My man Khaled sits for a brain-picking by the Book Doctors on the Huffington Post.
My man Khaled sits for a brain-picking by the Book Doctors on the Huffington Post.
“One time, I only held a job for three hours. I hired as a lighting technician at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the early 1970s,” recalled author Steve Turtell. “I nearly killed someone when I lost my grip on a ladder that I was holding up—it just started falling and I froze! Luckily, a lighting cable stopped it from falling all the way over. After that, the guy who hired me asked me to leave.”
Mr. Turtell was in the sunken auditorium at the office of Workman Publishing, an independent publishing house in the West Village on Thursday evening, ready to pitch his book “50/50: 50 Jobs in 50 Years, a Working Tour of My Life.” (He has also worked as a nude artists’ model; a research assistant at PBS; a janitor at Gimbel Brothers; a fashion coordinator at Joyce Leslie; a butcher; a baker; and the director of public programs at the New-York Historical Society.)
Click —> HERE to read the full story on the Wall Street Journal.
The Book Doctors, book editors and friends to writers everywhere, & David Henry Sterry, interview Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting & Skagboys, on Huffington Post http://huff.to/135K8zB
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – A Surrogate Agent
The Swedish publishing industry differs from the American in one fundamental way: except for handling foreign rights of already established authors, we don’t do agents. As an unpublished author, you send your unsolicited manuscript directly to the publishing companies, and in the rare an unlikely event of being accepted by one, you’re on your own. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published helped me navigate in the strange and uncharted waters that are having your book published, acting all the way as a sort of surrogate agent.
Before submitting my manuscript, I read the chapters on The perfect package and Locating, luring and landing the right agent and worked hard on perfecting my pitch and writing the perfect personal query letter – eventually eliciting comments from my publisher on how refreshing it was to read such a professional personal query letter.
After having signed up with one of the major publishing companies in Sweden, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published kept me informed through all the different stages of the process. It allowed me to relax, secure in the knowledge of what would happen next, and made it possible for both me and my publisher to focus on the important issues – namely, making sure my book was everything it could be. Above all, it helped me to be professional and friendly in my dealings with my publishing company: delivering on time, doing slightly more than what was expected of me, and acknowledging the hard and dedicated work several people did for my book. It resulted in an incredible support and personal commitment from my publisher, editor, publicity and marketing team, and sales representatives. If you’re only going to read one section – it’s Agent Relations.
Katarina Bivald is the author of The Readers in Broken Wheel recommends about a Swedish book nerd suddenly stranded in a small town in Iowa. It will be published in Sweden in September 2013. For more information, please contact Judith Toth on Bonnier Group Agency – Judith.firstname.lastname@example.org
3 lucky writers get to present their pitch/query!
July 10, 7pm Word Books Greenpoint, New York 126 Franklin Street Brooklyn
It’s the greatest time in history to be a novelist. From the traditional approach of finding an agent and getting a big splashy six-figure advance with one of the Big Six (or Big 5, with the merger of Penguin and Random House into Penguin House), to partnering with a cutting-edge independent publisher, to taking matters into your own hands and DIYing it with e-books and print-on-demand, there are revolutionary new avenues for writers to reach his or her audience. But first, of course, you have to write a book that people want to read. You have to learn how to pick the right idea, develop deep fascinating characters, write believable dialogue, build a world, create suspense, hone your voice, craft a plot with a satisfying beginning, middle and ending, edit edit edit, rewrite rewrite rewrite, and use beta readers wisely. Novelists and agents will discuss how to write and sell a novel successfully. At the end of the presentation, we will randomly pick three writers who will get 90 seconds to present their pitch/query, which the panelists will then critique. So, all you novelists, come prepared to listen and learn, and maybe get a chance to kickstart your writing career!
David Henry Sterry is the author of 14 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. He authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his ex-agent and current wife, with whom he co-founded The Book Doctors, who have helped hundreds of talented amateur writers become professionally published authors. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He has been featured everywhere from National Public Radio to the London Times to Playboy, and he is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. His new illustrated novel is Mort Morte, an Alice in Wonderland meets Tin Drum coming-of-age black comedy about gun violence and children, and a boy who really loves his mother. www.davidhenrysterry
Arielle Eckstut is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. For over 20 years, she has been helping hundreds of talented writers become published authors. Arielle is not only the author of eight books, but she is also a successful entrepreneur. She co-founded the iconic company, LittleMissMatched, and grew it from a tiny operation into a leading national brand, which grossed over 30 million in retail sales last year, and now has stores from coast to coast, everywhere from Disneyland to Disney World to Fifth Avenue in New York City.
We first met Caroline Leavitt at the Miami Book Festival. If you ever have the chance to go to the Miami Book Festival, do yourself a favor and don’t pass up the opportunity. Not only is it one of the great international book festivals in the world, it’s also the kind of place you run into people like Caroline Leavitt. Not only is she an incredibly accomplished novelist, she’s also a crackerjack human being. Lots of writers tend to be shy at best — standoffish, churlish and surly at worst. Caroline is the exact opposite. She welcomes you with open arms. If you don’t believe me, just go to her Facebook page. It’s a continuous font of information, fun and love. And she’s also that rare bird who’s managed to somehow write literary novels that sell. So we decided to take a little peek into her world and see what makes Caroline Leavitt tick.
THE BOOK DOCTORS: How did you get into the book business to begin with?
