Tag: Sales (Page 1 of 5)

Reason #54: You Are Not A Celebrity

A Sales Team reason for rejection

Wow, this reason for rejection is so unfair. 

And it’s not even legitimate, really. Lots of celebrities write books that never crack a bestseller list and which shouldn’t have been published to begin with. 

Nonetheless, I have on several occasions sat in a room with a group of salespeople and asked the question, “What kind of book would you most like to have to sell to bookstores next season?” One of the first answers has always been, “Can you get us a book by a celebrity?” They don’t even care who the celebrity is, just that the author is one.

Why do salespeople want books by celebrities? It’s actually a brand/buy issue. If I give them a book by, say, Jimmy Fallon, the brand for the book is already established and successful in the marketplace. When they start contacting book buyers for Barnes and Noble or Wal Mart, my sales team doesn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining and cajoling those people to stock the book in their stores. The book buyers already know who Jimmy Fallon is; they know their customers know; and they know many people will go ahead and brand/buy the Fallon book sight unseen—that is, they’ll buy it simply because they’re already sold on the “Jimmy Fallon” brand name from late night TV.

So … what if you’re not a celebrity with a built-in brand name that can guarantee a certain amount of sales simply because of your popular recognition?

Unfortunately, that’s already one strike against your proposal. The fact that the overwhelming majority of authors aren’t celebrities never figures into the equation. (I know—stupid, huh?) Neither does the fact that book publishers fail more often with built-in celebrity books than they succeed with them. Nor the fact that publishers can actually make you a celebrity by publishing your book and investing marketing, publicity, and sales dollars into the promotion of it. In a publishing board meeting, those truths are irrelevant. 

To the VP of Sales, either you’re a celebrity or you’re not. If you are, he’ll be happy to vote in favor of publishing your book. And if you’re not? Well, that could be the reason for your last rejection.

What You Can Do About It

1. Um…Quit Writing and Pursue a Celebrity Career?

Honestly, from a purely pragmatic perspective, this is the best advice for people who really just want to publish books without doing all that silly “writing” part. If that’s you, then go ahead and get on Survivor, become a pro athlete, win American Idol, move to Los Angeles and become a movie or TV star, pursue fame as a YouTube sensation, fly to the moon, become a superhero, go partying with Paris Hilton, whatever you can do that will get you into the ranks of the notable and well-known. You’ll never truly be an author, but hey, you’ll get published, and that’s what you want anyway, right?

Or you can…

2. Go Back to Reason for Rejection #32, and Review Strategies for Building an Author Platform

If you’re not ready to abandon writing so you can become a celebrity and get published, then start thinking seriously about ways to improve your author platform. 

By its nature, an author platform extends an author brand name. If you can extend your author brand to the point where becomes a brand/buy name—a recognizable, and trusted, name that prompts people to buy—then you’ve achieved a measure of celebrity that will carry weight with both the Sales VP and Marketing VP at a publishing house. Sure, you may never be as famous as Jimmy Fallon or Paris Hilton, but that’s OK. Minor celebrity that’s translatable into brand/buy sales still makes a difference. A Sales VP won’t overlook the work you’ve done on the marketing side to build your author platform.

3. Get a Few Celebrities to Endorse Your Book

If you’re not a celebrity yourself, you can still draw on the power of celebrity that a Sales VP finds attractive. How? Get connected with a few celebs who might be willing to provide an endorsement for your book. This is, of course, easier said than done. But with celeb access through websites, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other options, it doesn’t have to be impossible. 

First, DON’T stalk a celebrity, either online or in person. I mean it. Just don’t. 

Next, try to connect with some of the people who are within your reach. Maybe through a friend or a friend of a friend. Maybe through a fan letter. Maybe through a note on a web blog, or through your agent or a shared editor. Maybe at a writer’s conference or through a professor at film school. You get the idea. 

True, most celebrities will probably ignore you. But if you can deliver even as few as two celebrity endorsements for your next book, the Sales VP will definitely be interested—and it could be enough to tip that person’s vote in your favor.

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Reason #55: There Is No “Brandwagon” Trend You Can Latch Onto

A Sales Team reason for rejection

Were you around back in 1999 when that whole “Y2K Virus!” end-of-the-world nonsense dominated everything?

There were disaster novels and tech manuals and business books and more. That was a classic example of a “brandwagon”—an overarching topic of interest to a broadly-based audience, with multiple avenues for exploitation in product offerings. If your book connects to a current brandwagon, sales folks like that. If it doesn’t have a brandwagon to ride on, that doesn’t guarantee rejection…but it doesn’t help sway salespeople in your favor either.

