Wednesday, November 9, 2011

6 Book Publishing Experts Voice Their Views

Interview With Jessica Tribble, Publisher, Poisoned Pen Press

1.) Please tell us what your organization does. Our organization is a publisher of novels in the mystery genre.  That is, we publish mystery books. We have refined a bit over the years, really specializing in debut mysteries and fresh voices. Nonetheless, we strive to publish only high-quality books in the field.

2.) How do you help authors and publishers sell more books? We are a publisher so we don't help other publishers.  But we do give lots of advice to our authors on bookstores and the kinds of events that have been beneficial to sales. We recommend that our authors try to find a niche that can help them to reach a focused and loyal audience.  We don't publish NY Times best-selling authors (not that we wouldn't like to).  We publish people who have great writing that deserves to be read.

3.)  What do you love most about being in book publishing?  I love the process of book publishing.  As we specialize in debuts, I interact with authors who are finally seeing their dream realized.  We are taking something that they poured their heart into and we are turning it into a product that the entire world can see. For me, book publishing is about the personal connections.  We read books to learn about people in a different time, a different place, a different mindset. We want to connect on the human level.  And then we recommend these books and ideas to someone else who recommends it.  Then these readers are excited to learn more about both the author and the character.  In a digital age, the book and publishing helps us feel like we have a human connection--through narrative.

4.) What do you see is the industry’s fate?  The industry is, of course, growing and changing. I see the mass market paperback nearly vanishing. I foresee the rise of the independent.  I see a turn to ebooks.  Consumers want convenience and fairness. Ebooks provide a low price and, more importantly, the chance for them to choose from many different reading options at the press of a button. We are changing the way we read.  We don't read in a big bookstore.  We don't read even in libraries much.  We read at home, on the train, on the bus, on the plane.  We are constantly moving, and the publishing industry needs to accommodate that.  At the same time, we are starving for the human connection: we like to see faces and hear voices.  I see the rise of web cons and digital author tours.  How cool would that be?

5.) What should authors and publishers do to promote and market their books? Find a good niche market and target them.  Readers are loyal and habitual.  And of course, love what you do. You can't expect the readers to find you just because the book exists, you have to tell them why they want your book.  Make it desirable.  Make it fresh.  Most importantly, have a passion about it.
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Interview With Welcome Books Publisher Lena Tabori
1. As the publisher of Welcome Books what type of challenges in the marketplace are you navigating through? Getting our books in front of the consumer is our single biggest challenge. We produce some of the most beautifully designed and produced books in America. When people see our books, they buy them. We gather awards like magnets in whatever field we enter (last year we published our first cookbook and immediately won the IACP Judge’s Choice (Cooking with Italian Grandmothers)and we published our first “history” book and immediately won the Foreword Editor’s Nonfiction Award and $1,500 (Last Good War).  If you want the most beautifully photographed, written and designed book on Buddha, we have it: Buddha by Jon Ortner with an introduction by Jack Kornfield; if you are in love with American farming, come see our Paul Mobley’s American Farmer with interviews by Katrina Fried, which won the Wrangler Award for Best Photography Book by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum;The 2009 Rose Awards for Photographic Artists  - 1st Place for "Exceptional Use of Color," "1st Place for Black and White"  and Silver IPPY Award "Coffee Table Book" category, 2009. If you have decided it is time to meet a whole bunch of gay men, you cannot do better than Gay in America by Scott Pasfield. The physical places where consumers have normally seen books are vanishing (although we have always sought the Anthropologie’s and the Neiman Marcus’ and the off-the-beaten path gift accounts). Media has vanished along with brick and mortar. And, because our interests run so broad and deep, we have to work way harder to find each book’s audience. The virtual places are so various that we would have to clone ourselves dozens of times to have the time to find all of the amazing blogs in every subject category that are out there.

2. What do you love about the book publishing industry? I love people’s minds, their passions, their inventiveness. I love being in a business which is filled on all sides — the salesforce, the bookstore owners, managers, and employees, the publishers, the writers, photographers and assorted artists — with people who are in love with words and images and ideas and the power of communication. These are people who listen deeply, think deeply and you emerge from dialogue with them, richer.

3. Where is the industry heading? It will ride with the population. When people are hungry for art and life and ideas and dialogue, books will flourish. As they watch more, eat more, sit more, move less, think less, do less, books will evaporate.