CAROLINE LEAVITT: I was an outcast in suburbia with three big strikes against me: I was the only Jewish kid in a Christian neighborhood (my mother had to march up to the school to complain about a second grade test that asked questions about Jesus), I was sickly with asthma, and I was smart (only 10 percent of my high school went on to college. The rest joined the navy or got pregnant). I learned to live in books and I discovered I could keep myself from being beaten up by making up stories! The first time I told a story in front of the 5th grade and they didn’t throw spitballs at me or threaten me, I thought, how cool is this? This is what I want to do! But of course I heard no, no, no. When I got to Brandeis, I studied with this famous writer who told me I’d never make it. He used to slam my work in class while tears streaked my face, but I refused to leave the class. The day I published my first novel, I sent it, along with a rave NYT review to the professor, saying, “Hey, you were wrong.” He wrote back and said, “Oh, I just wanted to make you angry enough to keep pushing on.” I laughed and didn’t write back. I kept writing and writing and every week, those stupid self addressed stamped envelopes would bounce back with rejections. One day they came back and I ripped them both up into pieces. I happened to look down and there was one tiny, shining word: CONGRATULATIONS. I had sold a story and that story got me an agent, which got me my first novel.
TBD: What are some of the some of things you enjoy about writing?
CL: The fact that I can live other lives. The fact that I don’t have to dress coherently to do it. The fact that it keeps me sane. I write about what haunts me and I write the books I myself am dying to read. I love it. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.
TBD: How do you turn off the voice in your head that says you suck?
CL: What makes you think I can? I can’t turn that voice off. It is always in my head. It always goads me to get online and compare myself to other writers. It pushes me into all sorts of magic thinking like tarot card spells and prayers to the universe: please don’t let me suck. My big revelation was one day when I got the best review I ever received in my life from the Cleveland Plain Dealer — they thought I was a genius! And then five minutes later, I got the worst review I ever received from the Phil. Inquirer who loathed everything the CPD had loved. I had a moment when I realized, not everyone is going to love me. I try to tell myself to go deeper, to just write and write and write about what matters to me, to not think about readers and critics or anything but the story. And I eat a lot of chocolate.
TBD: Do you ever get writer’s block, and if so would you do about it?
CL: I never get it. I’m always working and there’s never enough time!
TBD: Do you ever make decisions in your book based on what you think is going to make the book more commercially successful?
CL: Never. Not ever. You can’t second guess what is going to be commercially successful. You have to write the book you want to write. And wait, actually. My third novel, for a publisher that went out of business, I was pushed into writing a book that was “more commercially.” It got only two reviews, both of them so terrible I could barely leave my apartment for months, and the book died soon after. After that I vowed to never ever write anything I didn’t feel.
TBD: Do you outline your stories or do you make it up as you go?
CL: I’m big on story structure. I studied with John Truby, who mapped out story by means of moral wants and needs, and that’s what I do. Hey, so does John Irving.
TBD: Do you finish the whole draft before you go back and edit, or do you edit as you go?
CL: I do both. I edit as I go, and I must do about ten thousand drafts. Well, more like 23. And I’m serious about that.
I love rewriting because that is where and how you discover the story. It’s like you have this skeleton and you get to put flesh on it and hair and clothes and really wonderful jewelry.
TBD: You have such a fun Facebook life, what is your guiding principle in social media?
CL: Being honest. You can tell when people are trying to do what they think they should do. I’m intensely curious about everyone’s lives and I want to get to know a lot of people. I also don’t hesitate to say how I feel or what’s going on. I am who I am. (Popeye 101) I spend so much time every day alone and writing, that social media is my water cooler. I crave contact.
TBD: Were you working on right now?
CL: My novel Is This Tomorrow, about a 1950s suburb, paranoia and a vanished child, is coming out in May, so I’m doing all this prepublicity type stuff, and I sold my next novel, Cruel Beautiful World (thanks to my 16-year-old for the title!), to Algonquin on the basis of a first chapter and an outline. So I’m writing that now, deeply immersed in that moment in when the ’60s turned into the ’70s and things got ugly.
TBD: Where you see the future of books going?
CL: I think it’s going to boom. People love stories. They need stories. More people are reading on ereaders. I know a few NYT bestsellers who self-published their next book to have more control. Maybe I’m stupidly optimistic but I can’t imagine a world without books.
TBD: I hate to do this to you, but you have any advice for writers?
CL: Yep. Never ever give up. Don’t listen to all the no’s but keep writing. Keep writing. My career was over, so I thought, when my ninth novel, Pictures of You, was rejected by my then publisher as not being “special enough.” I had no sales. No one knew who I was. I called all my friends in tears and one suggested her editor at Algonquin. So I wrote up a paragraph about the book and sent it to her. She liked it and a few weeks later, she bought it and all of Algonquin was doing the unthinkable–the thing that had never happened to me–treating me with respect. They took that unspecial book and turned it into a NYT bestseller and a USA Today ebook bestseller and it got on the Best Books of 2011 lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Review. I feel like I’m the poster girl for second chances.
Caroline Leavitt is the author of many novels, several of which have been optioned for film, translated into different languages, and condensed in magazines. Her ninth novel, Pictures of You, was a New York Times bestseller, and was also on the Best Books of 2011 lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Reviews. Her new novel, Is This Tomorrow, will be published May 2013 by Algonquin Books. Cruel Beautiful World will be published sometimes in 2015 by Algonquin. Her essays, stories, book reviews and articles have appeared in Modern Love in the New York Times, Salon, Psychology Today, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, People, Real Simple, New York Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Parenting, the Chicago Tribune, Parents, Redbook, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She won First Prize in Redbook Magazine’s Young Writers Contest, was a 1990 New York Foundation of the Arts Award, a National Magazine Award nominee for personal essay, and is a recent first-round finalist in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab competition for her script of Is This Tomorrow. She teaches novel-writing online at both Stanford University and UCLA, as well as working with writers privately. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, New York City’s unofficial sixth borough, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their teenage son Max.
