- Jon Fine, Director of Author and Publishing Relations, Amazon.com;
- Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency, LLC; and
- Peter McCarthy, co-founder, The Logical Marketing Agency
For podcast release Monday, June 9, 2014
Recorded at uPublish U, BookExpo America
KENNEALLY: Good morning, everyone, again, my name is Chris Kenneally. Thank you Steve Rosato, and thank you all for joining us this morning. We’re looking forward to this keynote discussion, and as Steve said, then sending you off on the various tracks that you will pursue throughout the day here. There are a variety exhibitors out that you should visit, as well.
I think it’s important to ask the question, why are we all here? We’re not here because of an explosion in writing and creativity, that’s always been the case in this country and around the world. What we are seeing is an explosion in publishing. It is a fact that more self-published books today have appeared than ever in the past. The latest numbers I have from 2012, according to Bowker, is 391,000 titles published in the United States – self-published, which amounts to 40% of all ISBNs for that year. To give you an idea of the level of growth, in 2007, they were only 11% of all published ISBNs. So it wouldn’t surprise me or I don’t think anyone else here in the room that at some point we will see more than half of the books published each year will be from independent authors under that self-published umbrella.
Another question to ask beyond why are we here, is why are people doing this? Because of the level of control that it offers them, because of the options that it gives them, because of the financial reward that it promises. This is true, not only for authors like yourselves in this room, but for very important literary figures. I read recently that David Mamet, the playwright, had chosen to self-publish his own most recent book. When he was asked why he would do that, such a successful author and writer, he said publishing is a lot like Hollywood – no one keeps their promises. He wanted to be true to himself, which is, I think, a fine idea.
We call our program today, Congratulations Author: You’re Promoted To CEO. I guess that’s another way of saying, you’re the boss. But the boss and bossy – we’ve had a discussion in this country around these terms. You wonder about whether that’s the appropriate way to look at it. I did some looking online and found that there are some view about being a boss in opposition to being a leader. So if you’re successful today in this program, you’ll come out not a boss for yourself, but a leader for yourself, and perhaps for others in the writing community. Because being a boss is a job, being a leader is a career. A boss knows everything. A leader asks questions. I think that’s all-important, and I’ll look forward to asking questions right now of our panel, and I’ll introduce them moving from immediately to my left, Peter McCarthy. Peter, welcome.
McCARTHY: Thank you.
KENNEALLY: Peter McCarthy is among book publishing’s leading digital marketers with nearly two decades of experience with the Reader’s Catalog, The New York Review of Books, Penguin, and Random House, all of that at the cutting edge of nascent Web editorial, Web development, digital publishing and distribution. His clients currently include authors, agents, marketing, and advertising agencies, software developers and publishers. In April Peter McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin joined forces on a new venture, The Logical Marketing Agency, a digital marketing service provider for publishers and authors.
To Peter’s left is Kristin Nelson. Kristin, welcome.
NELSON: I’m delighted to be here, thank you.
KENNEALLY: Kristin Nelson established the Nelson Literary Agency in 2002, and over the last decade of her career, has represented over 30 New York Times best selling titles, and many USA Today best sellers. Her clients include, and this is just a limited list, Jamie Ford, Hugh Howey, Barbara Freethy, Ally Carter, Marie Lu and Gail Carriger. She is currently looking for literary commercial novels, big crossover novels with one foot squarely in genre, upmarket women’s fiction, lead title or hard-cover science fiction and fantasy, single title romance, with a special passion for historicals, and young adult and upper-level middle-grade novels, so I imagine you’ll be swamped at the end of discussion here, but that’s probably what you want.
And then, finally, at the very far end, Jon Fine returning to uPublishU. Jon, Welcome.
FINE: Thank you.
Jon is Director of Author and Publisher Relations for Amazon. He also directs Amazon’s author grant program, which supports a diverse range of not-for-profit author and publisher groups. Prior to going to Amazon, Jon served as VP and associate general counsel for Random House, where he directed legal affairs for the Alfred Knopf division, as well as Random House of Canada. He’s previously also served as senior media counsel at NBC, handling content and associated issues for NBC News, Saturday Night Live, and other divisions.
Kristin Nelson, if I can, I’ll start with you, and pose the question to you about what the challenge of being CEO really means to the authors that you represent. How excited and how fearful are they of this change in the business?
NELSON: One of the things that is absolutely most fascinating about all the changes that are occurring is that our authors and our clients actually have more power today than they’ve ever had in the past. And they have more power to make different choices and to follow different opportunities that all lead to the same end goal. Just the other day I was interviewed by a reporter for The Economist, and she asked me, are you worried, are you stressed, are you afraid about how the agent’s role is changing and whether that will disappear? And I said, quite frankly, no, I’m not, because my job, as an agent, is to connect my author to the reader. Now how I’m connecting that author to the reader is actually changing. But it’s still the same job. So now my authors, they’re actually less fearful because if I take somebody on because I think the manuscript is great – and to be so very humble, I’m almost never wrong. I’m so kidding.
