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by Olivia Snaije Originally published in Perspective Publishing April 19, 2018
In a tightening market for fiction and especially for debut authors looking for that big break, editors can be choosier—and many are more dependent than ever on literary agents to find their next debuts.
Two trends gave a session on debut acquisitions at last week’s London Book Fair special interest. First, the fair’s Author HQ program is smartly including trade authors’ interests, such as placing a first novel. Second, as Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch has pointed out, not only did significant nonfiction deals at LBF this year, but debuts were way down. By Cader’s count, there were 34 debut fiction sales in 2016; 37 in 2017; and only 27 debut fiction deals this year. —Porter Anderson
‘I’ve Pre-Empted Two Books This Year’
A room filled with aspiring writers awaited three editors and a debut author last week at London Book Fair’s session “Why We Commissioned These Debuts.” Speakers included:
• Penguin Random House UK editor Jade Chandler, who handles crime and thrillers for Harvill Secker and Vintage
• Nick Wells, the founding publisher at independent house Flame Tree Publishing, which is to launch an imprint for horror, crime, and science fiction/fantasy in September
• HarperCollins UK editorial director Martha Ashby
• HarperCollins author Sarah J. Harris was on hand to provide the debut writer’s viewpoint
Harris is also published in the States by Simon & Schuster, and she’s written three YA novels under a pseudonym. And she described the comparatively dreamy experience she had in entering the market with The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder.
Having spent nine months writing the book, she said she researched agents and picked out the ones she thought would suit her best. Among them was Jemima Forrester who was starting a new list at David Higham’s agency.
Harris wrote a cover letter, targeted her agents’ list, met Forrester first and signed with her. Once the book was edited, Harris said, Forrester submitted it and the manuscript drew overnight interest from publishers.
Within less than a week, HarperCollins made a bid, which Harris said she knows is unusually fast action.
From an editor’s viewpoint, Harvill Secker’s Chandler said that in a pre-empt, a publisher may “offer quite a lot to the agent because you want the book” to be taken off the table. “But sometimes the agent will have it go to auction. I’ve pre-empted two books this year,” Chandler said, “and it usually involves reading the book overnight. It’s very dramatic and exciting and involves sleepless nights.”
Chandler said that like most editors, she finds authors through literary agents who filter submissions. “It’s quite an old fashioned process,” she said, “but in reality, I’m just one woman and I can only read so much.” Not surprisingly, she said that good relationships with agents become important if an editor is to find the best material.
‘You Know Within a Few Pages If the Writer Can Write’ - Martha Ashby
Martha Ashby is the editor who pre-empted Harris’ book—shutting down all competing offers by striking a deal with the agent. Ashby said she meets with agents and tells them what she’s looking for. She doesn’t read submission letters, she said.
“I want to read the book as someone who doesn’t know what it’s going to be like,” Ashby said. “I want to come at it as a reader would. I think about who the audience is. Is it different from other books in the market? What would the elevator pitch be? If I’m really excited about the book I’ll flag my publisher.
“You know within a few pages if the writer can write. If the voice is great but I don’t know where the story’s going, I’ll still keep reading, bearing in mind that the manuscript has been roughly edited.
“Sometimes an author will need to cut the first few chapters. Once we’re excited about a book we’ll circulate it to sales and marketing and publishers.
“If I can, I tell the publicity and marketing and sales teams about where the book sits in the market because they need to know who the readers are. Are they reading Elle or the Daily Express? Are they on Facebook or on Twitter? Everyone is thinking about how we’d publish the book from their own perspective and from their area.”
While all this is happening, said Ashby, five or 15 other editors are doing the same thing. A book can then go to auction, or be pre-empted, and the process can take between one day to one month, or longer.
“Sometimes agents will want to see a publication pitch,” she said. “How we’ll present the book. The most important thing for an author is to feel like they’ve found the best home for their book.”
For her part as the writer in question, Harris confirmed that the experience at HarperCollins made her feel “like the whole team was onboard with my book from Day One. I had contact with them all.”
