The Bestseller’s Sandbox: Indie and Traditionally-Published Success Stories Discuss the Book Market
Welcome to Terri Giuliano Long, Author of In Leah’s Wake and Indie Author extraordinaire, and Ann Pearlman, Author of A Gift For My Sister, the international bestseller The Christmas Cookie Club and Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Infidelity! In an unprecedented event we are bringing together Bestsellers from the Indie and Traditional Publishing path to discuss books, writing, publishing, marketing, and anything else that comes up.
Pavarti: First of all, welcome! It’s so exciting to have both of you here on the Novel Publicity Blog talking about your event “Bestsellers’ Sandbox!”
Ann: It’s exciting for me to be here, too. I love the name you devised.
Terri: I’m excited to be here too. It’s an honor to be in the company of such a talented author!
Pavarti: To start, could each of you tell us a little bit about the books you’re featuring today and how it was published?
Ann: A Gift for My Sister is my second novel, and follows two characters who appeared in The Christmas Cookie Club. Tara and Sky are half sisters, both fatherless, who deal with eccentric luck, fear of family curses, and the choices of very different life styles: Tara is an unconventional, live for the now rap artist, Sky is an attorney who plans everything. Each has a child. A tragedy occurs for Sky as Tara, her boyfriend and their rap crew embark on a cross country tour. I loved writing this book. I don’t have a sister and, since I wrote the novel in both of their voices, was able to experience two vicariously.
A Gift for My Sister was published by Emily Bestler Imprint, Atria Books, Simon and Schuster. It is the second of a two book deal.
Pavarti: Ann, will there be any more books in the Christmas Cookie Club world?
There may be. I fell in love with my own characters, and each of the twelve women have a fascinating story. I may work on some prequels. I’m fascinated with Los Angeles in 1969…. Vera (from Christmas Cookie Club) was a stripper at that time. What do you think? The wilds of L.A. with a young Vera in 1969?
Pavarti: I love it! Can I have an advance copy?? How about you Terri, what can you tell us about In Leah’s Wake?
Terri: The cover copy was just rewritten by a gentleman who’s been writing copy for Random House for 25 years. It does a wonderful job, I think, of describing the book:
At the heart of the seemingly perfect Tyler family stands sixteen-year-old Leah. Her proud parents are happily married, successful professionals. Her adoring younger sister is wise and responsible beyond her years. And Leah herself is a talented athlete with a bright collegiate future. But living out her father’s lost dreams, and living up to her sister’s worshipful expectations, is no easy task for a teenager. And when temptation enters her life in the form of drugs, desire, and a dangerously exciting boy, Leah’s world turns on a dime from idyllic to chaotic to nearly tragic.
As Leah’s conflicted emotions take their toll on those she loves—turning them against each other and pushing them to destructive extremes—In Leah’s Wake powerfully explores one of fiction’s most enduring themes: the struggle of teenagers coming of age, and coming to terms with the overwhelming feelings that rule them and the demanding world that challenges them. Terri Giuliano Long’s skillfully styled and insightfully informed debut novel captures the intensely personal tragedies, victories, and revelations each new generation faces during those tumultuous transitional years.
In Leah’s Wake began as my master’s thesis. My agent at the time sent it to two dozen houses; it received a lot of positive response, but no takers; eventually, I sold it to a small publisher. At the last minute, the publisher ran into problems and the book was never published. Two years ago, after several years treading water, I finally made strides with a new novel and decided to publish ILW myself, hoping that if I could sell 5,000 copies I might attract a traditional publisher for my next project. Self-publishing is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve never looked back.
Pavarti: So? Did you find a traditional publisher? Did you sell that magic 5,000 books?
Terri: Yes, I hit 5,000 last August. As often happens in self-publishing, I hit 25K less than a month later. I’ve now sold over 120K books. When sales were rising, the best time to query publishers, I wasn’t ready to abandon self-publishing. Now authors have so many options – from DIY to publishing partnerships and assisted-self-publishing to traditional publishing houses – all with advantages and disadvantages. With future projects, I’ll decide based on my goals for the particular book.
Pavarti: What do you find to be the most difficult thing about publishing the way you did?
Ann: Relinquishing the fantasy that your book will be out just the way you dream and you can devote yourself to writing the next one. I’ve been published by five different publishers and there is not necessarily any loyalty, or sense of a team that lasts longer the immediate deal they signed. And one way or another you have to hustle your book– but that is the fun part.
Pavarti: Wow, I always thought there was more of an ongoing relationship with publishers and authors. Do you think this is because each of your books is so different or is that the usual way things work?