KENNEALLY: I think Jimmy Hoffa said, I may have my faults but being wrong isn’t one of them.
NELSON: I think I can see talent, but even I don’t even sell one of my authors that I have taken on. And now we have an opportunity to do something else. Maggie Marr is a perfect example. She had two books with Crown, they let her go, and then she wanted to write more contemporary romance, and she wrote these great manuscripts, we could not sell them to publishing. We decided to support her in digitally indie publishing them, and she went from two years ago making $100 a month to now making $3,000 a month. She is not a big name and she had not been in that genre before. So they are not fearful because they have more opportunities and choices.
KENNEALLY: That’s a really important point, I think, because in the past, not getting published seemed like an end of the line, if you will, and here there are alternatives, and alternatives with real promise. The example you just gave, I think, is a really great one. You represent a variety of authors from those well-regarded best-sellers to the so-called mid-list author. What about the empowerment question for someone who’s perhaps already had something of a career in publishing, and is thinking about taking advantage of what self-publishing offers? How would they approach the questions they need to ask themselves, like what should I be thinking about, what should I be doing?
NELSON: Are you asking me –
KENNEALLY: I’m asking Kristin, yes.
NELSON: Sorry, I just want to make sure I wasn’t taking the microphone away from Jon and Peter.
What’s really interesting – what he means by the mid-list author, first of all, is an author who has been publishing with a traditional publisher, like for example Random House – I’m going to give you the example of Shanna Swendson – and the books did well but they didn’t do spectacularly well. I can only speak to examples, to me it just makes more sense.
KENNEALLY: It’s terrific you do that.
NELSON: Shanna Swendson, she wrote four books in what is known as the Enchanted, Inc. series for Random House, and it started in 2005. But she was a solidly mid-list author. So even the books sold, they didn’t rise to superstardom or whatever. So when it came time to write the fifth book in the series, Random House just declined to continue on. They just declined her option and so she wasn’t going to be able to continue with her series with them. But what was interesting is that she was selling really well abroad, so some of her foreign publishers came to us and said, we don’t care what Random House is doing, we want her to write book number five. But would she do it for us?
And so she continued writing those books, but they were not available in the United States. I spent two and a half years trying to encourage her to make them available digitally, and she was like, oh, I don’t know, that self-pub kind of has a stigma. I’m not sure. I finally rang her up one afternoon and I said, does it have a stigma to the tune of not making $3,000 to $5,000 a month? And she said, what was that? I said, I think, because of your fan base and how strong those books are still selling in the United States – because Random House still had the first four – you’ve written the last three. You have them, you’ve written them, the work’s been done, they’re being published abroad. You’re not losing anything, and I think with your fan base you could potentially make that much money indie publishing.
That is a perfect example of a mid-list author who kind of felt like she lost her power because Random House declined to continue the series. Suddenly we made those titles available in the United States and she was making $3,000 to $5,000 a month, just out of the gate, and now she’s like I’m loving this. We just sold the audio rights to Audible back in January. This is a series that came out in 2005, so this is not a new book. Sold the audio rights, finally. Couldn’t get anybody to do the audio back in the day. Finally sold them. They started releasing the first three books in January. They called me in April and they said, oh, my gosh, we sold 12,000 audio copies. That’s a huge number. Most authors only sell a couple of hundred audio copies. They’re like, what else is she doing? We don’t care, we want to take her on. So suddenly the mid-list author has power.
KENNEALLY: There are two things going on there. There’s obviously the financial promise of this, and in the cases you’ve cited it’s been realized. But there’s another matter that’s equally important, and I think it actually is the driver of all this, which is the notion of control, taking your career into your own hands. Jon Fine, I wonder if you could speak to that because I think that’s an important part of what you speak about when you come to these events.
FINE: First of all, thank you guys for having me again, and thank you all for coming here. I know there’s lots of things you could be doing with your time and it’s really an honor to be able to talk with you.
I do want to focus on that empowerment idea. Just a refresher. First of all, let’s not forget how hard it is to write a book. That is not getting easier, necessarily, except, perhaps, there is what I see a very strong movement towards a much larger, more helpful communitarian author community. That I see as helping people write, and I see that at conferences like this or at RWA, and I think that’s amazing. But there’s nothing harder than writing that book.
I think the key thing that we can do is help you with all the other stuff that has to be done once that book is finished. That’s the way I look at all of these issues: How can we help folks who have a story to tell get that story in front of as many people as possible.
