Have you Ever Checked an Author's Source and Found it Wrong?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Building a Brand, Pt. 4

Acquiring the right staff was even more important than finding the right distributor. I had access to and had worked with one of the best cover designers in the business (Jim Zach), as well as a couple editors, indexers, and formatters (more on that in the next entry), so I felt comfortable in those areas. The question I kept asking myself was, "What sort of person do I want to work with day after day, and who has the ability and desire to learn the intricacies of the publishing business?"

Sarah Stephan (now Keeney) had been a family friend for seventeen years. Initially, I hired her to edit, transcribe, and proofread an early project during her senior year at Cal Poly in San Louis Obispo, California. That toe in the water led to a full time job offering upon graduation.

When it came time to hire a key "partner" to help me grow the business, I wrote down a list of the key attributes I was looking for and took my wife out to lunch. She has a knack for reading people, and her advice--especially about people--is ALWAYS right. (Don't tell her I wrote that.) When I showed her the list, Carol took all of five seconds before proclaiming, "You are describing Sarah, and she would be a perfect fit--if she can work with you." [I have a unique way of working, and sometime I might blog about it.]

Many people are hired out of college to do the same monotonous thing sitting in a cubicle day after day, and often year after year until they simply burn out. I did not learn that way. In fact, I learned the old fashioned Greek way at the elbow of my grandfather while cleaning his restaurant with him on the weekends. "Always know how to do everything," he sagely advised. "And, make sure the key people who work with you know how to do everything, or at least know how it should all be done--just in case."

I promised Sarah her responsibilities would be legion, and I know I have kept my promise. Her functions initially included everything from proofing and editing to coordinating authors, marketing, mailing, invoicing, etc. In other words, whatever it took to build our foundation. However, I wanted her to get a good "education" at the same time, both for her benefit and for the company's future.

Two years ago Sarah assumed the mantle of Marketing Director. It is a perfect fit because of her strong people skills, amazing organizational abilities, and stellar gift of communication. Today, she spends most of her time branding our titles and helping our authors "brand" themselves. She does this while coordinating with Casemate on distribution issues and opening new sales channels. When I could not attend Book Expo last year, Sarah ran the entire show with Casemate. Her ability to obtain and coordinate publicity is better than many of the high profile "publicists" we have worked with over the years.

Sarah writes about these and other related issues on her new blog called On Marketing. Give it a read and bookmark it for helpful information you can really use.

Sarah is the cornerstone of our company. If you doubt me, just ask any of our authors.

--tps

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Building a Brand, Pt. 3

[Note: On the left side of this blog is a poll on some of our early books. Feel free to do your duty: vote!]

The right opportunity came along in 2003 when Russel H. "Cap" Beatie and I teamed up to form Savas Beatie LLC. Cap had a vision that matched mine. We both believed there was something missing from the military history arm of the independent publishing world.

The decision to rejoin the publishing ranks required me to dust off my networking channels, contact the right authors, and decide how to positon the company for growth, mixing the right titles and authors with the right vision and direction.

The first major decision was finding the right distributor. David Farnsworth, formerly of Greenhill Books of London and then Combined Publishing in Pennsylvania, branched out on his own when Perseus Books Group consumed Combined (and Savas Publishing) in 2001. Because of his wide experience marketing and distributing books, building a first class distribution outfit was right up his alley. I had known and worked with David in a variety of capacities on a number of projects over the years, so I believed in his abilities. His Casemate Publishing Company seemed like the perfect fit for the nascent Savas Beatie. We could grow together. And indeed the marriage has been a solid match for us both.

There are many distributors available to book publishers. Each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. Our first distributor during the early 1990s (with Savas Woodbury) proved unreliable. Although it sold a couple titles surprisingly well, it did not pay us on time, its fulfillment services were hit and miss, and communication was nonexistent. When we made the leap to Stackpole Books, our company jumped up several levels in terms of sales and visibility. Stackpole was a good fit for us because it was (and remains) a company with a proud history of publishing good military history, and the people working there (save one) were a pleasure to deal with. And they always paid on time.

Casemate was a young entity, but I knew Farnsworth and Company understood the military history sales world, had access to the distribution channels, knew how to work both sides of the ocean, and had a good warehousing facility. Most of Casemate's distribution clients were (and remain) European-based publishing companies. When I approached David about representing us, he was looking for a strong foothold in the US with a solid independent American publisher who knew the Civil War.