Think about it. When the Lord of the Rings trilogy was in theatres and the Harry Potter books were selling millions, there was a sudden glut of new fantasy authors and books that crowded bookstore shelves. Some of these copycats were great (the Percy Jackson series comes to mind), others—not so much. After 9/11, any book having to do with Osama Bin Laden or terrorism in general was suddenly a must-read. Then there was The Da Vinci code, which spawned a cottage industry in Da Vinci Code response books. Then The Purpose-Driven Life took over, and suddenly everything was some kind of “driven” (I particularly liked the title for women, The Purse-Driven Life). Then the Twilight saga took over and the world was full of undead people talking about their feelings. Then…well, you get the idea.

The lesson here is finding a hot topic and latching onto it with an associated book in time enough to profit from the fad before it fades. If (as we noted in Reason for Rejection #54) you have the obvious bad luck of not being a celebrity, being able to brandwagon on an existing trend early in its development is a nice substitute. Why? Because the brandwagon fills the void left by your lack of an author brand name. Instead of celebrity, all you need is expertise or relevant association to the fad. 

If, for instance, vampires are what readers are craving and you happen to be an authority on Vlad the Impaler, then your expertise might possibly be enough to cash in on the trend. Does it always work like this? No, of course not. But it does happen often enough that salespeople will definitely give a brandwagon book a second look. 

I remember one time a certain book on prayer was dominating bestseller lists for an extended period of time. I was also writing a book about prayer, so I suggested to my editor that maybe we should change the title of my book to take advantage of the brandwagon effect. My publisher agreed and we were on our way. 

Several months later news came out that two other publishers were also releasing books on prayer—with titles that were exactly the same as mine. And all were hitting bookstores within one month of each other. I panicked and asked to change the title of my book back to its original. Fortunately, my publisher disagreed. When the books came out, all three (mine included) hit industry bestseller lists. Brandwagon had carried the day—and that’s why salespeople are often swayed by a brandwagon appeal.

Of course, the flip side of that equation is also true. If I’ve got a Sales VP whose done homework in the market, he or she knows what kinds of trends are making money. If that Sales VP is looking to cash in on some currently popular trend, and your book doesn’t fit into any brandwagon opportunity, then that gives him or her yet another reason to reject your book. “Nobody’s interested in this stuff,” that VP will say, “what they really want are unicorns that talk about their feelings…” 

Tough break, but that’s the way it happens sometimes.

What You Can Do About It

1. Be a trend-watcher.

Pop culture defines America today the way a military culture defined ancient Rome or an agrarian culture defined the South during the Civil War. In ancient Rome, everybody knew what a soldier looked like. During the Civil War, every southerner could talk comfortably about what it took to grow tobacco or cotton. And today, every American knows what happens on TV, in the movie theatres, and to some extent, with the songs that are on the radio.

So pay attention to entertainment trends. Be on the lookout for big movie releases on the horizon. Read a variety of bestseller lists to try and spot topical trends that have real staying power. Listen at your work to discover which TV shows people keep talking about. Basically, become a trend-watcher until your reach a point where you can predict the next big thing—and write a book to take advantage of the brandwagon opportunities that come with it.

2. Learn how to spot gaps.

Of course, it’s not enough simply to spot a trend and then try to pile on with another book on that topic. In order to effectively brandwagon a book, yours has to be

a) somehow associated with the trend,


b) completely different from anything else associated with the trend.

Yes, it’s a delicate line to tread, but if you do it well you can be very successful—and make your proposal something a sales team can’t wait to get their hands on.

So learn how to spot gaps in the trend. Find those areas that are not yet being exploited, yet still fall within the scope of the popular theme. Be creative with that, and have fun. When you find that opening that no one else has yet to see, pounce on it as fast as you can. 

An example: A few years ago I was acquiring non-fiction for a religious publisher., Everyone in the office kept talking about Jack Bauer and the TV show, 24. So I contacted one of my favorite authors and said, “Hey, what can you do that stays within copyright restrictions but also takes advantage of the popularity of 24?” He came back to me with an idea for a book of short Bible studies inspired by season 1 of the TV show. No one had thought of studying the Bible by the light of the TV screen, or in the suspenseful shadow of Jack Bauer. The result? We published, and that book hit the Top 50 bestseller list for the Christian publishing industry. 

3. Be more than a copycat artist.

Here’s one important caveat about trying to brandwagon your way to success: No copycats. 

There’s a difference between identifying a trend, spotting a gap in the market associated with that trend, and filling it with a related, but a truly original book product. If you don’t know that difference, then don’t try to brandwagon. At no time should anyone be able to say that yours is simply a “copycat” of someone else’s work. That’s both unappealing and possibly illegal as a violation of copyright protections.

