Jane Friedman, the former publisher of Writers Digest, walked a tight rope in her “Getting to Yes” article in Publishers Weekly‘s Booklife self-publishing advertising insert, which is stuffed with positive reviews that self-published authors have paid for.
Her article says that authors marketing their work should start their campaign by making lists of “owned media, one of paid media, and one of earned media” to approach.
Owned media are existing resources and assets you control that can help spread the word about your book. This can include your website or blog, email newsletter, social media presence, or anything that reaches readers directly, whether digital or analog. Paid media are those you pay for attention or exposure. This includes advertising and paid reviews. Earned media refers to media coverage or attention that you secure for free.
I thought “earned media” was interesting and revealing phrasing.
She implicitly likened “paid reviews” in her article to a form of advertising. But what they actually are is a complete waste of money that nobody takes seriously…the opposite of “earned media,” or a review you’ve earned by virtue of your book appealing to critics on its own merits, not your ability to pay. An “earned” review is taken seriously, a “paid” review is not. That was the revealing part of the phrase. She was essentially acknowledging that real reviews are earned. Paid reviews are advertising.
But advertising what…and to whom?
The only thing a “paid review” advertises is your desperation, naivete, and ego.
Paying for a review is actually a huge mistake…for one thing, it negates the likelihood of you getting an “earned” review from PW or Kirkus (which also runs a “paid review” insert in their magazine for self-published authors). You’re better off, and will save money, by asking your Mom to post a positive review on Amazon for you…and you’ll accomplish just as much with just about the same level of humiliation.
But naturally, she didn’t dare say that, or dwell on the “paid review” aspect of a “marketing plan” in her article. In fact, she actually doesn’t mention paid reviews again…not daring to bite that hand that feeds her.
Self-publishing authors—or any authors who are pitching themselves—should seek alternative options to gain momentum. These include local and regional media, influencers in the relevant target market, and any person who is likely to answer your emails or pick up the phone when you call.
Note that she didn’t say, “buy a positive review like the ones in the following pages of this Booklife insert.” To be honest, I am surprised she didn’t.
Some of you reading this post may be looking for a quick and easy answer to the question of whether you should invest in a paid book review. Here’s what I think in a nutshell, although a lot of people will be unhappy with me saying so:
The majority of authors will not sufficiently benefit from paid book reviews, and should invest their time and money elsewhere.
She also noted that the PW piece that ran this week is actually a reprint of an article she wrote for them two years ago.
Even in this age of easy self-publishing, the scammers are still out there… and there are still plenty of suckers. I recently ran into an author who not only “published” his book through Authorhouse, he also paid them extra to buy positive reviews for him in the worthless “self-published books” versions of Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Not only that, he was seriously considering a sleazy marketeer’s $25,000 campaign to “get his book on bestseller lists” by paying people to buy copies and leave positive reviews on digital platforms. He firmly believed that this is how Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich and others get their books reviewed and on the bestseller lists. I, of course, told him was wrong and that he’d been swindled. Afterwards, he emailed me this plea:
Okay, so I’m ready with open ears to figure out how to get my book marketed, put on best seller lists, then get it made into a movie. I asked you last week if I could send you a copy to take a look at, cause it’s pretty damn dynamic. I know you have your own writings to take care of, but If there’s anything at all you can do to help me, I would be more than happy cut a nice juicy percent of gross profits…of everything. Please, please, please guide me in the right direction and if possible, drive the damn car for me.
The first thing you need to know is that Authorhouse is a notorious scam that operates under several names (Author Solutions, iUniverse, xlibris, etc.). They prey on the desperation of aspiring authors and squeeze them for every last penny they can get. Don’t pay them another dime for anything. You’ve been swindled out of enough money by these crooks as it is. Here’s just one of many posts out there about the Author Solutions/Authorhouse scam. The good news is that people have finally gotten wise to their con and the company is in a downward spiral.
