Saturday, December 1, 2012
Letter to an Author
An author I've worked with for many years finally came out with a self-published edition of a book, and is discouraged after no sales and a rejection from Books-a-Million. The topic is one about which the author is passionate, but based on the discouragement, the author is entirely ready to throw in the towel and, so to speak, close the book on the entire endeavor. This author, moreover, is typically upbeat.
Names changed, and correspondence slightly edited.
Jan: I’m sorry to hear this, especially from a person as typically positive as you are. What I’m about to write might seem like a little tough love, but I do care about you.
I’m not sure what you’ve done from your email or conversations with you to market the book. A rejection by Books-a-Million is to be entirely expected. The chances of Books-a-Million accepting a book from an unpublished author on a topic of, yes, limited interest are about the same as Walmart agreeing to put on its shelves Jan’s Great Breakfast Cereal. You’re talking about extremely valuable real estate, and you received a form letter response; the “and/or” indicates to me they didn’t even read it, and I’m not sure why they would read it, as they probably receive tens of thousands of unsolicited submissions each year. I’m also not sure why that’s a litmus test anyway; most people I know who buy books probably haven’t been in a Books-a-Million or any chain bookstore in ten years, except just to kill time. You’ll be around longer than Books-a-Million. Also, if you were dealing with a local or regional marketing person, I don’t think you’re working with someone who is necessarily in the position to assess the value of the book.
Have you done the festival route? That’s a proven way to sell books and make contacts in your area. Have you spoken with Jamie’s group or any of those authors? Have you begun signing up for festivals and authors’ signings for 2013? The local authors who are selling books are doing just that. And they sell books. And write more.
Have you contacted small presses — sending them a copy of the book, along with notice that you’re a professional lecturer and a topic expert, and you’d be willing to do anything to promote this book if they accept it? You could do two small presses a month for a year, in areas that would be interested in this book, at a total cost of about $40.
You’ve experienced what every author experiences: a rejection. So what? Writing and researching for you were the easy part. If you want to get published or sell the books, it takes work, too — and it’s not the fun kind. I’ve probably told you, or you already know, that the authors of the first Chicken Soup for the Soul books received 150+ rejections. A hundred million copies later . . .
I dropped a quick note to a writer about your email. Part of the response is as follows:
Is the book great literature? No. Is it scholarship? No. Will it make Jan millions or even tens of thousands of dollars? No. But it does represent a very good effort on Jan’s part to bring something Jan is rightly passionate about to light. Thousands of similar books are published each year to great response that are more poorly written and with less exciting a topic. I think Jan has something here that IS appealing — just needs to find the market.
Jan, I don’t think I’ve made any secret along the way that the publishing world is not going to beat a path to anyone’s door who is not a known and very saleable quantity. With all the tools these days, hundreds of thousands of people annually are publishing books, some with very wild expectations of the results. Even big publishers tell authors, and I’ve heard them say it to a room full of them, “Don’t expect that we’re going to do the work of marketing for you. That’s your job.”
I’m not sure what I can say that you’ve not heard from other writers or me numerous times before. At this point, selling the book becomes personal. No book, especially one on a limited topic by an unknown author, will get recognized except through the author’s efforts, which need not cost much at all. It sounds like you’ve put up your registration money and done all the training for a race you were really looking forward, then decided to stop because a cloud came out. I’m sure I’m missing something, because this isn’t the Jan I’ve come to know.
Apologies if I’ve overstepped my bounds.