Ask The Editor

November 20, 2008

Why “Joe the Plumber” got a book deal (and what it means to you)

Filed under: Advice for non-fiction writers,Commentary,News,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 5:34 pm

Writers have reason to be annoyed. A guy with no writing credentials, no policy credentials who, apparently, doesn’t even have plumbing credentials (and isn’t really named “Joe”), has signed a book deal.

Meanwhile, fine writers who have spent years studying their subject matter and developing their craft may have difficulty finding agents who will represent them, let alone publishers who will offer them contracts.

Yes, fume away. But then, take a breath and take “Joe the Plumber’s” book deal as your first class in Non-Fiction Book Marketing 101.

Publishers look for authors who have established a following in the media, what publishers call a “platform.” (The term “authors” is used loosely;  it’s unlikely that someone like “Joe” will actually write a word of his book). Publishers assume that a certain percentage of those who tune in to watch or listen to someone, will buy a book by the person. “Joe the Plumber,” for better or worse, has a platform.

So, how do you develop your own platform? You can’t expect a camera crew to magically appear on your street and ask for your thoughts. But there are other ways you might be able to get local media attention.

For example, if you’re a teacher writing a memoir about your attempts to fix the educational system, choose a short, vivid anecdote from your manuscript, add a list of thought-provoking ideas on the subject of education that you can discuss with the media, and then look for (or wait for) a news hook – something that ties your topic to the news. Perhaps you discover that statewide test scores are up, or down. Use that news to lead off a press release, add issues related to the news to your list of thought-provoking ideas, and drop in your brief relevant anecdote. Then, send it out to local media, offering yourself as an expert on the topic.

Do this every time something hits the news about your topic and you could find yourself becoming the local go-to expert. After you’ve established yourself locally, present the regional media with evidence that you’re called on often as an expert. Build from there.

When you’re ready to approach an agent, tout your media exposure and you may find that your platform helps you get a book deal.

Change we (writers and editors) can believe in

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 4:33 am

Comedy writer Andy Borowitz points to one of the many changes Americans will have to become accustomed to as a result of the presidential election — hearing our president speak English as if it were his first language:

“In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

“Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama’s appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday witnessed the president-elect’s unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth.”

November 19, 2008

Harper-Collins’ online “slush pile”

Filed under: Commentary,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 4:35 pm

Book publishing giant Harper-Collins has created a community where authors may upload their manuscripts and self-published books (both fiction and non-fiction), and other community members get to read them and vote on them.

The promise is that Harper-Collins editors will troll through this slush pile and, perhaps, discover an unknown talent (sort of the way starlets were said to have been discovered in the 1940s, sipping sodas at a Hollywood drug store counter).

authonomy invites unpublished and self published authors to post their manuscripts for visitors to read online. Authors create their own personal page on the site to host their project – and must make at least 10,000 words available for the public to read.

Visitors to authonomy can comment on these submissions – and can personally recommend their favourites to the community. authonomy counts the number of recommendations each book receives, and uses it to rank the books on the site. It also spots which visitors consistently recommend the best books – and uses that info to rank the most influential trend spotters.

We hope the authonomy community will guide publishers straight to the freshest writing talent – and will give passionate and thoughtful readers a real chance to influence what’s on our shelves.

Call me a cynic but I’m not convinced that Harper-Collins’ editors are furiously sorting through the unagented manuscripts of would-be authors, hoping to find the next blockbuster. They already get hundreds of submissions each week via literary agents. Most editors have their days filled — along with some weekends and evenings — reading those.

So why create the online slush pile?

My guess is that Harper-Collins expects to benefit in less direct ways by creating a social network comprised of readers and authors. First, it can market its current offerings to both. Also, by engaging readers who rank manuscripts, it forms an ongoing focus group that lets the company discover what broad factors “sell” a book, absent promotion and advertising. So, it will be able to better predict what will attract a large audience (and, perhaps, avoid throwing seven-figure advances to duds destined for remainder tables).

And maybe, just maybe, if one manuscript gets recommended by so many readers that it forces someone in acquisitions to take notice, we’ll see some lucky undiscovered author offered a contract. Stay tuned.

November 16, 2008

Atlantic writer asks: “Where’s the journalism bailout?”

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 6:39 pm

Ross Douthat asks the question somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but can anyone say that well-financed, thorough and wide-reaching journalism is less essential to the functioning of this nation than is the continuation of American automobile manufacturing?

Doesn’t America need the New York Times as much at it needs the Chevy Cobalt? Isn’t the Star-Ledger as important as the GMC Savana? Sure, GM employs roughly five times as many people as all all of America’s newsrooms combined – but that just means that we’d be much, much cheaper to bail out! GM needs $25 billion, but we’d settle for, I dunno, five billion? Pocket change, in other words!

Kidding aside, journalists directly or indirectly supply all of us with the information upon which we base our decisions about how our world works and how it ought to work. Sure, lots of people get their information from blogs, but the blogs almost all are commenting on the work done by journalists.

So — where do we apply? Paulson? Bernanke? Anyone?

November 11, 2008

Buy books for Christmas!

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 6:36 pm

With the economy in crisis, Christmas stockings may be difficult to fill up this year. But you can almost always find the perfect present for each person on your list in a bookstore and still stick to your budget. And you’ll be helping your fellow authors too, as each sale means another dollar or two to pay down the advance or add to the royalties.

It’s easy to shop online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. But better yet, visit your local independent bookstore, Christmas shopping list in hand, and ask for suggestions.

November 7, 2008

Should you work for free?

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 7:58 pm

Harlan Ellison, one of the great science fiction writers, explains why the writer must always be paid.

November 5, 2008

Book sales down

Filed under: News,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 9:06 pm

Publishers Weekly reports:

According to the 17 publishers that report adult hardcover results, sales fell nearly 30% in the month, while sales in the trade paperback and mass market segments were both off by more than 8%.

Michael Crichton has died

Filed under: News — editorialconsultant @ 7:10 pm

His Andromeda Strain is still vivid in my mind probably 20 years after I first read it. While many of his later novels weren’t as richly detailed as his earlier ones, he was one hell of a story-teller. He reportedly succumbed to cancer. He was 66.

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