A couple of years ago we did a Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books) in Kansas City. Our winner, Genn Albin, gave an outrageously amazing pitch for her dystopian YA trilogy. This led to an enormous buzz around her book, Crewel. Many agents were interested in her and she asked us for our advice on this most monumental of decisions. We told her, hands down, Mollie Glick was the way to go. Mollie got her a mid-six-figure three book deal with one of the best publishers in America, Farrar Strauss Giroux. Mollie is that rare agent: smart, wise, savvy, and nice. So we thought we’d pick her brain about the state of books.
MOLLIE GLICK: I’ve always been a bookworm. In fourth grade my teacher told my mother during their parent/teacher conference that I read too much! So I knew I had to find a job where I’d get paid to read. Plus, I actually get to use my English degree!
TBD: Many writers are under the impression that their manuscript just has to be pretty darn good and then once they get an agent, the agent will help them make it better. Is this is fact the case?
MG: Depends on the agent. Personally, I’m very hands on if I have a clear vision for where a novel needs to go… and that vision resonates with the author. But I actually lose out on a lot of projects to agents who tell writers it’s just perfect as it is, and then get scared off when the first round of rejections come in because they don’t know how to help the author revise.
TBD: Writers often look to what’s already been published to help them decide what kind of book to write. Is it too late to wait until a trend has appeared on bookshelves to hop on the bandwagon? Should a writer even consider trends at all?
MG: Honestly, when I take something trendy on it’s in SPITE of the fact that it’s trendy. For example, Josie Angelini’s STARCROSSED series came to me once paranormal romance had already taken off. At first I questioned whether I should still consider it. But then I started reading and I couldn’t put it down. Ultimately, that’s always my litmus test of whether I’m going to offer representation.
TBD: Do you think it’s easier these days to sell fiction based on a true story than to sell a memoir? If so, are there certain categories of memoirs (like mother/daughter stories, alcoholism stories) that this rule particularly applies to?
MG: Nah– I still love memoir! It just has to be really, really good.
TBD:What is the threshold for sales of a self-published book that make you go, “Wow!”? And in what time frame are you looking for with these numbers?
MG: Good question. I’d like to see someone selling at least 5-10k copies and hopefully more like 20k on their own. And it’s not so much about the time frame as what price they’ve set their novel at. A novel selling hundreds of thousands of copies at a dollar a pop is still intriguing, but you do wonder whether those fans will keep buying once the book costs more like ten dollars.
TBD: Do you respond to all queries, even those that are in categories you don’t represent? If not, why not? How can writers avoid the void?
MG: No– we get hundreds and hundreds of queries a week, and many of these authors are querying dozens of agents at once. I can’t respond to every one and still make a living, But my assistant and I respond to every query that looks right for my list within a week or two of receiving the query– and often much sooner. The best way to avoid the void is to make sure you’re querying a genre the agent represents, that your query letter is intriguing, and that it is grammatically correct!
TBD: What are the most common mistakes you see in queries?
MG: Addressing a query to multiple agents at once. Or sending queries on topics I’ve never expressed interest in.
Mollie Glick is an agent at Foundry Literary + Media, representing literary fiction, young adult fiction, narrative nonfiction and a bit of practical nonfiction. After graduating with honors from Brown University, Mollie began her publishing career as a literary scout, advising foreign publishers regarding the acquisition of rights to American books. She then worked as an editor at the Crown imprint of Random House, before switching over to “the other side” and becoming an agent in 2003. In addition to her work as a literary agent, Mollie has served on the Contracts Committee of the AAR and teaches classes at Media Bistro and the Grotto. Her instructional articles on nonfiction proposal writing and query letter writing have been featured in Writers Digest. Some of her recent projects include Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving; Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home; Elizabeth Black’s The Drowning House; Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook; Gennifer Albin’s Crewel and Josie Angelini’s Starcrossed.
We first met Kevin Sampsell when David did his tour for his first memoir Chicken. On his Portland stop, David was scheduled to read at Powell’s, one of the great bookstores not only in America, but in the known universe. He went to college in Portland, and started going to Powell’s when he was an undergraduate, dreaming that someday he might write a book that would live on those hallowed shelves. So it was kind of a dream come true when he saw his name on the marquee of Powell’s. Kevin was Powell’s events coordinator at the time, and he was so nice to David, made him feel right at home, gave him a great introduction, and they bonded as only two book nerds can. We found out that in fact Kevin is also a well-known writer, as well as a publisher. Since he’s worn so many books hats, we thought we would pick his brain about publishing, books, writing, and all that jazz.
THE BOOK DOCTORS: What have you learned about being a writer by working at Powell’s, quite possibly the greatest bookstore on the planet?
KEVIN SAMPSELL: One thing I discovered is that the book world is vast. It’s easy to walk around the store–even the room with literature and poetry, where I work most often–and feel overwhelmed. I sometimes wonder if what I create as a writer will leave any sort of dent. There’s really no way of knowing, so I just have to keep going. But having a couple of my books on the shelf among the million other books is something at least. It’s an honor to be in there, as an employee and as an author. It’s kind of surreal actually.
TBD: What have you learned about being a writer by watching a million writers do events at Powell’s?
KS: I’ve heard a lot of great success stories from writers–how so many of them struggled to get where they are and how persistence pays off. I learned that some writers are good at doing readings and some are not so good at it. I actually just started writing an article where I ask some of my favorite readers how they got so good. There are definitely some tricks and techniques to a good reading. Rewarding the audience that shows up to your reading is very important and you can’t be boring or ungrateful.
TBD: What have you learned about being a publisher by being a writer?
KS: I learned that you have to respect how much time and work a writer has put into their book. I always give the writer I’m publishing a good deal of control in shaping the book and figuring out how it looks, but I’ll make suggestions on how to make it stronger. It’s very important the book is theirs and comes out as good as they want it to, or better. I try to be a lot of things for the authors I work with–a careful reader, a helpful friend who also happens to be an experienced writer, a thoughtful editor, and a creative midwife.