But publishing Civil War books was only part of the equation. My earlier companies had already done that, and I think had done that very well. Beatie and me had a different vision for Savas Beatie LLC. We wanted to splash about in a larger, deeper pond. When I explained to Farnsworth that we intended to form a core around good original Civil War titles, but also expand our publishing operations in several different directions (ancient history, American Revolution, WWII, etc.), he enthusiastically welcomed the idea. Our agreement divided up the world in a simple fashion: Casemate would handle all book trade sales, and Savas Beatie would handle everything else (special markets, non-trade sales, academia, individuals, etc.)

Putting the staff together to make it happen was the next item on the agenda.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

It has been a wonderful year for Savas Beatie. All of us wish you a Merry Christmas, and a safe, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

--tps

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Building a Brand (Pt. 2)

In 1996, David Woodbury and I decided to head in different directions. David continued to work on some projects for us, but the company named changed to Savas Publishing Company. Ostensibly, the branding thrust remained the same: find and develop quality original Civil War titles.

But was it time to change that thrust?

Our new titles included some real blockbusters for us, including (those that leap readily to mind): Last Rays of Departing Hope: The Wilmington Campaign, by Chris Fonvielle; My Life in the Irish Brigade, edited by Kevin O'Brien; Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign, Vol. 1, by Terry Winschel; The War in Kentucky, edited by Kent Masterson Brown; Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion: The Petersburg Campaign, by A. Wilson Greene, Last Chance for Victory: Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign, by Scott Bowden and Bill Ward (winner of 7 awards), and many, many others.

By 1998-1999, it became obvious even to me that there was a larger military-history market out there waiting to be tapped. Was it time to broaden our horizons? I decided the answer was yes, and we placed a large toe and part of a foot into the Indian Wars with Journal of the Indian Wars based upon the style and format of Civil War Regiments). Our new books included one by our good friend and indexing guru Lee Merideth called 1912 Facts about Titanic, and another by friend Deborah Petite called 1836 Facts about the Alamo. A final triumph was the appearance of Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders of World War II, by Theodore P. Savas (editor).

Thankfully, every book sold well, some sold more than we expected, and some sold exceptionally large numbers given our limited marketing abilities. Titanic continues to sell strongly, edging its way toward 100,000 copies, thanks to Lee's indefatigable efforts. When our distributor called the book "dead" several years ago, we crafted a deal for Lee to pursue sales under his own imprint, retaining an interest in the title.

In 2000, Combined Publishing in Pennsylvania decided to make an offer to purchase the company. An arrangement was reached and a deal struck. It was almost as difficult, from an emotional standpoint, as selling my law practice in 1998. Combined, however, was almost immediately acquired by Perseus Books Group, which pulled in the Savas line, but was not interested in either journal. Left without a base in book sales, I reluctantly decided to stop publishing them.

Both journals had a strong base, and I often think about resurrecting them.

The die was cast, however: the last incarnation of Savas Publishing had successfully peeked above the breastworks without taking a bullet through the forehead. We had dabbled outside the Civil War arena, and had done so successfully.

The years 2001-2003 were spent writing and ghost-writing, editing, consulting, teaching, and coaching little league. It was a period of rejuvenation that only in hindsight makes sense to me now. I needed that time to think about how to advance the cause of history I love so deeply.

Throughout that period I worked up ideas on how to roll out a new company. What would I do differently? What had I learned? What worked and did not work? Given the radical changes taking place in publishing, was it even viable to consider reentering the business? I decided the answer was yes, but I wanted to do it on a larger scale.

The questions were how, when, and what the branding goal would look like--should the right opportunity come along.

--tps

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Building a Brand (Part 1)

As the managing director of Savas Beatie, it is my responsibility to brand the company. As with any publishing house, the "brand" that defines us is largely determined by the titles we publish. Deciding which to select is often quite difficult, especially now with the mountain of manuscripts we receive each month. It was not always this way.

The decision making process is akin to standing on the bridge of the ship and looking into the distance. While watching for whales and icebergs, I continually ask myself, "What is our goal? Will this manuscript help us reach it?" "We have a destination. Will this author help us move in that direction?" This process is harder now than it used to be.