I think the other thing we have to recognize is being a storyteller or a writer has never necessarily been a fast track to riches, and that will continue to be the case. It is hard work to write a great book and it is hard work to find a large audience. So all of that, I think, is important to consider as you look at all these things. To me, what has really been amazing, in addition to the fact that many authors have found a way very quickly to increase their income and be able to make a living as a writer is the increased opportunities to find different ways to do it. I actually think your stable, Hugh Howey in particular, but others as well, reflects the future in terms of how control is passing into the hands of authors.
I was just saying earlier, this is this the year of optimistic authors. I was here a year ago at the same keynote, and over the course of the year, actually traveled pretty much around the world to a variety of authors’ conferences. The thing that I took away that was most intriguing to me, and I do think it’s because control is moving into authors, and authors are becoming more empowered, is this sense of incredible optimism of the future opportunity.
I think in terms of control, the end game is to make that money if that’s what you want to do. You may have other goals in terms of being a storyteller, but let’s assume for the moment that that’s what you’d like to do. The opportunity to get to that place has grown exponentially. Hugh Howey will self-publish here, license rights in Taiwan, lucky enough and really one of the first to be able to breech and keep his e-book rights away from his print rights.
The other thing that we’re seeing in addition, because of this control movement, is real impact on traditional publishing structures. Hugh’s ability to wrest a print only deal – Kristin’s ability to wrest it for Hugh from Simon & Schuster – really was a harbinger, I think, of the future. So what you’re seeing is these publishing houses, even the traditional ones are having to, for example, with their new imprints, pay more frequently than once a year or twice a year. Not quite to monthly yet, but they’re getting there, and that’s, to me, another example of the way this power movement has altered, I think, forever, the nature of publishing.
KENNEALLY: But Jon, what I hear you saying, though, is not that this is a do-it-yourself lonely occupation. You emphasized the notion of community. We’re talking about Romance Writers of America, just some of the self-help groups, if I can call them that, that come together online, people sharing their work. But also the network of providers who will make the author’s book as good as it can be.
FINE: It’s an ecosystem. It’s really quite remarkable, and Peter, I’m sure, can speak more eloquently than I can on this. But obviously the changes that have been wrought on traditional publishing have meant that many of my former colleagues are not longer at the publishing houses they were at, which is unfortunate in many ways. But it’s also a unique opportunity for folks who couldn’t get to the great marketers, who couldn’t get to the great cover designers, the great editors – copy editors or developmental editors. Those folks are out there now, and that is in another sense empowering because again, yes, you definitely don’t have to do it on your own. In fact, most people would argue you shouldn’t do it on your own. It’s OK to have your mom copyedit your book, but damn, make sure you pay her enough to do a great job.
And that is what you have to think about, by the way, because your book, no matter how well it’s written, is up there against some very wonderfully polished presentations. So even if your book is a barn-burner of a book, an incredible book, you need to entice people to pick it up. And so using those resources and having them available to you as an author is, I think, a change we’ll continue to see. It’s funny, when I was in India in February at the World Book Fair in Delhi, you could see just now, self-publishing, independent publishing as I like to call it, independent authors are coming into the fore in India, and you start to see this ecosystem develop, of consultants and folks who have come out of traditional publishing and see an opportunity. You see it happening around the world. It’s fascinating.
KENNEALLY: Well, Peter Fine, (sic) you’ve been involved in some startups and again, at the very beginning of e-commerce for publishing, so you understand what it’s like to be in a startup, if someone here begins to think of themselves in that way, that they are a publishing startup – a one-person publishing startup, how should they feel about that?
McCARTHY: Well, I think as everyone said – well, first of all, thank you for having me on. I echo what Jon said, it’s great to be here. I’m sorry, I’ve been at BEA for awhile, I tend to lose my voice, so I’ll speak as loudly as I can. And I’ll never be as eloquent as you. I’m not a lawyer, he is.
The empowerment thing is wonderful. Power is great, except for with power comes responsibility – dreams and power. Wielding it, one must be very careful. Again, it’s great to have your mom copyedit your book – Mom better than you, yourself. Also, I think a lot of it just, for me, boils down to goals. You have to establish goals. Sales can’t be your only goal. If it is, you can be very disappointed.
It takes a lot to become what I would consider to be a pro – to look pro. No matter how you get out there, no matter what your channel of distribution is, I’m a marketer, so I think this way. But your brand has to be solid, your foundation has to be solid. You have to look pro. You have to understand what you can do and what you can’t do – where you need help. It may be in copyediting, it may be in editing, it may be in marketing, it may be in technology. What are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, and knowing them. The best CEOs, this is what they do.
KENNEALLY: Peter, brand is a term that gets used a lot in business, not just in publishing. For me, I’ve got a definition of it that I think is helpful to think about, which is that a brand is the commitment between the creator and the customer, and it’s a real commitment you have to make.
McCARTHY: Absolutely, yeah, it’s a brand promise and delivering on that promise every single time.
