Friday, August 2, 2013

Countdown to a Book 11: Your best sales investment

When Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto started its rise to bestseller, an interesting thing happened in bookstores: you’d find not only Bel Canto prominently placed, but beside it, her previous four novels. This front-of-store placement, purchased by her publisher, worked like a dream for Patchett—her breakout novel significantly back-sold her previous titles.


Authors of series know this phenomenon: a reader hops on board in the middle and then goes back to begin the series from the beginning. But it also boosts sales for authors like Patchett, whose stand-alones feature different characters and premises.

Could this bona fide book sales technique work for you?

Only if you have a body of published work to stack on that table!

Very early in our pre-signing discussion, my agent-to-be asked that all-important question, “Do you have any more works in progress?”

Me: “Sure!” [Here’s where a hidden webcam would have found me scraping through a decade of files seeking any jotted idea, brief synopsis, opening chapters, or failed novel attempt and transforming them into pitches.] Luckily, she was enthused by the various ideas I submitted.

An agent does not want to sign you for one book. They want to represent your career. So with my editing completed, the book in ARC form, the marketing questionnaire filled out, and my preliminary meeting with my publicist behind me for Project #1, it was time to complete my transition to author. I needed to put together the proposal to sell Project #2.

Like many debut one-book contracts, mine stipulated that my publisher reserved the right to take a first look at my next project. I’d been working on an extended synopsis for it over the past few months in any free moment, practicing how to constantly flip the mental switch between Project #1 and Project #2, a skill a career author must develop. For inspiration, I kept referring back to a February Facebook post by veteran author Molly Cochran:
I’m working on six different books at the moment: One’s with my editor, who’s getting notes (i.e. things I’ve got to rewrite) to me on Monday; another with my agent, who’s trying to sell it; the third, a longstanding novel-in-progress that I keep trying to write between projects; a partial ms w/outline about a time-traveling boy in Hitler’s Germany that’s very hard to pin down, since time travel is impossibly tricky; a completed novel that must have something wrong with it, since none of my friends has been able to finish reading it; and Poison, which has just come out and needs publicity attention.
Such is the life of a published author. Over this past month, as I continue the all-important marketing push during these last six months to my debut's release, I’ve been back and forth with my agent polishing the synopsis and opening chapters and pitch for Project #2, because that’s all I’ll have to influence a sale this time around. Published authors sell on proposal, not the completed manuscript.

So in addition to continuing PR efforts for Project #1, earlier this week I sent my agent a revised proposal for Project #2 (plenty for me, but baby steps toward a career like Patchett's or Cochran's). No time for a sigh of relief, though. While discussing tweaks for #2, my agent asked what I had in mind for Project #3. I whipped off the vague idea I’d held in mind.

“Great," she said. "Can you get me a synopsis and the first couple of pages?”

Uh, working on it!

Be forewarned, first-time authors querying agents: you can use all that response waiting time to good advantage. Brainstorm like crazy, and write synopses of several novels to tuck in your pocket. After your first sale, you can pull them out, delighting the agent who signs you, and keeping your career on the move with one of the very best investments in publicity for your last book: your next one.

Just catching up? Search results for this series can be found here:
Countdown to a Book

Any tips for handling the multi-project, social media shuffle? Please share!


Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her work is represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Her new monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," has premiered at Writers in the StormConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

15 comments :

  1. It's about having a body of work, for sure. When my 3rd Blackthorne book came out in digital, I saw a very gratifying rise in sales for the entire series. I'm hoping that continues with book 5, which is with my editor, but in the meanwhile, I'm working on my 3rd Mapleton mystery. The biggest secret to success is having a lot of books to sell. Which means you have to write them.


    Terry
    Terry's Place

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    1. Terry I figured you'd be able to supply us with some anecdotal evidence in this regard! Thanks. :)

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  2. Perfect answer for, "What should I do while I wait for responses?" Write the next book!

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    1. Exactly, Diana. Nothing addresses anxiety like immersing yourself in a creative endeavor!

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  3. Helpful advice, Kathryn. You have given writers so much to consider in this series, and I have saved them all for future reference.

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  4. Thanks, Maryann. Dani had the notion that when the series is completed that I should offer it as a composite pdf at my website. I like the idea!

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  5. Any tips for handling the multi-project, social media shuffle? You make a joke, Kathryn.

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    1. This expectation is a bit of a stretch, isn't it? Yet it's the reality of today's traditionally published author.

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  6. Yes. That body of work is important. You're working on six books?! Wow!

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    1. Haha no Catherine, Molly Cochran is! While I was challenged to go from "one polished novel in the past eight years" to "producing synopses and samples for two more" this past month, I took my strength from her example on the FB post I quoted here. :)

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  7. Oh my goodness! I have several books started, but no synopsis in sight. However, I also self-publish...which shouldn't put me in such a spot. Having said that, I think self-pubs should follow the same protocol as those who are traditionally published. Why try to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes?

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  8. Inspiring post, Kathryn. You are one busy lady. Good luck with all your projects!

    Mary Montague Sikes

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    1. Thanks, Mary. Just went out on submission today with #s 2 & 3. We'll see...

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  9. Kathryn, great advice that is timely for me as I'm working on fully fleshing out additional projects right now. I have project #1 finished and ready to send to my publisher, project #2 of 50 pages outlined/plotted, project #3-5 are the next in a series for a book out on submission with series potential, and I'm writing project #6 now. But it's a good idea to have those 1-para pitches on outstanding projects for when that agent calls indeed!

    Your post here is also a reminder to authors that being an author is about multi-tasking and having your hand in many projects. So, not only do we now need to multi-task and balance social media with writing but also, multi-task the number of projects in the hopper!

    An exciting and dizzying time to be an author and a fast road to walk...or run, especially in your case. Congrats on moving forward with the new projects, Kathryn!

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    1. Donna you are a master juggler, to be sure!

      You bring up another interesting point—that authors of books with "series potential," after jotting notes about the rest of the series, write off-series while awaiting word back from agents. That book may be accepted if amended as a stand-alone and you don't want to be caught with a book you can't use!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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