When I began publishing with David Woodbury (Savas Woodbury Publishers) in 1990, our small house produced only Civil War titles. We launched the new quarterly journal Civil War Regiments, and we knew the topic very well. Our goal was to produce original titles on largely overlooked topics that deserved scholarly treatment.

We also loved maps. Most publishers avoided the expense altogether, copied something unreadable from Battles and Leaders or the OR Atlas (shockingly, many still do), or hired a third-party to draft a couple expensive pieces. I remember one publisher laughing at us when I told him we were going to use a lot more maps in our books. What he did not know is that we had a secret weapon: our own naivety. David and me learned how to draft them ourselves.

Although we did not have a large "slush pile" to select manuscripts from during those early years, we were blessed with outstanding authors and topics. Since our goal was to produce quality Civil War titles only, selecting the right books was not that difficult.

Producing them, however, consumed endless blocks of time. We met each weekend for 18-hour marathon workdays, worked most evenings, and often neglected our regular professions during the 8-5 shift to meet deadlines. Many times each year one or both of us would also fly across the country from California to the East Coast, attend a book show, and then fly back late Sunday night.

Looking back, I know we are both proud of our accomplishments. Savas Woodbury produced a number of high-quality titles and journal issues that "branded" the company as an independent Civil War publisher of strong titles. Those that come readily to mind include: Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville, by Mark Bradley and Mark A. Moore; The Campaign for Atlanta & Sherman's March to the Sea," (2 volumes), Theodore P. Savas and David A. Woodbury, eds; Secessionville: Attack on Charleston, by Patrick Brennan; The Peninsula Campaign, vols. 1-3), William E. Miller, ed.; Abraham Lincoln, Contemporary: An American Legacy, by Frank J. Williams and William D. Pederson, eds; and Capital Navy: The Men, Ships, and Operations of the James River Squadron, by John Coski.

When the first couple of titles sold out quickly through direct mail alone, and Last Stand was selected by the History Book Club (an almost unheard-of event for a small house), we obtained national distribution and the real climb into the world of publishing began.

So, too, did the difficulties in selecting manuscripts.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Are you an Active Participant in Helping Make Your Book a Success?

This post might be better of under Sarah's insightful marketing blog, but I wanted to begin a thread on this since it does relate in some ways to my recent posts.

Dimitri Rotov, one of the sharpest minds in the Civil War blogosphere, has an interesting post about HarperCollins and its "toolkit" for allowing HC authors who do not have a website to create one.

He quotes Booksquare as saying, "the truth of the matter is that publishers simply don’t have the staff and budgets to market each and every book published." Although Dimitri ends with a one-word conclusion--bogus--I think he is only partially correct.

For most medium and large houses, the Booksquare comment is true. A few titles are targeted with money and time, and the rest are put into the stream of commerce to see what happens. If a title sells a certain number, then it has a proven "viral" ability to sell and be read, and so would benefit from an infusion of cash and time.

"Authors," continues the Booksquare article, "must be active participants in marketing themselves and their work." We have the same attitude at Savas Beatie.

We are a small independent press, but we have a dedicated marketing program for every title. We work it into the budget based upon a number of factors. One of the prime determinations is, "How hard is the author going to work to sell his book?"

Most of our authors are very hard working. They lead tours, give talks, drive hours to bookstores to sign books, mail signed copies to customers, establish websites, and so on. The smart authors know that the real work starts AFTER the book goes to the printer.

However, a few are not all that motivated. They sign a few books, rarely give talks, refuse to establish a website, and generally do not cooperate when we suggest action, and do not go out of there way to sell books. In the real world, here is what happens to titles written by these authors: the books that flood out onto the shelves of bookstores flood back in again. Then these authors complain that their royalty checks are not large enough.

The simple fact is that authors who sign books, write articles, host an active website, maintain blogs, and deliver talks generate sales across the country by word of mouth and viral marketing. Sell a book to a customer at a store in Virginia, chat a while, and establish a relationship, and you have also sold one to his friend, cousin, brother, or neighbor in Oregon. That, in turn, prompts a good review on Amazon, which in turn prompts a stranger reading the review to buy a copy. And so it goes. I do not care how many books blast out into the stores in Month 1 nearly as much as I care about the sell-through of those books during Months 2-12 (and beyond).

