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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Results of Recent Poll


Here was the question:

Which Savas Beatie Civil War battle-related title is the most original and influential?

I asked it because I received recently two messages, one via phone and the other on email about two different books (both listed in this poll) and how "influential" and "original" each book was for the reader. Of course, that got me thinking . . .

Here were the four books I selected, and how people voted:

Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, by Cunningham (edited by Joiner-Smith): 7 (31%)

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, by Wittenberg-Petruzzi: 6 (27%)

The Maps of Gettysburg, by Brad Gottfried: 3 (13%)

Those Damned Blackhats: The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg, by Lance Herdegen: 6 (27%)

Shiloh, which was behind for the entire poll, won on the last vote cast. The manuscript, written as a Ph.D. dissertation 45 years ago, was decades ahead of modern interpretation of the battle. It was Main Selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club and 2.5 years later is still selling strongly there. Although we are out of the hardcover, you can now get it in paperback. I commend it--and all these books--to you.

Crafting books that are both "influential" and "original" has been my intent since forming Savas Beatie. The last thing I wanted to do was spend my time putting our books that add nothing of substance to the ongoing study of the Civil War. It is not an easy task, and we are all appreciative of the enthusiastic support readers have shown for our books.

And in case you do not get our monthly e-letter, our Christmas special this year includes FREE PRIORITY SHIPPING for any book purchased through our website. Just use the coupon code: freepriority.

--tps

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dust Jackets: The Inside Back Flap


I am heartened by the response these posts about dust jacket have generated, not just with comments but by phone calls and emails. I was unsure this series would be received well. Thank you.

The back inside flap is important in a way the front and back covers and spine are not. While the former are all readily visible (one way or the other), the back flap is never seen unless and until a potential reader opens the book. In other words, the other exterior elements have done their job and the book has been cracked open.

[RIGHT: Inside back flap of Confessions of a Military Wife, by Mollie Gross.]

Oddly, some publishers leave the back flap completely blank (!) or consider it little more than a spill-zone--an area that allows for text on the front flap to spill over onto the back. This is very short-sighted.

We generally use the back flap, from top to bottom, this way:

1. Description Carry-over: Text about the book is continued here.

2. Author biography: We explain to the reading world who the author is, and why she is qualified to write the book;

3. Promotion: We use the remaining space to promote other books by this author, or other related titles we have published that will also be of interest to the reader.

4. Company and Illustration Info: Here we place our logo, company contact info, jacket credits, and design credits.

AUTHOR LESSON: Make sure you bio is tightly written and includes suitable credentials to establish your expertise.

PUBLISHER LESSON: You are going to pay for this space anyway, so you might as well use it to advantage.

--tps

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dust Jackets: Spines--More Important Than You Think


Most publishers treat spines as the ugly stepchild of jacket design. It's the smallest part of the jacket and thus the easiest to ignore. All a spine needs is the title running along it, the publisher's name/logo on the bottom, and the author's name on top.

Right? Well . . . not so fast.

Think of it this way. How many books in a bookstore are face out? One percent? Two percent? In most cases, Publishers/distributors PAY to place these books face out. (Didn't know that? Another post I need to write.) Whatever the number, it is a very small one.

[Pictured on the right is the spine of Sickles at Gettysburg, by James Hessler. Click to enlarge.]

The vast majority of books are shelved spine out. When a customer walks through a store and is faced with hundreds or even thousands of books and the only thing he sees is a spine . . . that ugly little stepchild suddenly takes on an entirely new meaning, doesn't it?

We strive to add a little spice to our spines. We do so with a mixture of color, font style, and arrangement of components. Can you read the title from six feet away? Can you tell what the book is about? These are important questions we consider when designing the spine.

But there is a more important (and usually ignored) aspect to spine design you should think about. When we use a set piece graphic on the front cover (a painting or photo, for example), our designers often place it on the spine (assuming there is room width-wise). This little touch of class not only looks nice, but it jumps out at a potential reader because it is so different than most of the spines around it.

AUTHOR LESSON: If your publisher asks for your advice on cover design, suggest that the spine be paid a wee bit more attention. Adorning it with a photo or painting that mimics, as far as possible, the front cover is often all it takes to stand out in a crowd.

--tps

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dust Jackets: The Flap Text


In my estimation, dust jacket flap copy ranks right up there with a great cover design as a key marketing component for a book. Potential readers have to see and want to pick up the book first, but once they get to that point, it is usually the flap copy that convinces them to buy it.

So . . . what exactly is flap copy? Flap copy is the text that appears on the inside flap(s) of the dust jacket wrapped around a book. Its sole purpose is to inform the reader what the book is about--beyond what is obvious from the front cover--and in doing so, "hook" the potential reader in a persuasive way.

[Right: Once a Marine inside front flap.]

Think of it this way. When you (as in you, personally) open a book to glance through the flap copy, you are thinking the same basic things everyone else is: Will I enjoy reading this book? What is different or special about this book that sets it apart from another book on the same topic? Do I want to own this?

A potential author asked me recently how flap copy is created, i.e., do we write it, does the author write it, or does an outside agency / editor write it?

At Savas Beatie, we almost always ask our authors to pen a first cut on the flap copy, and provide them with some basic points to cover within a certain length. Very few come back in usable form. (I always find it odd how hard authors find it to write flap copy.)

Invariably, authors ignore much of what we ask from them and instead tell readers their book is the greatest piece of literature ever written on "XYZ" topic (a PR conclusion that means little or nothing to a potential buyer and usually puts them off), while forgetting to tell them what about the book is special, different, unique, etc. Communicate that to the reader, and he will reach the right conclusion about whether the book is worth reading. Still, in most cases the return work product nearly always contain the rough gems we need to polish the text stones to perfection.

When we finish our first round of edits, we return it to the author for review and comment. We want, nay, DEMAND their feedback, corrections, and further suggestions. As those of you who have worked with us know, we strive to reach complete or (at worst) substantial agreement on every aspect of the final book.

AUTHOR LESSON: Flap copy is the second most important marketing tool for your book, so you better know what the publisher is putting there.

Many publishers do not even ask authors for input. Instead, they pass the dust jacket writing assignment to some editor to craft a couple hundred words and slap them on the flaps. If you are not publishing with Savas Beatie, make sure your publisher offers you the same courtesy we extend to our author/clients.

In fact, demand it.

--tps

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dust Jackets: Front Cover Design



This will be the first of four posts about dust jackets, based upon a poll I did last week when I posed this question:

"What element of the dust jacket is the most important to you in making a buying decision?"

There were 44 responses. Here is how they broke down:

The front cover design: 10 (25%)

The flap text information: 17 (42%)

The endorsements: 3 (7%)

I never make a purchasing decision based upon a dust jacket: 14 (35%)

Long before I was in publishing I was a lover of dust jackets, but I was not nearly as critical of the design as I am now. This is largely true because I didn't fully appreciate the importance of the various elements and how, taken together, they advertise, communicate, educate, and ultimately sell a book.



FRONT COVER DESIGN

From my perspective, this is the most important element. A design has to do most of the things mentioned above (advertise, communicate, and educate) within about five seconds. If it takes longer than that to convince potential buyers to pick it up, they usually won't. If they do, and then like it, read more, flip through the book, etc. and ultimately buy it, then the front cover design was the gateway hook that achieved that end. (This is important primarily in the general book trade. The digital age and sales on line make this a tad less important.)


I like to visualize covers even before a manuscript is complete. With the genre locked down (Civil War, Revolution, Current Events, etc.) I like to get a full understanding of the feel, pacing, substance, and depth of the writing itself. Once I do, then I know which designer gets the book.

Primarily, we use two jacket designers with very different styles and approaches. I would like to introduce these two graphic designers to you.

