Publicity Responsibilities versus Author Payment

An interesting article appeared in the January 2010 issue of The Writer. Author M.J. Rose suggested that book authors should be compensated for publicity duties. Since the marketing effort is no longer born by the publisher, revenues should be more equitably split.

Read what the WinRs have to say and then let us know what you think!

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Jacqueline Vick self-published her children’s book, Logical Larry. She has several mystery manuscripts making the rounds.

I hadn’t really considered this issue before, assuming that advances were destined to be spent on marketing, but Ms. Rose’s comments made me wonder if I’d been going with an outdated assumption.

Her two suggestions in the article were to allow authors to subtract marketing expenses from their book advance so they could collect royalties sooner and to give athors a highter royalty rate.

I’m a big fan of “buy in”, and if authors saw a benefit to spending those hard earned dollars on marketing (other than possible increased sales) then more authors might be effective at selling more books–a benefit to publishers.

Why not a tiered royalty system to give writers something to work for? This system has been used to incentify sales people for decades.

Would this system keep publishers from purchasing as many manuscripts? I don’t see why. There would be more opportunities to earn revenue.

That being said, publishers are in control unless an author self-publishes. If the current business plan says that authors have to cover publicity costs out of their own pocket, then those serious about a writing career will do it.  I think that’s what defines a successful person–she jumps in and does the stuff that most people complain about and avoid.

Another interesting note from the WD article (paraphrased): If you run into a musician and they’ve hired a studio and musicians and put together their own CD, you don’t automatically thinks it’s sub-par, that if it was good, he’d have signed with a label. Why is it that we assume self-published books are “unworthy?

Some of my favorite books and CD’s have been put together by the artist. I’m smart enough to flip through a book to see if I like the writing style before I buy it, and I’ve bought plenty of traditionally published books that I’ve hated. I’d rather run into a grammar error in a fabulous story than have a perfectly edited book that’s a stinker. I also don’t sneer at hand-crafted goods that aren’t mass produced and sold at department stores. I actually hold them in higher esteem.

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Jackie Houchin is a photojournalist and a book and theater critic. She has written several manuscripts, so she can give us the perspective of one who isn’t actively seeking publication but may do it in the future.

If I ever did anything with the kids’ stories (or the women’s novel) I wrote, I would DEFINITELY self publish, no if’s, and’s, or but’s, about it. That way, I would not have to deal with sharing any of my advance with the publisher over marketing strategies and profits. (Of course, I wouldn’t be getting any advance – ha-ha). Instead, I’d be able to decide just how much effort I wanted to put into the project. I definitely wouldn’t be doing it “for the money”.

Since being in the SinC and MWA organizations, I’ve heard countless authors bemoan the facts of publication:

—that it is very hard to get an agent or publisher even interested in your work…

—that it takes years to publication even after one agrees to look at your work…

—that you don’t get any money to speak of…

—that you are supposed to market yourself or at least come to them with a huge “platform” so they don’t have to do much but reap the benefits…

—that you may not get a contract for another book…

—that you may be dropped if you don’t sell as much as they like…

—that your publisher may go out of business.

It makes me wonder why anyone would want try to break into the fiction industry right now.

All this sounds depressing, I know, but that’s the reason I would go FIRST to a self publishing and/or POD method.

Of course another factor for me might also be that I’ve always worked for myself (in photography and reviewing) and could pretty well set my own parameters. 
As for your original questions, I don’t think authors have much say in what publishers do at this point. They may feel a larger advance is warranted or that they should be able to deduct marketing expenses from their advances – but that is really up to the publishers. I do feel that marketing should be a tax-deductible item…but, isn’t it already for the serious writer?

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Bonnie Schroeder has finished her first novel manuscript and is shopping it to agents.

First off, from everything I’ve read and heard, nobody earns a living off their books – except for a lucky handful of writers. My biggest gripe is the lack of attention given to new authors, but the reading public has to share the blame. Few people seem willing to invest their time and money in an unknown author not sanctioned by Oprah. Publishers make their money off superstars like King and Evanovich, and it appears from the sidelines like these writers don’t even need much marketing beyond an announcement of their next new blockbuster. It doesn’t seem fair (the “F word” in business) that these writers get free publicity that they don’t even need.

So, if I did get past all the gatekeepers and obstacles and finally sold a book and then if had to pay for my own marketing and publicity, my first question would be, what the heck is the publisher even doing for me besides (maybe) strong-arming the local Barnes & Noble into stocking a few copies of my book? I’m still looking for an answer.