So, you ask, how does this relate to Dimitri's posting? Simple. We have a finite marketing budget each season, and we allocate as best we can at the beginning of each season. Which books get mailings? Which get radio, TV, print ads? Who gets a plane ride and costs to X number of cities for signings? As soon as an author demonstrates a disdain for pushing his own title, however, he is sending us a message: "Hey, Mr. Publisher--reevaluate the allocation of your resources!" My answer is always the same. "I will, thank you." This generally means we withdraw marketing funds and man hours and use that money and time on other titles and more determined authors.

Dimitri is right: there are to-do lists in marketing departments, where some people go through the motion and mistake busy work for productive time that sells books. Presses with more modest budgets can't afford that luxury.

Authors--are you paying attention?

--tps

Friday, November 30, 2007

How to Guarantee You Will Not Be Published

Authors--ignore this post at your peril. It is a simple two-step process to guarantee you will not get your hard work published.

We received an email query letter to Savas Publishing and Consulting Group (my consulting business, the outgrowth of the original Savas Publishing). I know where it originated because of the unique email address. The prospective author (let's call him John), explained fairly well what his manuscript was about, why it was important and worthy of publication, and other pertinent information.

I sent back the following email:

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Dear John,

Thanks for taking the time to write.

Please do us a favor and go to www.savasbeatie.com, and follow the submission guidelines on that site. It is the only way we can keep up with and monitor the enormous number of submissions we receive each week.

Thanks so much.

--------------

This is the email the author sent back:

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A rejection slip already, and I have not even submitted anything yet. I will file this under what will likely become a long list of rejections.

P. S. the only guideline I did not follow was submitting through Outlook Express, which does not function on my Machine. I did send my query through e-mail just as you asked. I did print out your SUBMISSIONS instructions, and feel that I followed them. I provided the information you requested.

Good bye.

John

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I posted on the submission process on November 12, 2007, and why following instructions is important not only for the author, but because of what it reveals to the acquisitions editor.

Note this paragraph from the November 12 posting: "Consequently, I have turned down many publishable manuscripts because of how authors present themselves. Unbeknownst to most writers, many of the hoops and mazes established to weed out manuscripts are also designed to weed out authors."

Unfortunately for the author, I had an immediate interest in his proposal. Until I read his response, that is. This is what I wrote back to him:

-----------

What an interesting and insightful email, John.

Savas Beatie is the publishing wing of the consulting company. The email you used was not our submission email. You did not follow our submission guidelines. And then, you argue with a publisher who actually had an interest in your manuscript.

I can see why you are getting rejections.

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Argue and parse with the person who has the power to publish your manuscript. A smart, insightful strategy--if you really don't want to be published.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Choosing a Publisher (or, Pt. 4)

My past several posts discussed various submission issues. Here is one that many authors do not take into consideration when they submit a book: the publisher's sales program.

I know many authors are scratching their heads thinking, "Don't all publisher's have a sales program? Surely they all want to sell their books, right?" The answers are no, and yes.

Most publishers (note the word "most") do indeed have a focused, strategic sales program to sell their titles, and they would not be in business if they were not able to do so with some level of proficiency.

For the sake of this post, let's assume the house you are considering has an established sales program. I am more concerned with what that program is--and you should be, too. There are a host of markets, niches, and sales programs. Does the publisher's program match your expectations?

Here is a common, real life example. A frustrated author-friend of mine called me a few months after he published a book with a fairly well known publishing company. (His book was not something we would have published.) He was shocked when the relatively short non-reference book (220 pages) appeared with a sticker price of $45.00. The print run was small (about 800 copies is his best guess). He scheduled a few book signings and sold only a thin handful because the price was too high.

My explanation was simple: he published with a company whose primary customers are libraries. Not trade sales, not specialty sales, not corporations, not individuals. This house (and all houses like it) price their books high, often produce them without jackets, do not spend a lot of time or money on design or editing, and sell the vast bulk of a short run at exorbitant prices to institutions (usually libraries). And that is that.

Simply put, he went with a publisher (a few others had turned him down) whose sales program did not meet his expectations. There is nothing wrong with this program, and it works well for the publisher. But it was not what my friend wanted for his book. He should have asked where it sold its books, how it sold them, etc. He also should have looked up their catalog of titles and determined where they are sold, how they are priced, and what the final package looks like.