‘Headaches and Sleepless Nights’ - Nick Wells
Running a much smaller, independent house, Nick Wells said he goes about things differently at Flame Tree. Editors there feel, he said, that it’s important to engage directly with writers and readers. For this reason, he said he doesn’t rely on literary agents and is open to submissions for periods of time—“which causes headaches and sleepless nights,” he conceded.
“We have short windows for submissions,” he said. And yet, “We [recently] had submissions from 12,000 people and an editorial board of six with some outside readers.” All of which confirmed for him that “there’s no question that the agent route is very helpful.”
As far as submissions go, Wells said that if writers are hungry and know their market, they’d find a way to send him their manuscript.
Searching Out Better Work - Jade Chandler
A relatively new element of the business is the digital visibility authors may have, even if they’re not thinking of it.
Some editors go to blog sites and various social media to look for authors, and many like to see how influential those writers are in the social realm. “If someone isn’t on social media at all,” Chandler said, however, ‘that wouldn’t discourage me.”
The editors agreed that they’re open to the idea of working with self-published authors and that remaining flexible in the industry is important.
And while all the session’s panelists hadn’t directly addressed the title of the session with rationales for precise acquisitions, they did say they’re also trying to get more submissions from a range of writers for diversity. Chandler mentioned Random House’s Write Now program, and Wells said that a more diverse staff is needed if a house is to connect with diverse writers. At HarperCollins, an inclusive hiring scheme has been in place for some time.
Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about the Middle East, multiculturalism, translation, literature, and graphic novels. She is a contributor to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar Art, The Global Post, The New York Times and CNN.
Customers are searching for a solution to their problems. But do they even know your brand exists?
The key to being discovered lies in effective communication. Your brand must explain what it is doing and how that will impact your target audience. This information must be easy to find, understand and share with others.
Enter the press release. This traditional PR tool is often underestimated and overlooked as an asset to build your brand’s reputation. When done right, press releases can build a larger brand following, convert leads to sales and help you gain more media coverage. Press releases also help increase your discoverability, rank higher with search engines and boost web traffic.
Here are 11 tips to help you amplify your press release strategy for maximum exposure:
1. Lead With The Right Hook
First thing’s first. Your press release needs to be newsworthy. To pass this test, ask yourself a few questions. What is new or different about your brand? Will this interest anyone outside of your business? Why should anyone care?
If you can answer all three questions, begin to outline your news in a few sentences. You will want to lead with the most important information. Brevity is key in a world where attention spans are shorter than eight seconds.
2. Perfect Your Headline
Use your headline as an elevator pitch. Think back to why anyone should care about your news to determine how to give readers a reason to click.
“Your headline should offer enough information to understand what the announcement is about without giving away too much so that readers will want to read more,” says Kimberly Brazell, Editorial Manager at PRWeb.
If your press release distribution service includes a sub header option, use that space to add context to the main message.
3. Add Insight from Credible Sources
Associate your news with the expert or leader directly involved in your news announcement. Ask for their opinions on the matter in a few short quotes.
“Expert quotes add insight and credibility to your press release and help readers relate to your news on a personal level. Think of them as a recommendation from a friend, a face and a name you can put to the advice,” says Brazell.
Be conscientious of what you include though. Avoid jargon or technical language. Insights should reiterate the reasons why your news matters, not add unnecessary fluff and bury your lead.
4. Attract More Eyes With Visuals
With so much content coming from all directions, your audience can feel overwhelmed by another piece of text-heavy content. To increase your brand’s impact, include high quality and relevant visuals and/or videos in your press release.
For example, if your brand wants to promote an upcoming conference, include photos of who will be speaking along with information on what they’ll discuss. Or, perhaps your brand just appointed a new CEO and wants to spread the word. Include a video to introduce him to the public and highlight his vision so readers have a sense of how they’ll be affected by the news.
5. Optimize for Search Engines
Google has penalized the black hat techniques some brands use to garner the attention they desperately want. Keyword stuffing, excessive links and low-quality content is easily spotted and should be avoided. Starting with high quality, natural language content is critical, which means keywords should not be included in every single sentence.
Instead, research which words or phrases your target audience is already looking for and use those to direct but not lead your copy. Include one link per 100 words to drive traffic back to your brand’s website without looking overly promotional, and don’t forget tracking codes.
