A Tale of Two Authors, Part 2

by Matilda Butler on January 29, 2010

catnav-book-business-active-3Post #22 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Today, I wrote Part 1 of this post for Helen Ginger’s blog called Straight from Hel. If you don’t know her blog, I urge you to not only go there to read A Tale of Two Authors – Part 1, but to regularly visit as she has informative posts with great writing advice and publishing news. It belongs on your list of favorites.

I was invited by Helen to write a post about the topic of Getting Published, the name of the panel she’s moderating at Story Circle Network’s Stories from the Heart Conference in Austin, February 5-7. Fellow panelists have appeared on her blog all week, and I’m sure you’ll find interesting ideas there.

This post continues a tale of two authors with the hope you’ll see what’s possible and what can happen. I’m not using their real names, although these are real stories.

Dreaming of dollarsTale #1: Watch out for the fish hook

Jackie wrote a great memoir. It didn’t even take her very long, unlike many of us who spend years writing our life story. Envy is the word that comes to mind. She’s a good writer, and the story flowed. Jackie then sent the manuscript to several agents and almost immediately signed with one. The agent assured her that she’d send it to five places with a deadline for their response, stating that this strategy meant the publishers would try to outbid each other. The author was assured that she’d get a five or possibly six figure advance. It would all happen quickly.

The expectations were now set. Think of a fish with a hook set in the mouth. That’s a painful thought, but not inappropriate. The deadline passed, and all the publishers declined to bid. “Don’t worry,” said the agent. “I know other publishers.” The author brought up the option of looking at small publishers, but the agent assured her that was not necessary. She’d find a big publisher that would provide a large advance and put marketing dollars into the book’s success. All would be fine.

With visions of dollars (and by now movie deals) dancing in her head, Jackie didn’t want to hear about possible problems. She started a website and soon had a following. She was invited to be a regular guest blogger on two popular websites. She was starting to build her platform. That was sure to attract one of the big publishers. But problems weren’t far away. Her agent, faced with the same economic downturn that has affected all of us, sent her a Dear Jane email. The agent said that she had to focus on her established clients whose manuscripts were regularly purchased by the large publishers. Now agentless and without a plan (or, more accurately, rejecting alternative plans), Jackie also found herself in a situation where she soon needed money to live. Her ex-husband lost his job and couldn’t make child support payments. She didn’t have a job and thought she could just hang on until she got her publishing contract and check.

To mix my metaphors, Jackie had put all her eggs in the big publisher/big advance basket. If she had shifted quickly to another strategy, such as a small publisher, she probably could have pulled it off. Instead, she still had that fish hook set in her mouth. She originally wanted and now desperately needed the advance. She currently has a new agent. To her credit she continues her blog and is growing her audience. She is a good writer and draws attention. With a different strategy, she could have had her book out a year ago. She could be generating revenue from it. Instead, she’s facing the prospect of taking her children and moving in with her mother. She may still come out of this okay. But she’s lost a lot of time and energy pursuing a path that just wasn’t that likely to lead to success, at least not the way she had defined it.

Understanding work Tale #2: It takes time and money but it can be done

Roberta had a slow start. She wrote her part-memoir/part-how-to book in less than a year. She hired a professional editor who asked for a lot of changes, which she made. Then she sought a small publisher and soon had a contract. There wasn’t an advance, but that wasn’t anticipated. She wanted to get her book out there and knew it would take a lot of marketing effort.

The publisher edited the manuscript again and found all the problems created by the first editor. This step took longer than anticipated, but the result was worth the wait. Roberta found out that not all editors are created equal. Soon, she had a website and began blogging and creating videos. Actually, she likes technology and learning new tools. She was almost immediately invited to be a regular guest blogger on a website with a large audience. It’s taken some time to learn how to link those readers back to her site, but she’s getting better.

She’s fortunate to have an existing base that will purchase her book and she is in the process of getting to those people. It’s taken her longer to make all the progress she’d like. But she sees that she has to pick the low-hanging fruit while building a bigger audience. She realizes her book has a long tail and intends to continue to create an audience. She’s working on new ideas that are outside the box of traditional book marketing.

She hasn’t become an overnight success. But she is making progress. She’s selling books everyday.

The Moral of Our Tale of Two Authors

Neither Jackie nor Roberta are bestselling authors. Both are learning as they go. However, Jackie doesn’t even have a book to sell through her popular website because of that fish hook that’s still caught in her mouth, even though the original fisher who set it is off pursuing bigger fish. Meanwhile, Roberta has a book and is experimenting with different approaches to selling and learning as she goes. Some days she may feel down, but she’s got a path to pursue to success.

After Thought

There’s a reason they call it news. If it happened all the time, you wouldn’t read about it. Most working people receive paychecks every two weeks. Quite a few people even get regular large paychecks. You don’t read about this. So if you hear of a six-figure book advance deal, that’s news, which means there aren’t many six-figure deals. If you hear of someone who took their blogs, made no changes, and sold them to a publisher as a book, that means not many people are doing this. If you hear of an author who sold the movie rights to her book, it means that not many authors get an offer of a movie deal. Having a successfully published (and sold) book, like most of life, requires consistent work and willingness to learn. Every author can do this. None of it is beyond what we can do. However, the right mental state and attitude are essential.

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