KENNEALLY: But what’s hard for the creator, for the people in this room, is they have to pull back a bit, because in a sense, a book is their baby. You can’t be too in love with your own kid, but you can be too in love with your own book.
McCARTHY: That’s the hard part, I think. And it’s true of marketing, too. I often will read a book and fall in love with it and want to market it more than another book, even though the audience out there is telling me that I shouldn’t do that. Even though I like this one better than that, market that one because it’s selling better. I think that dispassionate view of one’s own work can be quite difficult.
For me, it’s not difficult, actually. I’ve had many of the indie publishing author clients, and one of the things that I always tell them is first, I might not read your book. Please don’t be insulted, I don’t want to because it doesn’t help me market it, necessarily. It may or may not. I certainly don’t care too much about the story of how you wrote it. It’s important to you, it’s not important to me to do my job. It’s a really hard conversation to have. It’s not that I don’t care about writing, my wife’s a writer. I so admire the process. As Jon said, it is a very difficult thing to do. But it’s not my job.
KENNEALLY: So what is your job? What do you care about if you don’t care about the book? What do you care about, Peter?
McCARTHY: The people who are going to go buy it and read it.
FINE: There you go. Identifying the audience.
McCARTHY: Identifying the audience and matching it up. Same thing that Kristin does, but I’m a little less author-focused, and I’m totally consumer-focused. I want to get people in the door, reading your book. Period, end of sentence.
FINE: There are two things, Peter, you just said that I feel need to be emphasized. One is yeah, and this is a message that we try to send everywhere we go, it is a great opportunity, but it is an incredible amount of work. So you have to understand that. Thankfully, five years ago, four years ago, when people were starting out, they didn’t have the ecosystem, and frankly didn’t have any agents willing to take on self-published authors at that point five years ago. So it really has gotten easier in many ways. But the opportunity is absolutely there. It carries a tremendous burden.
The other thing to focus on, I do think you really have to start, even before you write, thinking about your goals. Generally I would say that is reaching an audience. It might not be. It might be that you have a story to tell about escaping from Russia in the teens, and you want to leave that story behind for your granddaughter and her granddaughter. That’s a very different but very viable way to be a storyteller. Most storytellers, though, want a larger audience, so that’s what you have to think about from the very beginning. That can help guide you as sort of a north star through the entire process – writing, perhaps, but certainly how you design the cover, how you create a marketing plan, all of it working backwards from this, OK, what am I trying to do with this skill, with this story?
KENNEALLY: Kristin, I want to bring you in because we’ve already heard the H word, Howey – Hugh Howey, and I don’t to make people think that you’re only about Hugh Howey, because you’re about so much more. But the story about how you came to have a working relationship as Hugh’s agent and the way you did it, I think, is an important one because he was writing for a long time before it reached that point. How did it reach that point? How did you find him?
NELSON: It is a fun story. My contracts and royalties manager came into the office one January morning, and she said, Kristin, this may sound odd, but my mother reads a lot of books on her Kindle – a lot of indie titles on her Kindle – and she read this story last night and so she sent it to me and said I absolutely had to take a look at it. I thought it was amazing and I think you should look at it. I looked this guy up, and he’s not represented or anything. So I said, great, fine, send it me, and I’ll give it a look, and I read it that night, and I was absolutely blown away. I ended up writing Hugh what was more of a fan e-mail –
M: A mash note?
NELSON: I’m like I’m just in love with this work. I’m guessing you probably have no interest in partnering with an agent for representation, but I just wanted you to know that I thought it was amazing and I’d love to talk to you. So he decided to chat, and we did a couple of Skype sessions, actually, rather than phone, because I just figure one-on-one, we could connect better if we could see each other.
What decided it for him, I was not the first agent to approach him, but I was the only agent who said, I’m not sure you should partner with traditional publishing, however, I always think the conversation is worth having. The reason why I think the conversation is worth having is because this is how instigate change in this industry, and I want you and I to try to bring about change. He was so onboard with that.
KENNEALLY: Because he has some very definite ideas about himself as an author, but really as an author-publisher.
NELSON: Absolutely, and he loves partnering with his publishers, with Simon & Schuster, here in the United States, who has the print rights. He’s had wonderful experience with them. With his publisher in the UK, which is Jack Fogg of Century Random House, they’ve done an absolutely amazing job there. He sees all the potential outlets, which by the way, I have any number of authors who love their partnerships with their traditional publishers, and have no desire whatsoever to go indie. That’s not the path they want to take, and I think that’s just another part of the author empowerment is that you can have choices –
FINE: Like Taiwan, right?
NELSON: Yeah, there is no right or wrong. If you want to accept a deal with Random House in the United States because you think that is the great way to start a career and get entry and to have that support behind you – because when a traditional publisher gets behind a book like they did for Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, it is a sight of beauty to behold. That book spent 136 consecutive weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
KENNEALLY: Hard to get that attention, though.