However, since I guess I understand the realities of the marketplace, and since I’ve chosen to play this little game, I’d swallow my resentment and do whatever I could afford to do, to show the world what a great book I’ve written. It would then make sense that if I do a good job and work up enough interest to generate sales, that after a certain threshold (and I have NO IDEA what that would be), I’d get reimbursed for my expenses and that the publicity for the second/ third, etc. book would be covered by the publisher.

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GB Pool is the author of several short stories which have appeared in Anthologies and penned the novel Media Justice.

The End of the Buggy Whip

Fair? Who said life was fair? Or for that matter, the publishing business.

Publishing came to America around 1800. Many famous publishing houses started back then. By the end of the 19th Century there were hundreds of publishers and a smattering of writers. The vast majority of Americans worked on farms or in factories with no time to write. Today there are five major publishers still in existence, most owned by foreign enterprises, with a smattering of small publishers picking up the slack. Farms have mechanized, factories have moved to China, but now there are thousands and thousands of writers.

What used to be a hard back book business changed into a paperback and trade paperback enterprise. It’s cheaper to make those paperbacks. Then came discount stores and Amazon. Now there is Kindle and the other downloadable reading devices that don’t require paper at all. And don’t forget the self-published author. Even the few name publishing companies provide POD (print-on-demand) books.

As the changes in the publishing business hit, the revenues shifted. No longer are people buying those expensive hard cover books. The trade paperback sometimes comes out six months after the hard cover version. And the downloadable book will soon follow.

As the revenue shifted, so did the perks. Editors disappeared. Book tours and publishing house publicity vanished. (They got rid of the buggy whip, too. Want to go back to the horse and buggy?)

Publishers aren’t making the money they used to, even with the outrageous cost of those hard cover books. Most of the old publishing companies don’t exist. If you are lucky enough to get one to publish your book, show them you will go all out to help sell that book of yours. Your effort will not only help to sell more books, but your publisher will see you as a go-getter and they might be more eager to take on your second book.

With the tremendous number of would-be writers clamoring for their books to get noticed and eventually be published, it will be the writer with the skill and nerve to face those audiences and sell their book themselves who will succeed.

Welcome to the new normal.

An Interview with GB Pool

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool has one published book, Media Justice, and several short stories in anthologies, including  LAndmarked for Murder and Little Sisters Volume 1. The former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles, she is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. Her latest short story appears in the anthology, Dying in a Winter Wonderland, which was voted one of the Top Ten of Softcover Books as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) of 2008. Welcome Gayle!

With a background as a private investigator and a journalist, crime fiction seems a natural career choice for you. Do you use the experiences and skills you learned in your previous jobs to make your writing realistic?

Both previous jobs have given me insight that I probably wouldn’t have had. As a reporter, I learned that truth matters. In writing fiction, that means make sure you have the facts right. When you guess, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong. Sometimes you might not realize you are guessing, but when somebody says you goofed, you try to do better the next time. I do lots research.

As for the P.I. thing, I learned two things. One, cops will cut you some slack if you make a mistake. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. And second, I learned to blend in. An undercover agent lives his environment. That means you have to be a good actor and have a nimble imagination. In the year I worked as a private detective I never blew my cover.

You went the self-publishing route with your first novel, Media Justice. What did you learn from that experience?

Hire a professional editor to go over your work. No matter how good your Aunt Mabel is, unless she’s a professional editor, she won’t catch every mistake and she won’t know ways to make your book look like Random House published it. I hired a pro to edit and another one to lay out the format and do the cover. It looks professional.

Also, self-publish as a last resort. I wanted my book published so my mother could see something of mine in print. She helped with the cost of publishing and read the next to final draft. She passed away before the book came out, so I dedicated it to her. Bittersweet results.

But if you keep hitting that brick wall with agents and just want to see your own book in print, go ahead and do it, but know that you have to sell that book, too. And if you don’t know how to get distribution, or approach bookstores, or do a book tour, or write press releases, or get on local TV, or…. There is a great deal of work AFTER you write the book. Be prepared. Or better still, write another book and see if the agents like that one better.

Recently, you put the finishing touches on your latest Ginger Caulfield mystery and presented it to your agent. Can you tell us what the book is about?

Here’s the book jacket blurb for Hedge Bet.

Gin Caulfield figured a bullet wound in the back had ended her career as a private eye, but when she and her husband stumble across a murder at the racetrack, all bets are off.

The first victim, Deirdre Delvecchio, had a loveless marriage of convenience. In less than twenty-four hours, Dee’s philandering husband, Donald, has not only convinced Gin to help him prove his innocence, but he also drops an even larger problem in her lap.