But before they crash and burn, you should demand that Authorhouse revert the rights to the book back to you, along with the PDF and Kindle files that you’ve paid for, and pull the book from sale. Your book is ranked at 2 million on Amazon, which frankly means you aren’t selling any books anyway, so you aren’t risking anything by yanking it. Nobody knows the book exists.
I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to help you untangle yourself from Authorhouse or to walk you through self-publishing your book. But before you consider self-publishing again, or marketing your book to real publishers, you should really go back and rewrite the manuscript. I read the Amazon sample and, I mean no offense, but it needs substantial editing by a professional. It’s bloated with endless, dull exposition…and isn’t ready to sell to anybody. Rewriting the book under the guidance of an experienced freelance editor, or a knowledgeable creative writing instructor (perhaps through UCLA Extension), is really the best use of your resources now rather than investing time, effort, and money self-publishing a book that is unlikely to find an audience in its present form.
All mystery writers have them—the cherished, often underappreciated, out-of-print books that we loved and that shaped us as writers. They are the books that made an impression on me in my teenage and college years and still feel new and vital to me today. They are the books that I talk about to friends, thrust into the hands of aspiring writers, and that I wish I’d written. They are the yellowed, forgotten paperbacks I keep buying out of pure devotion whenever I see them in used bookstores . . . even though I have more copies than I’ll ever need.
I’ve been at this long enough that many of my own books have fallen out of print, too. But I brought them back in new, self-published Kindle and paperback editions and, to my surprise and delight, they sold extremely well. It occurred to me that if I could do it for my books, why couldn’t I do the same thing for all those forgotten books that I love?
So, a little over a year ago, I started negotiating with the estate of an obscure author whose books I greatly admire but that never achieved the wide readership and acclaim that they deserved. I was in the midst of those talks when, at a Bouchercon in Albany, I told Joel Goldman, a good friend, mystery writer, lawyer, and a successful self-publisher of his own backlist, what I had in mind.
Joel got this funny look on his face and said, “That’s a business model. I really think we’re on to something.”
It turned out that, like me, he’d been getting hit up constantly at the conference by author-friends who were desperate for his advice on how they could replicate his self-publishing success with their own out-of-print books . . . many of which had won wide acclaim and even the biggest awards in our genre. He’d been trying to think of a way he could help them out.
Now he thought he had the solution. What if we combined the two ideas? What if we republished the books that we’d loved for years as well as truly exceptional books that only recently fell out of print?
It sounded great to me. And at that moment, without any prior intent, we became publishers of what we considered to be the best crime novels in existence. It was a brash act . . . and that’s how, as naturally as we became publishers, we found our company name.
One of the first calls I made was to Tom Kakonis, whose books were a big influence on me, to ask if we could republish his out-of-print titles. His thrillers, including Michigan RollandCriss Cross, achieved that perfect, delicate balance between drama and dark, almost outrageous humor, without going too far in either direction. It’s a skill that Elmore Leonard and Tom mastered, and that I’d hoped to some day be able to pull off myself. (I’m still trying.) I read Tom’s books the first time for pure pleasure but then again . . . and again . . . to see if I could discover how the magic was done.
In the mid 90s, I sold my first hardcover novel under my own name, My Gun Has Bullets, to St. Martin’s Press and went to a Bouchercon with a bunch of bound galleys in my bag. I spotted Tom there and nervously approached him for a blurb . . . and to my astonishment, he not only agreed to read my galley, but a few weeks later, he gave me a great review. Getting that blurb was almost as exciting for me as being published in the first place.
I’d never forgotten that experience. Or him. So naturally he was at the top of my call-list when we started this venture. And this time, he thrilled me again by saying yes to letting us republish his books. He also mentioned that he had a novel that he wrote some years ago, but had stuck in a drawer because he’d been so badly burned by the publishing business. I asked if I could read it . . . and he sent it to me. I was blown away by it and so was Joel. We couldn’t believe that a book this good, that was every bit as great as his most acclaimed work, had gone unpublished. It was a gift for us to be able to publish it. And that’s how, unintentionally, we decided to publish brand new books, too.
