I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

Just A Question Of Marketing?

Sometimes I start to wonder whether self-publishing may not be such a bad idea, when I find myself asking the cat: What if it really does just come down to a question of marketing?

Here's part of a rejection email that I received from a UK publisher last year:


"Our reader liked your manuscript and we seriously considered it for our list but in the end we felt that we would have limited success in trying to commercially market it in the current climate."

That's when you really want to get on the phone and discuss things, argue your case, try to work out how they know in advance how the public might react to the book. "Look at all the lousy decisions you made last year," I would say, nicely. "This year you could take a gamble and it might just pay off. Discover me!"

But no. You don't ring. You know you're not supposed to ring and try to change their minds. You are supposed to stay rational, calm and professional. Just sigh, then moan, then get on with it.

The email that I refer to did give other clues: the fact that the main character is a New Zealander, and the action takes place in France not the UK, complicates the mix. I drew the conclusion that the publisher thought it would be difficult to market this to a UK audience. This has been hinted at by others - mostly UK agents - who've looked at the manuscript.

That is why I am now trying New Zealand publishers - no response yet from the first publishing house that I've approached. I hope they won't see the book as too "different" to what they normally publish. If these NZ avenues are exhausted without success, the question of self-publishing will certainly have to be an option. Could I make a go of it myself, if it's just a question of marketing?

(Of course, it may be something more than just the marketing and commercial considerations. The story may be crap. The main character may be totally unappealing. The writing may have nothing going for it. I do ask myself these questions all the time, despite the nice comments I get every now and then.)

On the subject of which books are printed in which countries, and which books readers of certain nationalities are likely to warm to, I was pleased to read a recent blog entry from the head of Macmillan, Richard Charkin:

"Every now and again I feel moved to do an update on Macmillan New Writing, our programme for finding new fiction talent which was memorably described as a Ryanair (cheap and basic) concept in Charlotte Higgins's piece in The Guardian. The publishing business model is quite simple. If we can avoid losing money on individual titles the occasional discovery will allow us to make a modest profit overall. We've managed the first part of the equation successfully. All the titles have performed decently but none of the authors has 'broken out' into the really big time. We think we may have found our first mega-seller..."

The book he was talking about here was Never Admit to Beige by Jonathan Drapes, an Australian writer. Yes, that's right. A UK publisher has struck rich - well, kind of - by publishing a story that takes place in Australia, written by an Australian.

Whew! Stories from Down Under can work here then! Although, I mustn't overlook the fact that this is about a Brit who goes to the Gold Coast. Mmmm. Hold that glass of champagne, Mr Shameless!

No, hang on a minute! My story takes place in France! What about doing a translation? Publish the book first in French? That could be a very good marketing line: "New Zealand writer breaks into print by publishing first English-language novel as a French translation."

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Self-publishing seems to work fine with non-fiction but not with fiction. I think a New Zealand publisher seems like the perfect fit. And there are probably small literary publishers there too (like the two who have published me.)

Shameless said...

Nancy,
Thanks for your comment. I hope that NZ turns out to be a good fit - and you are right there are some smaller imprints there.

I hope you had a nice Christmas and New Year, and I wish you all the best for 2007:)

Jessica Schneider said...

Have you tried a NZ agent? I have at least a couple listed in my agent book that only wants NZ writers, I can give them to you if you want, so you can at least query. I'll just have to skim for the name. Personally, I don't recommend the self route, unless you want a stack of your books in a box for Muffin to curl up onto. I had a distant relative self-publish and his books look great all piled high in his basement.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but what if the French publisher/agent has an ex-NZ wife who ran off with that English bastard - then you're scuppered! Or, plain and simple, you'll get refusal on the grounds that there is only one way traffic on that NZ mountain you referred to in chapter seven -(past Shameless reference there btw).

Whatever - tis a hit and miss exercise - you miss the right person and they hit you with an illegible refusal!

Onwards, onwards, ever onwards.....

Shameless said...

Jessica,

I had a conversation with an agent in NZ once - not to do with this book - who said that they would expect all of the books of the authors they represent to be NZ themed. Now living in Europe, I'm not sure I can promise that.

Would they be interested in one if all the rest are Europe slanted?

