In recent months, I’ve come to realize that writing is a lot more business than art. A lot more. Oh, the writing part is still the most important thing–it’s the production end of the business equation. You can’t sell a product you haven’t made (and although it’s possible to sell an unfinished product on proposal, in the final analysis, you still have to produce it at some point!).
As authors, we spend a lot of time and effort worrying about the writing end of our jobs. About all the C’s: craft, conflict, characterization. We read books about these things, about how to hone our product to perfection. We chat about them with our critique partners and writer friends. Agonize over them during revisions, and stress over whether we’ve done them “right” when we start submitting to agents or editors.
But oddly enough, I think most of us spend very little time analyzing our business philosophy when it comes to actually selling our product. Just getting an offer of publication can seem so remote and unlikely that we rarely think beyond that point about what we want from being published.
I know when I got the call from my Kensington editor offering to publish Behind the Red Door, I was so thrilled someone loved the book enough to want to publish it at all, I didn’t think very far ahead. I had achieved my dream–I was going to be published, my book was going to be in bookstores across the country. That was enough. I didn’t think to worry about how big my print run would be, which bookstores would have my book in them, whether my book would have any special in store placement (i.e., coop), what the publisher would do to market my book, or what they would expect/like me to do to promote it myself. None of those questions occurred to me and now, I really wish they had.
Now, I’m not saying any of this by way of complaining. I am still thrilled and delighted that Kensington published my book, that they gave it a beautiful cover, and that their sales force obviously did their job in terms of getting it into bookstores. But…I wish I’d gone into this whole publishing gig with a clearer idea of my business philosophy and strategy.
So, as I pursue that next contract, I’m thinking long and hard about the business end of things. Asking myself what will, for me, constitute not merely being published, but being published well. These are questions not just about money, but about things like format (would I be happy with another trade format book, or do I really want mass market paperback?), distribution (I want to be in WalMart and Target if possible, right?), promotion (is the publisher going to provide me with a publicist or other marketing support?), and so on. And they’re not questions to which I have perfectly straight answers. In some cases, the answer is it depends on the book. But by and large, I have a pretty good feel now for what I want versus what I need, and I know the difference between them (i.e., I know what’s a dealbreaker and what’s not).
The thing is, as a writer, you have to know enough about your business philosophy to walk away from an offer for publication if it doesn’t meet your minimum requirements. But you can’t do that unless you know what those minimums are. So, before you start seriously pursuing publication (especially with any of the major New York houses), be sure you know what you need. If you have an agent, be sure she knows what you need.
And then don’t take less, even if it means a dream deferred.