GETTING PUBLISHED…And Then What!
It’s not too difficult to come up with a subject, which you think would make a world-beating novel. Convinced that you can write a blockbuster, you throw yourself into the project, and quickly realize that sound research plays an important part of creating a good story.
Because most fiction is based on fact, I believe many readers like the factual part to be accurate. I know I do. Nothing is more irritating than reading a description of a location or an historical fact that you know is wrong. I tried to do the necessary research to make sure that my facts are right, however, always with the knowledge that I am writing a work of fiction. With the advent of the internet and in particular Google, research has become a lot simpler than it used to be.
In my recent novel, BEAR ANY BURDEN, I had immigrants arriving in Dundee, Scotland in 1892. I was easily able to access information on Dundee in that period, including maps of the street layout, active industries in the area, and even comments on traffic congestion from horse-drawn buses.
Since another of my main characters was a world-renowned nuclear physicist from Poland, and the action takes place in the 1980s during the height of the Cold War, I did my research and found a wealth of information on nuclear physicists, their work, and the scientific body called the Polish Academy of Sciences. Without getting too technical, I was able to inject many of these facts into my fiction.
When it came to writing about London, England, I had no difficulty since I am from that great City and was living there during the time period covered by my novel. However, writing about Krakow and Tarnow in Poland was another matter. I’d never been to Poland and knew very little about that country, since throughout my adult life, it was behind the Iron Curtain. But luckily, my cousin in London had produced an award-winning genealogical research, tracing our family back to Tarnow to 1760. He had a wealth of historical facts about the city, its citizens, and their lives throughout the centuries, and I was able to incorporate much of that information into my novel.
In addition to the research that I was able to access, I decided that I would feel more comfortable getting a feel of those cities if I went there. So, last summer my son and I made the trip. Krakow is a beautiful city with great historical significance, magnificent colorful buildings, churches, and the largest market square in Europe. Tarnow, some 45 km from Krakow, was a smaller version. A former walled city unharmed during WWII, with a pretty market square colorful houses with Venetian style balconies in some cases, all of which were painted in lovely pastel colors. The center of the town was very pedestrian friendly and I had no difficulty in identifying street names, which I was using in my book and making the necessary adjustments when I realized the distances were not quite what I had expected.
One of my other leading characters lived in Australia, another country that I had never visited. I based this character on someone who was a Polish immigrant who worked for me in London in the 1960s, having spent most of her childhood and teen years in Sydney, Australia. Again, I turned to Google and was able to access much information about life in Sydney in the 1950s, with maps, newspaper comments, and the politics at that time.
I believe blending fact with fiction always make a novel more interesting.
The writing experience is a series of highs and lows. Highs when your story is flowing smoothly, and lows when you experience deep anguish trying to come up with the words for that all important chapter. However, when you finally struggle through and complete your manuscript, you’re not at the end. You’re at the beginning. Writing the book is only half the battle. Getting it published is a bloody war.
My only previous experience was to write and have published my business book, CORONA: THE INSIDE STORY OF AMERICA’S #1 IMPORTED BEER. I wasn’t even a third of the way through this book when I approached an agent in Chicago and asked her whether she though it could be of interest to a publisher. She read what I’d produced so far and was very positive. I was totally amazed when, less than six weeks later, I had a major publisher willing to sign a contract and give me a healthy advance. Wow, I thought. This is pretty easy.
Getting my novel published however has been a whole different story. Although I had some leads to literary agents from my previous Publishers, positive responses were few and far between.
Following the instructions from all the “how to” books on getting published, I duly sent out my query letters, synopses, and even chapters where required. I soon learned that, “going out cold” to literary agents and publishers was indeed a long shot. From some of them, I got a quick “no”, postcard, or email response; from some of them a little bit more courtesy in rejection letters. After approximately 20 rejections, I decided that this wasn’t going to work and I needed to try personal connections.
I pushed hard for introductions and was able to meet some wonderful agents and publishers in New York. I duly followed up with my query letters, synopses, and bio, and waited hopefully. At least from these sources, I got polite rejections. Some of them were even somewhat encouraging – or were they?
One of my more interesting experiences in New York was to be introduced to a lady who was gushingly enthusiastic about my work. I took her out to a lavish lunch and we got on like a “house on fire.” We pledged our undying love and support for each other, and she assured me there would be no difficulty in placing my book with one of her publisher contacts. We swore we would keep in touch. I followed up with “thank you’s,” emails, and phone calls – all to no avail. Love apparently doesn’t run very deep in the publishing world. I never heard another word from her.
