Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Boskone Panel: Publishing: Myths vs. Reality

The last one. Warning: sketchy notes ahead. Also, punctuation abuse (I seem to have jumped from over-use of ; to overuse of : in these reports).

I came into this panel rather late, but here's who was on it and what their jobs are according to the Internet:

  • Lou Anders = editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction imprint Pyr.
  • Ellen Asher = editor of the Science Fiction Book Club.

    (I devoutly hope I have not mis-typed Anders for Asher, or vice versa, anywhere, and have double-checked my paper notes for this; but it's the kind of mistake I'm prone to, and I apologize in advance if I missed any instance of it.)

  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden (TNH) = consulting editor at Tor Books.
  • Eleanor Wood = president of Spectrum Literary Agency. She was the moderator and had a list of myths (here, set off in quotation marks) that she was asking the panel about in turn.

The myths:

"I should call and introduce myself to the publicity director."

  • Asher: No.
  • TNH: how many digits in the sale price of the book?

"Reviews are/aren't important in selling books."

  • Asher: well, we're selilng directly to readers, but still, they can help.
  • TNH: sure they can. Booklist & Kirkus for libraries. For actual readers, blurbs work best if the reader has heard of the blurber (and knows they're selective, and likes them). She was once cornered by a couple of 14 year olds: "What's a Kirkus and why should I care?" Also: "we want to know what kind of book it is."
  • Wood: get on Oprah! Also pithiness helps. For Michael Flynn's Eifelheim, someone blurbed it as "Carl Sagan meets Umberto Eco," and now they're putting it out in a trade paperback for a more literary crowd.
  • Anders: smaller data point: Pyr's books have been in Entertainment Weekly six times, and gotten starred Publishers Weekly reviews, and they haven't really seen that make a difference: but a BoingBoing review does. (Their new strategy: buy Cory Doctorow.) Blogs are the new work of mouth.

    Asher: PW is for bookstores.

    Anders: I think librarians read BoingBoing.

    Wood: I don't know how much different Kirkus reviews make.

    TNH: Kirkus exists to tell librarians what they don't have to buy, goal is avoiding harm not doing good.

"Book club deals help/hurt trade sales."

  • Asher: can't do a controlled experiment, but years ago, David Hartwell & she pulled out mid-list books that did & didn't have book club editions and compared their trade sales; they didn't find any difference. Book clubs can publicize books too, especially in new members materials: people may not join, but the book was still before their eyes.

"I should tell an editor/agent that my novel has been professionally edited, because it will impress them."

  • TNH: it will make me feel sorry for you, because it's a scam. We don't care.
  • Wood: it can raise the suspicion level: is this a book that's been around several times?

    TNH: I try to remember that a good book can fall afoul of bad people.

"I should stress that my book would make a great movie!"

  • Wood: this makes you look naive and like you have unreal expectations.
  • Anders: good books make bad movies. Bad books make good movies.

"Royalty statements are unreliable."

  • TNH: Baen's read so clearly, and she could wish that theirs did; but no, Tor's are as honest as they can be made.
  • Asher: Ditto. They once found a mistake affecting many books over the years. The first thing they did was to notify everyone, the second was to start cutting checks.

    (TNH: an editor once got an extra check to send to an author. Accounting, when they heard this, said, well, look, it would be a lot of work, do we have to do this? So the editor sent the author a check with the comment that the author might one day be asked to repay it, but until then, it was the author's.)

  • Wood: reserves against returns are a common source of error, so it's good to take a close look at those.

What's the most common myth from authors?

  • Anders: "you're going to fly me out for the book tour, right?"
  • TNH: "if you don't pay me the big money, how are you going to be motivated to promote my book?"

    Authors have to distinguish between the reader-mind and the author-mind (see this very long blog post + comments called "Slushkiller"). A book can only be pushed so far: an infinite amount of promotion does not yield an infinite amount of sales.

  • Wood: related myth: "publicity departments only work for authors who are already best-sellers."

    TNH: that's another myth from scammers. All books get a minimum of promotion; they push further if they can make a difference. But they don't publish books they don't think they can sell, so if they aren't pushing they aren't doing their job.

    Asher: some things aren't suitable.

    TNH: newspaper ads, for instance, are usually a complete waste. [Ed: I forget if it was said then, but having heard prior iterations of this comment: the point of them is to say, "hey, know that book you were going to buy when it came out? It's out now."]

    Anders: Pyr is a midsize house so does things differently, was initially pushing everyone but Mike Resnick since everyone knows him already! Now they're starting to readjust.

"If I'm writing in a different genre, I should use a pseudonym."

  • Anders: as an editor: yeah. As a writer: God, I hate that. Moorcock refused, and he loves that: it was a service to the field to demonstrate his range of capability.
  • TNH: Harry Turtledove sells really well. If he wants to do something different, it may show up as a big dip in his sales, leading bookstores to order less of the next thing; so, very transparent pseudonym.
  • Asher: much of the science fiction & fantasy readership is less adventurous than it used to be, possibly because there's so much more published. Can always drop the pseudonym if you turn out to be successful at both.