Ian Hughes of Mousemat Design Limited lives in London, England. Ian does a wide variety of covers for a number of publishers, most of whom live in the UK. You can see Ians's outstanding work here: www.mousematdesign.com. We usually use Ian for our 19th-century book covers. For example, he designed our covers for the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series, Saratoga, Sickles, Shiloh, etc.

Our second designer is Jim Zach of Zgrafix. Jim is a graduate of Iowa State University and a graphic designer par excellence. I met Jim when I lived in Iowa for a short time in the late 1990s. His remarkable and original dust jacket designs and interior design work have been turning heads for many years. We like to use Jim for our "modern"-style titles, like our basic training series, Once a Marine, Confessions of a Military Wife, and so forth.

I often hear from other publishers about how expensive good jackets are to produce. My response to them is exactly the opposite: It is too expensive NOT to produce a good jacket.

If you carefully study our jackets, you will see (in most cases, depending upon available artwork) a layered, complex design that creates a striking element that (hopefully) grabs potential readers. (Personally, I also do that for the authors, because authors work hard to produce a great manuscript. If I gave them a fast and inexpensive design job to save a few bucks, I am demeaning their work. I will never do that.)

The next time you get a chance, study a jacket design carefully. Is it just type on an image? Can you set it back six feet and read it, knowing what it is about? Does it grab you? Does it make you want to pick it up and flip through it?

Think about it.

Next installment: The flap text information.

--tps

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ted Savas Radio Interview: All About Publishing


Many people ask me questions about publishing in general, and Savas Beatie in particular. How do you do this? How do you decide that? Why did you publish so and so? Are you moving into Current Events? What do you think about the Google settlement? The list is long and varied and, unfortunately, the time to answer them is always limited.

Last week, Mike Noirot, webmaster extraordinaire of This Mighty Scourge, was kind enough to want to take the time and trouble to interview me about all things publishing. Certainly I appreciated the offer.

A few days ago, Mike posted 13 radio clips on his site, broken down largely by the topic of discussion. If you want to know more about publishing, book acquisition, working with authors, and everything except the skeletons in our closets, have a listen here.

PHOTO: A shot inside the belly of the beast, from left to right: Sarah Keeney (marketing director), Veronica Kane (account manager), and Nick "Gunny Pop" Popaditch, author of Once a Marine, signing books earlier this year in our office in El Dorado Hills.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Jackets: What Do You Do With Them? (Part 1)


I personally love dust jackets, and if you buy our books, you know Savas Beatie spends a lot of time and money crafting them. We do so for many reasons, and many publishers ignore this step of the publishing process at their peril.

Before we get to those reasons (a different poll, top left, and a different blog post), I asked a completely different question (more for fun than for anything else) in a recent poll.

Question: What do you do with your jackets when you are reading the book?

Here were the responses:

I leave them on when I read and rarely take them off. 18 (58%)

I take them off when I read and put them back on. 11 (35%)

Sometimes I leave them on, sometimes I take them off. 2 (6%)

I take them off when I receive my books, store them separately, and shelve the books without jackets. 0 (0%)

(That last one was a nod toward a friend of mine in Richmond (Paul S.) who strips his books naked and shelves them that way, storing his books separately from the jackets. I don't know, either.)

I did not vote in this poll, but I almost always remove the jacket, keep it in my nightstand, finish the book, re-jacket it, and then shelve it. I can't stand it when I snag the jacket corner or bottom, scuff it, bump it, etc.

Please check out the current poll question (top left) and answer it. That one I will discuss that jacket subject at greater depth.

Be well.

--tps

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Poll Question Response

QUESTION: What Western Campaign Should We Cover in the Next Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series?

Here is how the responses broke down:

Shiloh 5 (26%)

Chattanooga-Knoxville 3 (15%)

Atlanta Campaign 7 (36%)

Kentucky Campaign 4 (21%)

A half-dozen more called or emailed for other reasons, mentioned the poll, that they hadn't yet voted (and then told me how they would vote). I did not include them. And I did not vote, nor did anyone who works here (as far as I know).

I was surprised the result was spread as evenly as it was, but I was not surprised that the Atlanta Campaign triumphed. There has always been much more interest in that campaign than the scholarship reflects. I also believe that Russell Bonds' new and outstanding book War Like the Thunderbolt will increase that interest. (I don't say this about many books, but that is one I wish we had published.)

We will take all this under advisement.

Just to reiterate, here are the first three volumes in this series:

The Maps of Gettysburg, by Bradley Gottfried (text and cartography)

The Maps of First Bull Run, by Bradley Gottfried (text and cartography)

The Maps of Chickamauga, by David Powell (text) and David Friedrichs (cartography)

Dr. Gottfried is currently at work on The Maps of the Maryland Campaign.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reply to Reader Question: What are you Interested (or not Interested) in Publishing?


Paul Taylor, whose biography of Civil War Union General Orlando Poe is due out this October, published by Kent State University Press, posed an interesting question in his longer comment to this post. Here is Paul's question:

"[W]hich got me thinking, with regards to the Civil War, can you give a brief overview as to what type of subjects you're interested in - and for that matter, not interested in?"

Savas Woodbury (and then Savas Publishing), ca 1991-2001, was focused on Civil War titles. We did a few others, but our bread and butter and expertise was the American Civil War. Savas Beatie began with an emphasis on Civil War titles (again, our expertise and deep knowledge base), but I always intended to expand into several areas of history including Current Events, one of my favorite areas of study.

We worked hard from 2004 to the present day to firmly establish our bona fides in the American Civil War with several award-winning titles, many national book club selections, and a ground-breaking map study we call the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series. We are thankful our customers have supported and welcomed our books.

We believe (and hope) we are now well entrenched with a firm foothold in several other areas, including the American Revolution, Napoleonic history, and military science/self-help. The latter category overlaps into Current Events. The successful publication of Once a Marine, by Nick Popaditch, and the forthcoming New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah, by Richard Lowry (Spring 2010) is our effort to announce that we intend to compete in that arena. (Note the New Dawn cover that appears where Mr. Lowry blogs is a placeholder only, and not the cover we will be using for his book).

Now, back to Paul's question: What are we interested in, and what are we not interested in?

My standard general answer is this: I am always seeking original, deeply researched manuscripts on topics that have not been covered well, or at all.

Once that threshold is met, we have to access whether we can sell the book. We do very well inside and outside the book trade, but selling books today for a profit, with the publisher and author at the bottom of the food chain, is a real challenge. So . . . can we sell it? Here is what I have to ascertain:

1) Can we sell X number in the general book trade within twelve months?

2) Can we sell another Y number outside the book trade (to the author for resale, to specialty markets, to the state and federal parks, museums, etc.).

3) Can we sell it to one of the national book clubs?

4) Can we sell Z copies overseas in the UK and Australia?

5) Finally, can we sell it into a foreign language?


It is not necessary that the answer to all these questions be yes, but we need a combination of these possibilities to convince us that if we put what amounts to the cost of a car into an author's book, we can get our money back and turn a profit. If so, we move on to the next level of inquiry: do we want to work with this author.

Publishers not only have to sell the book, they have to sell the author, and by extension, work WITH the author closely to make a successful partnership. I have said this over and over: Publishers and authors are joined at the hip in their interests. Publishers take the vast bulk of the risk to forward a large amount of time and money. If an author stumbles, refuses to promote his or her book, becomes difficult to work with, unpredictable, etc., it can and often does become a disaster for sales--and for the credibility of the publisher. So the author's credibility, likability, attitude, general demeanor, and so forth becomes very important to publishers. Many people and authors never consider this important angle. (Keep in mind that authors need to consider the same thing before choosing a publisher: do they have a good reputation, do they market their books, are they easy to work with, do their books win awards, do the authors have good things to say about them, etc.)