TBD: What have you learned about being a publisher by being a bookseller?
KS: A lot of little details, like how to price a book. I’ve always tried to keep my cover prices on the low side. I’m more interested in getting people to read the books we publish and less interested in the profit margin. Also, that presentation (good cover and interior design) turns out beautiful and professional. Catchy titles can be important too.
TBD: What have you learned about being a bookseller by being a writer?
KS: Just like writers can have a lot of different styles, so can readers. It’s hard to pigeonhole book buyers.
TBD: What have you learned about being a bookseller by being a publisher?
KS: Poetry doesn’t sell. Just kidding. There is some truth to that statement, but not always and not everywhere. I think one thing I’ve learned, as dorky and obvious as this sounds: People who like cool books are usually really cool people.
TBD: What mistakes do you see writers make over and over and over?
KS: Probably the same mistakes I make as a writer–having certain crutch words and phrases, saying something I said ten pages before, going flat at times when there’s a chance for the prose to do something exciting or unpredictable. I also see a lot of writers who complain when their book doesn’t sell and the reason that happens sometimes, is they don’t know how to publicize or promote themselves. A writer is more successful when they’re involved in their literary community somehow. It’s very easy for an author’s book to fade away if they don’t get out in public and meet people.
TBD: How has the book business changed since you first started as a bookseller, a publisher and a writer?
KS: A lot has changed. I started my press in the 90s and I wasn’t even using a computer yet. I would do cut and paste layout on our first chapbooks. Even in the last five years, I feel like a lot has changed–ebooks are a much more valid format and bigger presses are taking less chances. As a bookseller, there are less real bookstores and more people buying on-line. As a writer, I think there are fewer paths to break through on a big press, but on the other hand there are more small presses doing awesome work now. Overall, artistically, I think it’s a pretty exciting time in the literary world.
TBD: Where do you see the future of books going?
KS: I have a very positive outlook on things. It’s hard to predict how actual books are going to do but I’m not freaked out about ebooks taking over. I think there are probably more active readers now because of computers and iPhones or what-have-you. One thing that is sometimes forgotten in this “future of books” discussion is that there are all these awesome presses–big and small–that are producing and designing amazing books. Everyone from Chronicle and McSweeney’s to Ugly Duckling Presse, Rose Metal, Spork, Poor Claudia, and countless other folks who make books that are like art. People who love to letterpress their own covers and use thread and needle to sew their very own books. It’s a crazy and beautiful part of the book world that a lot of people don’t really know about.
TBD: We hate to do this to you, but you have any advice for writers?
KS: Read as much as you write. Go out and meet other writers. Look for stories in everything around you–music, movies, family, strangers, your bus ride to work, and of course the streets. Also–keep moving forward, keep creating new things. Leave evidence of yourself in this world. Imagine what your legacy could be and try to create it.
Kevin Sampsell is the author of the memoir, A Common Pornography (2010 Harper Perennial), and the short story collection, Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus) and the editor of the anthology, Portland Noir (Akashic). Sampsell is the publisher of the micropress, Future Tense Books, which he started in 1990. He has worked at Powell’s Books as an events coordinator and the head of the small press section for fifteen years. His essays have appeared recently in Salon, The Faster Times, Jewcy, and The Good Men Project. His fiction has been published in McSweeney’s, Nerve, Hobart, and in several anthologies. His novel, This is Between Us, will publish with Tin House Books in November. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and son.
I first met Mark Coker over the Internet. Which seems appropriate, given how he has done such great things for writers in the world of ebooks. I was trying to upload a book onto his company’s website, Smashwords. I have a problem formatting files. I’m very bad at it. It’s a weakness. I’m not proud of it. But the first step is admitting you have a problem.
That day, I got very frustrated and sent a flaming email full of vicious vitriol and a few flagrant f-bombs. I expected to get back some generic, useless response, which is what you almost always get back from e-companies. Imagine my surprise when the president of the company himself, Mark Coker, emailed me back. He was so helpful and kind and nice. I was completely embarrassed. It led me to formulate a strategy for what to do when I get flamed — and believe me, I get flamed online every day. Now, before I respond, I think, “What would Mark Coker do?” And I try to give my flamer some love. You’d be shocked by how many times it works wonders.
So, I resolved my formatting issues quite easily in the end, and I put my book up on Smashwords. It was so cool — they put your book up, for free, on all these different platforms: Kobo, Kindle, Nook, Sony, Apple. FOR FREE! Then we were lucky enough to meet him in, of all places, Wichita, Kansas. We were both presenting at an event put on by the Kansas Writers Association. If you ever get the chance to see him live, do yourself a favor and avail yourself of that opportunity. Despite his mild-mannered alter ego, he’s kind of a superhero of electronic books. He knows so much about them, has
Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords
such wise advice for readers, and has smart and often counterintuitive things to say about the future of books particularly at this moment in history, when the publishing industry seems a lot like the Wild West. It was a pleasure getting to know him in person, and we are very honored that he agreed to this interview. If you take nothing else from this, just remember, when someone flames you and you feel like lashing out electronically, think: “What would Mark Coker do?”
MARK COKER: Several years ago, my wife and I wrote Boob Tube, a novel that explores the wild and wacky world of daytime television soap operas. My wife is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly magazine. We were repped by one of the top NY literary agencies, but after two years, they were unable to sell it to a publisher. Previous soap opera-themed novels hadn’t performed well in the marketplace, so publishers were reluctant to take a chance on us. Our agent suggested we consider self-publishing in print. The idea sounded reasonable at first, but then I realized that without the backing of a major publisher, it would be impossible to get widespread distribution into brick and mortar bookstores, and without distribution, we wouldn’t reach readers. I pondered our conundrum and realized there was a bigger problem at play: Traditional publishers are unable, unwilling and disinterested in take a risk on every writer. Each year, they reject hundreds of thousands of writers, and many of these writers are writing great books. The more I thought about the problem, the more I realized how broken the publishing industry had become. Publishers owned the printing press and the access to distribution, and they alone wielded the power to decide which writers would graduate to become published authors, and what books readers could read. I started to imagine a solution to the problem, and that’s how I came up with the idea of Smashwords. My idea was to create a free ebook publishing platform that would make it free and easy for any writer, anywhere in the world, to instantly publish an ebook. We launched Smashwords in early 2008. The author controls all the rights, sets the price, earns 85% or more of the net proceeds, and receives distribution to major ebook stores such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. Readers decide what’s worth reading.
