Saturday, June 5, 2010

Oh No, Mom; Now is When the Hard Work Really Begins

My mother thinks that, now that I’ve written the book and spoken at the Jewish Book Council, the hard part is over and I can get back to my writing. But if anything, things only get harder. Now is when I need to do the pre-marketing of the book.

Since I don’t have a huge (read: any) advertising budget, I need to find ways to get free attention for the book to build the buzz and establish an audience before it goes on sale. There are a few ways to do this. As each of these bears lengthy discussion, I’ll address one at a time. Today: Book Reviews:

Book Reviews:
There are the professional reviewers, and then there are the ‘new’ professional reviewers.
Review publications like The New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly are the classic, influential reviewers. But they’re not interested in self/independently published books (despite the fact that an independently published book, Tinkers, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize), and woe be it to anyone who tries to slip one past them!

While, historically (and still), there has been no vetting process for self-published books, it is also true that many people who might otherwise submit their books to publishers through agents have decided to sidestep the traditional/old-fashioned process, which involves a lengthy cycle of application-rejection (rinse-repeat). That process can only have gotten more drawn out with half the editors in publishing houses in NY having been laid off during this recession. And if your book doesn’t offer blockbuster promise, then the economics simply don’t work for the publisher. Plus, as even authors with NY publishers behind them have to do all their own publicity and marketing, why not save time and do it yourself? (I’ll give you one reason why: The learning curve is steep; after more than six months of learning how to self-publish effectively, I still get a stiff neck from looking up at what I still need to learn how to do).

But as it happened, my former Writing group, which was on hiatus for several months, was no longer a writing group once we got together again; it had turned into a Publishing group as each of us, independently, decided that self-publishing was the right way to go with our respective projects, each of which has a well-defined niche. Now we meet every few weeks to share what we’ve learned that can help someone else.

Another reason to pursue a non-traditional publishing process is out of concern for time, as was the case in my situation; when your 83 year-old mother says she wants to see this book published “in [her] lifetime,” you don’t want to waste a lot of time. Apparently, once a publisher accepts a manuscript, it can take eighteen months until it is actually published.

Back to the main topic: Before I went to New York, I sent my book out to five review sources, two library review journals (supposedly a good review in one of these publications is a virtual guarantee of an order of 500 to 3000 books), two Jewish book review publications, and one history publication that had expressed interest in reading the book. There’s no guarantee that any of them will review them, but they have the desired four-month lead time to do so, and all I can do is write a compelling cover letter that will encourage them to take a look; the writing will have to speak for itself after that.

At the recent independent publishing conference I attended in New York, I also learned about an online review source; in fact, the reviewer is so prominent, I don’t know why I never heard about it/him before: Jesse Kornbluth, aka Head Butler. He is/has been an author, journalist, and entrepreneur, co-founding, “the hub of the Internet's most successful non-commercial book network.” He was also Editorial Director of America Online. It was very refreshing to hear him speak, in marked contrast to the traditional reviewer who emphasized the many types of book they didn’t want to see (such as self/independently published books, as stated above). Kornbluth’s answer to what he wanted or didn’t want to see was, “I don’t care. If I like it, I’ll review it.” It was that simple. I wrote to him to see if he was interested in reading The Accidental Anarchist. Now I’m waiting to hear back from him. And from the others. And see what they have to say. And continue to look for other publications that I might be able to interest in reading/reviewing the book.