In the end, I am sometimes forced to go with my gut. For some reason I have developed the ability to sniff out good manuscripts and authors quickly. I can see what the final book looks like, and see how it will read from a digital manuscript on screen after a few minutes of perusing it. It's just intuition, and I have been very fortunate in that regard.

And, on occasion I will accept a book that almost certainly will not turn a profit, but is one I think we need to flesh out our brand and our line. Consider it the long term view.

In terms of specific topics, I think we do battle books and biographies the best. I prefer the former to the latter because they generally sell better and I like them.

I hope that helps answer your questions, Paul. Thank you for asking.

--tps

Thursday, September 24, 2009


We would like your assistance.

Please watch this video, produced by the townspeople of Sesser, Illinois, in support of Gary Moore's "Playing with the Enemy."

The good folks of Sesser made this YouTube video to get Oprah to come to Sesser (a very small town where about one-third of the book takes place) and do a show in the Opera House, which they will rename the Oprah House, and hopefully have Gary on her show.

Please share this with your email list, twitter it, blog about it, etc. It is pretty funny even if you don't know about the book or haven't read it. And if you haven't why haven't you!

--tps

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Publish with Savas Beatie?


That question came up today in a phone conversation.

This is an on-the-fly post, written after hanging up with a potential author. It was an interesting call that boiled down to why he should publish with us and not with a larger East coast press. He had submitted his manuscript to us recently and was thinking of doing the same to the big guys.

AUTHOR: Typically, a larger publishing house has more financial resources, more marketing clout, a more established reputation, and often lots of big name authors. Do you agree?

SAVAS: Yes.

AUTHOR: But I love the books you do, and your authors have lots of good things to say about you and the company. So in one minute or less, tell me why I should publish with Savas Beatie and not XXX?

SAVAS: Lots of reasons. Large presses are generally over-committed and are not in love with their books. It is pure business and numbers to them. The decision-making process is agonizingly slow in almost every department, including marketing. It often takes six months or a year or more just to get a contract offer. Once the decision is finally made, it often takes 2-3 years before your book finally sees print.

Smaller presses like Savas Beatie provide more personal attention, almost always bring projects to market much faster, and your book could become the lead title instead of a project that is buried on page fifteen of a large catalog. Why not be one of ten new books instead of one of 125?

Smaller presses only take books they have a passion for and know they can sell and sell well. Larger presses throw a lot of books out there, and see which take off and then reinforce those, discarding the rest into remainder bins. (I am generalizing, but it is generally true.) Just ask someone who has worked with a large press whose last name was not Clancy, Rice, Cussler, or Rowling.

[One author who was with a larger house and now with Savas Beatie told me he worked for three years on his last book, and his "large" publisher got him a grand total of one radio interview and one book signing, and then told him he was on his own and stopped returning his calls. Typical.]

AUTHOR: So it really depends what you expect as an author.

SAVAS: There are pros and cons either way you choose, but smaller vibrant houses with a firm track record ideally suited to your trade project niche are almost always a better bet than a Penguin or a Random House, and usually even a university press.

[If I could share my email from some of these disappointed authors, more writers would understand why that is true.]

--tps

Friday, September 11, 2009

More on Google Book Settlement


Google Tells Congress They'll Let Anyone Sell Settlement Books

(How nice of them.)

(That light at the end of the digital settlement trial is a train coming, publishers.)

Google svp and chief legal officer announced before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday (in parallel with a posting on the company's public policy blog) "that for the out-of-print books being made available through the Google Books settlement, we will let any book retailer sell access to those books. Google will host the digital books online, and retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore will be able to sell access to users on any Internet-connected device they choose. Retailers can also pursue their own digitization efforts of out-of-print books in parallel. In essence, this extends our initiative announced earlier this summer -- which allows publishers in our Partner Program to market their in-print works through Google Books -- to out-of-print books included in the settlement."

The WSJ and NYT had brief follow-up interviews with Drummond and came away with the vaguest descriptions of the revenue splits on such an arrangement: Retailers could get the "majority" and/or "much" of the proceeds with Google keeping "only a small slice" as the papers describe it. That's about as clear as the revenue splits as expressed so far for the retailers Google wants to enlist in their Edition program for in-print electronic books.

Drummond also indicates to the Times that Google is "thinking about how to make those books available to others in bulk, in case any were interested in selling subscriptions to libraries." He said, "If people really want to get access to orphan books that we have, they can do it." And he tells the WSJ that the new announcement "should put to rest concerns that 'Google and only Google will have the ability to get the full portfolio' of digital works."

Indeed it's a pretty clever way of blunting arguments that the settlement is anti-competitive and provides Google a de facto monopoly on the sale of orphan works, while not actually making Google's major competitors happy. The testimony mentions "retailers such as Amazon [and] Barnes & Noble" but neither of those companies currently partner with Google Book Search on any of their other initiatives.

As Amazon vp for global public policy Paul Misener (who also testified at yesterday's committee hearing) said, "We don't need anyone between us and rights holders."

P.S. If a book is out of print, and an author manages to convince a publisher to reprint it, I am still unclear how Google's scanning and dissemination will impact that event.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Google: The Fix is In. Publishers and Authors Lose


From Publisher's Lunch:

Congress Has No Questions for Publishers As Copyright Office Protests

In what could be viewed as a signal that Judge Denny Chin is ready for resolution on the Google Books Settlement case, yesterday he quickly denied two motions from opponents. In both rulings, Chin emphasized the view that there has been plenty of time for investigation and expression.

Judge Chin swatted away efforts by Lewis Hyde, Harry Lewis and the Open Access Trust to formally intervene for the second time (they were first turned down in April), writing: "This case was filed some four years ago and has been conditionally settled; it is simply too late to permit new parties into the case." He did add that "the Court will, however, consider the objections raised by the proposed interveners."

Chin also denied the "various discovery requests" of the Bloom Objectors, saying they "have had ample time to seek discovery" and adding that "the Court will not, at this late stage, allow the proceedings to be delayed."

At the least, reasonable people could conclude that this same attitude means the Judge will probably not be swayed by the many objections of publishers from other countries that notice of the settlement was inadequate.

Today the spotlight is on the House Judiciary Committee on Competition and Commerce in Digital Books. We were fascinated to see that the list of eight witnesses does not include a single publisher. (AAP vice president Tina Jordan tells us that the "AAP did in fact suggest to the judiciary committee staff that a book publisher should participate in the hearing.") Scheduled to appear were: David Drummond of Google; Paul Misener from Amazon; Paul Aiken from the Authors Guild; Marybeth Peters from the US Copyright Office; Marc Maurer at the National Federation of the Blind; John Simpson from Consumer Watchdog; Randal C. Picker from the University of Chicago Law School; and David Balto at the Center for American Progress.

You can follow glimpses of testimony via Twitter for now.

A Reuters article previewed David Drummond's argument that "We believe anyone who wants to re-use abandoned works should have a fair, legal way to do so. In our view, the settlement helps."

Early posts indicate Representative Zoe Lofgren commenting that we wouldn't be here if Congress got orphan works right--but we failed, and also saying she was distressed to receive testimony from Copyright Office only this morning. Lofgren later reportedly reiterated that Congress could solve orphan works by repealing the Sonny Bono term extension, while acknowledging that won't happen. Committee Chairman, Representative John Conyers is said to have remarked that this could be the greatest innovation in publishing since the Gutenberg press, and also noting that while the proposed settlement would give Google has exclusive access to orphan works, that can be remedied by legislation.

