Anybody in this business who is right more than 50 percent of the time is a genius.
—Former Simon & Schuster President Richard Snyder
If you haven’t yet read Scott Berg’s wonderful book, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, you have a treat in store. Back in the twenties, thirties, and forties, publishing was small potatoes. In those simpler days when publishing was a “gentleman’s profession,” Max Perkins fulfilled the traditional role of an editor: nurturing promising new writers.
Today, the overhead in midtown Manhattan forces publishers to be more selective about the writers they gamble on. The books of the authors they do take on have to improve in quality and sales every time out. If the books don’t deliver, the authors will need either a new publisher or maybe a new name.
First-time novelists whose work disappears without a trace may resort to pseudonyms to get a second chance to be a promising first novelist. Nonetheless, selling an author’s first novel may be easier than selling the second one, which has to prove that the first book wasn’t a fluke.
New writers determined to be published by major publishers must scale the walls of Fortress New York, a confining, provincial, high-pressure environment whose inhabitants share the same mind-set. Editors remain eager to find good books; what has escalated is the difficulty of getting books that lack enough commercial appeal past the number crunchers.
Big houses publish fiction and nonfiction on whatever subjects they think will sell. But because of their long lists, the major houses are less able to fulfill their traditional role of nurturing new writers while building an audience for their work. So if the market for your book isn’t big enough, or if you feel that your ability to promote it won’t excite the behemoths in the Big Apple, choose an alternative.
Small presses can indulge in the luxury of yielding to their passion for books without great sales potential. With their lower overheads, small publishers can make a profit by selling as few as 3,000 copies.
Because they don’t publish many books, small presses must make every book count. Your book may fare better as the lead book at a small house than as one of hundreds published by St. Martin’s Press. A small press will also give you a greater opportunity to be involved in the publishing process.
The most important thing for any author is to find a publisher who believes in your book’s mission and message. I judge a publisher by their commitment and enthusiasm for my book’s topic, plus how my book fits into their list. Inquire how they plan to support the book’s promotion, how soon they will release it and what other books in this category they have previously published. It’s also essential to talk to the editor who will handle your book and understand his or her vision. My first hard-back book about children’s behavior that I co-authored in 1981 was perfectly matched with one particular editor who was a new mom because she was in the trenches.
Questions to ask your publisher:
- How does your publicity department handle book requests? Will you send them out for me?
- What type of support can you offer me if I’m promoting the book? Will you cover any travel expenses if there’s an important publicity opportunity?
- Am I able to sell books in the back of the room when speaking? Or, if I elect to use a book store, will you coordinate the store and a representative being there to sell books?
- When will finished books be in the stores and posted online for sale?
Reprinted from “Rick Frishman‘s Author101 Newsletter”
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