6. Provide Detailed Direction
The only way to prove results is to first know the goal you want to accomplish with your press release. Once readers get past your first paragraph, they’ll know what’s happening with your brand. But how do you want them to get involved?
“Think about what action you want your readers to take after reading your release. You need to make that next step abundantly clear to your audience, because they won’t be going that extra mile without some sort of direction from you,” says Brazell.
Whether you want someone to attend an event, buy a product or download your owned content, make your call to action clear and easy to follow.
7. Make Contact Easy
One very simply way to increase your chances of earned media is to include contact information in your press release. If your headline hooked a journalist, they will want to find out more information before they include you in a story. Make it easy for journalists to reach out with questions.
Include the contact’s social channels, email address and phone number so that readers have options. Always include a direct phone line. The automated prompt systems often associated with 1-800 numbers will quickly turn off interested journalists.
Also verify that the team member whose contact information you share is readily available to respond to the media and aware of all details of your brand’s announcement, so your brand can quickly take advantage of earned media opportunities.
8. Promote Across Multiple Channels
To successfully reap all of the benefits you seek from press releases, you must set attainable goals. Whether you want to drive leads, increase social shares or earn more media, promotion plays a big role in getting to those ideal results. Every time you create a press release, use as many channels as possible to announce your news and link back to your press release.
Coordinate with the team members who head your social channels, blog, emails and internal communication to ensure everyone has the right messaging and is spreading the news at the right time. Multichannel promotion will allow you to reach your audience wherever they may be which is key in such a fast-paced, digital-focused world.
9. Pitch To The Right People
According to Cision’s State of the Media 2016 Report, 93 percent of journalists still prefer to be pitched by email. But simply copying and pasting a press release and hitting forward to all will not put you in good standing.
Before approaching the media about your news, turn to your media database to verify that each journalist you target covers the same beat or industry, works in a relevant geographical location and/or works for an outlet that aligns with your brand.
10. Measure Beyond Basic Metrics
While media pickup is a major goal of any brand, it should not be the only metric measured when you distribute a press release. Look at audience engagement levels, sentiment and conversions as well.
Track the value of individual press releases in real time as well as over time. Group the data together by type of news announcement or time of year. Doing so will allow you to pinpoint which ones increase sales and have the most impact on audiences.
11. Use Results to Reap Future Benefits
Pay close attention to hills and valleys in your numbers. Examples of what to focus on include the topic or type of news announced, distribution time and day, multimedia type and link placement.
Once you’ve combed through the data, set up A/B tests to optimize future results. For example, if you’ve noticed higher engagement rates for the last four press releases that were sent in the afternoon, you might want to consider shifting distribution to that time moving forward.
Remember, don’t stop testing once you’ve updated one part of your press release strategy. Reevaluate your tactics and the tools used to spread your story to gain an edge on competitors and boost your brand’s discoverability.
Discoverability isn’t automatic. Your brand must work hard to be found and that starts with how you craft, distribute and track your press release.
In an interview Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry describes ebooks as ‘exactly the same as print, but electronic.’ The bigger question is whether that’s what consumers want.
By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief This article was first published in Publishing Perspective on February 20, 2018.
‘Two Different Geographies’? or Expectations?
Shortly after the International Publishers Association’s biennial world congress left New Delhi, India’s journal Scroll.in ran a controversial interview with France’s Arnaud Nourry to mark the 10th anniversary of Hachette India.
The highly regarded CEO of Lagardère Publishing and Hachette Livre’s empire, Nourry has raised eyebrows in the book publishing industry for seeming to disparage digital publishing’s centerpiece, the ebook, as a “stupid product.”
Needless to say, this has quickly gotten back to Paris, where Nicholas Gary at ActuaLitté on Monday (February 19) asked whether the comment indicated that Nourry was “launching a missile” at the ebook.
In the interview with Scroll.in, Nourry speaks of the “two geographies” where ebooks have differing success. To get at this point, Scroll.in interviewer Harsimran Gill asks whether Nourry sees the ebook market plateauing.
Nourry answers, “There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20 percent of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5 percent to 7 percent because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format.”