4. What can publishers do to work more closely with their authors on PR and marketing? Publishers and authors are bound like never before. We, as publishers, are much more deeply involved editorially than we ever were. And, our authors are more involved with marketing: twittering, facebooking, blogging, and travelling. We are supporting with e-blasts, posters, bookings, media, research (take a look at just a few recent websites (;;

5. What moved you to launch Welcome Books? I was brought up at Abrams where Harry (Abrams) published some of the greatest art books in the world. He published what he was cared about. I shared many of those passions and, when he died, I wanted to do it for myself — not just art, but also photography and opera and food and popular culture and books for families and children that made you laugh and think and eat well. Welcome became a home for creators who were deeply committed to what they were doing and editors and designers who felt the same way.

6. What can publishers do to increase literacy in America? Stop publishing garbage. Reduce radically the number of titles they are publishing so great books can rise to the surface. Create Reader’s Guides and Teacher’s Guides, send authors into the schools, recycle excess inventory into schools and libraries instead of trashing it. Invent more Oprah Winfrey’s to promote reading. Find funding from the non-profit world to under-write those efforts

Interview With Burford Books Publisher Peter Burford

1.      Peter, as an independent publisher, what challenges do you find you have to overcome that big publishers may not face? There’s an obvious difference in the size of our budgets for advances, production, marketing, how many titles we can produce in a season and so forth.  The hardest problem here is in promotion, where it has always been difficult to get attention on a tight budget, and remains so. 

One of the toughest problems for smaller publishers is finding the technical expertise that is essential in today’s publishing world—for ebook production, social media marketing, online promotions and so forth—without overpaying for consultants.  Larger publishers tend to have staff with enough basic expertise that they can accomplish many of these essential functions in-house.  Smaller publishers are to some extent scrambling to get their ducks in a row on these issues. 

2.      What advantages do you see to the changes popping up in the book publishing landscape today? There are many, and they appear increasingly interesting.  Take ebooks first.  They don’t get returned, they don’t get damaged in shipping, you don’t have to store them or insure them or remainder them when the book has lost steam.  When one is sold it’s paid for.  All music to publishers’ ears.  Editorially ebooks present terrific opportunities:  take the Kindle Singles as a model for instance.  In print it’s very difficult to publish short page length titles profitably, although there are many books whose natural length is 64 pages or so.  Electronic books have no such problem.  And ebooks offer a means to publish very, very specialized titles for a dedicated audience without the expense of traditional book production and distribution.  Smaller and independent publishers in a sense can benefit more from ebooks than larger publishers.  The small publisher has always put more investment into the physical book than have larger publishers, for whom the production cost of a title may be relatively little compared to the advance or the marketing budget.  Electronic and social media are great ways to reach out to a book’s specific audience without significant expense, one of the great playing-field levellers for independent publishers.  Such outreach takes time, but good promotion always has.  Books have always been best promoted by word of mouth, and now the “words” and the “mouths” are in electronic form. 

3.      What do you love most about being a part of book publishing? The people in the industry.  They’re the most interesting and likeable bunch I’ve ever come in contact with.  There’s a camaraderie in publishing that I don’t think exists in other fields in quite the same way.  Book publishing is a difficult way to make a living, and relatively unrewarding financially for the work expended, but very satisfying and creative.  At the end of the day you can sit back and say “I helped make this book happen,” and that’s a blessing. 

4.      How do you market or promote your titles? The key for us is to market books in groups that go together.  Not as a series necessarily, but I like each book on the list to attach itself in some way to the books that have gone before.  This means we have done the spadework in marketing and sales that will accrue to the benefit of the new title.  There are always new pathways to explore of course, and that’s what makes promoting new titles fun, but if you have a track record in a certain area it makes promotion of a new book much easier and more effective. 

Most of our promotion is grassroots:  we contact key people who can help get the word out on our books and engage them as early in the process as possible.  Authors are essential in this process.  Social-media marketing, and marketing by some electronic means, is vitally important.  The old model of sending review copies to traditional media is 99% a waste of time and resources, and we do it only when we have an established relationship that we feel has a high probability of success. 

And as an aside, the decline/demise of the book superstore hasn’t helped anyone’s numbers, but in the long term it had to happen.  It wasn’t a viable model.  For too long we were simply printing wallpaper for new superstores, and the party had to end. 

5.      What do you look for in the authors and books you agree to publish? Several things.  First, is it a good book?  This sounds absurd but there have been times in publishing when that hasn’t been the first question at all.  By “good” I mean is it well written, well presented, does it fill a need that is somewhat unfulfilled?  If it can’t pass this test, I am inclined to let it go. 