Our first year, we published 140 books. Our catalog grew to 6,000 in 2009, 28,000 in 2010, 92,000 in 2011, and now, is about 200,000. Our authors routinely hit the top 10 bestsellers at the major retailers, and in 2012, several Smashwords authors even hit the New York Times bestseller list.
BD: Has working with so many writers changed how you write a new book?
MC: The experience has been humbling. He represent most of the bestselling self-published authors. Some of these authors earn thousands of five-star reviews from readers. They’re outselling some of the biggest names in publishing. They inspire me to become a better writer. Since founding Smashwords, I’ve put my own fiction writing on hold and have instead focused on writing books about e-publishing best practices. The best practices I share come directly from our authors.
BD: As a husband-and-wife team, we’ve written seven books together. What was it like writing a novel with your wife?
MC: It was an incredible experience. The two of us moved to Los Angeles for two months to interview soap industry insiders for their stories and dirt. Would you believe there was a soap actress who ate cotton balls as a diet aid? It’s true. Or a manager who raped his actress client when she refused to show him the boob job he purchased for her? After completing our research, we moved to a cabin in the woods of Vermont for four months to fictionalize these and other stranger-than-life stories.
People are surprised when I say this, but co-authorship was a harmonious experience for us, made all the more enjoyable because we were sharing the journey. I imagine the Sterry/Eckstutt team works with equal harmony, otherwise you wouldn’t have written books six through seven together!
The writing process was fun. We plotted the story on big storyboards, and then broke scenes and situations into chapters, and then assigned each other a new chapter each morning. At the end of the day, we’d swap laptops and edit each other, and then swap again for more edits. Our characters took on lives of their own and by the end of the book, the story was much different than we expected. Our first draft was nearly 1,000 glorious pages, and we thought it was great. I note this embarrassing fact to share how completely clueless we were! Thanks to the guidance of some smart book doctors, editors and beta readers, we completed multiple rewrites and revisions over the next couple years. With each revision, we were surprised how much the book improved. I’m a believer in multiple revisions! Finally, the book was ready to shop to agents. In the end, we had multiple agents offering us representation.
BD: What do you think are some of the most important things an author can do to connect with their tribe of readers?
MC: Write a book that moves the reader. Blow their mind and make them scream, “wow!” If you can elicit mad passion in the hearts of your readers, your readers will connect you with more readers through their rave reviews and word of mouth. If you earn mad passion, your readers won’t just suggest their friends read the book, they’ll command their friends to read it. If your friend tells you, “You NEED to read this book now,” there’s no better endorsement.
If an author does nothing else, write an incredible book. That’s 90% of the battle. The other 10% I’d divide into the following four essential items:
1. Give the book a professional, genre-appropriate cover image. Your cover image should be as good or better than what the large NY publishers are putting out. Last year, we documented an example of a Smashwords author, R.L. Mathewson, who simply updated her cover image and it catapulted her to the NY Times bestseller list. This wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t already written a super-awesome book. A good cover image makes a promise to the reader. It tells the reader, “This is the book you’re looking for.” A poor or inadequate cover image discourages a prospective reader from clicking further. A poor cover makes your book less accessible, less desirable.
2. Distribute your book to every major ebook retailer. Every retailer wants to carry self-published books. Different books break out at different retailers at different times. When you distribute your book everywhere, you maximize the opportunity for readers to discover your book. Unless you’re already an established author with a large fan base and following, most of your sales will come from serendipitous discovery. Readers will browse their favorite bookstore to look for their next read, or their follow the social media hyperlinks of their friends’ book recommendations.
3. Price low. This is where indie authors have an extreme advantage over traditionally-published authors. Indie authors can price at FREE, $.99, $2.99 or $3.99. It’s difficult for traditional publishers to compete at these price points. Low prices make your book more accessible and more affordable to more readers, and since you’re self-published, you’re earning a royalty of 85-100% net vs the 25% net of traditional publishers. Based on our research, which is also conforms to basic common sense, lower-priced books generally sell more units than higher-priced books. More unit sales means more fans and faster platform-building.
4. Make yourself accessible via social media tools. Provide opportunities for your readers to connect with you. Make yourself accessible on Facebook and Twitter, at a minimum. These tools give you the opportunity to do one-to-many communications, and the opportunity to safely and efficiently communicate with your growing tribe. Provide your social media coordinates at the back of every book you write.
BD: What are some of the biggest obstacles writers have to overcome to successfully selling e-books?
MC: The biggest obstacle is obscurity. Thanks to the rise of ebook self-publishing, there’s a glut of high-quality, low-priced books in the marketplace. This means writers need to raise their game. The best writers will rise above the noise on the wings of reader word-of-mouth. If you’re not averaging four to five star reviews, it means your book isn’t satisfying readers as much as it should.
BD: What are some of the mistakes you see writers make when they publish their ebooks?
MC: Here are the top mistakes I see:
1. Publishing a book before it’s been properly edited and proofed. Readers have little patience for sloppiness. You’d be surprised how often I see books ridden with typos. I’ve seen authors misspell their own names on their cover image, or misspell words in their book description.
