Perseverance and Publishing

(Yes, an anomalous Saturday post—I owe you one from the week I was sick.)

How long do you keep after something if it’s not working?

Over and over I read on the Internet and in author interviews and in writing publications that above all else, a writer needs to persevere. I’m wondering, then, if that shouldn’t be true of publishing houses.

Recently the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) put on a Book Expo designed to supplant the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) trade show. The idea was that a books-only event aimed at readers, not bookstore owners and managers, would do more for the publishing business.

From all reports (here’s Thomas Nelson CEO, Michale Hyatt’s), however, the event was a dismal failure. While the organizers anticipated upwards of 15,000 people to attend, the numbers were closer to 1500. Discussion has flurried and those in the know have a sense of what went wrong and how the event could be improved. (Chip MacGregor voiced his opinion here and an “insider,” here.)

Apparently the problem was not with the product—the panels and author appearances received high marks. Where things broke down seems to be in the promotion, along with the cost and the venue.

I can testify that Internet promotion was nearly non-existent. I am involved in several writer groups and I visit a number of writer blogs. When I recently read that someone was getting ready to head off to Dallas for the book expo, my reaction was, Really, it’s here so soon? I thought about it a moment, then remember that when I first heard about the event I thought it was too bad it was so close to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. I figured one would necessarily hurt the attendance of the other since few writers would want to leave home for Dallas, then turn around less than a month later and fly to California.

Apart from the poorly chosen date, I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about the event. From reports, evidently the ECPA executives assumed the publishers would promote it. Could be the publishers, in turn, assumed the writers would promote it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers thought, Finally, an event I don’t have to promote.

All the what-went-wrong discussion aside, some insiders have expressed doubts about a second ECPA book expo.

Are they so quick to give up? When writers are told to persevere, persevere, persevere?

Unfortunately, I see a trend. Recently D. Barkley Briggs announced that NavPress, the publisher of his YA fantasy, The Book of Names, was pulling the plug on book two. The amazing thing is, the book is edited, the cover designed, the pages typeset. In fact the book was due to release next month, but reportedly the sales numbers for The Book of Names don’t warrant going ahead with the project.

This is a repeat of what Kathryn Mackel experienced when Strang pulled the plug on her supernatural suspense after the first book, Vanished, came out.

What happened to perseverance? When a person or a business or an association takes on a new project, there should be some understanding that success won’t be instantaneous, that getting the word out to all the right people takes time and effort (and some money).

But here’s a bigger consideration for Christians. If we pursue something we believe God has led us to, doesn’t that require us to hang in there and trust that He will see us through? (Especially if “hanging in there” means honoring a contract?)

The fright-and-flight reaction of these publishers who lost a lot of money on the book expo, and of NavPress, which apparently lost money on The Book of Names, is similar to the reaction Gideon could have had when God sent home 99 percent of his army and the reaction Saul did have as his army deserted him.

In Gideon’s case, he trusted God and his gang of 300 achieved an incredible victory. In Saul’s case, he took things in his own hands, ended up incurring God’s wrath, and lost everything.

So back to the question: How long do you keep after something if it’s not working? As long as God wants you to. It seems like the right answer for writers, publishers, and associations alike.

Creative Blog Buzz—Book Buzz, Part 6

From what I can glean, there is one other powerful attention getter that will have people talking about your books: your creative use of blogging.

This first example I want to share wasn’t started by blogging, however. I’m referring to something I just received word about from Donita Paul:

We are pleased to bring you news that this week on Wednesday, January 16, people around the country will be celebrating Appreciate a Dragon Day! What is this strange holiday, you ask?

Several years ago when DragonSpell first came out, Mrs. Paul was reading a book about how to market your book. One of the suggestions was to register a new holiday. So she registered Appreciate a Dragon Day, or AADD.

Just recently we Googled AADD. SHOCK! It’s all over the place! Mrs. Paul sent emails to many of the people and places that have given it a boost. It was not only a publicity ploy, but something that is dear to her heart: promoting literacy.

Check out the DragonKeeper website’s AADD Event Page to get more details on this interesting holiday and some suggestions on how to celebrate. Some of these ways include making a dragon kite, a dragon cake, a dancing dragon toy, putting on a dragon puppet show, and many more fun ideas!

Of course, if every author ran out and created a holiday tie-in to his book, this would soon get old hat. The key is doing something new.

I was reading over at Michael Hyatt’s blog From Where I Sit, as I regularly do, and from his totally unrelated post about the history of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I got what I think is a new idea for blog buzz. Mr. Hyatt mentioned that Thomas Nelson, Sr., when he first tried to sell his “affordable books for common folks,” had trouble with other booksellers boycotting them. His solution was to hold book fairs.

My thought was, Why not on-line Book Fairs? I mean, several authors could get together and hold such a one day fair, with books discounted and the number limited. Maybe a button could be created, and required to be posted by bloggers for them to be eligible to order books at the fair. Those are just ideas off the top of my head (and I wish I had a book I wanted to buzz about so I could get a fair going. I think it would be fun!)

The thing is, there are lots of ideas out there. If you want to start buzz about your book, think of what unique things connect to your story. Think of actual book events that might be translated into virtual book events. And make them fun, for you and for those you would like to involve. 😀

Published in: on January 15, 2008 at 11:35 am  Comments (6)  
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More on Blogging—Book Buzz, Part 4

So we have a successful blog and we have a book with high-quality content. Is buzz assured? Hardly. I don’t know the latest figure tallying the number of people who blog, but a recent book on the subject says the number doubles every five months. That puts the total in the millions, I’m guessing, so how is my little voice going to stir action when so many voices are asking for attention and a response at the same time?