Next:  does it in some way relate to books we have published before?  It’s a gentle balance.  You don’t want to do the same book over and over again with minor variations, but you don’t want to go into a whole new arena about which you know nothing (unless there’s a plan to explore this area further).  So if you do books on food, for example, you’ll consider a book on wine.  That kind of thing. 

Also of prime importance is this:  can this book sell in both the traditional book market and in some specialty markets?  We have an extensive list on fishing, for example, and our books sell regularly in sports and outdoors outlets.  But they sell on Amazon and in B&N and at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore as well. 
And this:  is the author going to be an active promoter of this book?  This has always been important but it has become more so today.  Authors tend to forget that the book is their baby, but the publisher is parent to dozens if not hundreds of demanding children every day.  The author is the book’s best salesperson.  I love promotion-minded authors.  They don’t have to be telegenic or media-savvy, but they have to care about promoting the book and be willing to do whatever they can do to help the cause. 

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Interview With Freelance Writer and Editor Richard Klin

1.      Rich, as a freelance writer and editor, what do you enjoy most about practicing your craft? Practicing one's craft is a very accurate phrase. Writing is a craft and I think it's important to be able to write on a variety of themes and topics. Having your work read by a wide audience and achieving literary success are always going to be goals, but your really have to like writing. And this sounds right out of fourth grade, but the more you practice, the better you get. 

2.      How are you prospering under the current publishing landscape?  Smaller, indie   presses are filling some vital niches and my book, Something to Say, is a perfect example. Leapfrog Press took it on--with great enthusiasm and a lot of support. And that's pretty significant. In terms of publishing work--I'm a copy editor, proofreader, and production editor--it's a much more difficult road. Freelancing is an insecure perch. The economic climate, in general, is pretty scary. 

3.      Where do you feel the publishing industry is heading? There are many, many others far more astute about the business of publishing. But I do think a lot of the hysteria is just that: hysteria. There are a huge number of indie publishers and academic presses turning out literate, relevant books. And of course big-house publishers haven't completely abandoned the field.  Publishing was never supposed to be synonymous with vast wealth--it wasn't Hollywood or the music industry. And I think that's been almost intentionally forgotten. It's like foreign films. The adage was that foreign films never made money. But they did make money--just much, much less money than mainstream movies. 

4.      How do you work with authors to make their work better but not completely change their original intent or voice? Copyediting is akin to being a skilled waiter at an upscale restaurant. You can make educated suggestions about the food or wine but not be overt about it. The copy editor is in an odd perch. You can certainly point out factual errors or strongly suggest something, but your mandate is limited. 

5.      If you can advise authors on how to create a successful book, what would you tell them? At my very first book appearance, someone asked me who my target audience was. I thought for a second and then realized that I was the target audience. You have to create something that you yourself would like to read. That doesn't mean you can be self-indulgent or spurn any editorial input--just the opposite. But your own tastes are a crucial gauge. Something to Say is a series of profiles of varied artists discussing the intersection of art and politics. I wanted to include someone doing political art in a very, very obscure field--like finding someone, say, who built sand castles with a political theme. But I know if I read something like that I would find it quirky or ironic, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. Being your own target audience can and should also act as a cautionary.

I would also advise that you really, really know your subject, which is true for fiction and nonfiction both. When I knew we were including the poet Quincy Troupe, I read almost all his work. I read Jacqueline Woodson's YA novels, I listened to the music of the anarchist-punk band Blowback. This may sound basic but it's really essential. Ron Nyswaner, who wrote the screenplay for Philadelphia (and much more), said that a screenwriter has to be able to answer the "why": Why is this character saying this or that? Why is this happening? I think a writer needs at least the semblance of a blueprint for what they're going to undertake. It can be the most bare-bones blueprint and it can be a blueprint that you decide to revamp completely. But there has to be, I think, some minimal authorial intent that you can explain.

Interview With Author Doreen Owens Malek

1.      After having over 40 books published by traditional publishers what inspired you to self-publish your next book? The best way to answer this question is to quote from the blog on my website:

In traditional publishing as I knew it the author had very little control over the final product that the reader got to see. Almost everything was directed by editors and agents and publishing executives who knew the financial end of the business dictated by surveys and statistics and standards, but nothing at all about the creative process. I learned that quickly and was never able to overcome it. Every time I wanted to try something which departed a smidgen from what had sold well previously I was told that "the readers" would not like it or that the agent could not sell it or that some survey had said that the idea was unacceptable. Add to that formidable obstacle the delays involved: the time for the agent(s) to read the work, the time for the agent to accept it and then send it around, the time for the editor(s) to read it, the time for everyone to argue over it and decide on it and possibly reject it to be sent around again, the nine month delay in production if accepted, the enormous delay in distribution and then reporting sales and receiving a royalty check. I am not a good waiter, patience is not my long suit, and all of this drove me mad.