2. Poor cover design. Unless you’re a professional graphic designer, don’t try to design your own cover image. Hire a professional. Professional cover design is ridiculously affordable. For between $50 and $300, you can get a cover design that looks like it came from a big New York publisher.
3. Impatience. Impatience is both a virtue and a sin. It’s great that an author feels a sense of urgency to reach readers, but impatience can also lead to discouragement, depression or tempestuous decision-making. I’ve seen authors remove their books from stores weeks after publication simply because they’re not selling well. Sometimes, it can take years for an ebook to reach a critical mass of reviews and readership to start selling well. Back in the old days of print publishing, impatience was warranted. If your book didn’t immediately sell well, retailers would pack up the unsold inventory and return it to the publisher for a full refund. Books were forced out of print before they had a fair chance to reach readers. With ebooks, there’s always tomorrow. Ebooks are immortal. They need never go out of print. Think of your self-published ebook as an annuity. It will earn you and your heirs income for decades to come if you keep it out there. This is especially true for fiction. Great stories are timeless.
4. Paranoia and delusion. Almost every month, I receive an email from an angry author who will say something like, “I know I might not be the world’s best author, but there’s no way my book is selling so poorly at retailer X.” This is dangerous thinking. Back in the old days of print publishing, a publisher would distribute a known quantity of books to retailers. Books would either sell or be returned, so there was never any doubt about how many copies were sold, and how much money was owed to the publisher. In the new world of ebooks, the entire ebook supply chain is built upon trust. Smashwords, as your distributor, will send out a single digital copy to each retailer, and the retailer will duplicate that copy for each book they sell. You must trust the retailer to accurately track and report and pay for units sold, and you must trust your distributor to accurately pay you your share of monies received from retailers. If you still feel bitten by the paranoia bug, be your own secret shopper. Once a quarter, buy your book from a retailer, and then wait for the sales report to flow through. Mistakes do happen, but rarely. I can think of three instances over the last two years when an author’s paranoia actually helped a retailer discover an error in their reporting. Even paranoid people get it right from time to time!
5. Limiting distribution to only one or two retailers. If your book isn’t distributed to every retailer, you’ll probably reach fewer readers. If you distribute to only one retailer, you could make yourself dangerously dependent upon that retailer. If they modify their terms, or change their discovery algorithms, you might go from selling great for months straight to selling nothing. Don’t treat ebook retailers like a horse race. Instead, play the field. Get your book everywhere, and then you don’t need to worry or guess which retailer will become the dominant retailer five years from now. You’ll be there already. Every retailer reaches its own unique audience of readers. Many retailers are now opening international stores. Every retailer’s store in each unique territory represents its own unique micro-market where you have an opportunity to reach readers and build fans. If your book isn’t there, those readers will develop life-long relationships with other authors.
6. Negativity. We writers tend to feel our feelings more deeply than the average person, and we’re adept at wielding the power of the pen. Once we build our social media platforms, we have greater ability to share our feelings with the world. It’s something about human nature that when we feel angry, we’re more expressive than when we feel happy. We feel tempted to lash out and hurt those who have wronged us. When you combine anger with social media, people get hurt. Every day, everywhere on the net, there are angry authors sharing their negativity with their closest 5,000 friends on Twitter or Facebook, lashing out against real or imaginary demons that have somehow harmed them. Don’t succumb to negativity. Your fellow authors may learn to fear you, but they won’t respect you. Your prospective readers will be turned off. Your potential partners and supporters will avoid you. think New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry put it best in an interview at the Smashwords blog last year. We asked him how authors should use social media, and he spoke at length about the power of positivity, and why authors should never succumb to negativity. He said, “Even if you are a naturally cranky, snarky, sour-tempered pain in the ass, for god’s sake, share that with your therapist or priest. When you go online to promote yourself and therefore your products, try not to actually scare people off your lawn.”
BD: How do you deal with cyber flaming?
MC: I start by taking a deep breath. We’re working with 50,000 authors, and we’re selling books to millions of readers. As much as all 19 of us here at Smashwords work tirelessly to serve our community to the best of our ability. We invariably make mistakes, or fall short of someone’s expectations, and this often leads us to be flamed by a disgruntled person. Also, because Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks, upstart competitors are attacking us all the time, often spreading fear, innuendo or mistruths to advance their own agendas, or to draw us into a public fight so they can trade off of our brand equity. It’s classic guerrilla marketing. Popular authors face remarkably similar situations, where readers or fellow authors will try to drag them into a public brawl so the attacking party can advance their agenda.
My approach is that I try to listen to everyone. Our critics can make us stronger if we listen, learn and make positive improvement. Even if I don’t agree with you, or I don’t think you should be upset for the reasons you’re upset, I still try to understand the problem, acknowledge that their feelings and experience was real to them, and learn from the criticism. Often, our most vocal critics are simply feeling real issues more strongly than the community at large. I view our critics as our canaries in the coal mine. They’re our early warning system, so we ignore them at our peril. To the extent possible, I try to avoid getting dragged into public brawls. If I see blatant misrepresentations or lies, however, I’ll step in and try to correct the record. I avoid leveling attacks against any individual, because more negativity only escalates the situation. I try to calmly listen, learn and understand, and then state my side of the story. Often, my reply will start by acknowledging the veracity of their claim, if I believe it is in fact a valid criticism. In this age of hyper-transparency, you must always stick to the truth, or be willing to acknowledge mistakes. I have multiple Google alerts set up — and would encourage every author to do the same for their name, book titles and keywords. I think people are often surprised when I join an online conversation, both to refute mistruths or to simply thank someone for their kind words. I’m also very accessible via email. Our authors aren’t afraid to share their opinions about where they think we’re falling short. Long story made short, as much as it’s uncomfortable to hear criticism, I also treasure it.