But Marybeth Peters at the Copyright Office is cited as complaining that "Key parts of the settlement are fundamentally at odds with the law." In a letter to the committee, Peters says in multiple ways that Congress should be concerned about the settlement's attempt to resolve issues that Congress itself has not acted on: "In the view of the Copyright Office, the settlement proposed by the parties would encroach on responsibility for copyright policy that traditionally has been the domain of Congress.... We are greatly concerned by the parties' end run around legislative process and prerogatives, and we submit that this Committee should be equally concerned." Peters reiterates the position that it "would inappropriately interfere with the on-going efforts of Congress to enact orphan works legislation in a manner that takes into account the concerns of all stakeholders as well as the United States' international obligations."

At the same time Peters goaded Congress to act, Representative Melvin Watt is said to have expressed reservations about the separation of powers issue with Congress holding a hearing about a pending court case.

Meanwhile, though the court's filing deadline has passed, their electronic document system continues to add additional papers. Among them the Center for Democracy & Technology noted their support of the settlement, while Questia filed a complaint along the lines of Google-is-ruining-our-business-and-won't -even-link-to-us.

An informal group called the Privacy Authors and Publishers--including Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman, Jonathan Lethem, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Cory Doctorow, the EFF, and the ACLU and Cleis Press filed an objection, saying the settlement "fails to safeguard reader privay." Stretching their argument to fit as an objection from within the author and publisher classes, they "believe that the lack of privacy protections in the current settlement will deter readers and thereby harm their expressive and financial interests in sustaining and building a readership that browses, reviews, and purchases their works."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Will E-Books Kill the Hardcover Book Trade?


A provocative article appeared a few days ago in the Financial Times entitled Hachette Chief Hits Out at E-Books. The thrust of the article boiled down to this:

Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of the French publishing group (Hachette Livre), said unilateral pricing by Google, Amazon and other e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble could destroy profits and kill the lucrative trade in hardback editions.

Is this true? Well, time will tell and no one has a crystal ball. But I really doubt it.

One of the things people overlook when thinking about E-books is that almost everything needed to produce a traditional hardcover (or paperback) is also required for a digital book--except the printing and shipping.

In other words, publishers still have to acquire books (that takes time and money), accept and schedule (time and money), developmentally edit (time and money), proofread (time and money), format (time and money), arrange for photos, charts, maps, etc. (time and money), and other internal endeavors (time and money) just to have the right text in the right format with the right bells and whistles at the right time by the right author.

Oh yes, add in all the traditional overhead costs (rent, salaries, taxes, etc.) and the fact that authors have to be paid a royalty, and in some cases, an advance against royalties.

E-books can be made available today for $9.99 or thereabouts only because there are wider and more profitable margins available elsewhere (i.e., hardcovers) to cover the costs of producing the final product (which let's face it, is information and not a "book") for the intended audience. The entire pie (all traditional print sales outlets) subsidizes one very small slice of the publishing model (digital books).

Mr. Nourry continued:

"On the one hand, you have millions of books for free where there is no longer an author to pay and, on the other hand, there are very recent books, bestsellers at $9.99, which means that all the rest will have to be sold at between zero and $9.99,” Mr Nourry said.

Again, I find this difficult to swallow.

If the dominant gorillas Google (there is something evil about that company) and Amazon drive down the pricing and slash the margins for publishers, at some point the laws of economics come into play. Who is going to be able to produce E-books for that retail price (zero to $9.99) and still be able to slice off all the production costs and have a viable operation? I don't know how to make that business model a viable one.

Publishers won't be able to do it. How much can you pay bestselling authors in advance if the book tops out at $9.99?

Just like one leg needs the other for a body to walk, I don't see how the world of E-books exists on its own without accompanying hardcovers, paperbacks, specialty sales print books, and so forth. Perhaps some publishers could make it work, but I think the vast majority could not possibly do it.

If hardcovers eventually die a very visible death from this digital axe to the neck, the cataclysmic event will take down a large percentage of publishers with it. That would leave Amazon and Barnes and Noble in the unenviable position of having killed off the many geese that used to lay the golden eggs that allowed everyone to thrive.

--tps

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rejected Authors: Silence is not Golden


Neither is being the north end of a southbound rejected author, as Commander Berryman aptly demonstrated a short time ago. But I digress.

Recently I spent a couple days digging through the slush pile, thumbing through reader reports, talking with manuscript evaluators, and making one of the key decisions every publishing house must make: which manuscripts to accept (or at least see more of), and which to reject. That never pleasant activity let to the emailing of twenty-one rejection notices.

As some of you know, I do not simply send a one-line "Unfortunately, your manuscript does meet our editorial requirements at this time," response and leave it at that. Instead, I tailor suggestions to each author about potential publishers, social networking, how to find an agent (if appropriate), and so forth.

Thus far--and it has been several days--a grand total of two authors have had the courtesy and decency to respond and say thank you. Two. As in one plus one. Out of twenty-one. For those of you keeping score, I am not including Cmdr. Berryman, since his "thank you," though certainly heartfelt, was not the sort of reply I am suggesting.

Author Lesson: Always, and I mean always, respond to an acquisitions editor with a "Thank you for taking the time and trouble" letter, card, or email. Why? Let's count three obvious reasons.

First, you never know when one might have a change of heart. I recall a kind reply from an author that triggered a conversation, which led to a second look at his manuscript, which led to my helping him place it with another publishing house.

Second, you never know when you will meet that person. Publishing is a small world. If you have reached the age of 25 and have not yet realized it's mostly about networking, stop reading (and writing.)

Last, thank yous are so rare that these editors will remember. When you submit another manuscript idea a few months or a year later, and you mention your rejection--I can almost guarantee the editor will recall your graciousness.

One of our author's, Nick "Gunny Pop" Popaditch (www.onceamarine.com) told me the story about how the Marines teach new recruits the "Message to Garcia" lesson: It means when you are told to do something, you don't ask a lot of questions, but simply figure it out for yourself. (I use this at home quite often on my son, to his dismay. "Pop, where is my math book?" "Demetri--message to Garcia." He really hates that, but it works.)

So I am creating a new lesson, and we shall call it "The Berryman Rule." It goes something like this: Treat acquisitions editors (and everyone you meet in the publishing world) with respect and graciousness.

It will pay off in the long run.

There was a silver lining in that Berryman fiasco after all.

--tps

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This is How NOT to Get Published


Authors: Read this carefully, and learn what NOT to do.

I swear some authors really don't want to be published.

A short time ago an author named Berryman, a retired Navy Cmdr. (and all of you know how much we respect those who serve our country) sent us an email submission. He followed our submission guidelines (as he should have) and told us about a manuscript he was writing on a handful of U.S. citizens who fought with the Royal Navy in WWII.

This might be an interesting topic for some people, but I know what topics will sell well in our market space, and what will not--and it takes me about 60 seconds to make that general determination. Rather than ignore him or just say "no thanks," I tried to offer help, introduce him to social networking, and show him ways to get noticed. People actually get published that way.

We get several submissions each day. We intentionally publish about 18 books a year. Do the math on the acceptance ratio.

What follows is, verbatim, my reply to Mr. Berryman, followed by his response (seriously, you can't make this stuff up):

Dear Mr. Berryman,

Thank you for taking the time to query us on your manuscript. We appreciate your interest in our program.

There are so many outstanding proposals and completed manuscripts available today that it is very difficult to select which to publish. Many deserve to be published, and yours looks very interesting. Unfortunately, we intentionally publish a limited number of titles each year, and your proposal/subject is not what we are seeking at this time.

Given your work as an author, I strongly urge you do the following (although not 1 in 10 authors will follow this worthwhile advice): First, bookmark our publishing and marketing blogs at www.savasbeatie.blogspot.com and www.savasbeatiemarketing.blogspot.com, and become a fan of our Facebook page at http://is.gd/1al1D. These sites offer sound insights, media and author news, and other valuable information. They are also read by many publishers, agents, editors, other authors, all on the lookout for potential new projects. You get the idea. If you really want to get noticed and get published, routinely post insightful comments, observations, and news. In other words, contribute to the conversation.

