Mark Terry

Monday, April 14, 2008

We're All Liars


April 13, 2008
I received an e-mail this morning from a young woman I had run into at a book talk last summer. She had a first novel, a tech-thriller, coming out in the fall, from Berkley, I believe.

She e-mailed me to ask my opinion on whether it was worthwhile to participate in a couple of book events I had participated in.

It seems her publisher is putting her at the #2 spot in their catalogue and going to promote her book.

What I most wanted to say was: You're asking ME? Hell, you're already further ahead in this game than I've ever been. You're being published by a major publisher. You're getting a mass market publication (no hardcover, but PBO), and your publisher is getting behind your book. Jesus Christ, go ask somebody who has a clue.

Okay, maybe I was a tad envious.

Instead I gave her my opinion on the two events and wished her well.

Here's the thing about all this advice I and so many writers give on our blogs. We're all liars, all frauds, all full of shit.

Nobody knows what works.

Because nothing works and everything works. Sometimes you can do everything--book signings, book tours, mailings, newsletters, website, MySpace, CrimeSpace, write an article for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter, be profiled in the International Thriller Writers Report, AuthorBuzz, conferences--and your book still won't sell. How do I know? Because I have and they didn't. Simple as that.

Or you can do nothing and it will.

Or it won't.

I recently interviewed a bestselling author of true crime books who has turned to writing fiction and asked him about promotion, and he paused and said, "Well, I've finally decided that the only thing that really works is co-op."

Co-op, in case you didn't know, is your publisher spending money to get your book onto the front tables at Borders and Barnes & Nobles, or on endcaps, to be featured prominently in the bookstore.

If you're in mass market paperback and your publisher pays for it, you'll be on that little table near the front of the store that features 20 or 30 newly released paperbacks; same in hardcover. Usually it's reserved for bestsellers or, just as likely, for books your publisher thinks shows promise. Or, they pay money to get your book on the shelves or next to the cash registers at Wal-Mart and KMart and Meijers and Sam's Clubs, because publishing's dirty little secret is that more books are sold through those outlets than through bookstores (especially Amazon, which sells a lot of books, but very few of any single author).

But there ain't nothin' you can do to convince them to do that. It's up to them.

[and a note about a potential backlash with co-op, also learned through first-hand experience: if your publisher pays co-op and the book doesn't do what they hoped, they won't pay co-op for the next book... with the expected results of even fewer sales; the publishing gods giveth (sometimes) and the publishing gods sure as hell taketh away].

So, did I leave you feeling all perky on this Monday morning? Let me repeat something I said above:

Here's the thing about all this advice I and so many writers give on our blogs. We're all liars, all frauds, all full of shit.

Nobody knows what works.

Cheers,
Mark Terry

11 Comments:

Blogger spyscribbler said...

I look at book and the book industry like religion or spiritualism. You never really know, and you can search all your life to know, but you simply won't know until you're dead.

You can seek, you can draw conclusions that may benefit you and your life, but ... there's always that knowledge in the back of your head, that you can't really know.

I enjoy analyzing, searching for patterns, and drawing conclusions. It's fun, and I tell myself it's useful. But, you know. Who knows?

8:42 AM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Hmmm.... I'm gonna go out on a limb here and repeat what Donald Maass told me: It's what's between the covers that sells books.

The mega-selling auhors all tell a great page turning yarn and have a compelling/interesting character.

Their books don't have to be well written - have a stellar prose style (Donald's case in point: THE DA VINCI CODE) - to sell a gazillion copies.

If I ever become a best-selling author, it'll be because of my story telling ability and not my blog or myspace. I say master the three-act structure, have a tight/conflict filled plot with high stakes, have a unique take on a tried and true plot, have an appealing comlex main character, have a terrific grabber opener and a satifying, inevitable surprise ending, and - poof - best seller, JMO.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Josephine,
Although yes, I essentially agree with you, if your publisher doesn't have good distribution and nobody can find your book, no matter how well-written it is, it's not going to succeed.

And yes, distribution can be a major freakin' barrier to the success of any book. Even bestseller Tess Gerritsen has noted that sometimes her books don't make it out of the backroom on time.

1:10 PM  
OpenID eric-mayer said...

Mary and I have promoted the new book online relentlessly so we will see if it has any effect.

Josephine has a point. It isn't about pretty words. Critics and academics seem to like the. But mostly it is 31 the ideas and #2 the structure.

Meanwhile I say writers need to think about writing. Anyone who wants to sell should go into sales, go work at an ad agency. Good careers, so I'm told.

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