Saturday, July 15, 2006

Big Myths that Unsuccessful (i.e. Stupid) Publishers Believe

Because I have been writing this column for the past nine years and because (for some dumb reason) about 7000 people in the industry seem to read it and like it (not my numbers... provided to me by so-called net marketing experts who have crystal balls to extrapolate these figures... I think they are full of crap... I don't believe more the 80 people on the planet reads my ramblings... and each one sends me a letter once a week!) I get asked by lots of people, not so much for advice, but to confirm what they already believe to be true.

Let me tell you this. I'm not so much concerned (or afraid) of what people don't know. People can learn. What scares the hell out of me are the ideas people steadfastly and absolutely in their hearts believe to be true... that are absolutely wrong!

Here are what I call the 'BIG MYTHS' of small publishing.

1. Covers and Design Don't Count - Take me to the small press section of any book show (including BEA) and I can point out every cover that was designed by either the author/publisher, or by a designer who had never done a book cover before. Publishers don't understand that covers are part of packaging which is part of marketing. They buy the myth that "you can't tell a book by its cover." What they fail to realize is that they WILL sell a book by its cover. So instead of paying someone like Mayapriya Long at Bookwrights Design or some other experienced book designer $3K to get a professional job, they do the inside design themselves and hire their nephew or sister-in-law who just finished a Photoshop or Pagemaker course at Podunk Community College to do their book. And they get something with clip art on a pink and green background as a cover and an inside looking like a college freshman's first term paper. On this "platform" they are going to spend another $10K on printing. And they wonder why their books are rejected by every buyer of every wholesaler, distributor, and retailer on the planet. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

2. I Love the Subject - Unsuccessful publishers suffer from the most acute case of myopic, egocentric, provincialism that I've ever seen. They print what they want. Well, that's fine... if they want to lose their shirts and go tits up. They think that because their subject or philosophy is important to them, that there are 5,000 others who just can't wait to snap up their printed ramblings. Every retired doctor seems to think that "they" have a story. Every ex-political hack think that they have the solution for the next utopian society. And maybe there are stories and solutions here. But WHO CARES? I'll tell you the answer. NO ONE! Do these publishers ever bother to pay a few non-friends and non-relatives a $20 reading fee and ask whether or not the book might have any market appeal (to say nothing about if the book is any good in the first place.) I'm telling you, there is more crap, junk, and nonsense published and as you might have guessed, most of it fails in the market place and becomes recycled into egg cartons and grocery bags.

3. The Media Can't Wait for My Story - Unsuccessful publishers have bought into the myth that getting publicity for their titles is easy. I mean, look at all the space, time, and electrons the media has to fill each day. Surely they will want to print press stuff about the titles these publishers kill trees for. What idiot publishers don't understand is that the media does not give a flying rats ass about books, events, news, or anything else. The only criteria the mass media applies to any story is "will it grab ears and eyeballs SO we can package it with more advertising." Stupid publishers wait and wait and wait for "their" story to come out... and of course it never does. And there is a reason...

4. My Press Release is Terrific - Unsuccessful publishers don't know the first thing about writing media copy, but they THINK they do. They believe the myth that who, where, why, etc. is all that is necessary. That's what was taught them in all the media-writing books they read and they believe it. Idiot publishers don't understand that people like Paul Krupin and other professional copywriters know the one single golden rule of media.. and how to apply it. The rule is simple. Every editor who looks at copy asks two questions. "Why me? Why now?" If those questions are answered in the editor's head, the ink will flow. But what happens to the press releases of so many stupid publishers? More grocery bags and egg cartons.

5. My Distributor Is Really Going to Work For Me - A great and happy day in the life of a naive, stupid publisher is the day they get the letter accepting their title into a distributor's "program." They read on and on about all the wonderful things the distributor is going to do for their title and they mentally make a down payment on that new Lexus. Unsuccessful publishers rely on their distributor for their ship to come in... and most often such publishers end up going down with it. Most distributors have hundreds and hundreds of publishers and maybe a thousand or so titles. And it cost them almost nothing (some of them make money) on taking a new publishers/title. And what they do is simple. They throw a tiny amount of money at the title, maybe a press release, or a larger mention in a catalog. If there is any ripple in the marketplace, they then go whole-hog on that title and neglect most of their others. If that title is yours, great. But if it isn't (and most often it won't be) you are going to end up buying the myth of the distributor "making it happen for you."

6. Sales and Volume Myth - Unsuccessful publishers believe that they can lose money on every sale but make it up in volume. Idiot publishers have no idea on how to determine a unit price so that they won't lose money on it. They see that Random House has a similar book on the subject for $10.95 so that's the price point selected. But Random gets better deals from their printer (and they are owned by a printer!) than you will ever get, I don't care if you offer your first born, your antique Ford Mustang, or your body! Most unsuccessful publishers take the first step to failure when the decide the price point of their title. (And most publishers don't take very good care of their bodies either!)

