Why custom publishing works

February 12, 2010

Custom publishing holds the secret to its own success in its name. Its 75% of the word customer. The transaction starts as the customer says “yes” to the idea of getting what they want without baggage. Then they say yes to a sequence of chapters. If there’s five chapters, that five yesses, six overall. Once the product is built, there’s another yes to add to the shopping cart. That makes seven.

Custom publishing works by breaking down a sale into smaller transactions that each build value for a customer. A repeat sale is, in my experience, about 90% more likely as a result.

If you’re writing non fiction, give customers a non-linear option on your content. Think ITunes – do they want the album, or just a sweet little song?

Photo by myuibe


Very often, if not mostly, the editor who gets your proposal really would rather be doing something else. This is not a criticism of editors, its just the reality of the publishing workplace. Reading proposals is a future-planning task that only gets touched when the now-tasks are done. Besides this, the queue of quality proposals is quite long. As a result, an editor’s attention moves away very quickly if anything about your proposal is unclear or irrelevant. It doesn’t take much to do it. Here are some common indulgences:

-Bang on about your credentials
-Criticize popular books
-Use multiple exclamation marks to amplify your point!!!

Whatever your indulgence, at the end of an editor’s attention span is an attention spa. All it takes is one letter, and they plunge into a warm, bubbling daydream where you no longer exist. If this occurs, your chances of publication diminish quickly.

Quick Tips

-Use plain English
-Let your proposal’s merits speak for themselves
-Choose your words like they are the last words you are allowed on this earth
-Have the whole book finished before you contact the editor

What’s your opinion?

What kind of language puts you into the attention spa?

Photo by Murtage

You may think you have little chance of getting published. After all, the statistic on unsolicited manuscripts in Australia, a country of 20 million people (not counting boat people-who in my books are most welcome) is 1 in 5,000. In the USA, that would expand to 1 in 50,000. So, the question becomes, are you capable of becoming noticed in a crowd of unsolicited information?

Here are a three tips to getting noticed:

1. Do your category homework

Books are like cars. Are you a people mover (popular fiction), family wagon (childrens books) or painted bus (popular self help)?
Without category recognition, you’re goneski. Get into a mould and do your creative work within those parameters.

2. Be cool

When you query, propose or offer a manuscript, be super-easy to deal with. The person judging your chances is likely to be a very busy woman who had to crash through a glass cieling just for the opportunity to deal with your dream. Be respectful, expect nothing and pray. If in doubt, use a phone call no more often than fortnightly, 60 seconds a piece. Be you, be brief, be teachable.

3. Work your platform

Who will buy the first 3000 copies? If you can’t answer that question with confidence you are not ready to be published. You need to reach your audience with your value proposition by your own industry and persistence before you get published. Failing that, you are relying on talent and luck, which although well documented as a recipe for success, has a lower statistic on breakthrough deals.

Photo by gruntzooki

What’s your book idea? Comment here and I’ll reply.

I came across a handy listing of great first lines to novels. Here is the link to the top 100, originally published by ABR and found here at infoplease.

The line that hit me between the eyes was number 12 – Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Here it is:

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”

There are three very cool take-aways I’d like to share with you.

1. Twain uses the line to sell two books here – the prequel (Tom Sawyer) and the sequel (Huckleberry Finn). There are no groans of having to backtrack though – the book unfolding in this line is a stand alone story as well (“that ain’t no matter”).
2. Listen to the authenticity of the voice. You get the sense that Twain knows this boy better’n he knows his own writin’ hand. The voice is true and real enough to want to hear more-much more.
3. From a writer’s-tip perspective, I get the feeling its not the stumbling grammar that achieves the voice – the voice creates the stumbling grammar. Get the character from inside of you and and it just comes out – eventually.

Over to you

What’s your all time favorite first line and why?