Finally, however, personal contacts did pay off, and I was introduced to my current publisher, who was enthusiastic and supportive about my manuscript; and, with the considerable help and guidance of his talented editor, I am now a published novelist. However, this is still only the beginning. The question now is, how to sell it?
In the United States, there are 800 new books published daily – that’s 4,000 books a week hitting the marketplace. How can they get sufficient attention to achieve sales success? The publishing industry has been facing declining profits for many years, as general readership has declined, and books compete with so many other forms of entertainment. Publishers naturally only want to publish what they consider to be sure-fire successes. Thus, they put their major effort and marketing support behind nationally or internationally known authors, and in those circumstances, will pay the necessary entry price for marketing, advertising, and that all important best-seller placement in a Barnes & Noble or Borders.
Of course all publishers are looking for new talent and potential winners, and so first-time authors do sometimes get a shot at success. Both publisher and author will have to make the commitment of time and money in order to achieve reasonable levels of sales and distribution. Of course, a review in the NEW YORK TIMES or a similar prestigious publication can be helpful. Reviewers however, who are swamped with hundreds of books a week, will only give their time and attention – first of all to well-known established authors – or perhaps new authors for whom the publisher has already got the required level of distribution and marketing buzz. In addition, publishers and authors have to find innovative ways to reach their audience.
I thus was interested to read the article in the Sunday NEW YORK TIMES Book Review about how the Web and online publicity is taking an ever larger share of authors’ promotions. Promotional websites started in 2002 and have rapidly expanded since then, and about 60% of today’s marketing by publishers and authors alike is done on the Web.
Over the past few years, publishing houses have encouraged their authors to create a robust online presence, and talented experts have created book-specific websites and videos for an increasing number of authors, who usually support these projects from their own pockets.
The creation of a Book website with attractive and continuous updated material can be a substantial addition to the marketing of a book. Some authors try to increase their chances of sales by including a book video modeled on a movie trailer. These have become increasingly popular since 2006, with the advent of YouTube and MySpace.
A recent survey found that 8% of book shoppers visited author websites in any given week. However, nobody seems to know how many of those visitors have clicked on to the “buy the book” link. Nevertheless as with all things “online,” there are plenty of companies trying to persuade those potential shoppers to buy.
To promote my novel, I have tried all of these avenues – the website, video, online publicity and blogging. In addition, I created what I hoped would be a unique and interesting promotion to help sales. Many of my readers commented on how they thought my book would make a good movie, and this led to the very enjoyable “game” of selecting actors and actresses to fit the parts. I decided to turn this into a Hollywood Casting Director Contest, where readers have been able to select their choices for the leading parts in a movie version of the book (I do have three producers looking at the project), and the winner selected last week will receive a free trip to Hollywood.
The publishing world not unexpectedly, has been slow to embrace these new forms of marketing, but they are all facing the same problem of declining sales and profitability. Thus authors, agents, and indeed some publishers now recognize that they have to try new ideas.
Since 85% of the cost of online promotions are being paid for by the authors, the publishers have little to lose. Of course most authors will add book tours, book signings, discussion groups, and other traditional forms of media promotion to the mix. You have to try everything to achieve success. I have followed some of the traditional marketing methods as well, book signings, book discussion groups, library talks, radio; and, shortly, an Author’s Weekend in Lexington, Kentucky. Spreading the word and boosting sales is not easy.
Whether the websites, videos, and other online activity help sell books, is an unknown quantity. But, speaking personally, I thought it was worth a try.
Spies, spying, and espionage will always have a devoted following and will probably intrigue us forever.
Goodman was born in England and moved to the United States in 1982. He was educated at Brighton College Sussex, and the Institute of Chartered
Accountants in England and Wales, and is the former Chairman and CEO of
a major US Beverage Alcohol producer, importer and distributor. Ellis M. Goodman is the author of a number of magazine articles on the
US Beverage Alcohol Industry, and the business book, Corona: The Inside
Story of America's #1 Imported Beer.He serves on a number of civil, educational, and cultural boards in Chicago;
and, in 1996, was invested as a Commander of the British Empire by HM
Majesty Queen Elizabeth for services to British exports. He and his wife,
Gillian, live in Glencoe, Illinois.