Second, sign up for our free monthly e-letter Libri Novus, which is quite good and informative, as is our in-depth website at www.savasbeatie.com. Go to the website and enter your email and sign up. Watch what other authors are doing, how they are doing it, and how they are becoming successful.

Remember--you are now in the "no" game. Be persistent, follow submission guidelines, get active and get interconnected on the Internet, and keep working at getting published. Good things will develop, but it often takes a lot of time. The publishing world has changed, and you must change with it.

I wish you the best of luck in your efforts.

----

This is what Mr. Berryman sent back to me:

How absurd. Form responses. You're a scam. A complete fraud. Manuscript submissions to your website are a bait for some other agenda. I'm 70 and fell for it. Shame on me. Stick it in your ear Ted, you patronizing son of a bitch.

XXX Berryman
Cmdr, US Navy retired


So . . . Savas Beatie is a scam. A fraud. (And he insults my mother. Does he think he is still in boot camp?) I guess we really don't sell books around the world, place them with national book clubs, and have authors on national TV and radio.

I work with a wide variety of agents, authors, publishers, media people, and others who are on the lookout for potential manuscripts. In fact, I had an email saved to recommend this to a British military publisher in the UK who might be interested. I have since deleted that email.

Mr. Berryman, the publishing world is a very small place. May I suggest you actually THANK acquisition editors who take the time to reply to you (since 99% of them do not), and instead of telling them to stuff it, ask them for further assistance and be humble.

Of course, what you did was prove to me that I made the right choice, since authors and publishers need to actually GET ALONG.

My God, what are these retired Navy guys drinking? This is the second one like this in less than twelve months.

Remember this gem?

--tps

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Authors! Meet Your Deadlines. Or Else.


A very interesting article appeared in the New York Observer recently. The article explained how and why some publishers are using an author's failure to make deadline as a breach of contract (which it clearly is), and then jettisoning those writers whose books have become (not to put to fine a point on it) excess (read expensive) baggage.

“Publishers are looking at their books and saying, ‘O.K., this book is two years late. Do we want it anymore?’” explained Eric Simonoff, an agent at WME Entertainment. “If the answer is no, they’re saying, ‘We don’t want it anymore—we’re calling [in] our loan.’”

Makes sense. Simonoff continued (and this is the money quote):

“Sometimes people have buyer’s remorse, and it’s a very convenient way of rectifying your buyer’s remorse after the fact. It’s safe to say that delivery dates are more meaningful now than they ever have been before. I think everyone’s putting their clients on notice and saying, ‘This is serious.’”

He really means "Authors' Remorse."

I have always been generous with authors because of the type of books Savas Beatie traditionally publishes. All I ask is that an author be responsive and demonstrate real progress.

Still, I admit to having culled the herd two or three times in the past several years for remorse in signing the author (even if the product was good) or because I fell out of like with the subject matter. One author, Mr. Sweetness and Light, turned to Count Bitters and Darkness once the contract was signed. Thankfully he did not get an advance. It was a real pleasure when he missed his deadline to pick up the phone and tell him what I really thought of his attitude.
I must say, though, that the culling of the herd by publishers back east has been to our benefit out west. Savas Beatie has noticed an uptick in submissions, many of which were once placed with other houses. We recently signed a manuscript that we think will be one of our biggest books late next year or in 2011.

Read the article. It is worthwhile.

Meet the deadlines or make sure your editor approves of a delay--and get that in writing.

-tps

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Spelunking Moaning Cavern: A Wild Adventure With My Son (Part 2)



In Part 1, I demonstrated just how common sense can occasionally take temporary fight when my son and I rappelled into Moaning Cavern in Northern California (as opposed to what sane people do when they take the steps.)

RIGHT: After the rappel, before going deeper. Son DT and me.

[Note: the rules say no cameras on this journey. So we left ours with the guide. Sean took his with him (good job, Sean), so these photos are from Sean's camera.]

When I was down after the rappelling (I was first), another guide already down there with a Sane Group (the ones who walked down) pointed me to a rather small hole on the far side of the platform. "That's the Gorilla's Nostril. At the end of your trip, you exit that back into the main chamber."

"Oh, ok," I said, wondering what I had really gotten us into. "Where do we begin?" I asked. He walked me a short distance to another part of the platform and pointed out an aluminum extension ladder extending down into the darkness. "Thanks," I mumbled.

When my son DT was beginning his rappelling descent into the cave, a lady with the Sane Group asked me if that was my son. "Yes," I answered proudly. She looked at me like I had a pointed hat on my head and inquired, "Does his mother know you are doing this?"

"Why would I tell her?" I shot back, trying to smile while easing away from the Sane Group. It was meant as a joke, but she didn't take it that way.

Once our group was down, our guide Melissa rappelled after us in about 20 seconds. (They call this speed rappelling, which is verboten for us neophytes.) We double-checked our helmet lights and then listened to her instructions:

You are no longer on a safety rope. It is all free-hand now. If you fall, you can get hurt--bad. We are going down that ladder. When you get to the bottom, yell 'clear!" and then move over to the knotted rope, and start climbing down into a small chamber, where we will gather. It is slippery. Be careful.

She wasn't kidding (and the disclaimer form we had signed above made it pretty clear, since every other sentence mentioned "grave risk of death or serious bodily injury." All right, then.

Melissa went first, followed by DT. The ladder was a cinch, of course. Moving over to the rope was trickier for a couple seconds. It was slippery from dripping water. I grabbed the knotted rope (big knots) and I slid my way down--thunk, Agh!, thunk, Ouch!--thankful I already had children.

In the small chamber, maybe all of four feet high, we crowded in as Melissa explained that the cave trip will get tight, and then progressively tighter. But there was an "escape tunnel" if anyone "can't take it." The only way to get through, she continued, is to crawl, slide, and wiggle--on our back, sides, and front, turning, twisting, grabbing, pulling, and grunting along through the darkness. I discovered (again that morning) it was easier to be brave in a group.

[RIGHT. This is in the first chamber, with the group getting "the lecture" from guide Melissa. L-R: Tracy, me, Tatyana, Bela, and Donna.

As I recall it. . . the first part was feet first, sort of sliding down on your butt into the abyss. Then it turned back and up, requiring some climbing, and careful foot and hand placement, then crawling, ducking (not that much ducking, since the tunnel was only about 24 inches high. It can get tighter than this? I wondered as I following my son who was ahead of me and behind Melissa.

RIGHT: On the way to the second chamber. Sean's a hurting.

A larger chamber waited for us maybe twenty minutes in. By this time Tatyanna was asking to leave. She was claustrophobic, and said she had had enough. We were only about 25% of the way through the "adventure." Melissa told her an escape tunnel was ahead, leading back up a thick knotted rope into the main chamber. BUT (there is always a but) she could not go backward and so first had to navigate smaller tunnels that included "The Guillotine" (a giant rock that looks like a blade barely above the floor--and I mean barely above the floor, and "The Meat Grinder." Use your imagination on that last one.

At that point, we all turned our helmets out (at Melissa's suggestion) to see what ultimate black looks like. Ollie said he could see his hand in front of his face after a couple minutes. Nope, answered Melissa. It is your brain imprinting it in front of you because it knows it is there. That was rather creepy. Imagine being dipped in a giant pool of tar with a scuba mask on.

And off we went. Orders and suggestions were passed down the ranks about what to do, how to move, what arm to use, what side to lay on, etc. Yes, it is that difficult in places, tight, and gulp-inducing. I remember one point where DT told me something like, "Pops, turn on your right side, reach up with your right hand, shimmy forward about a foot, and then twist around on your back." That made me happy I was not alone.