It’s a business that’s very much a labor of love for us both. We get a bigger thrill now out of seeing new copies of our authors’ books than we do our own. The widow of one of our authors got teary-eyed over Brash’s editions of his out-of-print books because we were treating them the way he’d always wanted. We got tears in our eyes, too. We started Brash Books for moments like that and for Tom’s dedication in Treasure Coast:
“For Lee Goldberg, who may have rescued me.”
For me, that was coming full circle. I may have rescued him, but the example he set with his books helped launch my career . . . and now a publishing company, too.
Our goal with Brash Books is to introduce readers, and perhaps future writers, to great books that shouldn’t be forgotten and to incredible new crime novels that we hope will be cherished in the future.
And yet, to our frustration, our list still doesn’t include any books by that obscure, deceased author who brought Joel and I together in this brash publishing adventure. We’re still negotiating with that author’s estate. But we’re not giving up. I love those books too much to let go. I just bought two more of them at a flea market today. . . .
The publishing industry is still trying to figure out how to deal with the self-publishing revolution that Amazon sparked with the Kindle and their KDP Publishing format. Old guard publishers need to adapt and evolve, not dig in and try to protect the way things have “always” been done, or they risk becoming irrelevant to readers and to authors. What brings this obvious fact to mind today is a recent essay that Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington,wrote for the Huffington Post.
Here’s Where We Agree…and Disagree
He starts out by saying a few things I agree with. He says that the self-publishing revolution has brought out a bunch of swindlers eager to take advantage of authors. That’s true. He says that there’s a flood of self-published work on Amazon, and that most of the authors will never sell more than a handful of copies to their dearest friends and relatives. Also true. He says that free books and ultra-low pricing by self-published authors is driving down the price of books and makes it harder for publishers to make money. I agree with that to some degree, too. He also says its very hard for any book, self-published or otherwise, to stand out. Again, he’s right. But where he loses me, and reveals the desperation of publishers to hold on to the old way of doing things at any cost, is his suggestion that Amazon and other retailers should create a form of literary segregation so “real books” (my phrase, not his), can stand out. Here’s how he puts it:
In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B&N.com for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites. I truly believe that it would help the reader distinguish the books as well. Readers don’t purchase books based on who the publisher is and don’t necessarily care. As a result, they might not even know if they’re buying a book that was professionally edited versus one that was self-published.
This suggestion, and the way he refutes it immediately himself, shows how sharply divided he is on this issue even within his own mind.
If he believes that readers don’t buy books based on who publishes them, and that they can’t tell the difference between a professionally edited book and one that hasn’t been, then what would be the point of segregating corporately published books from those that are self-published?
Clearly, the only point is to throw a half-assed life-preserver to publishers who are struggling to figure out how to remain relevant in this new landscape…and get their books noticed amidst the millions of new titles.
But if you, or even Steve himself, accepted his suggestion, who would establish the criteria for what qualifies as “published books” and those that are “self-published?” Old-guard publishers, of course! And what would that criteria be? That’s not an easy question to answer.
The Way It Used To Be…and Why It Doesn’t Work Anymore
Before the Kindle revolution, and the wave of self-publishing it created, it was much easier to establish criteria for professional publication. I know, because as board member of the Mystery Writers of America and chairperson of their membership committee, I helped craft the rules for vetting publishers for the purposes of submitting books for Edgar Awards and or vetting authors for membership. You wouldn’t have been able to find a stauncher critic of vanity presses and self-publishing than me. But that was a different publishing world, technologically and business-wise, back then. The world has changed and so have I. Adapt or die.
The old rules were essentially based on the belief that the author should get paid for his work in advances and royalties, that his manuscript should be professionally edited, and the final product should be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores. One of the key yardsticks for determining professional publication was if the money flowed from the publisher to the author, and not the other way around (it was also a simple, and effective criteria to weed out “vanity presses” run by scammers who were swindling writers). But now that most books are sold online and not in brick-and-mortar stores, and now that there are self-published authors selling more copies, and earning substantially more money, than most mid-list “traditionally published” authors, and that so many “established” authors are self-publishing backlist and new works, those lines aren’t so easy to draw and the old criteria seems painfully archaic.
