Tag s | Get Published

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry, and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage–and let that rage descend on someone in the publishing company–you may end up burning a bridge. And that person whom you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

True Story

A salesman got into a verbal altercation with the buyer for a major chain. The salesman stormed out and called his boss, asking to be taken off the account so he would never have to talk to that buyer again. A month later the salesman’s company hired that buyer as the salesman’s new boss. (Yikes!)

A, B, C, D, & E (and beyond)

The following scenario is based on a true story. An author was so frustrated with her editor she wrote a scathing letter to the publisher (A), dressing down the entire editorial staff. The next year that editor moved to a different publisher (B); and when that author’s proposal was presented at a meeting, the editor relayed to the publishing team (B) the volatility of that writer.

Soon the writer was with a new publisher (C) because she was so mad with her previous publisher. Everything was great … until something set the writer off. She again melted down, and with a scorched earth method set every relationship on fire and watched it burn. A year later the marketing manager at this publisher (C) moved to a new opportunity at another publisher (D). And shortly thereafter the editor (C) became an editorial director at yet another publisher (E).

You see the pattern? There are technically five publishers that were burned by this author, two by action, three by proxy. Each bridge fell into the river. And guess what, this writer is now mad at her publisher (C) but is having trouble finding a new home.

This author burned bridge after bridge to the point of being left on an island without a publisher and this person’s reputation had spread.

A Last Example

When working as an editor, I had an agent call me on the phone and berate me and our company for about five minutes. Most of the monologue was done by shouting. The agent concluded their rant by demanding to talk to our vice president. So I called the VP with a warning and transferred the call.

I later asked how the call went. My VP said everything was all peaches and cream, so why did I need to issue a warning? It became obvious that this agent just wanted to get past me to talk to “someone important,” i.e., a real decision-maker. Suffice it to say, I knew something about that agent that stuck with me, especially after I was promoted and became a “real decision-maker.”

(Don’t ask who I have been talking about; it is irrelevant. I’ve been in the industry for nearly 40 years and have seen a lot of things happen over a long period of time.)

What Do You Do When Things Go Wrong?

1. Talk to your agent.  Your agent’s inbox or phone line should be a safe place to vent. Do not vent to your critique group, to your writing friends, on Twitter, on Facebook, or on your blog. (I know of a case in publishing where someone vented on Facebook, and a few days later that person was fired from their job.) Talk to someone you can trust. You might actually be wrong in your frustration and don’t know that what you are experiencing is supposed to happen that way. Every agent will concur that a big part of our job is helping our clients measure their frustration in a professional manner.

[I’ve spoken to authors who did not have an agent, and things had gone wrong with their publishers–things that could have been easily prevented with a good contract or a solid relationship with the company. These authors now want an agent to come in and fix things. Often it is too late. So, at the risk of sounding self-serving, this is one really good reason to have an agent from the beginning.]

2. Own the anger, but don’t let it control you. It is foolish to deny that you are frustrated. But letting emotion control your actions is not a good idea.

3. Write out your thoughts, and send them to your agent in an email–but only if you can trust the agent not to forward it to anyone. Better yet, call your agent and read it over the phone. You are a writer! Use your gift to express your thoughts. Sometimes that is enough, and you will never have to hit the “send” button. What I have done on occasion is ask the client to write the “angry letter” but send it to me and only me. Many times I can edit the tone and the words and put the language in “publisher’s speak,” so everyone’s situation is respected and frustration is expressed firmly but without anger.

4. Beware of bitterness or distrust. I read so many blogs from authors, both Christian and in the general market, who love to tell their tales of woe and then conclude that all publishers and editors are evil (and agents are devil-spawn).

Remember that people make mistakes. And sometimes businesses make business decisions that affect you negatively. I understand. I’ve been fired from a job with no warning before; I understand. But it can only become worse if you let that pain fester inside like an infection. Your craft will suffer, and your calling as a writer will be stunted.

5. Remember Colossians 3:12-13 where Paul wrote: “Put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

By the Way …

I said never burn a bridge. But I didn’t say you can’t light one on fire. There are times when you need to make a stand for what is right or point out an error. The way you communicate that information determines whether or not that bridge can still be used the next morning.

FYI:
I wrote an earlier version of this article eight years ago, and it has been viewed by nearly 3,000 readers. It still holds true. I encourage you to bookmark this as an article that will serve you well in our publishing community.

Leave a Comment

Always Be Learning

During the Summer of 1978 the #1 hit on Christian radio was the classic “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (click here to listen). That same Summer I attended a Christian music festival in Estes Park, Colorado and decided to take a class on songwriting being taught by Jimmy and Carol Owens. I settled into my chair near the back of the room with notepad ready.

Just as the class was about to start a bearded man slide in the chair next to mine….notepad at the ready. To my astonishment it was Don Francisco. (I recognized him from his album cover.)

Here was a singer/songwriter who had the number one hit in the nation…taking a class on songwriting! What did he think he needed to learn?

Read More

Book Manufacturing

If you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.

The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.

The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.

Read More

What Are Average Book Sales?

by Steve Laube


We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.

HAH!

Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

Let me give you some real numbers but not revealing the author name (and there is a wide variety of publishers represented):

Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)

Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale 10,900

Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400

Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900

Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)

So you can see it DOES depend. Depends on the author and publisher and topic or genre.

Read More

That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

Read More

Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

Read More

Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

Read More

How to Know if Self-Publishing is for You

Technology and Amazon.com have opened up the world of book publishing, making it far more “democratic” than ever before and allowing anyone with word processing software and connection to the internet, to become a published author. The traditional publishing industry is a $25 billion or more industry in the United …

Read More

Amazon Rank Obsession

Admit it. You’ve checked your Amazon.com sales ranking at least once since your book was published. You feel the need to have some outside confirmation of the sales of your book. And Amazon’s ranking are free to look at.

I’ve even seen book  proposals where the author has gone to great lengths to include the Amazon ranking for each title that is competitive with the one the author is proposing. A prodigious amount of wasted effort.

Publishers rarely pay attention to Amazon rankings unless yours gets below 1,000 or if you get in the top 100.

Read More