RIGHT: Sean slipping under the Guillotine. Anyone want to join us?

When we eventually got to the last chamber before our climb up through the Gorilla's Nostril, Melissa showed us a pair of optional "side trips." One was down a narrow chute into a room. I opted out because in order to get back up, it would require a certain sort of twisting that I knew my bad back would not tolerate well. (It has a tendency, about once every 18 months or so, to go out doing nothing at all. Yes, I know, here I am underground 300 feet doing this. Does my wife know? LOL I figured that if it went out, I would have to be drugged unconscious to get dragged out. Seriously.) Tracy could not get back up. I tried to help. No good. Melissa tried. No good. Finally, I suggested she (Tracy) back down deeper and let he son go down again, get behind her, and give her a hand. That worked.

Anyway, the second optional journey was into the Column or Cul-de-Sac Room. A rather longish very narrow squeeze (what isn't) passageway to the column, then feet-first to the left, a twist to the right head-on, and then on the belly around the column. I pictured a tall column. Ah, no. It was about 18 inches high.

I was behind my son, and it was the only time he began to evidence a slight bit of concern. "Pop, I'm stuck."

And indeed he was.

"Really, Pop. I don't know what to do!"


RIGHT: Me in the narrow passage leading to the Cul-de-Sac (Column) room, with DT having just managed to get both arms in front of him and thus unstuck. Sean snapped the photo.

"Hold on," I replied. I studied his situation for a few seconds. "DT, Melissa said you need both hands out front. You have just one so your shoulder is stuck. Wiggle back a few inches until you can bring your other arm over, and then wiggle ahead." [The photo on the right shows DT (stuck) with me behind him.] A few others made the journey around the column. I passed on that excursion, too.



RIGHT: Sean finishing his trip through the Column room.

"Ok, Melissa," I said once we were all back in the chamber. (Picture nine people, elbow-to-elbow, unable to stand, and you have a picture of how small this "chamber" really is.) "I don't see a way out of here."

She pointed to a nearly invisible rectangular slit in the side wall about rib-high. It was not even three feet wide, and only about 16 inches tall. "That way," Melissa answered. "It's called the Pancake. You have to go in on your back--there is no other way, push with your feet against the wall to get your body inside, and it angles up. It is really smooth, so there is nothing to grab. You have to be an inch-worm." I could not believe my ears. Everyone was nodding, "yeah, no problem." Yeah, right. Again, group courage.


RIGHT: Sean pointing out the Pancake--the only exit out of the cave, up through the Gorilla's Nostril back into the main chamber. Gulp.

Melissa went first, followed by (I think) Tatiana--we wanted her close to the guide, and she agreed--then one of her friends (maybe Bella) then DT, me, and the rest of the gang. Melissa turned on your back and was gone in about three seconds. It was amazing. It was harder for the rest of us. DT went in on his back. Sean snapped a cool photo (reproduced on the right), and because DT is skinny, he flipped over on his belly, gave a hoot of pleasure--and vanished. Gulp. I was next.


RIGHT: DT entering the Pancake.

I tried to go in on my belly--somehow that feels safer--but with the helmet, etc. you can't. And I am not a big guy at 5-6, so you know how small this really is. I turned on my back, got my head and shoulders in, put my feet against the wall, flashed the universal heavy metal sign (see my right hand near my waist in the photo) and pushed myself into the darkness.


RIGHT: Me entering the pancake, flashing the heavy metal sign, and wishing I was at an Iron Maiden concert instead of entering what from all my senses seemed more a tomb than a passage up to the light.

I could hear some muffled talking ahead and above me. Once inside, the smooth limestone rock is only about two inches from your face. "So," I thought as I wiggled inch by inch, "this is what it must be like waking up inside a sarcophagus." I decided to think of something else.


As I recall, that stretch of cave is about twelve feet long before the turning, twisting, etc. began anew.

"Pops, hold on."

DT was stopped, and I could feel his tennis shoe with my left hand. One of the girls ahead was having a problem. "OK."

And so I waited. And waited. With the rock just above my nose. Remember, you can't turn your head to look above you, or below you, or even really side to side. I thought about earthquakes, a sudden collapse or shift in the rock--only a couple inches and I was doomed. I decided to doze off. (I can do that anywhere, anytime, in about ten seconds.) I told DT to wake me, and I was out. The next thing I recall he kicked me, laughed--"Come on old man!"--and up we went.

The final trip was a twister and required some upper body strength, especially getting to another knotted rope, and then threading your way back up through the Gorilla's Nostril. After a decent climb I could hear a different set of voices and see flecks of brighter lights ahead. My heart sank. The magnificent adventure was ending. Then, suddenly, I was in the main chamber staring up at faces of another Sane Group. (They paid a few bucks to walk down, snap a few photos, hear a talk, and walk out again.) DT and I slapped palms and exchanged hugs, sighs, smiles, and nods as the normal people looked on, likely wondering if this is where the nuts hung out after dark.

The group of us gathered and another guide snapped a great shot of all of us.



RIGHT: The final group shot: Guide Melissa kneeling in front. L-R: Sean, Tracy, Ollie, DT, me, Tatyana (next to me), Bela, Donna, and one girl whose name I can't recall. Sorry!

Now hundreds and hundreds of people have done this. It wasn’t a huge deal. But it was. I think you have to be a dad with a teenaged son to fully understand that. We still talk about it nearly every day, three weeks out.

When we gathered out by our cars, the nine of us who were complete strangers just three hours earlier, laughed, relived the adventure, and were all smiles. We decided we would get together again for another caving adventure because we all got on so well. There are a lot of caves here, so finding another with a good "adventure" should not be that hard.

DT and I were silent for a while driving home even though we were both pumped up with adrenalin and testosterone.

"DT, would you go backward off a 12-story building in downtown Sacramento with just a nylon rope the size of my thumb holding you?"

"No way, are you crazy?" he replied.

I looked at him. "We just did."

He looked back, his eyes got large. "Oh my God. We did." I noted with pride that a grin was plastered to his face and his head was nodding.

And boy were we glad to have Carol--a great wife and mom--who scheduled this for us. Thanks honey!

Sitting at the desk as I write this makes me realize how sedate I have become in my middle years. That must change. So, I am trying to talk my Carol into letting DT parachute with me.

No luck so far.

--tps

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spelunking Moaning Cavern: A Wild Adventure With My Son (Part 1)

[Click on the photos for an enlarged view.]
A few weeks ago my son Demetrious (DT) and I did something truly awesome.

I took him a couple years ago to Shiloh for a book signing, and we did a side trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We both loved it. I promised to take him to some of the many pretty cool caves in northern California. Time passed, and we never made it.

My wife, bless her, called me at the office one day and asked whether I wanted to take him to Moaning Caverns for their 3-hour Adventure Tour.

"Sure," I answered. "That sounds great." Little did I know . . .

The night before I found a video made by the adventure channel guy who visited the same cave for the same thing a short time ago. I nearly freaked. "I am going to do that? With my son?" Gulp.

A couple days later we drove to Moaning Cavern, about 1.5 hours away in Gold Country, and met up with the rest of our group for the 11:00 a.m. tour. A mother-son team (Tracy and Ollie) parked next to us. We got on right away. The rest of "team" was a five-person group from Silicon Valley (Sean, Bella, Tatyana, Donna, and one more lady whose name I cannot recall).

[Right: The Silicon Valley Group]


We began with elbow and knee pads, helmets with a light, and stood at the precipice of a yawning tear in the ground. The only way down now is to rappel. DT wanted to go first, but when the time came he quietly suggested otherwise. When no one else spoke up quickly, I volunteered. After all, a dad can't chicken out with his 13-year-old son there, right? My mouth was dry and I had to take a deep breath. Our guide, Melissa, hooked me up (a single nylon line about as thick as your thumb), told me to straddle the other ropes, follow them down, patted my helmet, and wished me luck.