Who is a Pro….and Who Isn’t?
Steve suggests that it’s important to distinguish self-published books from those that are “professionally” edited. Well, my self-published books are professionally edited… by editors who still work freelance for the Big Six. So what would the criteria be in Steve’s segregation scenario for determining a “professional edit?” And, more importantly, what would be the benefit of this segregation to consumers as opposed to old-guard publishers? None. Deep down, Steve seems to know this, because he goes on to say:
Now don’t get me wrong. If I thought I had a story in me that I felt strongly about, I wouldn’t hesitate to self-publish it either. In fact, Kensington and all major publishers looks to e-book originals to find new talent. We have a handful of 2014 releases written by authors whose work impressed us enough to offer them contracts for new books.
So he’s got nothing against self-published books…as long as they don’t get in the way of a publisher’s interest. Ebooks are great, he says, as a way to find authors who’ve proven they can make money for a publisher. What he doesn’t say is that in many cases it would be more profitable in the long run for those authors to continue self-publishing rather than sign with Kensington which, with all due respect to Steve, is known for paying most of their writers very poorly and doing little to market their books. He still believes that the brass ring that all authors are reaching for is a publishing contract…perceived prestige over readership and lots of money. It’s less clear today what publishers can provide to authors that they can’t do for themselves, particularly if you fall in the mid-list. Publishers are a huge benefit to big gun authors, but don’t do so much for writers who aren’t already household names.
I know dozens of mid-list authors who are earning far more self-publishing than they ever did under contract (several of those are ex-Kensington authors, btw). And I know authors who are under contract who wish they weren’t…and that they could get their hands on their backlists so they could self-publish. That’s right, I know authors who are lamenting that their books are still in print…a point of view that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Because times have changed. Steve and others like him are slow to accept that.
A Successful Author Today Explores Every Option
I have nothing against publishing contracts… although I’ve self-published a lot of my books, I am also published today by Amazon’s 47 North and Thomas & Mercer imprints, as well as by John Wiley & Son, Penguin/Putnam and Random House. Those publishers are treating me and my books very well and I’m happy to be in business with them. I am also very happy with how my self-published books are doing, and I’ve turned down many offers to acquire the publishing rights to The Walk and Watch Me Die (one editor at a major publishing house actually approached me inside the Amazon Publishing booth at BookExpo to make me an offer!)
But every book, and every deal, is different. Today writers have options they never had before…and so do readers. Segregation isn’t the answer to the rising above the clutter and selling books. The answer is writing a good book…coupled with strong packaging and shrewd promotion, advertising and social media marketing. Because for authors in today’s world, whether you are self-published or under contract, you need to be a businessperson, too. It’s not enough to produce the product, you have to effectively sell it, too.
There are those who will argue that’s exactly why you need a publisher…but if you talk to most of the authors I know, they will tell you their publishers aren’t doing diddly for them…or what they are doing is woefully ineffective… and that the burden of marketing the book falls on the author’s shoulders, whether they are under contract or self-published.
I got this question today about publishing with a small, “cooperative press.”
Is Jan-Carol Publishing a vanity press? Should I publish my book with them? They are asking for my book and I just cannot tell clearly what the answer to this question might be. perhaps that is reason enough to be concerned.
I wouldn’t call it a vanity press…but pretty close to it. Your tip-off is that they describe themselves as “a cooperative between a small independent publishing group and a motivated force of authors.” That means you, a motivated author, will need to kick in money. And “small, independent publishing group” usually means either a token advance or none at all and most likely digital and print-on-demand publication, and very limited distribution for “select titles” (if your dream is to have your book stocked by Colonial Heights Pharmacy in Kingsport, TN, or Hindman Settlement School Gift Shop in Hindman, KY or Poor Fork Arts and Crafts Guild, this is the publisher for you). They also describe themselves as “a progressive small press publisher with a competitive edge and promotional blend of self publishing and traditional publishing.” In other words, be prepared to write a check.
