Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publishing Today, Tomorrow Through Three Pairs Of Eyes

Below are three interesting interviews with book publishing experts – a publicist, a book publisher, and a magazine publisher. Enjoy their thoughts – I hope they inspire a dialogue on the state of publishing.

Interview With Jaime Leifer, Publicity Director, PublicAffairs

1.      What are the challenges today of promoting a book? The media has changed a lot in the past ten years that I’ve been working in the publishing industry. There’s been a major decline in the outlets that, traditionally, were most likely to include book coverage. Newspapers are stretched very thin and book review sections have been largely eliminated or have been greatly cut back. Oprah’s, of course, gone, and there are fewer of the knockout bookings that are guaranteed to sell a book nowadays.  At the same time, the internet has expanded exponentially the types of coverage books can get—news sites, personal blogs, tweets, Facebook posts,  etc.   So, in many ways, publicity has become more fractured, since you’re not just relying on a couple of big interviews and reviews to launch the book—you’ve got to have coverage on lots of different fronts, and you never know what’s going to make the difference and make a book really take off.

2.      How do you work with your authors on PR? At PublicAffairs, we really treat our authors as collaborators in the publicity process.  As I explain to new authors, there’s no one who’s a bigger expert on your field than you.  Who are the major players?  Which media cover the things you’re writing about?  By and large, our authors are very eager participants in the process—they empty their pockets, go through their rolodexes, and call in favors while we’re working all of our usual channels.  And with so many journalists, politicians, and other heavy-hitters on our list, they often come through with a crucial introduction that gets the book a big hit.

3.      What advice do you have for authors who want to promote their books? Maintain a good relationship with your publicist.  He or she will work hardest for you if he or she knows you’re engaged, excited, and open to collaboration.  Keep an eye on the news, and try to see how your book fits in with what’s going on.  Write op-eds or blog posts if it’s appropriate and if you’ve got an opinion to voice—they can help to bolster your position as an expert.  On the social-media front, if you’re tech-savvy and interested in Twitter, it can be a great tool for promoting yourself and your book directly to the people who care most about it.  But you have to be sincere, and truly engaged—the Twitterverse will know instantly if you’re solely self-promotional.

4.      What do you love about being a part of the book publishing industry? PublicAffairs’ tagline is “good books about things that matter,” and I really do believe that’s what we create here.  When I’m talking to reporters or producers about our books, I’m lucky in that our authors have something worthwhile to say that’s more often than not tied into the news of the day.   I love being a useful and informative part of the national and international conversation.  And I’m glad I’m encouraging people to take an in-depth look at important subjects.  Our world is so fast-paced that it’s sometimes tough to fully grasp complex topics like the debt crisis or America’s relationship with Pakistan.  I’ve read two of our books on those subjects in the past couple of weeks, and I feel infinitely better informed about what’s going on.  In general, I feel like people in publishing care about their world in more than just a superficial way.  It’s a great environment to live and work in.

5.      Where is it heading? We’ve definitely seen a huge increase in e-book sales.  For us, that’s a great thing—with books that tie in so closely to current events, physical copies are usually not exactly where you need them when news breaks.  A large part of our e-book sales are incremental, not replacing print sales.  I think there will always be a market for long-form narrative journalism and argument, and hopefully e-books will continue to help us reach that market.

Interview With Indie Authors Press Publisher Jorge Salgado-Reyes

1.      Why does today's marketplace necessitate that Indie Authors Press exist?  I think that due to the influences of social media and readers desire to have new content almost instantly means that the old traditional publishing model is outdated and slow.  Add to that, the immense difficulties that new authors have in finding an agent and then that agent selling an author to a publisher (in many cases taking a new novel up to three years to publish, if at all) means most new authors are going the self-publishing route.  Indie Authors Press was formed to publish small unknown authors that would never have made it in the traditional model. 
2.      Are self-published and small press authors the future for book publishing? I believe so.  The old ways are dying due to many influences but especially the internet.  The internet is now the single most influential force on the planet.

3.      What do you love most about being in book publishing? I have been reading books since I learnt to read.  My passion is Science Fiction and Thrillers hence my own novel (currently being written) is about a PI in a future London.  I love that I have the freedom to publish what I want to publish and to work with authors that excel at what they do.

4.      What should authors do to promote and market their books? Authors should be constantly promoting themselves on the Internet, Social media like Facebook and twitter but not forget about bookstores and libraries.  They should be reaching out to other authors and bloggers as well as book clubs and magazines.