One key component is the trust factor. Some bloggers, because of their position, have others listening to them. Examples in Christian writing circles would be Thomas Nelson CEO, Michael Hyatt or agents such as Chip MacGregor.

Others have built up trust because of what they say or because of their experience. Brandilyn Collins comes to mind. As a relatively new and successful author, she hooked a number of us onto her blog because she shared a detailed, and often humorous, account of her road to publication.

For those of us who have no high-profile position and no validating experience, the job of creating buzz via blogging is somewhat harder but certainly not impossible.

One of the most successful is Camy Tang. Besides building up her blog readership, she has ventured into a number of other buzz-creating endeavors. One such is to offer freebies. People love winning free stuff and will often continue to come to a site and leave a comment on the chance they will win.

“Free stuff” can be free info, especially if the person is situated as an insider. Randy Ingermanson may be the best writer offering free help for those starting out, to the point that he has morphed his teaching into a business. Agent Terry Whalin also has a number of free articles he links to at his blog.

Besides offering free info or books or what have you, bloggers are building buzz through blog tours such as CSFF, blog carnivals, and blog parties. Parties have extended to launch parties. I haven’t seen one of these done up big yet. The only “party” I was involved in, I was pretty much on the periphery, but the buzz part was created by every participant posting a link to party headquarters. Also, lots and lots of people donated prizes, so the purpose was really to join the party, post, and see if you might win something.

Contests are another part of creating book buzz, and blogs are ideal for holding contests such as Fantasy Challenge and Fantasy Challenge II or Wayne Batson’s Treasure Hunt.

But there’s even more. Can you tell blogging is becoming one of the bigger pieces of the marketing pie?

Some of This, a Little of That

So I’ve been catching up on blog posts I wasn’t reading this week because I was touring CSFF participants’ sites instead. Lots going on, but nothing that really stuck as something I HAVE to post on my blog.

For writers, Chip MacGregor has a post about agents and proposals. President and CEO of Thomas Nelson, Michael Hyatt, posted a list of agents his company uses.

For regular visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, we are nearing the end of the Fantasy Challenge II. If you have something to report, I hope you’ll take a moment to write up your comment as soon as possible.

For fantasy fans, Latest In Spec will be coming out with a special Christmas Gift Issue that you’ll want to get a copy of. It’s a great resource for you and for those you influence—your local librarian, your children’s teachers, your local bookstore managers.

Another fantasy tidbit. The online December issue of CBA: the Association of Christian Retailing listed Wayne Thomas Batson‘s Isle of Swords as #4 on the YA best-selling list. Of course it continues to do well at and is even listed as #5 for children’s books about pirates.

Still, His Dark Materials, atheist Philip Pullman’s children’s series, is getting a big push with the upcoming movie release of The Golden Compass and high on Amazon’s best-seller list. It’s unfortunate, but I tend to think the Christian reaction to the books and movie helps spur interest. More on that subject tomorrow.

It Really Is Up to Readers

As near as I can tell, editors and agents are just too busy to know what readers actually want. As Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt admitted in a blog post last May, publishers do not do market studies. They rely on “the Book Industry Study Group and various trade associations … but very little is done at the individual publisher level.” Instead, marketing trends become apparent after the fact, based on the sales record of particular books.

In my mind, this explains some of the tendencies I see in the CBA, one being the slow response to the fantasy craze in the culture. This, from agent Steve Laube via Chip MacGreagor’s blog,

We get the same problem with science-fiction and fantasy (which are two distinct genres, contrary to common verbiage). I championed that category when I was at Bethany House and we launched Karen Hancock, Randy Ingermanson, John Olson, and Kathy Tyres. Unfortunately the market was soft and the category sort of frittered away to where the 2007 Christy Awards didn’t even have the category designated for an award. However at the same time we have observed the wild success of CBA YA fantasy novels from both Donita K. Paul and Bryan Davis. That success has opened a small window of opportunity in this category for adults too. Only a couple publishers are looking, and I can state that they will probably only release one or two authors, and wait for the market to vote. If the numbers are not strong? The cycle will begin all over again.

Steve is right about the publishers waiting “for the market to vote.” I’ve had two acquisitions editors tell me personally or publicly that they are waiting to see how current projects do before making a decision about acquiring additional fantasy projects.

As a writer on the out, looking in, I feel frustrated at times. Granted, Donita Paul and Bryan Davis are selling well. To have Steve characterize their works as wildly successful is incredibly encouraging. But isn’t Wayne Batson also wildly successful? Doesn’t the media attention from this summer (remember the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly articles), not to mention the soon-to-be released Reuters interview with Batson and Christopher Hopper, count for something when publishers consider what projects to pursue? From where I sit (outside looking in, remember) it appears that sales trump all.

How unfortunate. Of the authors that Steve Laube contracted for Bethany, only one is a fantasy writer, so as a reader I admit I was not out there buying science fiction. But the combined genre got a black eye because the sales of all the books weren’t … what? Making money hand over fist? 🙂 I admit, I don’t even know what publishers consider “successful.” And in any case, I don’t have any real sales numbers to go by, anyway.

So guess what? It keeps coming back to the same thing—if we want Christian fantasy, we have to buy Christian fantasy.

So, who’s on your Christmas list that could surely benefit from reading a good fantasy? 😀

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