You have to ask yourself Jan-Carol offers you in return for your “cooperation” and their share of the profits that you can’t do for yourself through Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s free self-publishing platforms. Is it distribution? Nope. You can get into Amazon and B&N yourself and their list of retailers for “select books” is unimpressive, to say the least. Is it professional cover art? Nope. Their books look like grade school art projects. At best. Is it editing? Nope, at least not based on the samples I’ve read. Is it featured space on a slick, high-end website? Nope. Their website is pretty basic and the only exposure they offer is a list of author websites and links..but the Amazon & B&N links don’t even go to the individual books, just to the main pages for Amazon and B&N. Amateurish. If there is an upside or “competitive edge” to publishing with them as opposed to publishing on your own, I don’t see it.
I’d recommend self-publishing rather than going with any small-time, “cooperative” outfits like this.
If you want to embarrass yourself, and not sell any books, follow the example set by author and literary agent Jodie Rhodes: take out a half-page ad in the Los Angeles Times and be sure to include a boring and badly written excerpt from your self-published novel. Here’s a taste of her powerful prose:
“I’ve got it, James!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. “I’ve got the script for my first picture. But I need your advice on where to go from here.”
He blinked in disbelief. “What do you mean, you’ve got a script? You don’t even have a production company.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that.” She waved an impatient hand at him.
“Anthony has already agreed to set up one.”
“Christ, Erin, you don’t waste time, do you? How in the hell did you accomplish that in one week?”
“It wasn’t all that difficult.” She gave a tiny shrug. “All I have to do is marry him. Anyway,” she continued eagerly, “let me tell you about this script.”
The characters in this thrilling excerpt from “Inside Hollywood” don’t talk. They exclaim, they shout, they admit and they continue eagerly. My favorite line, though, has to be the one about the impatient hand. The heroine doesn’t wave impatiently, she waves her hand, which is impatient.
The ad not only showcases her bad writing, but it also casts doubt on her judgment as a literary agent (she’s the president of the Jodie Rhodes Literary Agency, as she mentions on the cover of her book). If this excerpt is her idea of great writing, and this advertisement is her notion of a brilliant marketing campaign, can you imagine the kind of advice that she gives her clients? What’s even more shocking is that she’s also a former advertising executive…and yet produced an ad as ugly, ineffective, and outright embarrassing as this one. This cringe-inducing ad should be given to every aspiring writer as an example of what not to do when trying to sell your book to Hollywood, publishers or readers.
Authors Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne have been friends for years. They are among the savviest authors I know and both have enjoyed considerable success and critical acclaim with their thrillers (Rob’s novel KISS HER GOODBYE was even adapted as a pilot for CBS starring Dylan Walsh). Now they have ventured into self-publishing, on their own and in joint ventures, and they are both doing extraordinarily well. They have a new co-authored book out (POE) and two new individual titles (NEGLIGENCE by Rob and THE ENRAGED by Brett), so I thought this was the perfect time to catch up with them.
Brett, you are perhaps best known for your QUINN series. Were you worried about your Quinn fans finding your new, self-published books after you left your publisher?
B: Honestly, I was more worried about ANYONE finding my new books. I jumped in to this area 2 1/2 years ago, and while there were success stories then, I had no idea if it would even work or, if it did, last. I didn’t start of putting out new Quinn novels though. Started with some other, new series I’d been working on, and a couple Quinn short stories. About five months into it, I did put out my Quinn prequel novel, BECOMING QUINN, which really took off and told me the fans were still there.
How has your life changed since you made the move? How has it impacted the Quinn series?
B: I’m my own boss now, and I prefer that! I actually am a tougher boss than my old publisher as I demand many more finished novels a year than they did. I’ve always been a fast writer, even when I was traditionally published. It’s just then I ended up having a lot of down time because they only wanted one book a year. Now, I write at least four novels a year, and even try to squeeze in a short or two, or even a novella. In other words, I don’t allow myself to just sit around. My business is writing. If I were in construction or clothing or financial advice or whatever I’d be working everyday, so I feel I should be doing that with writing. So that kind of answers your second part. Instead of One Quinn novel a year, in the past 18 months I’ve release 3. More satisfying for the fans as they don’t have to wait as long.