7. It's On My Desk Somewhere - Once a publisher gets past the newbie stage and are selling more than 1000 copies a year, there comes a need for an organized approach to running the business. There is no quicker way to fail then to try to run a growing business with the wrong tools. You can't do it with Excel and Word. Every publisher I've ever met who ended up dancing the Chapter 13 tango had a "going" operation, but just could not keep up with orders, returns, and most importantly, had no idea of what their cash flow was... until they realized that their large customers owed them big bucks... yet they had to pay their creditors (like printers, publicists, etc.). And they didn't even have a method to determine which customer owed them what, so had no idea on even who to send a late notice (or lawyer letter) to. There are lots of software packages out there (like JAYA123 ($15/mo), Publishers Assistant $500) , Acumen ($10,000), Cats ($7,000), Merlin $500)) that could have prevented many failures. But so many publishers believe "I don't need good software to run my business." You can bet that the bankruptcy court will use "good software" to dissolve it!

8. I Can Do It On One Book - This has got to be the biggest myth ever perpetrated on the newbie publisher community. You see this repeated over and over in the many (otherwise well done) how-to-publish books on the market. Sure there are one-book success stores. Lots of them. One of my JAYA123 customers published a (rather graphic) sex book. They have made a pile of money on this book And everyone knows about Bear Kamoroff and his "Small-Time Operator" book. But that's the myth. The reality is that for every one-booker that makes it, there are 100 other one-bookers that go deep six. I have spent years ranting and railing against PMA on all sorts of issues. But there is one thing that Jan Nathan and company have right.. and have always had right. She (they) tell everyone that you can't make it on one book. The key to success in this business is a back-list of books that sell several thousand (or even hundred) copies year after year after year. When I ask a publisher who has just come out with their first book, "Congratulations, now what is the next one going to be on?" and when I get a blank stare, I know I'm looking at a failure.

9. This Is An Easy Business - Man, Oh Manischewitz (April was a good month!) do I hear this a lot. Publishing is the hardest "easy" business you can get into. And if you do it "wrong" all you have done is that you have "bought" yourself a job.... and you would do much better to go out and get a real one. Those who make it in this business work hard at it. My perscription has always been to do 5 marketing things a day for each title you are selling.... media, phone calls, letters, e-mail, articles, press material, etc. Five a day for 300 days and you've done 1500 "things." Some of them will work and if your products are good and you catch a bit of luck, you can make a good living. But if you are lazy, fergetaboutit.

If you want to play in the publishing game (a little plug for Fern R.) you need to know which rules to follow and which myths to ignore. Don't take my word for it. Ask some of the experienced publishers that you get to know. You can find them on the Pub-Forum list (see for sign-up info) where they will be glad to answer your questions. They will tell you the same thing.... believe half of what you see and none of what you hear... unless it comes from me ;-)

Al Canton
Adams-Blake Company, Inc.
http://www.adams-blake com

Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Returns, Lists, and Why We Do What We Do!

[Note: much of this Rant is about the Pub-Forum listserv. You can join (free) or get info about Pub-Forum here.]

It's been almost ten years since I received a return on a book. That's because we don't sell to the trade through Ingram or B&T. We don't accept returns... which is why we don't get them!!

So I've really forgotten the feeling of what it's like to get a couple of cartons of books back. For those who have been there, it's not the "fun part" of publishing. It's a sinking, depressing feeling.

In my consulting business, I've never lost or been canned by a client (although I once quit one company when I couldn't get along with one of the VPs).

Well, today I lost my first Jaya123 victim. She'd only been on the system for three weeks and decided it was too expensive and that it didn't meet her needs and decided to get Quickbooks. In the 3 years that Jaya123 has been going, not one person had left.

That old "returns" feeling came right back to me in a flash. Depressing as hell. But it got me to thinking (an activity I've not had much time for the past several weeks due to an ill wife... [has anyone noticed the absence of the Saturday Rant since the 2006 BEA Diary?])

Being in business is hard... and oftentimes it is lonely. Pub-Forum (P-F) helps to fill a void for many. I know a lot of folks hate the OT posts but I NOW think that they are needed, if for nothing else, to help us all be part of a community. I used to rant otherwise (as the Harry Pariser keeps reminding us) but I've come full-circle.

On the Self-Publishing (S-P) list, Marion and John and JC enforce an On Topic rule with ruthless fervor, and they frown on any humor, or feeling." It's a "biz-only" list. It's a cold house there, but lots of people like it cold. The list is three-times as large as P-F.

P-F is different. Maybe not better, but different. You're' "part of something" here. Sometimes that "something" is not what you want to be a part of... but that's how families go sometimes! (What a horribly constructed sentence!)