NELSON: Yeah, and Random House did that. But of course, that’s 2% of the authors out there, and they’re publishing hundreds and hundreds. Sorry, I’m leading away. But that’s how Hugh Howey came back to me, and that’s how we started this journey. We had any number of conversations with publishers over the course of the year 2012 before we actually ended up partnering with Simon & Schuster for the print rights only, and as Jon mentioned, I negotiated it in such a way that Hugh could maintain his digital rights. That sounds like the best of all worlds, right? Doesn’t that sound like why wouldn’t you do that? But publishers are pulling back from that because their understanding that the real profit margin is in, of course, the digital sales.
KENNEALLY: Indeed. Jon, I want to bring you back because you’re an attorney, and we won’t hold that against you, in fact we want to use it right now because one of the things that I’ve learned at Copyright Clearance Center that’s so important about being an author is that you become a copyright holder. With that copyright and with that control that copyright offers you, there’s a great deal you can do. I know that subsidiary rights and the potential of licensing the work beyond the immediate book format is important, too.
FINE: Well, yeah. I should caution, don’t try this at home. I’m not actually a practicing lawyer anymore, but it is something that’s very near and dear to my heart. This is part of the empowerment, and Hugh is sort of the original hybrid author in many senses. You can see that in the way he’s been able pick and choose how to use his rights. Taiwan – not a great place to self-publish. So as I understand it, Hugh did a traditional deal.
NELSON: He keeps mentioning Taiwan because Hugh was a huge, huge bestseller in Taiwan which, let me tell you, I never say often – a huge bestseller in Taiwan. We got this royalty check and I looked at it and I was like, this is from Taiwan? You got to be kidding. It was like five figures. Taiwan only pays $1000 ever.
FINE: It’s amazing. But you wouldn’t go and self-publish there, necessarily – not yet. Maybe in a few years, and now that he’s had success, he can build off that very easily. You also see authors having opportunities to use these rights in ways they didn’t before. I think one of the best examples of that is in the world of audio. One of the things we advise, I think everybody here would agree, the more formats – languages, print, digital, coloring books, whatever – that you can put your story into, the better because again, your goal is to find your audience. Remember, that audience is not only looking at other books, that audience is looking at everything they can do in that device that we all have in our pocket – movies, games, music – everything.
So those rights are all now becoming available to authors to exploit. If you wanted to do an audio five years ago, on your own, it was exceptionally difficult, if not impossible because you had to find a narrator, you had to find a producer, you had to find a publisher – very hard thing to do. Audible launched a really cool, and I think harbinger of the future for a variety of reasons. It’s a tool to program called ACX. Essentially what it does, it eliminates the transactional friction. Basically, it’s a matchmaking service, and it’s engineered in such a delightful way. You guys should go check it out, and actually they’re upstairs. I think the booth is 1727, both Audible and Brilliance Publishing, and then of course Kindle and CreateSpace are all up there, and please feel free to drop by after. But it’s made it possible for folks to monetize that kind of right.
I would say five years ago, maybe 5% of all books published were made into audio books, and it simply was because it was expensive and hard to distribute. The digital technology has made it much easier. You don’t have to create shiny plastic discs anymore. It still is expensive to create a great, narrated – or at least still requires some resources to create a great narrated audio book, and again, the quality is really important. But the technology, again, has created these studios in a box. So ACX essentially enables you to negotiate with narrators and provide samples. And then you put those samples, if you want, you can decide for yourself whether they’re good enough, and enter into an agreement with a narrator that way, or you can post these samples on your Website and have your fans or friends tell you which ones they think are best. But again, what this has done is enable authors, on their own, to monetize a right and use a right and make it available to people. Forget the monetization, you’re making it available to an audience and hopefully expanding your audience. Those folks will come back and maybe try your other stories in print or digital.
So that is a huge change, and it really is a harbinger in this sense, because you can imagine, if you can do that matchmaking with narrators and producers, can’t you do it with copyeditors and developmental editors and marketers and cover designers? And so it’s a real harbinger in the sense that it is the path, I think, forward for all of us to find the talent that is now out there that you used to not be able to get to. It’s truly an awesome, awesome program.
KENNEALLY: Pete McCarthy, as a marketer I want to ask you about that. Would you rather have a whole menu of things to market at once, or would you like to have a program that builds from book to various other products?
McCARTHY: Either way to be honest with you. It would very much depend on the kind of story it is, and also the author’s goals. If the goal is to reach readers of all ages, I might want a certain kind of series with multiple products – ancillary products. If it’s more of an educational non-fiction book, a different kind of thing. It really depends on goals.