All of it goes away with self publishing on the internet. There are no editors or agents controlling the situation, there are no deadlines. You just put your work up there when it’s ready, let the readers know it is available, and hopefully they will order it through print on demand or download it. 

2.      What is the new book about?  This is the back cover descriptive copy: “When Amanda Redfield, an assistant district attorney from a wealthy Philadelphia family, is harassed by a mysterious stalker, she meets Brendan Kelly, the detective assigned to her case. Smart and capable but deeply troubled, Kelly protects Amanda while he works to find her tormentor, but his disturbing presence and rogue behavior disrupt Amanda’s settled life. She is helplessly drawn to the sexy and charming but barely controlled cop. As their passion grows she must choose between her privileged past and an uncertain future with a man who is spiraling out of control. How she draws on her wits and resources to rescue Kelly as surely as he once rescued her makes for a powerful and satisfying love story.” I view the book as a traditional contemporary romance of about 100,000 words.

3.      What topics do you tend to write about? I tend to write romances because that is an escapist subject which interests me and provides entertainment for the reader. I also like to write historicals set during periods I know something about: Elizabethan England, Ancient Rome, the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800’s, and the Northeastern United States in the late 1800’s.

4.      What do you love about being a writer? I love several things: first is the ability to control and develop a book in any way I like, which is why I always have a problem with the intervention of editors and agents.  I also love being able to create a world of my own with people I have invented who behave exactly as I direct them. And I really love being able to make use of the imaginative daydreaming which was such a problem in my childhood when teachers wanted me to do Algebra and Calculus when I was thinking about science fiction or Shakespeare.

5.      Where do you feel the publishing industry is heading? I feel the publishing industry is going through a major change which will give the author much more control over the product than has ever been possible in traditional publishing. The barriers to entry erected by agents and editors are coming down in light of the easy access to reach an audience through the internet.  In August 2011, Amazon announced that it is now selling 105 books through digital download for every 100 books sold in print. This shift in the distribution paradigm obviates the control the publishers, distributors and retailers once exerted over the reader’s access to the material. While I don’t think this shift will cause the demise of bookstores, it has created a channel of distribution providing formidable competition for them because of the substantially lower distribution cost of digital editions of popular books. Books (print and digital) are not like pizza and ice cream. The more you make available at affordable prices the more the consumers consume. A voracious reader is virtually insatiable.

Interview With Blogger Brody Fletcher

1. What do you find to be rewarding about being a blogger?  You're essentially getting an outlet to chase down your obsessions. Whether you like politics or movies or fashion or just want to rant about someone cutting you off in traffic, you can do that. A blog can be about literally anything but it has to interest you, and it's very rare to find a job like that. In fact, what would be a negative anywhere else (being an opinionated loudmouth) is celebrated on a blog. If you met a guy at a bar that wouldn't shut up about how much he hates Jennifer Aniston, you'd probably avoid him. If you met a guy online like that, his name is Perez Hilton and he has more money than I ever will. 

2. You are a novelist – what have you published?  This is a short answer: nothing. I have struggled to acquire a literary agent, but am still somewhat early in the process and hopeful. The best advice I can give someone who feels they have just written a great first manuscript is to clear their calendar, because they are going to do some waiting no matter how good it is. A lot of people in the publishing world are getting increasingly nervous about the state of the industry, and therefore maybe not as quick to embrace new types of books with no proven track record of success, but I feel that's the wrong strategy. No struggling industry ever got turned around by playing it safe and trying to do the same thing over and over again, and that lesson is multiplied by ten in such a creative industry as book publishing. 

3. How is being a screenwriter different from being a novelist or a blogger?  This is really subjective depending on who you talk to because screenwriters swear up and down that their job is harder and novelists will tell you their job is. I have done both and can't say for sure which is more difficult, but they are certainly different. You can probably write a screenplay much faster than a novel but there's a technical side to the script mechanics of it that doesn't exist in a novel, so novel's have a better flow. There are times when you just get spellbound writing a book where you're writing pages at a clip your fingers can hardly keep up with, but it's very hard to get lost into the world of writing a script because of the more technical aspects.