5.      What do think authors find most challenging or appealing about today's publishing climate?    Most appealing: That they can get their novel into print almost as fast as they can write it. Most Challenging:  I would say two things; professional editing & book cover design and secondly promotion of their book due to in part because of a fear of social networking or a misuse of it.

Interview With January Magazine Publisher Linda L. Richards

1. Linda, why did you create January Magazine In the mid-to late 1990s, I was mostly making my living writing and lecturing about Internet technologies. I am the author of several Web and Internet-related books. Because I was thinking about it all the time, I had a lot of theories about success on the Web and what that would look like, but I needed a way to test them.

At the same time, my partner, David Middleton, and I had been interviewing authors for mainstream magazines and newspapers. We’d both talk with the authors, then I would write the piece and David would photograph them. We both loved it but the big limitation would be the editors we'd work with and what they'd give space to. Quite often I’d pitch an author I wanted to interview, and an editor would say, “Oh, no one cares about that person.” And I knew that was not true. I felt sure that people cared about books and the people who made them.

Then there was a straw. The universe just conspired. We’d interviewed this really well known author of historical fiction for a metro daily newspaper. The author was just terrific and had all these great stories and a lot to share. I wrote a story of the 800 words assigned, which was already tight. David submitted his gorgeous photos. And it happened that some rock star broke his leg or ended up in therapy or something, and they cut my 800 word piece down to an impossibly spare 400. And, in that same piece, they used David’s photo badly. We’re perfectionists, David and I: our heads didn’t explode, but it felt very like that.

We took that interview, and a few others that either hadn’t found homes or whose copyrights had reverted back to us, and we decided to create a magazine that was really initially intended to be an online showcase for our work, plus a testing ground for the aforementioned theories in Internet technologies. David is a graphic designer and illustrator as well as a photographer and we both just threw our talents at the project to sort of see what we’d come up with.

The site went online in November of 1997 and not long after we were named a Yahoo! site of the day, which at the time was a really big deal. It meant that overnight our traffic shot from the 50 or 100 visitors a day we’d been getting, if that, to something like 14,000. That tickled all my geeky tendencies, to be perfectly honest. I’ll just never forget that initial rush or the months I spent attempting to duplicate it: I wanted more!

So we had a measure of success. And others liked what we were building and asked if they could come and play, too. And it just grew (and grew and grew) from there.

There’s more, too -- it’s been almost 15 years after all -- but I’ll stop here. It’s an ongoing story. One that rewards us every day.

2. What do you love about the book publishing industry? Books! Now it should be understood that January Magazine makes a point of not covering the industry. There are people doing that, sure. But also, for us, focusing too much on the industry detracts from our joy in what we’re all talking about with such passion. Books. And, honestly, if you take a few steps back and away, the industry ceases to matter very much. There are highs and lows. Technologies change. And, every couple of years, a bunch of people start hollering that the sky is falling. Truthfully? None of it matters very much. We want our stories. And we want to celebrate our storytellers. And all this other stuff? It’s water under bridges: the course may alter, but the river? It continues to flow.

3. Where is the industry heading? It seems possible to me that I just inadvertently answered that!

4. You are an author and a journalist. How do you overcome the challenges in having your voice heard through all the clutter? You do not. You write the best book you can and treat both your story and the people you tell about it with the utmost respect. And if your voice is true and your story is compelling, people will listen. I believe that. It’s something like a creed.

A number of years ago reviewer and booklover David J. Montgomery said: “The best way to get your book reviewed, and the best way to have it be a success, is to write the best book you possibly can. And that is the one area of the process over which an author actually has control.”

Now, in truth, since that time the whole e-book thing has sort of happened and it gives a different spin to parts of that sentiment. But at the heart of it there is still this beating truth: if you have not written the best book you can, why should anyone care? And you’ve never ever heard anyone say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t written such a good book!” You just never hear that.

5. What advice do you have for authors looking to get published and to market their books? Write the best book you can, then edit until it’s still better. If you did not in some way bleed when you wrote that book, you didn’t work hard enough. It sounds trite, but art really must hurt.

One thing this economy combined with the changes in the industry have together done in the last three or so years is create an environment where only the very, very best will make it: Will receive representation. Will get published. Will get purchased if self-published. If you have a crappy book that you do not care sufficiently about, you’ve lost before you left the gate. If you’re not prepared to give it everything you’ve got, you might as well stay home because there are better uses for your time.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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