NZ is also small and thankfully most of the publishers agree to direct contact with authors, hence cutting out the middle man and the whole 20 percent thing.

Food for thought though as I calculate the fact that I don't have a basement. I would have to shift them!

Shameless said...

Minx,
In that case I will clearly have to resort to "reasons why they can't refuse", despite the traffic flowing the wrong way. I will point them to the photo of me in that New York video! You know the one ... looking glamourous under the poster! :)

Jessica Schneider said...

I just don't see why if your character is from NZ what that has anything to do with the novel selling. I don't read a book because I think, hmmm a white girl from the US, wow- that's me! YAWN. I just read _Black Boy_ by Richard Wright, and it was excellent (as well as _Native Son_) and I didn't need to be a black man growing up in the racist south to appreciate it. If you can cut out the agent, by all means. I don't like them either, but they have us trapped.

Anyway, nothing we don't already know...

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but you have to just keep on hammering away.

Believe in yourself and know that it's simply a matter of the right place at the right time. The more 'places' you try, the better your chances of hitting the magic formula.

That wasn't just a standard rejection - no one in the industry is going to massage your ego by telling you they seriously considered taking you on if it wasn't true.

Hang on in there, Muffin.

Shameless said...

Debi,

It's true that I was happy to get a personal email, which was longer than most I've ever received, and that they say the reader had liked it. (It was probably one of the many Kiwis who live in London!). I do count my blessings when they come, even if we have to stand back and really search for them.

You're right though that it's just about getting it out there to every corner where there is some light. I've heard that Fiji has a cracking local publisher as well.

Meowwww to you and yours, Debi.

Shameless said...

Jessica,

I just had a strange experience.

Earlier today, only a few hours after looking back through your review of It's a wonderful life, I was shocked to find it talked about on the pages of the current novel I am reading, The Time traveler's Wife.

The film was featured for about four of the pages that I read this afternoon at work (Page 182-186, for those who want to see the reference).

Now, how is that for spooky?

Anonymous said...

I've also heard that self publishing works best with non fiction or for niche markets. That said, there have been those who've self published and with the right marketing gone on to do really well - the classic case is Eragon by Christopher Paolini (a YA fantasy).

As for countries and topics - down south not down under, publishers will ONLY publish books with an African theme. A bit of a bugger for those of us who don't write to African themes. And British publishers say, we-ell, we'd prefer it if you actually lived in the UK, it would make book tours that much easier. Shucks, what's a chicken to do? Ask for a transfer to more northern climes?

As for the marketing, even traditionally published writers have to do some of their own marketing these days, particularly if the publisher's budget doesn't have sufficient reach.

It's a tough life!
;-)

Jessica Schneider said...

Shameless-

I'm afraid to say I didn't get that far in the book. I got to like the 1st hundred something pages, then skimmed to the end, saw some bad sex scenes, and gave up out of boredom. At the time I hadn't seen the film yet, so I wouldn't remember anything she wrote even if I had read what she wrote about it.

Was anything interesting said about the film?

By the way, in that picture with Muffin, what is that little white thing beside the mouse pad? I'm not a technical maven so I am clueless. There's like a green light under it. I thought, is it a fan? Webcam? Pencil sharpener? Mouse?

Make fun of me, go ahead.

Perry Middlemiss said...

Just to throw another angle on the argument, consider the case of Simon Leys (an Australian author whose real name is Pierre Ryckmans). His first novel, "The Death of Napoleon", was published in France under the title "La Mort de Napoleon", and then subsequently published in Australia by Allen and Unwin, in a translaton written by him and Patricia Clancy.

So maybe another route to take is via a French publisher, though, of course, you'd need to translate it, or re-write it in French.

Shameless said...

Jessica,

The little white thing is a speaker, just like the big white thing on the right. It's a "woofer" apparently, which provides excellent sound with good bass.

I must also admit that I've been struggling a bit lately with TTTW. There seems to be a lot that could've been cut ... lots of action that didn't need to be followed through in blow by blow detail: take door handle in hand, turn door handle, pull, walk through, pull, turn door handle, push handle, keep walking, don't forget to breathe!

Perry,
Welcome back after so long. The French thing has been suggested before and I even had an offer once by a French friend willing to translate the synopsis and first chapter. I may get back in touch and see where this could go. Apparently he has a contact at a publishing house. All roads lead to Paris?

