To continue the thoughts that I started with last week, here are a few more common things I deal with as a publicist these days. Authors who:
5. Listen to bad advice
Let me clarify this one first, because it’s certainly not something anyone would do on purpose. And to be fair, many times it happens because the person or persons giving the advice seem well-intentioned and sincere, as well as knowledgeable. But the fact is, all too often they may be the former more than the latter. I see it most often on the Internet in e-lists and groups, but it also happens in small writers groups and places like the lobby at writing conferences and such. If you frequent the newslists, it doesn’t take long to determine who among frequent contributors is most strongly opinionated. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When it’s possible, without being overly rude, try to get enough information to determine whether the person is speaking in generalities that have been proven over time, or from one bad, isolated experience. Understand that a lot of people who have an unfortunate experience may assume or assign a cause that isn’t necessarily the true problem. My advice to those who are new to the industry is simple: consider the source and don’t act in haste. If something is true, you should be able to verify it with at least two or three reliable sources sooner or later.
6. Sign with bad publishers
Again, who would sign with a “bad” publisher? Understand that I'm using that term loosely. There are few bad publishers around, but many offer deals that end up badly for the author. It's not really the publisher's fault, but rather miscommunication, misunderstanding, or lack of information on the author's part. In today’s industry with seemingly more contracts being dropped than offered, it’s easy to understand why an author who's spent months or even years seeking that elusive book contract would jump at the chance to sign on the dotted line for publication. But I’ve seen way too many who’ve done just that live to regret it after the fact.
If you’re fairly new to the publishing industry, do your homework. It would be advisable to do your research before making a submission in the first place, but if you don’t, be sure and check things out thoroughly before signing on the dotted line. You’ve worked hard to get to this place. Don’t sign away the future of your book without knowing what that future holds. A good agent should help in that realm, but they’re sometimes harder to find than a publisher these days.
First, don’t trust any publisher that wants you to pay anything. If they do, understand that you’re dealing with a subsidy publisher (which isn’t always a bad thing) and that you need to know the ramifications that will follow. From my end, the biggest obstacles I find for authors who’ve signed with small presses is what terms of sale the publisher offers to booksellers, whether the book is available under standard terms through Ingram, and whether the books are returnable. There are several variations on the theme and the publishers can present them to new authors in ways that sound perfectly reasonable until the time comes to put them into practice. I generally believe the best and that few, if any, of these publishers are intentionally trying to trick anyone. But I also believe that’s how so many small presses seem to crash and burn as quickly as they sprang to life in the first place. What works in theory doesn’t always work as well in practice. Booksellers who require specific terms aren't the bad guys. They're just savvy business people who know what they can afford to pay and how much profit they need to make if they're going to stay solvent. It's a business.
7. Paying too much attention to…
This one is a little more challenging to define, and changes from one author to the next. It’s often a matter of quantity more than quality. In other words, what the author is paying attention to isn’t wrong, it’s how much time they devote to the pursuit of said information. Like watching Amazon numbers, or collecting reviews like there’s a magic number (Once I have 20 print reviews, I’ll make the bestseller list, etc.). And those are two of the things that often capture too much of a new author’s time and attention.
Are Amazon numbers or reviews important? Ok. Are they critical to an author’s success? No. Are they part of a comprehensive package? Yes.
What do I recommend? When you see your Amazon numbers go from 526,344 to 12,220, smile. Somebody bought some of your books. When you get a great new review, smile again and add it to your press material. When you get a review that’s not so great, smile anyway because it’s just one reviewer’s opinion and people will remember your name and your title long after they’ve forgotten what the reviewer said about it. If the review was so horrible that nobody could ever forget it, smile and shrug. Remind yourself it’s still just one reviewer’s opinion and you never know how many people will go buy a copy just to see if it really is as bad as they said. Most of all, balance your time. Don’t let one or two facets of promotion monopolize your thoughts or the time you have to spend on it. It’s just not worth it.
8. Failure to separate business from personal
I see this one quite a bit. It’s like the difference in the way some people define “author” and “writer”. To a lot of folks, a writer is someone who writes for a living, kind of like a journalist or a copywriter. But an author is a writer who’s reached an elevated status somehow, like writing a novel is more work than writing an article or an instruction manual.
Regardless of the true definitions, I advise newly published authors to practice acting like an author rather than a writer. In other words, remember that it’s not who you are, it’s what you do, but in doing it well, it affects who you are. Does that make sense? It's about how you see yourself and what you do as a result. Do you recognize and accept your talents and accomplishments? Or do you minimize them and play them down? Do you respect yourself?
It might help to visualize an author that you highly respect. What are his or her qualities that make a memorable impression on you? Personality aside, most of the time it involves the author’s presence. How he presents himself in public. How her blog reads or his status comments on Facebook. While the social media offers a wonderful new networking opportunity, and can be great fun, it’s also a trap. Think about status comments you’ve seen that are a little too personal. Overshare? TMI? Things you’ve read by someone you thought highly of, only to wish you hadn’t read them? There's a wealth of information to explore on this topic and we will do so here later on.
Like it or not, once your book was published, you become a public figure. A celebrity of sorts. From that point, if you don’t work to define your privacy boundaries, no one else will. In fact many will work to breach those boundaries. Fans want to know more and more personal details about you and at first it may seem flattering, but if you're too free with personal information, ultimately it will be damaging to you and your career.
It’s important from the outset of you career as an author that you work to clearly define those boundaries for yourself and that you keep some of your personal friends close to help you maintain the balance you need. It can be challenging, but it can be done. One of the things that helps with that is for you to establish a certain routine before you make a public appearance such as a book signing or speaking engagement. Dress differently than you would if you were just meeting friends for coffee on the patio. Develop a public persona that’s not fake, but not altogether vulnerable or revealing either. There has to be enough realism to be engaging, but like my Dad used to tell me when I was small, “You don’t have to tell everything you know!”
Maybe you flinch when someone showers you with praise because they loved your book. Don’t show your insecurities by saying things like, “Oh you don’t know how glad I am to hear you say that. I was afraid no one would like it!” or “My work is trash compared to Unnamed Author!” Practice simply saying, “Thank you, I really appreciate you telling me that!” or something along those lines. Your family and best friends should see you in your casual clothes and should be a safe place for you to reveal your insecurities. Your public shouldn’t.
We’ll talk about a couple more common mistakes next time, then I’m going to talk about some great things I see new authors doing right. It’s only fair.
Till next time!