    Anders: who just collaborated with themselves? Me, from audience: Nora Roberts / J.D. Robb (Remember When (booklog)).

"If I tell my editor that a book has been optioned for a film, I should get a lot more money for the next one."

  • Asher, TNH: "Congratulations!"
  • Wood: it's very rare to go from an option, even a good option, to a film, and can be very frustating.

    Asher, TNH: why? just let the film companies keep renewing it; some authors have been able to live on that money.

  • Asher: an option is a bonus, not a guarantee.

    TNH: believe Hollywood will do something when you see it.

  • Wood: something that does matter for the book: being able to use movie art on the book's cover.

    TNH: often the biggest problem is getting the film people to let go of the art at all. The people behind the movie version of The Prestige could not bring themselves to let go of the art, even though the trailers were out in theaters! (And wanted to know if Tor could refrain from printing the book until the movie was out to avoid spoilers, even though there are significant differences. Umm, the book's been in print for 10 years.)

    Asher: movie tie-ins are for those outside the usual science fiction & fantasy-reading community.

Anders offered one: "The only thing that matters is the first page of the manuscript."

  • TNH: if the milk is sour, you don't have to drink the whole carton to tell.
  • Anders: cites opening of John Scalzi's Old Man's War ("I did two things on my 75th birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army."). If a book doesn't have a hook on page one, the casual browser won't stick with it, even if it's brilliant on page twelve. It's like de Niro's character in Ronin: "Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt."

"If a book's out of print and my agent doesn't think it can be re-sold to a major publisher, it's okay to give the rights to a print-on-demand company."

  • Asher: send it to the book club!
  • Anders: wait until the author's dead.
  • Wood: she generally says no. Royalties are tiny, rights aren't good.

    TNH, Asher: not talking about giving up the whole ball of rights, just a term of years.

    Wood: yes, you can, but they actually did that for a Leigh Brackett book and then a real deal appeared while the POD company still had the rights.

    Asher: maybe a term of one year, then? Most publishing houses can't move faster than that.

  • TNH: Tor's going to be doing POD for books that can't quite be kept in print but for which there is still some demand. Tom Doherty says that if someone else wants them, though, that's fine. They don't expect a huge business, but might as well have books be available for those who want them.

Wood: second favorite myth?

  • Asher: [ed: I am not at all sure of my notes on this one, but:] she doesn't hear, "A book club sale! Now I'll be (or, I am) famous!" Most authors either know (the effect or meaning of a book club sale, I think) or know they don't know and ask.
  • Wood: new authors often think publishing moves a lot faster than it does.

TNH to Wood: what strange things to authors think about agents?

  • Wood: not sure she's heard them all, but probably #1 is that agents "can make it happen." Have to explain what agents can and can't do. Used to be a lot of myths about operations with regard to editors, very adversarial or making them cower.
  • Anders: although, there was one agent who put them through a 6-week line-by-line contract reading: they will never buy from that agent again.
  • Asher: there's a difference between tough and unpleasant.
  • TNH: she can think of one agent who is randomly and gratuitously rude. It gets to the point where, well, if they really need the book, but otherwise . . .
  • Wood: "life is too short" rule.
  • TNH: Tom Doherty is big on that.

Audience member: author's input on covers & titles?

  • Asher: well, SFBC doesn't often do its own jacket. When they do, they usually do whatever they like. Sometimes the original publisher wants to consult. They usually try to avoid giving approval because their timelines are so tight. However, with licensed products like Star Wars, approval is a given, but licensors are usually pretty good about getting back to them on time.
  • Wood: in her experience, title changes are always done in cooperation with the author. Cover art: there was more approval previously, now it's consultation if anything. (Famous case of one Bantam author sending cover back three times.) Not usually something she fights over, since authors usually will see cover art and get their comments considered anyway.
  • TNH: some authors have really good sense about cover art. But an awful lot of writers, when it comes to art direction, they're really good writers. Covers are a really finicky piece of juju (and a small poster for the book).

    If we have a completely different idea of your book than you, things have probably already broken down.

    Horror stories: 1) A naive contract gave an author approval, and on the fourth re-do, it was apparent that the author couldn't bring self to say yes. Hugely expensive and unpublishable. 2) Author disliked cover so much that author made it a life's mission to ruin the careers of everyone even remotely involved. "Life is too short" rule was invoked. Also, cover was changed for the trade paperback: entirely different, unimpeachable, and dead boring. Never make Production angry because terrible things can happen to your book. [*]

    [*] Nb. I am paraphrasing this from memory, because I've heard this story before and so referred to it by shorthand in my notes, without transcribing TNH's panel comments. In particular, I may have the department name wrong, though I don't think so.

  • Anders: there's no art consultation clause in contracts, but there is consultation anyway. He acts as a buffer between author & artists (general murmurs of agreement around table).

    I think he said he would never change a title. At any rate, something caused TNH to give examples of titles that were best changed: A Fire Upon the Deep, originally Among the Tines; A Million Open Doors, originally (something that is probably, thanks to Google) Canso de Fis de Jovent.

And that was the end of the panel, and is the end of my posts about Boskone.

Tags: boskone, boskone 2007, cons

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