Four ways to get published

January 2, 2010

1. Just write something and send it around to Publishers

We’re all doing it, so if you’re new, think twice about taking the route of obscurity to discovery in one step. It does happen, but its more likely to happen if combined with some of the other ideas below.

2. Develop expertise points and cash in

Expertise points come through original research, teaching, experience or practice that makes you immediately relevant to a defined audience. Take a look at who publishes material to service the desires of this audience and contact them if you see an opportunity to add to their line up.

3. Do something amazing

A sixteen year old Australian girl, Jessica Watson, is currently sailing around the world solo, non-stop.
There is no doubt her story will attract a book deal on her return.

4. Know the formulas

The world of books seems to reward writers disproportionately. Original talent can go unnoticed and formulaic work can be wildly successful. There is a good reason for this – Publishers are risk averse and like the comfort of precedent when it comes to investment. Books exist in categories (crime, fantasy, romance, picture books for example) because the formulas please large numbers of paying customers and this is where Publishers continue to invest. In this sense, being “formulaic” is essential. At the Olympic Games, the figure skater who serves up the expected elements with originality and a fresh twist ends up with the flowers and the gold. Its much the same with books.

Pushing the trolley

November 19, 2009

In Cormac McCarthy’s latest but hopefully not last novel, The Road, (2006) the action follows a father and son navigating the shell of an annihilated America. Each day, day after day, they push a shopping trolley with their handful of possessions, through unimaginable devastation. The landscape is bare. There is no encouragement but what warmth they can find inside themselves. The father drills the boy: “We are the keepers of the flame”. The boy takes this as law, and continues the journey, finally reaching help, family and hope.

When we set out to write, we face the same journey. Everything seems to stand opposed to us. But our job is not to find shortcuts. We simply push the trolley, until we reach the place we were destined to.

This is the first in a series of posts centering on my experience as a Publisher at Macmillan. I am proposing to deal with the following over the series, focusing on what actually happens inside the castle of old-money publishing.

1. Proposals meetings
2. How to be a career author
3. Planning a brand vs planning one book

If you have something else you would like to hear instead or further to this list please comment.


2364722127_6bb6b1c867 Proposals Meetings run monthly or quarterly in most Publishing Houses. At these meetings the whole interdepartmental assembly (sometimes fondly called the “team”) comes together to choose future projects. These meetings look at proposals with:

A. One eye on the past and
B. One eye on the sandwich plate in the middle of the table.

The eye on the past is to measure your proposal against past failures and successes. For this reason your proposal must be across the detail of the other key players in your space. The eye on the sandwiches is due to the fact that in publishing, most of us work very hard for wages not commensurate with the other occupants of town’s big end. Most of us need very strong proof that taking on a book is going to help us continue to eat.

For the proposing author, the dual challenge here is to ensure you know your category’s history and have developed a fresh twist to help make its future look like the newest, sexiest model of a favourite automobile. If you are writing speculative fiction, you must know that beyond Rowling’s dazzling monuments tower Philip Pullman and Garth Nix in their own citadels. You must tip your hat, do your training and be prepared to run an original race along the very same track as those who went before you. The same applies whether you write fiction, non-fiction or textbooks.

Your proposal must have already sold itself to the Publisher you or your agent submitted it to, so at the point of the Proposals Meeting, they are your Sales Representative. The key to keeping all available eyes off the sandwich plate and on your very best assets, is to have your Publisher emotionally connected to your work. This means:

– Writing your precious heart out in the cold, dark and lonely hours and leaving nothing in reserve
– Being prepared to walk away and start again
– Trusting the Publisher will judge the work by:

(1) The current opportunity afforded by the category
(2) Your own platform as a professional person, and
(3) The intrinsic strengths of the work

– Trusting the Publisher will get every nuance you left for them
– Following the Publisher up in brief, polite, well worded emails sent between 8-9am, and finally, a phone call

So, over to you. Can I answer a question for you? Help explain an experience you’ve had with a Publishing House?

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