Jessica Schneider said...

That's a speaker? That little thing? Hmmm.

I figured that since you're still reading that book, that it isn't that engaging. I mean, Da Vinci is potboiler Tom Clancy bad- but I can understand it being a 'fun' read for some. (Mystery, plot, etc). But putting aside literary quality, I didn't even find TTTW novel fun.
Waaaay too long was also what I thought of it. 500 something pages? Where were the editors? Native Son has a lot of detail, but it's so well written and the character is so well developed that it totally pulls you in. I read that- (pretty much the same length as TTTW) in 4 sittings.

Highly recommended, along with Black Boy. I just posted a review of both on my blog. Oh, and you should also read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith- also much detail, but not boring in the least. Great great book. And you don't have to be a girl (or goil) to appreciate it!

(And if you've already read these my comments can go for whomever is reading).

Anonymous said...

That sounds very interesting about the French translation shameless, and it has the advantage of adding that soupcon of extra interest in another language before the english-speaking world gets to it.

I add my weight to the wealth of keep trying comments, because from the tone of your post and the comments about the rejection email, it sounds as though you have a goer alright - just keep at the door-knocking! It's all you can ever do - and the best of luck with it. In my own case it took two years of rejections, before I hit a jackpot in the most unexpected of places with the poetry ms.

Shameless said...

Hi Cailleach,


Thanks for your message. Good to have you back!

I would try to translate the book myself into French, but it would be a hard job ... no matter how fluent we are, there are nuances we Anglophones will never master!

Here's to a successful 2007 for you too, Cailleach!

cate sweeney said...

Hi Shamus
I went to the launch of Jonathan Drapes novel and yes I think he's gonna be big! I think we all have these doubts about our own work a lot of the time, and all that churning it over in our mind, who to approach next how best to aim at the market, in the end it just takes one person to really like your book (the reader for the publisher) and eventually you will get there! You are doing all the right things and if you are getting some positive responses like this, that is a good thing,, they don't waste time commenting otherwise!

Shameless said...

Cate,
Happy New Year! Good to see you calling in!

I plan to buy Drape's book ... it sounds interesting, and an extract I read from the first chapter was tantalising!

Jessica Schneider said...

I studied French for 3 years as a teen and back then I even had a dream in French. Now don't remember a thing. How sad is that? I still love Flaubert though, (in English of course).

Sigh.

Shameless said...

My spoken French is fine (lived here since 97), but my written leaves a lot to be desired. I didn't do it at school and only learnt when I came here. Emails and basic writing is OK, but I wouldn't dream of anything creative. I like to read in French though.

Jessica Schneider said...

I have a couple of poems translated into French. Speaking it wasn't the hardest part, but the listening was. Tres Rapid. (sp?) See- I forget all those verb conjugations. Je, Tu, Il, Nous, Vous, Ils...
Rilke is the only writer I know of (and poet specifically) who wrote greatly in both German and French. The Master of 2 languages.

I saw you on Art's blog. Ha ha ha, what a circle we got goin' on.

Anonymous said...

Oui, je conviens, écrivant le français est fichu impossible proche sans aide d'un petit poisson appelé Babel. Tout ceux higgly-piggly les mots qui juste ne traduisent pas correctement, et les verbes, ne me parlent pas au sujet des verbes. Le Français est une belle langue, mais je l'assassine juste quand j'écris !

Shameless said...

Minx,

Tu m'étonne! Encore une fois! :)
Tu es bilingue depuis quand?

Anonymous said...

Shameless said....
"You surprise(?) me! Once again. You are bilingual, since when?"

Only bilingual when I have access to Babelfish (universal translator). I cheat, I am a Minx! My schoolgirl french is mainly appalling, but I did mangage to work out the above, I think.

Shameless said...

Babelfish? Wow, it sounds like fun. I'm not sure how accurate it would be though. Second part would be: How long have you been bilingual for?

Next they will develop an instant translator .... we talk through a mouthpiece and choose the language we want to speak in. Fun fun fun in the future. Hope I'm still alive then!

Anonymous said...

Babelfish at Altavista (just google it)- hours and hours of fun if you keep translating from one language to another. Bit like 'chinese whispers' only far funnier!