Ann: You make an excellent point. I had the wish that I’d find a publishing family that would be eager for all of my books, in whatever genre. I’ve had excellent relationships with the team at the houses that have published my books:(Grove, Fireside, MacAdam/Cage, St. Martin’s Press, Atria) But I haven’t stuck to one genre moving from fiction to nonfiction and not sticking to a single genre in any of them. That’s on me and the fact that I’m so fascinated by many different topics. And yes, it’s a huge leap from the Crip gang to a Christmas cookie club! Meanwhile, publishing has become riskier and the types of books that are accepted narrower. They want books that can easily be labeled as mystery, Chiclit, YA, etc.
All of this is more difficult for women writers even though most of the editors in NYC are now women. The industry seems to be convinced what women ‘should’ write about and what women ‘should’ want to read. We are 80% of the buyers and readers of books. Women’s books are not reviewed as often, or taken as seriously. Then something like the 50 Shades of Grey series hits the market and shakes the pre-existing convictions.
Terri: I’ve interviewed at least a half-dozen agents since I started writing for IndieReader and they all tell me the same thing – great books are turned down by publishers for any number of reasons. Difficulty with categorization seems to be near the top. Michael Vitez, a Pulitzer-winning writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer, just self-published a wonderful book about a cyclist who came back from a serious brain injury. The story first appeared in the paper, where it had been well-received – and it seems to have all the components of a great book (story, a terrific character who must overcome tremendous obstacles), but publishers didn’t know how to categorize it, so they passed. That happens every day; meanwhile, successful self-pubbed books are picked up and republished within weeks. So it’s usually about the bottom line or, as Ann points out, the perceived or projected bottom line.
Pavarti: Things are definitely changing, in traditional and indie publishing circles.
Terri: When I published In Leah’s Wake the industry was young – it is still evolving. I knew absolutely nothing about the process, so I found myself testing different approaches, essentially throwing things at the wall hoping some would stick. Fortunately, I received help and support from many wonderful book bloggers. As I often say, bloggers are the fairy godmothers and godfathers of the indie revolution. They are my heroes! If not for their generosity, my book would have languished.
From a business perspective, this is a terrible way to go about things, and I made a lot of novice mistakes. Before my next launch, I intend to create business and marketing plans, detailed enough to provide direction with enough flexibility to adapt, when necessary. Luckily, I now know a little more about the process, so planning–which would have been difficult when I published initially–should be easier.
Ann: Wow, Terri. You’re ahead of the game. I’m still writing whatever I feel like and throwing it at the wall!
Terri: I wish, Ann! Writing is a whole different ballgame. I actually meant planning the business and marketing end of things. Without a plan, it’s easy to get mired in nonessentials. I’m hoping a plan will help to keep me better focused and organized.
Pavarti: Can you share with our readers one thing you would do differently starting out? A lot of Indie Authors spend time recreating the wheel and some insight from someone who’s been through it is always valuable!
Terri: That’s a tough question because the answer is almost everything. Because the book had been seconds from publication by a small press, it had already been edited; at least a dozen family members and friends also proofread. Still, after publication we found errors. This time, I’m working with an editor from the get-go and she or another editor will proofread before publication.
I’ll also be extremely careful with formatting and be sure I do nothing to mess up my product page. I paid a Smashwords-referred formatter to convert the file and the formatter did a great job, but I didn’t realize platforms are different. I loaded the Smashwords file onto Amazon–formatting issues create paragraphing and punctuation havoc, making it look as though the book had been sloppily edited. I had no clue – until reviewers pointed it out, which was extremely embarrassing.
In August, ILW hit #6 on the BN Nook bestseller list. The BN edition was distributed through Smashwords. Nevertheless, when I saw a BN review noting errors (I realize now that the reviewer was likely referring to the Kindle edition) – my biggest rookie mistake – I pulled the book, paid a converter to reformat, and posted again, this time to PubIt, where I figured I’d have more control. With the new platform, the book was assigned a new product page – overnight it dropped from #6 to obscurity. It climbed up a bit, but never reached previous numbers. From August 1 – 25, I sold 16K books on BN; over the next month, after losing bestseller rank, I sold a total of 600 books. That’s a huge number and it’s exciting – just not compared with sales leading up to it.
As noted above, I’d plan, plan, plan. That, to my mind, is the most important thing we can do.
Pavarti: The question all authors are dying to ask, I know is, if giving the choice, would you publish this title the same way?
Ann: Yes. I love the back and forth with the editors, and find that even negotiations where I’m trying to persuade a point to make the book stronger. I appreciate both the line editing and the consistency editor who makes sure that a character doesn’t suddenly age, or get a eye color transplant. I appreciate the help of the staff, each with their own input and ideas. And, even though I do art, I love the smoothness of the art department– particularly with this book which I find amazingly beautiful.
Pavarti: Your cover really is striking Ann! Terri?