Savas Beatie welcomes these and other questions from all our prospective authors, and we happily supply author references and invite contact. We have a great military history-related distributor in Casemate Publishing that reaches deeply into the trade and specialty markets. Our distributor in Europe is Greenhill Books, which offers our titles to the trade and individuals in the UK and on the continent. While we do very well in the trade, bookstores are the worst place to sell a book (more on the next post on that).

So, we focus a lot of our energy and marketing dollars outside the book trade. Our marketing director, Sarah Keeney, opens and maintains sales and promotions of all our titles, including our very vibrant backlist, outside the trade to museums, parks, institutions, schools, individuals, and so on. She also works hard to schedule radio interviews, web interviews, signings, and print coverage.

So what does all this mean? It means as an author, you better know your publisher's sales program. Go in with your eyes wide open.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why do you Write?

[Note: This is an edited version of an article I wrote for a Northern California newspaper a few years ago. -tps]

A prominent psychologist claims nearly everyone is a rock/movie star wannabe or frustrated author.

Dreams of taking a stage or seeing yourself on the silver screen usually fade away with the reality of kids, jobs, choking government regulations, and income taxes. For many, however, the desire to write the great American novel--or just see a book spine with your name stamped into it--never dies. Indeed, the yearning only grows as one decade slips quickly into the next.

My casual chats with residents of El Dorado Hills demonstrate the urge to write a book is alive and well here in the golden foothills. Many of my neighbors are laboring on mystery novels, screenplays, thrillers, and cookbooks. Knowing I am in the publishing business and a published author, they sometimes ask (at their own peril) for my candid advice. This is what I tell them:

STOP! Raise your hands slowly over your head and back away from the keyboard!

(Caveat: If your goal is to travel the road paved with disappoint and quiet desperation, don’t read the rest of this column--just keep clicking those keys and praying you will get published. Otherwise, read on.)

A significant slice of my last sixteen years has been spent as an acquisitions editor evaluating manuscripts for publication. I do this for my own company and other publishing houses. Many editors find the process wearisome. I never do. I love it because I appreciate the toil and sacrifice it takes to produce a book-length manuscript.

Last year I read through more than 130 manuscripts and queries from hopeful authors, the vast majority of whom were unpublished. Many were outstanding (well written, creative, entertaining, and publishable). Sadly, most will forever exist only as unbound stacks of yellowing paper buried away in a box on a closet shelf. Each rubber-banded stack represents thousands of irretrievable hours spent away from family and friends, hobbies, and life’s other adventures. Want to add to that headache? Calculate your uncompensated hourly rate.

So why in the world would any sane person write?

Is it because you have the next killer screenplay? Do you fancy yourself the next J. K. Rowling? Want to be the next Clancy, or Cussler, or Ludlum? Stop wasting your time and go play catch with your son. Very roughly speaking, about 1 in 300 will finish their book manuscript. Out of that slim handful, 2 in 100 will snag a legitimate contract. Discouraged? There’s more bad news. Only a handful of contracted authors will sell enough copies to cover their driveway. These odds are not encouraging if you are driven by dollars or fame.

So why should anyone voluntarily shoulder Atlas’s burden? In a word, love.

Do you have a burning need to write about something for which you have a passion? Do you weave a plot as you drift into the soft arms of Morpheus? Do you wake up in the morning crafting a character in your mind? Does that troublesome footnote pop into your head when your wife confronts you with her Honey-Do List? Is there a story inside aching to be written?

And now the real question: Would you spend the time and money writing even if you knew in advance your work would NEVER be published?

Was the the answer to the first set of questions yes? Good. Was the answer to the last question a resounding “Yes!” Better. If so, you have the virus. The sickness that never goes away whether you are at work, on a beach, in a plane, or wasting time in front of a television (We turned ours off when our kids were born, and banned it during the school week, allowing only 1 hour each weekend. Now, they don't watch TV at all and don't care. Instead, they use all those free hours to be productive; you can, too.)

Yes to these questions mean you should write. Souls so afflicted have a much better chance of realizing their potential--and being published.