Nourry goes on in the interview to say, “The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience.”
His comments also raise the issue that publishers and consumers might have different expectations for the the ebook format.
“We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks—didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, Web sites with our content—we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.”
Could ‘Exactly the Same as Print’ Be Exactly the Point?
“The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” Arnaud Nourry
While publishing pundits have been quick to jump on these comments as short-sighted, Nourry does go on to say, “It’s not that we’re against ebooks. People … pay a price that is about 40 percent lower than the print price. And it works. The ebook market has gone down a little bit, not much, from say 25 percent to 20 percent in some countries. There is still a readership for ebooks but at a price that keeps the ecosystem alive.”
It’s clear that, at the right price, the ebook format serves a certain percentage of readers well. In fact, some readers may like the ebook because, as Nourry puts it, “It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.”
As Nourry says, many efforts at “enhanced ebooks” have been cast aside as expensive experiments that most consumers haven’t warmed up to. And even today’s attempts to bring augmented reality effects into children’s books seem to remain primarily in the novelty bracket.
What the market may have been telling the industry all along was that, for some readers, “electronic” is enough. The values of the ebook for many do lie in the conveniences that are made possible by the electronic element:
• Many ebooks can be stored and read on single or multiple devices.
• An ebook can be acquired in 60 seconds—no waiting for delivery, no travel to a store, no out-of-stock delays.
• An ebook can glow in the dark, change its fonts size, capture quotes, and even share passages.
• An ebook can provide an instantly available dictionary and other resources.
• And an ebook, yes, is normally less expensive, as Nourry is pointing out, than its print counterpart.
This shouldn’t prevent publishers from developing digital approaches, as Nourry advocates for in the interview, “to see how we can nurture one another and how we can go beyond the ebook on digital.” Any format that can move through that marketplace successfully may be worth pursuing.
Big Picture, Little Picture
“Amazon has had a fantastic role to play in the publishing industry. Apart from our little battle, it is a very efficient retailer, able to ship books almost everywhere in the world very quickly. It is a real opportunity for publishers.”Arnaud Nourry
Nourry in his interview tells Gill that on the international scale, 30 percent of Hachette’s business is in French-language content “across France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and other French-speaking countries.” He cites 25 percent of the company’s business in the States and in English-language Canada, with 20 percent “in the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland,” followed by 10 percent in Spanish “and another 10 percent in the rest of the world.”
He speaks highly of Arabic markets and the Russian readership as an interesting target for Hachette. He assesses China right now as “a difficult country.”
And he talks of how the bruising 2014 negotiations with Amazon were worth it because Hachette won the right to set its own prices for ebooks. In fact, he talks of it now as “our little battle”—although it seized the attention of the publishing industry for almost a year and triggered some acrimonious divides.
Today, Nourry sends warm regards to Seattle: “Amazon has had a fantastic role to play in the publishing industry. Apart from our little battle, it is a very efficient retailer, able to ship books almost everywhere in the world very quickly. It is a real opportunity for publishers.
“Google and Facebook are third-party providers for us in terms of advertising and community management, so they don’t have a central role. Of course, Google 10 years ago had the crazy idea of digitizing all books without permission. We collectively fought that and won. Google is good for discovering titles. We don’t use it a lot for advertising or keywords—it’s a tiny partner. Facebook is mostly an advertising channel, as we use other platforms of the same nature. It does not deeply transform our business.”
The nagging sense from this interview, however, is that Nourry and others in the business may be looking for digital to do more than the consumer wants.
The Bookseller’s Philip Jones in his leader piece on Friday (February 16) writes of how travel books have yet to make a good transition to digital formats: “Mobile-screen size, roaming charges, battery life, and the lack of wi-fi in some destinations has given paper a longer flight time than once we imagined,” he writes.
And certainly, some elements of the industry will always live more comfortably on paper than screens.
But the worrisome part of Nourry’s conversation with Gill may not be in his colorful disdain for the basic ebook as “a stupid product” but in how some in the industry seem unsatisfied with a consumer desire that an ebook be, as he puts it, “exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.”
What if that’s all the market ever wanted from an ebook?