Terri: Absolutely! There were certainly snags along the way. This past March, with the help of a publishing house editor, I re-edited In Leah’s Wake. This summer, I was honored to receive two literary prizes–the Indie Discovery Award for literary fiction and a Global eBook award for popular fiction–so the editing paid off. An artist is in the process of redesigning the cover and interiors to better establish my brand identity, and, as noted, we’ve rewritten the description. As with Ann’s book, all this would have been done in house had the book been traditionally published, and like most self-published authors, I’ve had difficulty getting books in brick and mortar stores. So I don’t underestimate the importance of traditional publishers.
Still, by self-publishing, I’ve taken my career into my own hands. Despite my most egregious mistakes, the at times daunting process of self-publishing, the countless hours I’ve invested in publishing and promoting, self-publishing was far and away the best thing I’ve ever done professionally. As my own publisher I worked harder than any company would likely have worked for a first-time author. Since last May, I’ve sold over 120K books, and I’m tremendously proud of that accomplishment.
Self-publishing In Leah’s Wake opened many doors, providing opportunities I’d only dreamed about in the past. In the future, I will self-publish by choice, not because it’s my only choice, but because it’s the right choice for the project. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many wonderful colleagues in the indie community and I’ve been blessed by the kindness, generosity and friendship of countless bloggers. None of this would have been possible had I not taken the indie leap. Self-publishing changed my life. I would do it again–I will do it again!–in a heartbeat!
Pavarti: What do you think it is about your books that has separated them from the pack? Terri’s disproved the idea that only traditionally published books can be bestsellers and Ann has found success with fiction and non-fiction. What is it that you think makes the ultimate difference between another good book on the market and a bestseller?
Ann: I wish I knew. I don’t think anyone –even a publishing company– knows that secret. The publishing houses say ‘word of mouth’ is what sells books; it ends up being a great rationale for not publicizing their own books. Infidelity, which was nominated for a Pulitzer and made into a Lifetime Movie, was rejected by 38 publishers before MacAdam/Cage bought it. Inside the Crips continues to sell well; it is often used as reading in middle and high schools and has had an important impact on some of those readers. (They contact me via twitter.) Both my agent and I were surprised (pleasantly) by the auctions around The Christmas Cookie Club and various countries that published it. And the huge response and sales in the U.K. Clearly, once you have a readership people are eager for your next book.
Terri: I agree with Ann. An agent I spoke with recently said exactly the same: there is no reliable explanation for the spontaneous combustion that hurls some books into the stratosphere. Again, as Ann said, people–or bloggers–talk about books; that sort of person-to-person recommendation makes a tremendous difference.
People often tell me In Leah’s Wake resonated because the problems the family experiences have either affected their lives directly or indirectly, through family or friends. Last week, the Boston Globe published a story by a police officer about the rise in teenage drug use, so it’s a continuing issue. This has made a big difference, I think. Again, in agreement with Ann, people who’ve read one book look for others.
Pavarti: That’s definitely true. I’m always telling our consulting clients that the best way to sell you book is to write another one!
Anne: Great books have wonderful characters who are carefully drawn, compelling plots, unique details, a narrative dream that sucks us in, and reveal a compelling story.
Ultimately, it’s about us, — the writers– and our beloved work. We pour our hearts, souls and minds out in our writing. We care about our characters and try to reveal them to our readers, fascinate with suspenseful plots, say something about what we’ve learned from our journey. And ultimately, the satisfaction of the good finished project, is what counts. I know that sounds a little schmaltzy, but each day I’ve got some writing done is a meaningful one.
Pavarti: What project are you working on now? I need to make my bets on what the next bestsellers will be!
Ann: I’ve learned to keep it inside until a strong first draft is completed. Talking seems to dissipate the energy. I’ve been working on a novel for a few years and some days it soars; some days each word is like dripping blood. So it will be a surprise. It isn’t about food.
Terri: Ann is a wise woman! I’ve talked ad nauseum about my next book and got so tired of the darn book – and it was only partially written! – that I’ve had trouble finishing. From now on, my lips are sealed. Not a word until it’s in pre-publication.
Pavarti: Haha! It’s about strippers!
Pavarti: What does the Bestsellers’ Sandbox mean to you? Why is this the name of your event?
Ann: To me it’s because we’re all going to play together and build something! A bridge between the Indie and the Traditional publishing world from two writers who have had some success and care about the field.
Terri: I like that – play together and build something! For a long time, the animosity between traditional and indie authors was unbearable. Indies were unfairly, sometimes fairly, marginalized and both sides resented the other. Today, there is far greater fluidity between the two worlds. A plethora of options has freed authors to make publishing choices that meet their own needs and objectives. Nowadays, many traditionally pubbed authors self-publish their back list and even new books that, for one reason or another, they feel stand to benefit from the agility self-publishing offers. This is good news for everyone who cares about books. When we all play in the same sandbox we can learn from and help one another.
Pavarti: Thanks so much for being here and chatting! I hope you’ll stick around as our readers post any other questions they have for you.
Ann: Yes! I love answering questions.
Terri: Thank you so much for putting this together, Pav! I also love answering questions!