Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Facing Rejection

Author Karen McCullough posted such a wonderful take on handling rejection (on the blog of author Marilu Mann) that I thought I'd link to it for my blog advice today:

She's spelled it out very well.

I'm off to Book Expo America to see what's up and sign arcs of Immortals: The Redeeming. Take care,

Jennifer Ashley

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Brenda Novak's Charity Auction

Each year Brenda Novak raises thousands of dollars for juvenile diabetes research, and receives donations from hundreds of authors, editors, and agents.

This year I dontated a big tote bag of goodies. Included in my giveaway are signed books, tea and coffee, kitchen goodies, pens, jewelry bags and other fun stuff, all in a Jennifer Ashley / Allyson James totebag.

Click here to view the item and bid. You can click the around the site to find many, many more items to bid on while you're there, including agent or editor manuscript evaluations.

Bidding ends May 31.

Jennifer Ashley

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reflections of a 5.5 - year career

November 2002 marked the anniversary of my first ever publication, a romance novel called Perils of the Heart published by Leisure Books. I was on top of the world, and at the same time terrified. I thought I knew so much, but when the first book hit the shelves, I realized I knew so little.

I thought I'd share some of what I've learned since then, listed in no particular order:

1. Getting a book published is only a step. If you want to make a career of writing, you have to make plans, work hard, lose sleep, get indigestion, and keep going.

2. Authors have little or no control over the following:

  • Covers
  • Type size and layout inside the book
  • Back blurbs
  • Book size (hardback, trade, or mass market)
  • Print runs
  • Bookseller orders
  • Bookstore placement
  • Book reorders and restocking
  • Reviews
  • Sales

3. What made some of my books sell well:

  • Good cover
  • Catchy title
  • Catchy premise
  • Part of a series
  • Books published close together
  • Publisher marketing to booksellers
  • Popularity of previous books

4. What had little to do with book sales:

  • Reviews (good or bad)
  • Online rankings (Amazon; B&N)
  • Some of my own marketing efforts

5. It's hard to believe you can get published when NY just isn't buying, when bookstores report declining sales, when everyone around you says it can't be done unless you sleep with two agents, an editor, and a sales director. THEY'RE WRONG. Keep trying.

6. What's in your heart and what publishers are buying may not be the same thing. The trick is to combine the two. (If what's in your heart is what's selling, then you've saved a step.)

7. Bad reviews don't mean bad sales. What drove the reviewer nuts might be the exact element that readers glom like there's no tomorrow.

8. Good reviews and nice awards don't necessarily mean good sales, either.

9. Patience is a must!! Things will not always happen to your time-table. Keep a relative time-table, but learn to be flexible.

10. You're not always in the spotlight. When you are, enjoy it, bow graciously, move back to the wings, and plan your next foray into the spotlight.

11. An agent is essential to moving beyond small press. You can get into a few NY houses without one, but you need one to move beyond their midlist.

12. Agents do much more than sell your book to a publisher. They do a bazillion things you never thought of to keep you happily published, paid, and have a chance at that spotlight.

13. Writers can make gobs of money or they can make next to nothing. Just a year can make a big difference either way.

14. The key to success is persistence and consistency. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep writing, keep submitting.

15. The publishing world is "not fair." Other authors will get the things you want (more publicity, a better contract, more money--or they'll get published and you won't). Likewise, you will get things that other authors want. New authors can explode into bestsellerdom while authors who have worked patiently for ten years still haven't reached it. That is the way of things.

16. Other authors will become some of the best friends you will ever have.

17. You will pick up strange enemies who think that if they can shoot you down, you'll fail and they'll step into your shoes. Ha ha ha ha ha. It doesn't work that way. (See the "not fair" point).

18. Making a bestseller list is more about mathematics than about the book itself. You not only need a great book but 1. large print run; 2. terrific distribution; 3. quickly filled orders and re-orders; and 4. good placement in the stores (this is paid for by the publishers). If you have a great book and not the other four, it will not hit a bestseller list. (This does not mean that it will not sell well, because word of mouth is very powerful.)

19. Publishing is the most illogical, old-fashioned, uncontrollable business you can ever get into. Don't expect it to make sense.