KENNEALLY: But it seems that in any kind of marketing, a plan is really important. You don’t want to build the plane while you’re flying it.
McCARTHY: Yeah, and an honest plan. People are coming to the table with honest goals and the ability to shake hands and say yes, this is what’s going to happen. One thing I’ve found in a few of my engagements within the authors is that the goals are squishy. Often I have to probe for awhile before I think I got the full truth.
KENNEALLY: Can you give me an example of what you mean?
McCARTHY: I begin to market a book saying we will work on your foundation, we’ll make you a pro, we’ll start to sell books, we’ll watch it, we’ll do some pricing promotions. Then I get the call of, can you introduce me to an agent? I say, well, wait a minute, that wasn’t one of our initial goals and it’s not actually what I do. If that’s what you want to do, we would have done something completely different. We could have done that, but it’s a totally different kind of marketing. I would have done something very different. I would dressed you up differently and I wouldn’t have tried to sell your books, I would have tried to make you look famous.
KENNEALLY: Now when you start to develop that plan, is there something first? Is the social media piece of it the most important piece? What’s the most important place to start?
McCARTHY: Whatever the author’s strengths are, honestly, and what they’re willing to do – what they’re willing to honestly do. Again, that brand promise – brands are like sponges. If you leave them around at all and they sit there, they get a little nasty and they don’t look so pretty anymore. So if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to be willing to do it and do it.
KENNEALLY: So if you’re going to blog, you have to do it on a consistent basis.
McCARTHY: Blog, got to do it, you have to. Otherwise don’t. Really, don’t. I have major brand clients who have Twitter accounts where they haven’t posted in a year and a half, and that’s such a bad look. I can see how many people see it, and it’s just kind of like – it’s not good. Coca-Cola would not do that. Yeah, they’re just not going to do that.
So goals, delivering on those. It’s just execution point after execution point. The other thing I would say is it’s choices. I think there’s almost like a plan and intent fallacy. A lot of these choices occur along the road. You’ve written your book, and essentially what you’re doing is you’re setting yourself up for a series of events which you don’t know, coming out of the gate.
A lot of people ask me about marketing plans. I don’t really like to go too far into the marketing plan until I’ve begun the marketing because I don’t know what people are necessarily going to respond to. My guess – there’s maybe one genius marketer out there. It’s not me, I use data. So what I like to do is begin and then we see who are your fans, who likes your books? You may have a concept of who is going to like your book, and it may be completely not right.
KENNEALLY: I’m fond of saying in meetings at the office when we need to have an action plan, quick what’s the first word in action plan?
McCARTHY: Absolutely. A couple of things I would say, too, is just as I hear what’s going around is we think Hugh Howey – we can go back a little bit to other hybrids, but we can go way back. Mark Twain is a hybrid author. Mark Twain is a hybrid author, and he’s a great example of a hybrid author. Go further back, I’m not sure if Dickens quite qualifies, but you’re talking multi-platform, multi-storytelling, lots of experimentation.
KENNEALLY: The only problem with Mark Twain as an example is he made a lot of money, then he lost a lot of money, then he made a lot of money, then he lost it.
McCARTHY: Fail and fail fast, learn, and then succeed.
KENNEALLY: That’s right. Kristin Nelson, I want to ask you about the work that you do at the agency with authors, helping them prepare for a marketing plan, if you will. And you, I’m sure, appreciate and understand how important a social media presence is and some of the activities that go beyond the book itself. I was checking out some of your authors. They all have pretty sophisticated looking Websites, they’re blogging or they’re tweeting, doing all of that. How closely are you involved in helping them develop that?:
NELSON: That is actually not our job or our role, to be a marketing person for our authors. Of course we give guidance and we connect them with wonderful professionals, if that’s what they need. But most of my authors believe in a smart philosophy, and it’s two-pronged. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do, so really the onus is going to be on you. Now it doesn’t mean you can’t get together with other authors and brainstorms and come up with creative ideas.
This is something that one of my authors, Jana DeLeon, did two and a half years ago. Jon is well acquainted with this particular story. But they had a group of about 10 authors who wrote in the mystery and romance world, and they would get together twice a year in wonderful places, usually down in Mexico because if you’re going to do a brainstorming session and it’s going to be a tax deduction, you really want to go there, over Arkansas – not that there’s anything wrong with Arkansas, they have some beautiful lakes, but they want to go to Cozumel. They would get together and they would brainstorm together, what’s going to create visibility for all of us, and they came up with this idea that they would be more visible if all of them were New York Times or USA Today best-selling authors. And they weren’t all. Oh, yeah, great idea, right?
FINE: Oh, that’s all you have to do.