[Right: Tatyana leaving the small room on the way into the main chamber.]



The first ten feet are difficult--a bumpy adjustment period. The rock face is maybe 70 degrees or so. And then without warning I was standing in a small room. Huh? Behind me was a small hole down which the ropes disappeared. Go down there? Since there was no other way, I turned around, stuck out my butt (you have to lean back when you rappel, which in itself is a real leap of faith), and started my descent.

This was bumpy too, but I was getting the hang of it now. After maybe 20 feet or so I could hear some distant voices below me and see some light. I realized I was dropping into the main cavern. A giant smooth rock lip jutted out. I leaned back, slipped over without too much difficulty (they call the kissing rock) and was suddenly dangling over . . .nothing.

[Below, right: Me having cleared the Kissing Rock, hanging 12 stories up. Below, left: Beginning the slow journey down after calming my nerves; Below: Approaching the bottom. Whew.]







I swung around and took in what I can only describe as a giant rock cathedral tall enough to hold the Statue of Liberty plus ten feet (something like 165 feet) or 12 or so stories. (Picture hanging off the side of a 12-story building downtown on a single rope, and you will have some idea of what I was thinking.) Once I realized what I was doing I found it terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

I took about 20 minutes, dangling, moving slowly, and watching a tour group below. At first they looked like ants, looking up at me. A metal winding staircase was about 30 feet to my right. People walking down were snapping photos of me (including a guide who had one of our cameras).

Once I was down, the testosterone high was simply incredible. (I used to play in a fairly successful Midwest rock band, and the only thing I can compare the feeling to was standing on stage with a wild audience screaming in front of you. It was like that.)

But the scariest thing was what followed. I waited about ten minutes, and then watched as my son DT appeared. He had some difficulty at the Kissing Rock. I told him to push off with one hand, but he was too worried about letting go, so he spent a minute or two adjusting himself so he could use his elbow instead.

[Below, two pictures of my son DT, one with him getting squished against the rock, and the other maneuvering to push off with an elbow--"No way was I going to release one hand!" he told me later.]





And then he was over the rock, hanging there above a solid rock floor. My only son. I paid for this. My wife arranged this. Were we nuts?! For a second I was sure he was going to fall. When he started hooting and hollering, enjoying the experience, I exhaled slowly, smiled, and felt proud. He was afraid up top, but he mustered his will and DID IT. Ollie came down after DT, and for a time they were rappelling together. A 20-year old and 13-year old. It was great to see.

[Below: DT with Ollie above him near the top of the chamber, and DT near the bottom, ready to be reeled in, and Ollie's mom Tracy, rappelling after her son.]







Part two of this post will talk about the second and longest part of "Adventure tour"-- bending, twisting, crawling, on your back, side, and front, through some incredibly tight spots. And that was just the beginning. The guide kept saying it is going to get tighter. I could not imagine it. But . . . she wasn't kidding.



[Pops and DT, after the rappel. If we can do that, we thought, we can handle 2.5 hours inside tight spaces . . . Right?. Stay tuned.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Classification of Titles: Midlist


This is the third and last post in this series. The first two concerned frontlist titles and backlist titles. This much more succinct post, covers midlist titles.
Many people outside the book industry have heard the terms "frontlist" and "backlist," but I guarantee you few will be familiar with the word "midlist." To be honest, we rarely use the term, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard it mentioned at the dozens of conferences and books shows I have attended over the years. I guess it is popular in certain cocktail circles, but since I don't usually stray into those lion's dens, I don't hear it too often.

Basically, midlist means books that sell well enough to justify publishing them (so they are not bestsellers and are not projected to be.) If you find an author who can produce a book that sells decently well, pays for itself, makes a profit for the company, etc., it is sometimes referred to as "midlist" book. Some publishers call these authors "midlist authors."

(And by bestsellers, I am referring to the genre. I am unsure whether the NY Establishment would agree with me.)

I have debated this point with others, but midlist is not really anything like backlist or frontlist (which largely refers to a title's classification vis a vis its release date. By far, most titles are technically considered "midlist."

Why is this important for you? If you produce a "midlist" book for a company, it usually means the same publisher will contract another book from you because of your following, your name, and because the new title will help move your other books.

Sometimes authors get disappointed by sales during the first 60 or 90 days and stop working. Enthusiasm drains away, book signings drop off, that website he was meaning to put up never goes live, and so on. I have a name for that: shortsighted.

Even if your book is not a bestseller in its genre or selling as well as you would like or had hoped, that is not a reason to lay back and stop working. Why? Because of the magic formula I just developed in my head while typing this blog post:

Continued hard work = sales, and consistent sales = midlist ranking, and a midlist ranking = another contract for your next book.

This is not rocket science. (And if it was, I would not be typing this post.)

I hope this series has been helpful.

--tps

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Classification of Titles: Backlist


In the last related post, we discussed "Frontlist" titles. Today's post explains what "backlist" is, and why it is important to authors and publishers. (There is an important message in this post for authors, so read on even if you think you know what "backlist" means.)

The most basic definition of "backlist" is: older books still available from a publisher (i.e., older books still in print).

Compiling a robust backlist is the best way for a publishing company to build a valuable company. Why? Because by the time a book is "older," say more than one year from the date of publication, the cost of each book has been amortized across many units. When a book is reprinted and is on the backlist, that means steady orders are coming in for the book with little or no marketing effort. As each book is sold, the most expensive aspects of book production cost (original design, editing, formatting, printing, et. al.) has already been paid. The only primary expense left is reprinting. This results in a steady stream of revenue for the company.

It also means that it creates a steady stream of income for the author, whose hundreds of hours, initial research costs, etc. are long ago paid. (More on why this is important later in this post.)

How the term "backlist" originated is tied to the presentation publishers use in their catalogs. As I have noted before, there are two publishing seasons each year: Spring (January to June) and Fall (July to December). Publishers who issue catalogs used to (and usually still do) offer them twice a year to match the publishing seasons. The new titles were listed in front of the catalog ("frontist"), and older books were listed in the rear of the catalog ("backlist").

Obviously not all books (or even most books) obtain "backlist" status. Why? They don't sell well enough to remain in print. The books that sell steadily in non-fiction tend to be reference titles (like our Ultimate Guide to Basic Training), foundational monographs on a particular topic (like our Shioh and the Western Campaign of 1862), and books that have a lasting message that resonates with a wide number of people (like our Playing with the Enemy, which Penguin is reprinting in paperback for the fourth time already.)

None of these books would be in print today were it not for the cooperative formed by the publisher and author. The former produced a professional quality product, introduced it into the stream of commerce (bookstores, Amazon, wholesalers, etc.) and the author worked tirelessly with the publisher to drive people into the stores, create a demand, and then worked HARDER to create a wider foundation of readers for a LASTING demand.

Astute readers of this blog will already recognize that the efforts put forth by the author while his or her book is a frontlist title will create the success necessary to keep the book in print as a backlist title.

This is why we work so hard to get authors to understand that there is only so much a publisher can do for each book. No one will sell a book more forcefully, more aggressively, and more passionately than its author. So it never ceases to amaze me when some authors push back to ideas that are designed to help him make more money and sell more books.

To me, it is the same thing as telling the publisher, "Look, I wrote the book, you take the risk, and I don't really care if it makes money." Lasting revenue--$100 a month, or thousands of dollars each year--is sitting on the table, and this horse won't put his head down to drink! The excuses we hear, day in and day out, used to make me angry. Now they make me laugh, shake my head with a smile--AND MOVE ON to the next author who wants to earn permanent backlist status.