After it's written, a script is really just a blueprint, and there are a thousand people working on that movie you might have to rewrite it for at any given time, sometimes well into shooting the actual movie, so there's a pressure and lack of control there that is less so for a novelist. It's pretty well known that screenwriters are the low man on the Hollywood totem pole and if a script really works the director might hog the majority of the credit (virtually no screenwriters are household names the way Stephen King, John Grisham, or J.K. Rowling are) but if an entire movie doesn't work then the script is the first thing to blame. As to where writing a book is--at least in the eyes of the public--more or less a one man show, and that author will receive all the credit for a success or all the blame for a misfire. 

4. What do you love most about the book publishing world?  I still think there is something very special about writing a book and sharing it with the public. In a way it's very intimate because that author is really telling you something about them. Whether it's an incredibly personal book about their family or the most routine of genre books, there's a piece of that author in there somewhere that can't be hidden. With a musician's CD or director's movie or TV show, that personal aspect might get drowned out but even in the privacy-phobic world of 2011, there is still a connection with an author when you pick up a book and sit somewhere quiet to read it. It's almost like they're sharing a secret with you, and an author that really knows their audience is hearing one back, as the reader says "This character is me. It speaks to me. This is how I feel." The people that really love books know what I'm talking about and the people that wouldn't pick up a book unless it was assigned for class reading are really missing out on something special.

5. What do you recommend to authors experiencing the process of getting published?  Enjoy it. If they are being traditionally published, they are experiencing something that 4 out of 5 writers never will, not to mention all of the people that probably have a great book in them but just never get around to putting it down. I used to go around just constantly pitching people--my friends, my mom, my teachers, even my extremely disinterested younger brother--about my ideas and they would all say "That's great. When are you going to write it?" I know there are others that feel the same way and the most important thing is to write it. Don't get caught up in getting it perfect or freak out when it's not as right on "paper" as it is in your head (it won't be), just write it. 

6. Where do you think the book industry is heading?  A lot of people are pessimistic and say this could be the end times but I'm a little more bullish than all that. I think Borders, the second largest book retailer in the country, going out of business really rattled some people but Borders was a very poorly run company that made a lot of business mistakes that I don't see Barnes and Noble making. So I think the shockwaves sent out by the Borders bankruptcy have less to do with the overall industry than it does with one specific company, but since the perception is that books are in trouble, the bankruptcy is used to herald the death of traditional publishing. 

The two biggest problems as I see them both have to do with Generation Y and younger: 1. This generation (that I'm a part of as a 25 year old) wants more or less everything for free. There has been a tremendous rise in pirating music, bootlegging movies, and, yes, reading books online that may not be paid for. Even when they are paid for, it's for a dollar off Amazon's site instead of the 25 dollar hardback books at Barnes & Noble that really keep the book industry profitable. 2. For the first time in American history, the following generation is going to be less literate than the one before it. There are just too many kids in the U.S. that are not falling out of love with reading, but never falling in love with it. They aren't developing the appetite to read in the first place, and that makes it harder to say "Look, it's the next Harry Potter! Come read this!" In my opinion, the book industry is competing less with Amazon's dollar books than it is with cultural shifts. Kids have become much less likely to read about Stephen King's new villain chainsawing people and much more likely to chainsaw people themselves playing an ultra-violent video game.

And then there's the problem for novelists specifically which is that the culture is losing its imagination a bit and non-fiction has really spread like Kudzu making fiction have a harder time. Still though, I'm not sure how popular non-fiction can remain since most of the information in those books is now available for free on the internet. Also, when a fiction book really breaks out, it's a beautiful thing that can keep a publisher in business (no matter how big a hit "He's Just Not That Into You" is, it can't touch the sales of "Harry Potter"). So, in my opinion, the tide of book publishing can be turned but it won't be with the 4,000th celebrity memoir. It will be bold new authors writing books that can't be described as "the next..." anything because nothing has been written like them before. This seems like a counter-intuitive business strategy, but publishers and literary agents need to get riskier, not risk-averse. They need to remember the thing that makes books so special (that personal connection with an author speaking right to you, not increasingly impersonal fiction derivative of something else) to being with, and start capitalizing on the strengths of the medium instead of trying to turn it into television. I mean, why publish books "written" by reality stars people only watch because they're free? The book industry's problems aren't going to get solved with Snooki's memoir or The Real Housewives of Wherever. You attract a new generation of readers with a new generation of authors trying things that have never been done before. I volunteer my services [Laughter]. 

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