Robert, you have been friends with Brett for years. I hear he had to drag you kicking and screaming into self-publishing.
R: Ah, yes. When most of my friends were jumping into self-publishing, I had just finished a book for Penguin that was due to come out in hardcover. Plus, I was writing books under a pen name for a traditional publisher. So I was very much part of the “establishment” at the time. I had high hopes for the hardcover, but that was around the time ebooks were having a huge surge in popularity and hardcovers were dying, so the writing was pretty much on the wall. I saw all the success that Brett and others were having with their self-pubbed work and after the hardcover didn’t sell as well as I hoped (no surprise), I decided it was time to take the leap.
You had a huge hit with TRIAL JUNKIES. That must have been a stunning, and very welcome, surprise. What was the secret to the successful launch (so we can all steal it for ourselves, ofcourse)?
R: Yeah, that came completely out of left field. I had been told that self-publishing is slow going at first, that you have to give it time to build your audience, that not all of your “traditional” readers will embrace the technology, so to see TRIAL JUNKIES suddenly take off right out of the gate was a pretty amazing experience. Two weeks after it was out I had already sold 20,000 copies and it was still going strong. A month later, it was STILL going strong. Now, a year later, it just hit the Amazon Top 50 and went to #1 in Legal Thrillers again. It’s the book that won’t quit.
As for the secret, there really isn’t one. A week after it was published, I did a three-day free promo, got 46,000 downloads and the bounce when it went back to paid was incredible.
You mentioned that TRIAL JUNKIES benefited from the post-free bounce. Do the free promos still have the same mojo? From what I can tell, they don’t.
At the time TRIAL JUNKIES was released, I was told that the free promos didn’t work as well as they once did, but it worked wonderfully for that book. But a year later, I think some of the luster has definitely worn off. I recently did a 99 cent promo for TRIAL JUNKIES that helped put it back in the Top 50, but as of this writing, I’m not sure what kind of post-sale bounce it will get, or how it will effect the sequel, NEGLIGENCE.
I’ve been sticking with KDP Select largely because of the Prime library borrows, which bring me more income than Barnes & Noble or Kobo ever did. I think, however, that we may be getting to the point where we’ll have to be shelling out a little more money for advertising on newsletters like Bookbub, which seem to be very effective.
You were leery about self-publishing, Rob…but now you’re into it in a big way. You’re even designing your own covers. What made you decide to take such a hands-on approach? And do you enjoy it?
R: Actually, self-publishing was made for someone like me. My pre-author work involved video production and design, so it was only natural for me to utilize those skills. I really enjoy doing covers—I’ve done several for other authors as well—because it’s a different outlet that lets me stretch a another set of creative muscles.
You have both collaborated on a new, original, self-published ebook called POE… how did that come about? And what was it like working together?
R: For me it was largely painless. I had come up with the idea for POE several years earlier, but had never gotten around to doing anything other than a short synopsis and a couple chapters. I had pitched the idea to Brett at the time and he always loved it, so when we decided to write something together, he suggested POE and I thought why not? But I was in the middle of another book at the time, so he was the one who sat down and fleshed the idea out, wrote an outline we agreed on, then hammered out the first draft. I came in and did a rewrite, then Brett did the final polish. We spent a lot of time on the phone discussing various scenes and character motivations, but we never had any real disagreements. We also found that our writing styles meshed quite well.
B: What Rob said. Painless and fun! Can’t wait until the next one’s underway.
How has the book performed? Will there be sequels?
R: I’m happy to say that the book has been performing well despite little publicity. I’ll be launching into the first draft of the sequel sometime this month.
It seems you both followed up POE almost immediately with new, self-published ebooks. Was that always the master plan behind the timing of the release of POE? Was it intended as a “gateway drug” for draw your audiences to one another’s work?