Today, with social networking, it is not too difficult to achieve the same thing in your pajamas that used to require a 10-city book speaking tour. Hard work now--focused, dedicated, prioritized--can fund your IRA for years or indefinitely. Get up 15 minutes earlier each day; stay up 15 minutes later; skip the TV show and head to the computer. As the saying goes, "just do it."

The moral to this story is a simple one. If you want to get to backlist status, work with your publisher while your book is still a frontlist title. There is no magic to the equation. Hard work early, often, and daily might not make your book a backlist title, but I can guarantee you that sitting on your hind end will make sure it goes out of print--quickly.

Next post on this topic will discuss midlist titles.

Be well.

--tps

Monday, June 29, 2009

Joined at the Lip: Tagg and Lincoln


I would like to commend to you the well-written and cleverly title article "Joined at the Lip" that appeared this morning in the Sacramento Bee.

The primary subject is about former pop rock musicians-turned-authors Brent Bourgeois and Larry Tagg, and Larry's new book The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln. We are very proud to have published Larry's new book. (Savas Publishing published his first book, The Generals of Gettysburg more than a decade ago--it is still in print.)

If you want a fresh, well-written, and original consideration of the Lincoln presidency, viewed entirely through the prism of his contemporaries, pick up this book. We have a limited supply of signed first edition copies.

--tps

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Classification of Titles: Frontlist


Ok, let's explore "Frontlist" titles, and what that means for your book.

The most basic definition is this: "A publisher's list of new or current titles."

This can vary from house to house, but it usually refers to a title that is less than one year old. "Backlist," therefore means a book that has been in print for at least one year.

How these terms originated varies depending upon who you speak with, but almost certainly they developed around the presentation publishers use in their catalogs. There are two publishing seasons each year: Spring (January to June) and Fall (July to December). Publishers who issue catalogs used to do so twice a year to match the publishing seasons. The new titles were listed in front of the catalog--hence the name "frontist." Older books were listed in the rear of the catalog--hence the name "backlist."

For Savas Beatie, we consider a book new (frontlist) twelve months from the date of release. Books that are new are the ones that get the most attention in the form of labor, marketing dollars, and publicity.

But not all frontlist books / authors are treated the same way. Regardless of the size of the company, only a slim handful of authors get a signing/promotional tour sponsored by the publisher. One publisher who puts out 200+ books each season only sends a dozen or so authors out on a signing tour. In a sharp counterpoint to that trend, we arrange signings and events for all our authors (the division of expenses depends upon a host of issues better explored in another post.)

So which books get prolonged support and interest from the marketing group inside each house? Some time ago a friend who worked in NYC for one of the major publishers told me that the company puts X number of titles out into the stream of commerce and . . . watches what happens. When a title sells a certain number largely on its own--for this GIANT publisher it was as low as 7,500 copies--the company moved in with marketing dollars and publicity to reinforce success. In military terms, it is the equivalent of attacking along the line, breaking through somewhere, and then pouring in reserves to exploit the breakthrough. Sales at that level means the book has the ability to spread by word of mouth (viral marketing). We employ much the same thing, though the number we use as a threshold base is different.

So what does that mean for our authors? It means when you have a new book (especially within the first three to six months of release when you have the best chance of success), the sales figures will determine the support you get from our marketing crew. If as an author you are out hustling, speaking, Twittering, have a website, a presence on Facebook, are hitting rotaries, visiting bookstores within an hour or two of your base to sign copies they have in stock (etc., the list of what you can do is nearly endless), your sales figures will increase. If it reaches a level we deem "successful"--that number varies by title and genre--we will move in with more marketing dollars and more efforts at publicity.

If that sales figure is not hit, we will not reinforce your efforts by any noticeable degree unless there is something else going on and we deem it worthwhile to do so. It is nothing personal--we like all our authors and titles or we would not work with them or publish the books; it is just business.

The moral: If authors want success (and nothing is guaranteed), they must prepare in advance of release, and work TIRELESSLY to sell books--to everyone, anywhere, at any time. This is the way to get the attention of both the market and the marketing crew inside your publisher's house.

--tps

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Book Awards for Savas Beatie


Below is a press release we sent out a couple days ago. All books are available through your local bookseller, or from Savas Beatie directly with a SIGNED bookplate.

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Savas Beatie, LLC, is excited to announce the following historical awards and notable mentions.

“We are proud of our authors and titles,” noted managing director Theodore P. Savas, “and are humbled and honored by these awards and honorable mentions. The fact that two titles placed as finalists in the same category was especially gratifying.”


WINNER
The Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Operational / Battle History, 2008

The Army Historical Foundation met for its Twelfth Annual Members Meeting on June 14th, 2009, at Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington, and bestowed the award upon . . .

"Those Damned Black Hats!" The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, by Lance J. Herdegen (Savas Beatie, 2008)

This includes a $1,000 cash award and a special plaque.

About the Author: Award-winning journalist Lance J. Herdegen is the former director of the Institute of Civil War Studies at Carroll University. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for the United Press International (UPI) news service covering national politics and civil rights. He presently is historical consultant for the Civil War Museum of the Upper Middle West. He is also the author of several books. Lance lives in Wisconsin.


FINALIST / RUNNER-UP
The Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Operational / Battle History, 2008


Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, by John F. Luzader

About the Author: John Luzader is a veteran of World War II and a graduate of West Virginia University and the University of Texas. He worked for the U.S. Department of Defense as a research historian before transferring to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service. John conducted extensive archival and ground research for the preservation and interpretation of Saratoga National Historic Park. He eventually planned and researched museum and outdoor exhibits for twelve national historical parks and served as the NPS’s central history office staff historian for the colonial and revolutionary periods. He lives with his wife Jean in a West Virginia retirement community.


FINALIST
The Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Biography, 2008

Major General Robert E. Rodes of the Army of Northern Virginia: A Biography, by Darrell L. Collins

About the Army Historical Foundation: It was established in 1983 as a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the American soldier. Toward that goal, the Foundation’s Board of Directors has established an annual awards program to recognize books that have made a distinctive contribution to U.S. Army history.

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As I noted a week or so ago, The Douglas Southall Freeman Award for Best Book on Southern History, 2009 (which includes a $1,000 cash award and a special plaque) was awarded to Darrel Collins' Major General Robert E. Rodes and the Army of Northern Virginia. Click here for details from that post.

* * *

The Freeman History Award recognizes the author who writes the best work in Southern history published within the last year.

“Every publisher of American history dreams of winning this prestigious award," said Theodore Savas of Savas Beatie. "I grew up reading Dr. Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work on both George Washington and Robert E. Lee, as did many who work in this field. I know Mr. Collins is very excited and honored by this award.”

About the Author: Darrell L. Collins has written several books. He lives with his wife Judith in Conifer, Colorado.


FINALIST
The Indie Book Awards, Autobiography / Memoirs 2009

Once a Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander’s Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery, by Nick Popaditch with Mike Steere



“Once a Marine is a spirited tribute to the character, perseverance, and bravery of those men and women who fight for our freedoms,” explained Savas. “Nick ‘Gunny Pop’ Popaditch’s outstanding account of how he survived a rocket-propelled grenade to the head that left him largely blind and partially deaf, and how he regained his sense of honor and dedication to himself, to his family, and to his country. His story is as amazing as it is awe-inspiring.”

About the Author: Nick is a Silver Star winner, and was declared legally blind. He is finishing college at San Diego State University and wants to be a high school history teacher. Nick is a featured speaker at events around the country, and has appeared on national TV and radio. Nick was made famous as “The Cigar Marine” when his tanks surrounded Firdos Square in April 2003 and helped take down the statue of Saddam Hussein. The enduring image, now part of American history, appeared on the front pages of scores of newspapers around the world.