Why? Those driven to write because of their love of the endeavor tend to be better writers. (However, not everyone who loves writing can turn a phrase.) Their ardor for storytelling is more palpable, their plots more believable, their organization and research more compelling and genuine. Amateurs who one day pull their books off a shelf at a Barnes & Noble or a local library almost always write about a personal passion, be it a hobby, career, success, or obsession. They are smitten.

Is this you? If so, never forget you write because of your love for the craft, your desire to learn, create, and share with others. Those are your true rewards. And maybe . . . just maybe . . . someone will one day send you that acceptance letter.

So get back to that keyboard you slid away from a few minutes ago! Now you know that regardless of the outcome, only good will come of it.

-tps

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Choosing a Publisher (or, Pt. 3)

I have a friend who worked on a Civil War book for many years. In the early 1990s, he placed it with a well known press (which shall remain anonymous). The press made no demands, asked only a few questions, and that was it. There was no input on anything else of substance.

When the finished books arrived, he opened the box with eager anticipation. The first thing he saw, of course, was the dust jacket. It was, to use his adjective, "hideous." He skimmed through his labor of love and discovered the paper was heavy but cheap, and that the cloth was not cloth at all. The binding was also inexpensively done, and glue was visible everywhere. He stuck the book on his shelf and never opened it again. Five years of research, and the disappointing finished product was something he would have to live with forever.

But it did not have to be this way.

By this time, some of you are likely wondering why I am sharing a story like this. The answer might be posed as a question: Would you marry a girl you have never seen? Would you buy a car you have never seen or driven? For most of us, the answer is obvious. And yet, authors often jump at the first press that says "yes" to their manuscript.

The acceptance minuet performed prior to signing a contract should not simply consist of a press accepting your manuscript, but must include a thinking author willing to "accept" the press--and all that entails. It is a bilateral arrangement, one both sides should enter with their eyes wide open. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a partnership (at least, that is how we think of it at Savas Beatie.)

If you have a manuscript ready, before you submit it to a publisher I strongly suggest a trip to the local bookstore (or to your own local or home library). When you find a publisher that produces books in your genre, study as many as you can with deliberate care. Pick them up, read them, feel them, sleep with one under your pillow.

Is it well designed? Does it have a dust jacket? Is the jacket professionally designed? Look at the flap credits and try to determine if the designer is an outside professional. Is the interior formatting pleasing, readable, and cleanly presented? Is the paper appropriate and of good quality? How is the binding? Tight and square, or loose and inexpensively done? If applicable, does this press use maps, photos, footnotes, or end notes? If so, are they plentiful, well done, and helpfully displayed? Is the text well edited? Generally speaking, look to see if the books by this press are reviewed positively or negatively by readers. Is the company brand (think r-e-p-u-t-a-t-i-o-n) strong and well respected within its publishing niche? Will the company give you the names of 3-4 authors and allow you to contact them?

Books are not an exact science; human eyes and hands create them. However, a good sampling of a publisher's titles will give you a strong sense of what your finished manuscript will look like.

The submission process is, in many respects, caveat emptor--buyer beware. When you go onto a car lot and open your wallet, you know whether you will be driving away in a Mercedes or a Chevy. If your eyes and ears are wide open, you will have a pretty good idea what your final product will look like before you sign on the dotted line.

--tps

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Manuscript Submission Process, Pt. 2

We received a submission yesterday that, sadly, is not atypical. A large submission envelope arrived (priority) offering several graphic novels for publication. Now, I have nothing against graphic novels, and thought the movie "300," which was based on a graphic novel, was intriguingly well done.

But even a cursory examination of our list of titles makes it vibrantly evident Savas Beatie does not publish graphic novels. This particular author spent time (30 minutes) and money (say $10 for the postage, certified return receipt, interior binding, paper, ink, etc.) to submit three manuscripts to a company that does not even publish (or dabble in) their genre. If this author makes $15.00 an hour, he wasted some $25.00 of his own money--and my time.

Which leads me to one (two, actually) of my head-scratching pet peeves. Let's spend a minute discussing the first one, and I will follow up with the second in a later post. Authors pay too little attention to both of them when submitting manuscripts. A few minutes well spent will save you copious amounts of time and energy, and keep acquisition editors from pulling their hair out.

