editor.  If you’re at all interested in being a writer then you’ve probably contemplated the choice of finding an agent versus finding a publisher.  It might seem like a Catch-22, and in some ways it is, but I firmly believe that if you are pursuing a career in the field then you will want an agent.  More on this later.

Meanwhile back at the day job, my book (and when I say my book it’s with my editor’s hat on) Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt, is going on sale July 4th.  I’m damn proud of this book, this author and these amazing women.  I had a chance to meet several of the women soldiers in the book at the recent Book Expo America (BEA) held in NYC at the beginning of June.  We held a book signing on Sunday morning and after going through nearly 300 copies we had to turn people away.  I hadn’t been sure what to expect, so seeing such a huge and positive response was very gratifying and seems to bode well for the success of the book.  We’re beginning to get reviews and full articles in newspapers around the country and radio and television appearances are stacking up.  It should be a very good summer.

And so it begins…

My intent, and no doubt life will modify it with all due haste, is to update my journal and subsequent website about once a week.  Why anyone will want to drop by and read it may very well remain a question for the ages, but two possible answers are they are related to me and/or I paid them to do so.  Far less likely is that you’ve heard I’m writing a fantasy series and wanted to see what the fuss, such as it is, is all about.  So far…not much.  In contravention of most good writing advice here’s what happened before you got here:

The day I successfully defended my MA thesis I went home and started writing a fantasy novel…naturally.  That was nine years ago.  Between then and now I attended Clarion East, the science fiction and fantasy writing workshop for aspiring writers, took second place in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest, was hired by Del Rey Books to edit military history and science fiction and fantasy, went to Europe several times as a historian on battlefield tours, was hired by Stackpole Books to edit military history, history and current affairs and conflicts, wrote another fantasy novel, some short stories, started a couple of other novels, tried speed dating, took up running (it’s not sex, but you do wind up sweaty and wanting a snack,) and watched every episode of the Sopranos – marone!