20. Some of your books will sell better than others (or some will be published, and some won't). Learn to enjoy the surprise of a good seller, let go of those that disappoint you.

21. Pick your battles. You won't and can't win them all. Go for the most important ones and let the little things go. On the other hand, don't let too many little things add up into one big nightmare.

22. Be courteous to everyone, not just the people you think will make you rich and famous. Treat everyone like they might make you rich and famous. You never know! (And it's just good manners.)

23. If you hate what's selling like hotcakes, don't force yourself to write it. The trend won't last forever, and you'll be miserable. Remember that after you sell the first book, your editor will expect your next one to be in the same vein. Keep an eye on the market, but don't be a slave to it.

24. Don't wait for "permission" to write. Explore, enjoy, learn, hone your skills, revel in the art, write what you want to.

25. Enjoy writing!! Why on earth should you be an author if you hate it? I still love to write. I just came off of heavy deadline stress and had free time (wow). What did I do? Wrote! I still do it for my own entertainment--I've just found a way to make money at it.

Please feel free to add to this list! What have you learned since starting to write with an eye toward publication?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

All about Print Runs

I'm back!! The deadlines from hell are over!! (for now; they'll come back).

I've been pondering what to post on this blog, and many things have occurred to me such as:

Writer's Block
Thoughts on a five year career (which will be six-year by the time I get to this)
Print runs
Another rant about people who say there's no way you can get published in NY

So many topics, so little time.

I've decided I'll do this post on print runs, because it's a practial thing that every writer, sooner or later, needs to understand, plus I can write it in my sleep.

Even if you haven't been published yet, or think print runs/numbers are beyond your grasp, this is something you seriously need to know. (I'm talking about mass market, NY publishers in this post, btw.)

Once I understood print runs and percentages, my stress level went way down, because I can now predict how each of my books will do even before they hit the stands. No more biting my nails and glaring at the Amazon ranks wondering if I can lower them with the power of my eyeballs. (That doesn't work, btw.)

Oh, and I learned that Amazon rank is a piss-poor way of determining whether your sales are good or bad. B&N is a tiny bit better, but still not terrific. Those ranks are way off reality and don't reflect the percentage of your sellthrough, which is much more important. But I digress.

How print runs are determined:

Wait a minute, what on earth is a print run? you ask.

A print run, very simply, is the number of books the publisher prints of your novel right before it goes on sale.

More complicated:

Announced print run: Publishers "announce" print runs, usually for books they're very excited about and want to push. This happens before the book is offered to the distributors. These announced runs can look very good, but it is NOT the actual number of books they ulitmately print. I call it the "cheerleader's" print run (Give me a 2, give me an 0, give me an 0 -0 -0 -0).

Your book might acheive this print run, or it might not. Don't feel bad if it doesn't. No one is disapponted. Publishers announce a big print run to indicate enthusiam and support for a book they think will be big. It's meant to start everyone's engines.

Initial print run: This is more or less the number of books actually printed to be shipped to the distribution points and stores right before the release.

How is the initial print run determined? By the number of orders the publisher receives from distributors and booksellers.

About four-six months before release date, the publishers send their sales reps out to the distributors with a pile o' covers and data on their upcoming releases. The more excited the publisher is about the book the more incentives they will offer to the distributors and buyers.

Incentives can include coop (often offering the book to the distributors as a "buy one get one free"). They can include payment for placement at the front of stores, a "dump" (a single stand filled with one book), and other incentives I don't understand because they involve accounting.

The distributors will look at an author's sales history, how much incentive the publisher is willing to give, what the cover looks like, and other factors (like how well similar books are selling--this is why you see a slew of vampire books or whatever at the same time).

Yes, covers have to do with what distributors purchase, especially if it's a debut author with no sales history. That's because the books are being sold to the distributors/buyers sometimes before the manuscript is even finished, or it might be in the editing stages. These buyers don't even read the book--all they see is the cover and the sales line. (Scary, no? I guarantee you that so far the better my cover, the better my sales).

So--the publisher takes the total number of orders they receive (or promises of orders or whatever), and go back home and determine the print run. They'll print that many plus a little bit more to cover the re-orders. This is your initial print run.

A couple of weeks before release date, the books are shipped out to the distributors, etc. This is called the initial ship.