Racine Ingram, a pricy interior designer, is the problem. She does her best work at night, alone, in multi-million dollar companies.

Another possible suspect is Phil Lester, a guy with a temper, who was seen talking with Dee right before she was killed. And Phil has a few more surprises for Gin.

Gin manages to get copies of Racine’s business files and finds bloody evidence that ties someone to the murders. Then the prime suspect is killed …and Gin has to start all over again.

Can she still hack it, or is it time to hang up her .38s for good?

Several of your short stories have been published in anthologies, the latest in Dying in a Winter Wonderland. You also teach a seminar on short story structure. Is writing a short story like writing a mini-novel? Does it take as much thought?

Writing a short story takes just as much thought. Part is to ask yourself what you should include, and part is convincing yourself that you have to leave something out. You may have fewer characters, locales, and sub-plots, but they have to be interesting, maybe even more exciting than in a novel because you have less space to describe them, so you make them memorable. You must get to the point faster and you exit a lot quicker, so every word really counts. Short story writing will certainly sharpen your skills as a writer, and you will probably use those skills in your novels to make them sharper.

Can you share one tip from your writing seminar for authors who are considering the short story form?

The perfect plot is simple, not complex. Aristotle said that in The Poetics.

But something I tell my students is to always ask yourself three things about each sentence and/or paragraph you write:

Does it advance the story?

Does it enhance the story?

Is it redundant?

 You have two protagonists–Ginger (Gin) Caulfield and Johnny Casino. How do you decide which character’s project to work on? Or do you work on multiple projects at the same time?

I always have a main project in the works and several other smaller projects going at the same time. I also work on my many miniature doll house projects, or other craft projects. The art work activates another portion of my brain that needs exercise every now and then. But I will certainly work on the one my agent is most interested in, even if I think the piece is finished.
 One thing that reader’s can expect from your writing is razor-sharp wit. Do you ever “soften the blow” in rewrites?
No, I do just the opposite. I punch it up even more in rewrites. My characters take over and I let they have their way with the dialogue.

Until recently, you were the Speaker’s Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/LA. You successfully built that program up over several years, putting on over seventy author panels and events. Could you share some tips with author groups looking to set up the same kind of events?

Work thy butt off. That is the only way you will get the name of your organization out in front of the public. This will also get other authors as well as yourself some valuable face time and help you all see what it takes to sell that book you just wrote, regularly published or self-published authors. Contact every library in your area and ask if they would like you to set up a panel or do a solo. Try senior centers and women’s clubs in the area. Even schools. Everybody loves to hear from real writers. Writers do what most people can’t do, so you are ahead of the game from the git-go. Make good contacts, spread your business card around, and remember to smile at everybody and talk to the audience. They are all potential customers.

 There are several Johnny Casino shorts available. Are you planning to compile them into a collection?

I have already put the first eight Johnny Casino short stories into a book called The Johnny Casino Casebook. They are in chronological order and you meet several characters a few times as different cases come up. My agent has the book in her hot little hands.

What’s next for GB Pool? A Johnny Casino novel, perhaps? Or a Gin Caulfield short?

I have the third Gin Caulfield book in outline and the first four chapters completed. I am also lengthening a novella about a young woman and what might be a ghost into a novel. It’s a romantic adult fairy tale.

Thanks Gayle!

"Veil of Lies" Review by GB Pool

Noblesse Oblige

Veil of Lies is a fourteenth Century tale told with Chandleresque pacing. Author Jeri Westerson centered her intriguing tale about former knight, Crispin Guest, who earns a meager living as a tracker (think private detective with a dagger). The story is replete with damsels in distress, court intrigue, holy relics, and a man’s honor.

The period detail is neither boring nor scholastic, with just enough pictures painted to set the stage for sword fights and dungeons and scurvy knaves. The dialogue is just contemporary enough to give you an occasional laugh, right before you hastily turn the page, because this is a page-turner.

Crispin Guest is hired by a merchant to follow his beautiful, young wife. The wife seems up to no good, then the husband is found murdered in a locked room in the fortress like home of the rich merchant. And the wife isn’t a highborn lady. She had been in service in the home before marrying the man.

Then the mystery of the veil comes to light. It’s a holy relic that seems to cast a spell over anyone in its presence, forcing them to tell the truth. But sometimes the truth can be a problem. Secrets abound. Truths are revealed. And Crispin Guest confronts his own prejudices.

A great tale, well told. The plot could have taken place in a 1930s Noir movie or in an episode of Magnum P.I. A good story is still a good story. This one just happens to have wonderful atmosphere and situations that only a former knight could experience.

Loved every page.