NELSON: That’s all you have to do. But then they’re like, OK, but how do we make this happen? And they were the first to do it. Part of good marketing is being the first to do something because once it’s done, that horse has left the barn. So they decided that they were going all to donate one full novel, each of the 10 authors, and they were going to put in an anthology all 10 complete novels, and they were going to offer it for 99¢ for a short period of time, like three weeks or a month. And that, they were hoping, would get everybody on the New York Times and USA Today best seller list. They were the first to do it.
They actually also set up a separate account for all the monies that were made from this particular volume that they would then use to invest in marketing. This is brilliant, isn’t it? And it worked. And of course, everybody was like, holy wow, this was amazing, it worked. We got to do it. And now when people try and do it, it doesn’t nearly have as much success. It’s got to be the first time around.
FINE: But those authors continue to take it to another level.
NELSON: They do. And the second prong that I was wanting to mention, is the absolute best promotion for your book is to write and publish another book. And every one of them, they’re all millionaires now, a lot of my indie publishers. Every one of them will tell you, the best way to market my book was to write and publish another book.
FINE: And to make sure they both are great. Seriously, all of these tricks and tools – and they do change. As soon as something becomes successful, like every other industry, there’s a lot of copycatting, and it dilutes the potential for success. But all of these tricks and tools are useless if the book is not good.
My first panel discussion here around independent publishing, self-publishing, was five, six years ago. At the end of it, I asked the three authors who I was interviewing, what would you suggest to folks, in audience who want to be sitting up here as a successful author. The clearest statement of it was from Joe Konrath. Joe said, don’t write shit. We haven’t focused on that, and maybe I might rephrase it to say, write really well, and get help writing really well.
NELSON: Well, you were quoting Joe.
FINE: Right, exactly, so it’s OK. I do want to pick up on one thing Kristin said, because I mentioned this earlier. I do think part of the empowerment is the communication that I’m seeing between authors. And it’s that sort of, let’s put all these books together, or it’s that amazing – and truly, last year was the first year, but independent authors get a booth like and serve their –
FINE: Right next to the Kindle and Audible and all those booths. And to see those folks. That second part is look around you, because we can be helpful to some degree. We are not authors, we have not necessarily done it ourselves, but there are people in this rooom and one this floor that have done it themselves, and no doubt had wrestled with some of the questions you’ve used.
One of the most impressive things I’ve seen, and maybe most strikingly in the romance area, just because they seem to be the most sophisticated, at least the most forward-leaning and have moved fastest, is the incredible collaborative and communitarian aspect of, say, RWA – Romance Writers of America, or RT – if you go to those conferences, people will ask me questions all the time, and I’m always hoping, and usually it is true, that somebody in the audience will say, hey, wait, I did that, and let me tell you how to do it. That sense of collaboration and that willingness to help others, it’s something I actually want to imprint on all of you because if you guys become successful, don’t forget where you were today, and always remember to give back. But to me that’s an incredibly empowering opportunity for authors, the opportunity to work through these problems together.
NELSON: I just want to interject, those authors actually did give back, and they wrote a book – it’s a step-to-step book on how they got to where they were, and it’s called The Naked Truth of Self-Publishing.
FINE: And who’s on the cover?
NELSON: I’m not allowed to say.
KENNEALLY: OK, we’ll have to go look at it. But Jon was saying, remember you’re here today. What’s important about today at Book Expo is right outside those doors we’ve got BookCon going on, and that’s an attempt to bring the readers to the publishers, to the authors, as well. This is reflecting a tremendous change in the business. Pete McCarthy, you’re all about that. Marketing used to be, as they say in the business, B2B – business-to-business. It was from the publisher to the bookstore. Today it’s business to consumer, and those readers, those consumers are out there now. Just reflect on that briefly, and then I’ll ask the others to join you. How important a change is that?
McCARTHY: A massive, fundamental change. It’s interesting, in my time at Random House, we had to have this sort of aha moment which was that the only two constants in the value chain – authors, readers. Everyone else in the middle serves at their pleasure, period. There is nobody else who has a permanent role, even Amazon. It’s about that connection, and that’s all it is.
One of the things I think traditional publishers are struggling with, some more than others, is it’s very difficult to serve two masters and to have two sets of goals. It’s even harder to serve three. So in other words, if you’re Random House and your servicing B2B, customers, e.g., Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers and online booksellers, and you’re servicing consumers – marketing to consumers, and you’re servicing authors, you’ve got three sets of stakeholders. That’s hard. That’s a difficult world to live in. I’ve lived in it. It’s difficult. Some of the frictionlessness – taking the friction out – is fantastic, and I think a lot of publishers would wish that some of the friction that they have in their lives would go away so that they could do some of the other jobs that they really would like to do.
KENNEALLY: Kristin, if I can, just to ask you to add to that, and whether or not your authors really appreciate how much closer they are to their readers than they’ve been in the past. Do you feel they do?