The number of books initially shipped will probably be a little less than your total print run. Or it could be the whole run

OR, even better, there could be more demand than anticipated and suddenly the print run is completely depleted by orders. This can happen before the book is even released or the same week, or a week after.

This is called selling out the print run, and from here you can go to a second or even third and fourth printing.

Selling out your print run does NOT mean you sold all those books (I wish). It means all those books were ordered by the bookstores/distributors, and the publisher's warehouse has run out. The publisher now needs to print more to fulfill the orders. (The print run can sell out, but the books can be stacked in the back of a store or sit three months at a wholesaler's warehouse unsold. You just don't know.)

Also, a publisher might decide to let the book go out of print and not print any more, for reasons known only to the universe and the accounting and sales departments.

However, quickly selling out a run is a good sign that your book is selling swiftly in the stores and the stores want to reorder to fulfill customer demand.

If the print run doesn't sell out right away, it's not a bad thing either. It means the publisher guessed right.

I've had books go to third printing within weeks; I've had them go to second printing after a couple of months. My early books weren't reprinted until after a couple of years, LOL.

You can guess, from your initial print run, about how many books you'll sell. The average overall sale of mass market paperbacks is 50% of the books printed and shipped. So if my print run is 70,000, I can expect that at least 35,000 will sell. At least. It could be more (which is good). It could be less (not as good). I'm pleased to say that so far (knock heavily on wood), my percentage has been more than the average 50%.

(An aside: It's 50% in romance. I hear that it's less in other genres--I don't know if that's right so someone correct me if so.)

BTW, hardback sellthrough needs to be better, like 70%, trade paperback also 70%.

Do we as authors have any control over the initial print run?

Not really. Especially not if you're brand new or in the midlist.

Your print run will also reflect where you are on the publisher's list:

A-level authors are the leads. They will get the most sales incentives and the biggest push. The most money will be spent on them. (I won't say they get the best covers because I've seen lead authors get putrid covers.) The publisher will print advanced review copies (arcs) for them and spend the most money and time on advertising and marketing. Publishers are looking for big print runs for these people.

Why? Because these authors either have a good history of big sales or they have such a fantastic debut novel that the publisher is willing to back them. The publisher feels that with these authors, they'll get their money back.

(Although--I hear many tales of the big, big, big authors getting such high advances and such unbelievable marketing push that publishers actually lose money on them. Loss leaders, I guess.)

Try this: Think of a genre, and think of the authors that spring immediately to mind. Think of authors who are household names, or the ones you see the most often in the grocery stores or airports. Those are A-level authors, the ones every budding novelist aspires to be.

B-level authors are often called the 2nd leads. They get more push than the lower midlist, but often not as much money/incentives as the A levels. However, these authors can do very well and get solid sales and pretty good print runs. B-level authors can often make bestseller lists (which you need a good print run to do).

C and D level authors are the midlist authors. C's probably get a little more push than D's. These books can sell solidly, and are kind of "bread-and-butter" books. Many authors are started here when the publisher simply wants to see how they do. (This is where I started, btw!)

Another point I want to make about print runs is this: That the success of your book is pretty much determined four to six months before readers even see it.

That's not to say the book can't do surprisingly well, or that your efforts marketing to readers is completely useless.

But realistically, most books are sold by word or mouth and by impulse buy. That's why we all want our publishers to get those front-of-store or end-of-shelf spaces at the bookstores and mass retailers.

So what can we as authors do to get a big print run and front of store placement??

Here's the answer (deep breath):


(Caveat: A damn good book that has wide appeal.)

Have a catchy premise.

Write characters that spring off the page and people can fall in love with (or at least find so interesting they have to come back to them again and again).

Write solid stories without plot holes or too much meandering or dead wood.

Write strong dialog between your characters and keep the most interesting characters on your pages at all times.

Develop a strong, full, interesting voice. (Please don't ask me how!! I dunno, except practice, practice, practice.)

A damn good novel is no guaratee you'll be put at the top of the list, get huge advances, and a huge print run. Publishers and distributors can guess wrong

But if readers think it's a damn good book, you're off in the right direction.

I hope you find this information helpful, and as always, please correct me where I'm wrong. I want to learn too (although I reserve the right to argue).