R: Is there supposed to be a master plan? The collaboration was certainly designed to draw in readers from each other’s camp, but the new books were already planned even before we decided to write POE. Brett puts out several books a year and my own personal plan is to catch up to him at some point.
B: No master plan. Just put out the books when they’re ready.
Are there more collaborations on tap?
R: Well, there’s the new POE, which should be out in time for Christmas, and there’s another idea of mine we’ve considered working on called LINGER, but finding time to get it fleshed out and written is a problem with our busy schedules.
B: LINGER is going to be great when we finally get to it! Can’t wait.
Tell us more about your new books.
B: My latest is Quinn #7, called THE ENRAGED. It picks right up where the last book, THE COLLECTED, left off. There was a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of that. In THE ENRAGED, Quinn sets out to deal with those responsible for what happened in THE COLLECTED. It’s rocket fast, exciting, and, hopefully, utterly satisfying.
R: My book NEGLIGENCE is a sequel to TRIAL JUNKIES. Hutch and his old college friends—who spend a lot of time watching trials at a Chicago courthouse—find themselves embroiled in a case involving the murder of a school girl that leads them to an exclusive preparatory academy that could very well be housing a killer. It’s got a few shocks for fans of TRIAL JUNKIES, but I think they’ll be pleased.
In my “The Mail I Get” posts, I’ve shared dozens of examples of the lame pitches I’ve received from inept publicists and clueless authors about their books. Well, now I thought it was time to show you an example of how it’s done right. Here’s an excerpt of a very effective pitch that I got from a publicist today:
My name is Anna Ryan, and I’m representing a uniquely clever, and altogether fun, forensic medical mystery entitled, Lousiana Fever, written by forensic medical expert, DJ Donaldson. Louisiana Fever is the latest in the Andrew Broussard mysteries. […]Donaldson is known for his medical expertise, and his meticulous attention to scientific detail within his stories. But he’s also known for his colorful characters too. What I particularly love is how the protagonist–medical examiner Andrew Broussard–is not only an amazing forensic detective, but is decidedly obese and unabashedly loves food (almost as much as I do!) The interplay between him and his gorgeous counterpart, Kit Franklyn, make for a really fast-paced and uniquely clever mystery plot. Add in the sumptuous New Orleans, LA backdrop and you have a really enjoyable read…
The pitch not only conveys what is unique and interesting about the book and its author, but its shrewdly written in a chatty, personal way that makes it seem less like a press release and more like a recommendation from a friend. The accompanying press release included a blurb from Tess Gerritsen and an punchy lead:
Andy Broussard, the “Plump and Proud” New Orleans medical examiner, obviously loves food. Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, Broussard forms a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo.
My friend Jude Hardin’s highly acclaimed Nicholas Colt mystery novels have followed an unusual publishing path. In this informative guest post, Jude talks candidly about that journey and the hard lessons he’s learned, culminating with the self-publication this month of his latest novel in the series, COLT (and be sure to check out his fantastic DEAD MAN tale, FIRE & ICE).
In the spring of 2011, when my debut thriller POCKET-47 received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I figured I was on my way. Suddenly, I was getting inquiries from a variety of big-name industry professionals who were interested in my book and my future.
I was a published author, and I was getting noticed. After years of trying to break into the business, these were two of the best things a writer could ask for!
But, with a hardcover print run of 3000 copies, and a $9.99 price tag on the ebook version, it quickly became apparent that the book wasn’t going to take off as well as it should have. The distribution just wasn’t adequate; there was no co-op placement in bookstores, and there weren’t a lot of readers willing to shell out ten bucks for an ebook by an unknown author.
That PW review did help me land a top New York agent, though, so I had high hopes for the second book in the Nicholas Colt series. My agent and I discussed strategies to move forward, and we decided Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint might be the best way to go. Ebooks were quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and Amazon’s promotion of them was second to none.
So we submitted the manuscript.