NELSON: Oh, absolutely. All our authors were always about their readers and their fans, first and foremost. So however they can supply those customers and those fans and those readers, they want to do it. Except when they write a book and their fans say, well, when’s your next one going to come out, and they just released it yesterday, and then they’re whoa, wait a minute, give me some time to write it. But absolutely.
KENNEALLY: And Jon, finally, what about that? How important is that that readers are here at Book Expo?
FINE: I hate to invoke Hugh yet again, but if you ask Hugh what he is, he will say, first and foremost, a reader. We all are, and that’s a useful thing to remember as you approach this. But if you talk to the authors, and if you talk amongst yourselves, the thing that I hear most frequently is the passionate connection they feel now with their readership, whether it’s on Facebook or blogging or e-mails, or in person at an event like this, it is such a crucial part of not only their success, but of their sense of satisfaction, and it’s a conversation between the reader and the author. It’s really a remarkable transformation in the last 10 years. Again, it really is about the technology. It is about the technology only as an important tool to the real challenge, which is bringing author and reader together. The technology has made that easier.
So it’s amazing to me see how authors are successfully exploiting that, and I’m really excited to see how they will continue to do so in the coming years – in five years if not sooner. I like to say every author becomes a self-published author once their book hits the stands. Unless you are part of Knopf’s lead list, even if you’re published by Random House, you’re going to need to get out there and do a lot of work.
In 10 years, five years, though, I don’t think we’re going to be talking about self-publishing. This is just going to be another route to getting your stories or your poems, whatever they may be, to your audience. It really is going to be an author saying, hey, I’ve got this big, honking, ambitious but flawed novel. Maybe I should go to Knopf for that, if I can get Sonny Mehta behind it. I’ve got this great sci-fi series. In the states, there’s a great audience I’ve already built up, I’m going to do that on my own, but maybe in Germany I don’t have that audience yet. I’m going to work with a publisher there. Or I have a poem and there’s a great Website whose audience is focused on poetry. It may not be huge, it never has been in terms of a poetry audience, but that’s going to be the best way for that author to get to that audience.
It is a remarkable time. I just am so excited for the opportunities that the folks in this room have going forward. It’s really awesome.
KENNEALLY: We’re talking about connecting authors and readers, I want to connect the authors in this room to the panel here very briefly with a couple of questions, so I hope there are some questions from the floor. Just raise your hand and tell us who it’s for.
NELSON: By the way, I just want to highlight, if you guys want to know more about how we, as an agency, are supporting authors in both digitally and traditional publishing, just check out NLAdigitalbooks.com.
KENNEALLY: Yes, I saw a hand, please
FINE: I will say this is probably the number one question I’ve been getting over the last couple of months. The question was, when will we allow self-published authors to post their book for pre-orders? The idea is that leads you to a nice ranking on the actual day of publication. Look, we want to be where our authors want us to be on many levels. We don’t talk about our future plans, but I will emphasize that this is probably the most important thing I’ve heard and it’s something we are looking at very, very closely.
It is interesting. There are different stakeholders, and one of the things that we always have to think about is we’re serving authors but we’re serving readers. One of the things that we are very chary of is promising to a reader that they will have a book on a certain day. That has been traditionally the case in traditional publishing and book sales because of the history, longevity of reliably bringing the book to market, ready to publish on the day that it’s promised.
Indie publishing is still relatively new, let’s not forget. Five years ago, we wouldn’t have been having this conversation here, so one of the things that we have to make sure of is when a self-published author, who at least previously did not have a history with us wants to put a book up for pre-order, whether we can do that. That’s just one of the issues we think about. But rest assured, it is something we are looking at very closely.
KENNEALLY: One more question, yes.
KENNEALLY: Who’s it for, the question?
FINE: Hi, you found the room. Excellent.
FINE: Yes. Well, I actually think Kristin might be better suited. When you create a book there are a whole bunch of subsidiary rights. One might be audio, one might be translation, e-book rights. So translation is as many countries and languages as you can possibly get to, and that would be working with a publisher who you could submit, solely on your own. There are ways to self-publish. You could work with an agent. The hardest thing is really finding a great translator. You can imagine how something like that ACX system I spoke about, and would have application to other types of things might have application to translations as well.
The challenge there, and it’s a tough one, when you do an audio, and you’re judging whether it’s good or not, you can be that judge. When you’re looking at a German translation, you can’t be that judge necessarily –
NELSON: Unless you speak German.
FINE: – unless you speak German, and then maybe you would have translated it. So it’s still a complex process. But the opportunity is there.
KENNEALLY: I’ve got to stop it there because we’ve got panels and programs on various tracks for you to attend. I want to thank our panelists very thank you for your (overlapping conversation; inaudible) –
FINE: Thank you guys, really. Really appreciate it.
KENNEALLY: Jon Fine, Kristin Nelson, Pete McCarthy, thank you all.