As obvious as it seems, make sure the books produced by the publishing house and the manuscript you are submitting actually have something in common. A completely unrelated query communicates a lot of information, none of it flattering for the submitter. It tells me the author (or agent) did not research our company and list of titles. It also means that almost certainly the "shotgun" approach to getting publishing is the preferred flavor of the day--i.e., send out as many queries to as many publishers as possible in the hope that one will stick.

Would you interview for a job with a company you know nothing about? Would you tell your interviewer you are knocking on every door in every building and up and down the street, ready to take the first offer someone makes? Of course not. But that is exactly what an unsolicited submission in a genre we don't publish tells us.

Credible publishing houses receive a slew of manuscripts and queries (we get at least one query each day). The first ones tossed into the round file are those that do not match what we publish.

There is a reason for a submission process. Ignore it at your peril.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Manuscript Submission Process, Pt. 1

Every publishing company has its own way of doing things. At Savas Beatie, we have always been careful about how we select manuscripts for publication; thankfully, we have always been blessed with a plethora of publishable manuscripts. Still, dusting the chaff from the grain is not always easy.

The process of acceptance is of interest to most authors, and rightly so. Sometimes authors inadvertently make the decision for us, without realizing it.

Of course, the genre, topic, research depth, and writing skills are important. But what most authors do not realize is that for many presses, acquisition editors (at Savas Beatie, I wear that hat) sometime employ a process akin to alchemy. Call it a gut feeling, call reading tea leaves, call it learning the hard way, but over the years I came to understand that if the genre is what we publish and the topic is right, research can be improved and writing can be cleaned up. But unlike fixing commas or digging into an overlooked archive, like leopards, authors don't change their spots. They are who they are. They have their idea on how the process works, and how hard they will work once their manuscript is published. For large houses, this is not as important, but for smaller independent presses, who often rub shoulders with their authors and work closely with them, personalities, outlook, and character matter--greatly.

Consequently, I have turned down many publishable manuscripts because of how authors present themselves. Unbeknownst to most writers, many of the hoops and mazes established to weed out manuscripts are also designed to weed out authors.

Here is one concrete example. Our website has clear and specific submission guidelines. They are there for a reason: they work well for us. They are also there for another reason: authors who can't follow simple directions won't follow simple suggestions or directions later--after we have invested significant time and money in their manuscript. Thus, when an author (or agent) calls and tries to pitch something on the phone, sends in a complete unsolicited manuscript, or does not follow our step-by-step guideline for submission, it tells us as much about them as it does about their work. And experience demonstrates that authors who will not follow requirements up front won't down the road, either.

I once told an author that, for most writers, obtaining a traditional publishing contract is like running around outside in Kansas trying to get struck by lightning. I am kidding; it is easier to get struck by lightening.

So writers take heed: if you have a manuscript and you want to submit it to a publishing house, determine specific submissions requirements (they vary house to house) and follow them exactly. Editors are evaluating the procedure as well the substance.

--tps

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kicking, Screaming, and Careening into the Blogosphere

I love blogs.

Really, I do.

I spend so much time reading them each day (a must for someone in my line of work--any line of work, really) that the idea of creating and maintaining one seems compulsively obsessive.

As the managing editor of a growing independent publishing house (http://www.savasbeatie.com/), however, I can no longer avoid the necessity of maintaining a blog. My hope and intent is to comment on matters relating to everything from catching a publisher's eye when submitting a manuscript, to what Savas Beatie is seeking to publish, from our editorial direction to legal issues shaping today's publishing world. A majority of my posts will relate, in one way or another, to what is happening behind the scenes--inside Savas Beatie.

Unlike many managing directors or acquisition editors, I am also a widely published author/editor in my own right, a licensed attorney (I practiced in Silicon Valley for a dozen years), and I have worked for publishers and individuals on a host of matters as a free-lance consultant. (I also teach legal- and history-related classes at night at the college level.) These facts I relate as a way of establishing my bona fides on a rather wide playing field. I am completely confident readers will disagree with some of my opinions and observations, but each of them will rest solidly on a foundation of personal experience.

The publishing world is rapidly changing, and these changes directly affect everyone, including and especially authors (although many writers do not yet realize this).

I do not intend to often comment on comments. Please do not interpret my lack of response for indifference. Time is short, but know that I read every remark and email.

Hopefully, this blog will add something to the discussion.

tps