The big difference between P-F and the other lists is that here people really care. Yes, they get on their soap box and preach their brand of politics or religion because they really WANT YOU to join them. Harry really WANTS you to join his cause. Feel free to do so... although I'd like to know if Harry is ever FOR something instead of being AGAINST everything!. On the other lists, no one really gives a damn about anyone else. It's all business, all the time.

But more than that, I'll tell you one huge difference between the cold, gray, "on-topic only" S-P list and the sometimes "white hot" P-F list is that if someone you know dies, or if you're sick, or something bad happens, you're going to get flowers, cards, good wishes, phone calls, emails, and one hell of a lot of personal support. When my dad died a few months ago I got a beautiful set of potted herbs from V3 in the name of P-F. (I doubt Harry contributed to it... but the gift touched my heart nonetheless.)

So yes, P-F may not be the "best" list to discuss publishing issues. But I think it's the best list for a publisher to be on. There is a lot more to being in this business than black and white "publishing" issues.

You could not write this lament-of-a-post on Gundry's list and have anyone really care, and you could not write it on S-P at all. And I'm positive that guys like G. Heard and Mr. Pariser would rather not see posts like this here... but they don't run the place (much to their lament, I'm sure.)

I read the posts of people like Pam who came out of the ether to stand up against the Pariser diatribes of this week... but you don't see too many like her. You just have to LOVE Pam. And Marion as well... who had the guts to tell Harry to "deal with it." Even the mild-mannered Maya came out to set the record straight. You just know that all these folks are on Harry's hate-list... although there is no doubt that my name heads the list... a badge of honor I wear with great pride! I think people are afraid to get in the cross-hairs of Harrys rifle... and I don't blame them. He is a dead-on shot... and has no mercy.

But protest Harry is something people need to do. This list was founded on the principle that it would be a self administering list with the list-moms guarding the gates from spam and taking care of technical issues. So I hope that people WILL speak up when others (or myself) go "too far." The "system" has almost worked... but we still see that Parisar can hijack this list.

The majority should rise up and say to the neo-pols (i.e. Pariser) on the list "we've had enough, shut the fuck up Harry, ...STFUH." Maybe we should make STFUH a Pub-Forum "cultural icon" to be used whenever someone goes off the deep end, as Harry does almost every day. (Any of you remember the term "folfs" from years and years ago? It too became a cultural icon... but for humor.)

Of course I get accused of being the cause that people leave P-F. It might be true. But I think Harry has caused far more people to leave after he has beaten the hell out of them with his mean-spirited, indictive postings. But that's OK.

Huh, you say?

Unlike others, I don't mind people leaving P-F. It's not for everyone. And while I applaud the people (most of whom I've never seen post before) for standing up, I caution that we don't want to go to an extreme. We don't need to be S-P. S-P is already there, as is the Gundry list and Bob Goodman's "civil" list.

Harry is here and will stay here. And Mr. Kubica is a newcomer in Harry's tradition.... or maybe MY tradition. And we still have G. Heard to harass us. So be it. Maybe it's all good. Or maybe we need to just post: STFUH !!! I'm not sure... but I know that people need to stop being afraid of Harry and if they disagree with him they should stand up and say so. To allow one person to hijack this list is simply absurd. We're publishers. We KNOW how to be PUBLIC with our concerns... and so WE SHOULD with Harry, with me, with Heard and with anyone else. This is what this list was founded upon.

We are what we are, we will continue to evolve, change, and progress. And we're one thing that the other lists are not. We're a community, a family if you will, that is struggling to survive in a very difficult and constantly changing business climate.

I believe that those who have risen to the level of experience that P-F attracts from, are the survivors, the tough ones, the few who really know the oft-quoted thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

I look at the newbies on the S-P list and I wonder how many of them will survive to where a list like P-F attracts them? I used to wonder what makes "us" out of all of the "thems". I used to wonder what it really takes to survive in business.

After all these years, I've learned the answer.

The answer is one word. Dedication. You simply have to want to be here, in this industry, more than any other you could be in. If you can meet that challenge, and you can hold out long enough, I believe success will arrive. Look at Pam S. She's the prototype you all want to follow... because she's done everything right... and is now making good money (sorry Harry that she is Christian... and a capitalist... just another bad day for a communist like you, I guess.)

It's not today's returns, but tomorrows new titles that are important. We must always keep our eye on that prize (just as Pam does). We need to strive for innovation and understand trends. We not only serve the public, we also lead it. Indeed, we are the keepers of the culture.

We are important.

We have purpose.

We are needed.

It's a hard industry, a hard business. We work long hours, we do our best, we get tired, we take large risks, and some days are diamonds and others are rust. But through it all we trudge on, in the firm belief that the journey is the reward.

And today, after losing a Jaya123 client, I feel as if I know a lot of you just a little bit better.

Al Canton
Adams-Blake Company, Inc.
http://www.adams-blake com

Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.