It sparked the editors’ interest, and I ended up signing a four-book deal with an option on a fifth. CROSSCUT was scheduled to be released June 2012, and SNUFF TAG 9 the following November. With Amazon’s backing, I thought these and subsequent titles would sell well enough to allow me to write full time. Once again, I was on my way.
Once again, good things!
Unfortunately, even with solid promotional efforts from Amazon, the sales of my Nicholas Colt titles have been lackluster so far. The books have earned out their advances, but they haven’t sold well enough for T&M or other publishers to offer the kinds of publishing deals I’m interested in. KEY DEATH comes out later this month, and I’m hoping things will pick up when it does.
But of course I’ve learned that there are no guarantees…
So, in an effort to give the series an extra shot in the arm (and with all of my contract obligations to Thomas and Mercer fulfilled) I have decided, for the first time, to self-publish a novel.
COLT went on sale May 30. It’s a prequel to the series, the events taking place three years before those in POCKET-47. Here’s the story:
October 21: just an ordinary day, unless you’re a former rock star…
The sole survivor of a plane crash…
A private investigator working out of a camper..
For Nicholas Colt, October 21 is an unlucky day. A day for nightmares. It always has been, and this year is no exception.
Someone is brutally murdering the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and Colt’s missing client is next on the list. With less than four days to find the young man—and, with a pair of drug-addicted study partners, a violent motorcycle gang, a stalker ex-girlfriend, and a host of other obstacles standing in his way—Colt faces the most challenging and deadly case of his life.
By self-publishing, I have control of the price, and I can participate in free giveaways and other promotional tools like BookBub. I have another completed novel that falls on the other side of the Nicholas Colt timeline, and I’m planning to self-publish that one early 2014.
Does this mean that I’m finished with publishers altogether? Not at all. It just means that writers have more viable choices now than ever before.
And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.
You don’t get many do-overs in life, but my good friend Phoef Sutton, the insanely talented, Emmy-award winning writer, got the chance with his new novel Fifteen Minutes to Live. And it’s fitting, since the book is also about revisiting the past. But I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll let Phoef tell it…
I started writing as teen-ager. Short stories. I still have hundreds of rejection slips from PLAYBOY and ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ELLERY QUEEN. I took each one as a badge of honor. I knew that one day I’d get accepted…
Well, that day never came. I started writing plays in college because I knew I could put them on – they’d have that much life anyway. This proved an invaluable experience for what came to be my chosen profession. Writing stuff that makes people laugh.
I loved TV as a kid. Who doesn’t? I can still recite episodes of the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and GET SMART by heart. But I never thought my career would go in that direction. I always wanted to write horror stories and thrillers. Richard Matheson was my idol. And Cornell Woolrich and Robert Bloch. I knew who Carl Reiner and Jim Brooks and David Lloyd were, of course. But I never saw myself following in their footsteps.
But fate had plans for me. I ended up writing for CHEERS, sitting next to David Lloyd and learning from the masters. I guess writing for what TV Guide just named one of the best written shows in TV history is something to be proud of. But I still had that nagging desire to see my name in print.
When I read Oliver Sacks’ THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT and started putting myself in the place of its oddly brain damaged heroes I knew I had a way in to that novel I always wanted it write. It just flowed out of me, unbidden, like a dream.
Writing in complete sentences after a career of writing stage directions was not so easy. But the joy of being able to get inside characters’ heads and tell what they’re thinking and feeling was heaven.
So I wrote FIFTEEN MINUTES TO LIVE, then called ALWAYS SIX O’CLOCK. Imagined that, in the book world, the writer was king and what he says is Gospel. I didn’t know about editors and notes. I made the mistake of selling it to a publisher who wanted to turn it from a noir-ish, Cornell Woolrich-style nightmare into a straight romance. And I agreed. The end result pleased nobody and sank without a trace.
With the advent of electronic publishing, I now have the chance to present the book as I originally intended. People seem to be responding to it the way I hoped they would years ago. It’s very gratifying. Almost like getting one of my stories accepted by ELLERY QUEEN would have been to my high-school self!