BD: So, what is the secret to ebook publishing success?
MC: I actually wrote a free ebook on this subject! It’s titled The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, and it identifies the 28 best practices of the most commercially successful ebook authors. At the risk of repeating some of what we covered above already, here are the top 12 secrets to success for indie ebook authors:
1. Your best marketing is a great book. So many authors obsess over marketing when they should instead obsess over making their book better. If you’re only averaging three stars out of five, consider a major revision. When I look at our bestselling books, they’re getting four and a half to five stars, on average.
2. Create a great cover image. Next to a great book, a great cover image is the most important marketing tool. It’s the first impression you make on the reader’s path to discovery. It tells the reader if you’re professional, or not. It makes a promise to the reader about the genre and the experience they’ll receive.
3. Publish another great book. The bestselling authors at Smashwords are writing and publishing multiple books. Each new book creates the opportunity for you to reach new readers, and to build greater loyalty among existing fans. A new title will often reinvigorate your entire back catalog. Make sure each book you publish references the other books you’ve written, especially at the end of the book when the reader will be the most hungry to read more of your work.
4. Patience is a virtue. Your ebook is immortal, unless you make the decision to kill it. Never remove a book from distribution, not even for a short time, because you’ll alienate existing fans, and prevent new fans from discovering you.
5. Maximize availability. Every major retailer — from the Apple iBookstore to Amazon to Sony to Barnes & Noble and others — wants to carry self-published ebooks. All these companies are investing millions of dollars to connect new readers to your book. Just as an investment advisor would advise you against investing all your eggs in a single basket, diversify your retailer exposure so you’re not overly dependent on a single retailer.
6. Avoid exclusivity. This is the corollary to secret #5. One retailer — Amazon — is pursuing an aggressive strategy of enticing authors to make their books exclusive to Amazon. When you make your book exclusive to a single retailer, even for a short time, you disappoint readers who prefer shopping at other retailers, you limit the discoverability of your books and you make yourself more dependent upon a single retailer. Exclusivity is risky for the author. For some authors it pays off, and for others it fails. Amazon’s exclusivity strategy has caused much debate and rancor within the indie author community. I wrote a column here at Huffington Post about it last year. I’ve been one of the more outspoken critics of their exclusivity strategy because I think in the long run it will be harmful to authors, retailers and readers.
7. Trust your readers. Don’t worry about piracy. Copy protection schemes are counterproductive, and will only harm your loyal, legal readers. If your reader does share an illegal copy of your book with a friend, consider it the lowest-cost, highest-impact form of fan-building and marketing money can’t buy.
8. Implement Viral Catalysts. I created a term I call Viral Catalyst. A Viral Catalyst is anything that makes your book more available, more discoverable and more enjoyable to readers. Think of your book as an object, and attached to the object are dozens of dials and levers you can twist, turn and tweak to improve the word-of-mouth virality of your book. These dials and levers are Viral Catalysts. Examples of Viral Catalysts include your cover image, story, editing quality, the book title, book description, price, distribution reach and categorization. Consider every one of these elements in isolation. Ask yourself how you can improve each element to make your book more available, discoverable and enjoyable. My point here is that there’s not just one thing you can do to enable successful word-of-mouth. You must do many things just right, while avoiding common mistakes that can sabotage your success.
9. Unit volume is a lever for success. When a book sells, most authors think of the royalty as their reward. There’s actually a second, and possibly more important benefit of the sale, and that’s the reader. A reader is a potential fan, and a true fan will market your book to their friends and wait anxiously to purchase your next book. The secret to maximizing unit sales volume, other than writing a great book worth buying, is to price low. Based on our research, a book priced at $2.99 will earn about the same amount of money for the author as a book priced above $10.00, yet the $2.99 book will get you about six times as many unit sales. Therefore, if the lower price drives more unit sales, price lower to build your fan base faster. This is one of the most important advantages that indie authors have over traditionally published authors. Indie authors can build fans and platform faster because they can price lower. If you write series, consider making the first book in the series permanently FREE.
10. Practice positivity and partnership. I touched on this earlier, but I’ll add additional color here. Publishing has always been a relationship business. Relationships give you an upper hand in the marketplace. Your fellow authors are your partners, not your competitors. Help your fellow authors succeed, and they in turn will open doors for you. When you complain online about your least-favorite retailer, that complaint is permanently available and discoverable for that retailer to see. When it comes time for a retailer to do a special promotion of certain titles, are they going to promote authors who have been trashing them online, or authors that have positively supported them?
11. Think globally. The ebook market in the U.S. has grown exponentially over the last few years. In 2007, ebooks accounted for less than 1% of the U.S. book market. Today, that number is over 30%. The growth in the U.S. market is slowing. However, the markets outside the U.S. for English language titles are entering the same exponential growth curve phases the U.S. market experienced over the last few years. The market for English language ebooks outside the U.S. will be much larger than the US.. market. Every major retailer is expanding internationally. Apple now operates iBookstores in 50 countries. Amazon is in close to ten countries. Kobo has always had an international focus. Barnes & Noble is expanding internationally. 2013 will see more global expansion from all these retailers. Get your books distributed globally now, because each retailer’s country-specific store represents a unique micro-market for you to start building fans and platform.
12. Pinch your pennies. Ebook self-publishing has become something of a gold rush. Everyone is rushing to do it, but the people who stand to make the most money are the ones selling the pots and pans. The cold hard truth is that most ebooks — whether traditionally published or self-published — don’t sell well. You, as the self-published author, are the publisher. You’re running a business. If you run your business profitably, you’ll survive to write another day. If you’re losing money, you’ll eventually be forced out of business unless you’re financially secure through other means. As a small publisher, you can’t easily control your sales, but you can control your expenses. Minimize your expenses. When you’re just getting started, do as much on your own as possible. Never purchase publishing packages from the vanity publishing services who will gladly empty your pocket of thousands of dollars for services of nebulous value. Ebook self-publishing can be fast, free and easy if you do it yourself. Never go into debt to finance your publishing adventure. Never spend money you need to put bread on the table or to pay a mortgage. If you pinch your pennies, profitability will become all that more achievable. Once you hit profitability, then carefully reinvest your dollars into better cover design, better editing and better marketing.
Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords, an ebook publishing and distribution platform. He’s also an author, entrepreneur, angel investor and advisor to technology startups.
Mark and his wife Lesleyann co-authored Boob Tube, a satire on daytime television soap operas. Their book was rejected by every major New York publisher of commercial women’s fiction, despite representation by a top NYC literary agency. The experience inspired him to start Smashwords, a free publishing platform that allows authors to instantly publish their work online.
Today, Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks. The company has helped over 50,000 authors around the world publish and distribute over 150,000 ebooks to major retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo.
georgetown patch on pitchapalooza @ politics & prose http://georgetown.patch.com/blog_posts/country-mouse-review-of-pitchapalooza-part-1-introduction
Washington Post with a lovely piece about David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, P0litics & Prose, The Book Doctors & Pitchapalooza
Pitchapalooza Comes to Ridgewood
Book Ends, April 20, 7-9 PM
The Book Doctors, aka, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, will be making a house call in Ridgewood, New Jersey at Book Ends, April 20, 7 PM. They want YOU to pitch your book at their acclaimed event, Pitchapalooza, which was recently featured in The New York Times. Pitchapalooza is like American Idol for books–only without the Simon. Writers get one minute to pitch their book ideas to an all-star panel of publishing experts, including Bob Miller, Group Publisher of Workman. The winner receives an introduction to an appropriate agent or publisher for his/her book. Plus, anyone who buys a book gets a free consultation worth $100.
Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His last book appeared on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Together, they’ve helped dozens and dozens of talented amateur writers become published authors. They’ve appeared everywhere from NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today, and have taught publishing workshops everywhere from the Miami Book Fair to Stanford University. Find more at www.thebookdoctors.com.
WHAT: PITCHAPALOOZA – AMERICAN IDOL FOR BOOKS
WHERE: BOOK ENDS, RIDGEWOOD, NJ
WHEN: APRIL 20, 7 PM
WHO: THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST WRITERS IN NEW JERSEY
Our own Herb Schaffner displaying his big brain and sharing some big love for The Essential Guide.
For Link on Herb Schaffner click here:
“A must-have for every aspiring writer.” – Khaled Hosseini, New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published
We were lucky enough to be interviewed by a truly funny and gracious human being who works for NBC. Contradiction in terms? Apparently not. His name is Ben Aaron, and he was very very good to us.
“A must-have for every aspiring writer.” – Khaled Hosseini, New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published
“Writers now have breathtaking new ways of connecting with and getting their work directly into the hands of readers. And they no longer have to rely on a small group of publishing experts in order to get published. Because there is no barrier to to publishing”, write publishing experts and Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry in their comprehensive and idea packed book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully. The authors set out a blueprint for creating an idea, developing a book on the topic, getting that book published, and delivering it to readers worldwide.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry understand the challenges of writing a book and in getting the final manuscript published and marketed well. The authors point to the importance of passion as one of the most critical elements necessary for publishing success. Without the passion for the book’s idea, a would be author might not have the drive needed to carry the book through to completion and for the marketing effort. Along with the important aspect of being passionate about the book’s subject matter, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry share their four principles of successful publishing:
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (both in photo left) recognize the dramatic and systemic changes that have altered the publishing landscape. As a result, their advice doesn’t cover just traditional book publishing. The authors also share techniques for self publishing a book, and for utilizing the alternate book formats including ebooks, audio books, and even for publishing online. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry offer step by step advice for every facet of the book publishing process, and also include the crucial but often overlooked areas of copyright, contacts, payment, and legal protection. Along with the valuable tips on taking care of business, the book also contains the always vital area of book marketing. While a book may be great, and convey the passion and knowledge of the author, without a marketing plan even the best book will fail to find an audience. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry provide marketing concepts that include both conventional and unconventional channels to promote and sell more copies of the finished product.
For me, the power of the book is how Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry remove the mystery from book publishing, and present a complete handbook for achieving success as an author, from start to finish. The authors leave no stone unturned, and make it clear to the would be author that writing a bestselling book is possible, but requires much work on the part of the writer. Because of the effort involved in writing, contracting, and marketing a book, the authors emphasize that the author must be passionate about the subject or plot of the book. Anything less, and the book is likely to not do as well in any facet of the process.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry present two very important and useful sections on the business of book publishing and on marketing the book through traditional and guerrilla methods. These two critical topics are not always included in books on publishing, making this book even more essential for the serious author. An added bonus feature provided by the authors are the many author resources in the appendix. Overall, the book is a treasure trove of information that will benefit any aspiring or experienced author.
I highly recommend the essential and very practical book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, to anyone seeking a one stop advice book for becoming a successful author. The wealth of information contained in this wonderful book makes it a must for any novice or long time author.
Read the valuable and information filled book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and discover the insider secrets to becoming the successful published author of your dreams. From idea to sale, this is the book to unleash the bestselling author within you
Cool writer dude we interviewed for The Essential Guide to Publishing
Page 3 of 3
September 26, 2019
The Book Doctors: Tips 4 Pitching to Get Published
September 23, 2019
The Book Doctors Bring Pitchapalooza to South Carolina
September 18, 2019
LAST NJ BOOK DOCTORS PITCHAPALOOZA 2019 OCT 12
September 3, 2019
The Book Doctors & Jim Levine, Agent Extraordinary on Getting Published Successfully
August 28, 2019