For instance, at the beginning of the 21st century, the world already had Harry Potter. We didn’t need (or want) “Henry Powers, Wizard Boy.” But Percy Jackson, son of the Olympian god Poseidon? Well, him we couldn’t wait to meet—and the rest was history (or mythstory…or, you get the idea!). So even though you are riding the coattails of some other trend, make sure you avoid the temptation to copycat that trend. Again, it’s a fine line…but one that could mean the difference between a publishing contract and just another rejection letter to add to your growing collection.

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Reason #56: You Have No Sales History To Speak Of

A Sales Team reason for rejection

Every time my Sales VP casts a vote in favor of a new book, she’s placing a big-money bet. And you can bet that VP is very aware of what’s at stake.

Look at it this way. Imagine you and I jet off to Las Vegas in time to place a bet on a horserace happening at Churchill Downs. We’re watching the pre-race coverage on TV, learning about the horses scheduled to run in the race. One is a horse named HotStuff. As we listen to the announcer, we discover that HotStuff placed third in a race six months ago, came in first three months ago, and was barely edged out of the top spot to finish second in a race just last month. 

Next we hear the announcer introduce a horse named CoolIt. CoolIt, we discover, has never raced before. He looks healthy, but no one knows exactly how this horse will respond once he’s on the track. Will CoolIt panic and freeze up? Will the horse brush off all distractions and race hard to the finish line? Will he simply stay in the middle of the pack, never making an impact on the race? Who knows?

Now it’s time for you and I to go to the betting window and put our money down on a horse. Realistically, are you going to bet $25,000, $50,000, or more on CoolIt? Or are you going to look at the track records of the two horses and go with the safer bet on HotStuff? 

This, in a symbolic sense, is what happens each time my Sales VP makes a bet on a new book. She’s placing a bet of tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes more) on the hope that your masterpiece will win, place, or show in the race at the public marketplace. 

When I come to the publishing board with a book by an author who has never sold any books before, I’m asking my Sales VP to do the equivalent of placing a bet on CoolIt—putting money behind an author who may look healthy but who has no history of success. That’s a pretty risky bet, and it’s one that makes it hard for brand new authors to even get in the game. Mick Silva, former editor at Random House, says, “Publishers, retailers and parent companies are taking losses, so they’re backing off making bets.”

The rule is this, then: Past sales success creates future opportunities; no past creates only uncertainty. And most times, that’s enough for rejection.

What You Can Do About It

1. Bolster your credibility as an expert to overcome your lack of credibility as an author. 

Stellar author credentials can often help first-timers overcome the absence of a track record in book sales, simply because a recognized “expert” is someone that readers inherently trust. If you lack a sales history, then beef up your author credentials on your book’s topic and use that to convince my Sales VP you’re worthy of her bet. 

For instance, Rick Riordan spent 15 years teaching history and mythology to middle school students before successfully launching his juvenile fiction series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Audrey Niffenegger had never published anything when she pitched her fantasy novel, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, to MacAdam/Cage. But she was a well-regarded professor in the Interdisciplinary Book Arts MFA program at the prestigious Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts—and that’s significant. In horseracing parlance, that kind of credential was like saying she came from a family of racing champions. In fact, I’d guess that without that credential, Ms. Niffenegger might never have been published.

So identify key accomplishments that make you a credible expert on a topic, and highlight those in your proposal. That’ll help mitigate some of the risk for my sales team.

2. Try to publish in categories where the topic is more important than the author.

Some categories of publishing almost always require author brand recognition for success—literary fiction, mysteries/thrillers, memoir, etc. Sure, an unknown author can sometimes break through there, but it’s rare. Other categories depend more on built-in topic appeal—such as romantic fiction, crafts, home and garden, finance, and some children’s or teen books. 

When choosing where you want to start your publishing career, one option is to find a category that doesn’t require a previous sales history, or a category where your other credentials matter more. For instance, if your day job is as a financial planner, you may want to try to break into publishing with a money management book. Or, if you want to pursue a career as a novelist, you may want to start by writing romance to build up a history of sales.

3. Highlight your ability to reach a significant audience.

In the end, the most important thing to a Sales VP is going to be your ability to sell books, regardless of what your past history has been. So look for ways to tell that VP your book will definitely sell—maybe through your 10,000 member mailing list, at the 200 speaking engagements you’ve got scheduled next year, through your magazine column that reaches 150,000 readers every month, or whatever.

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Reason #57: You Have A Sales History, And It Sucks

A Sales Team reason for rejection

It’s tempting, sometimes, to think that just being published is enough for success in a writing career. Unfortunately, there are times when being published can actually be an obstacle to getting published. This is particularly true if you decide to pursue self-publishing as a shortcut to jumpstarting your career. 

Here’s a rule of thumb: Any book of yours that sells less than 10,000 copies is going to be considered a failure. 

That seems harsh, I know. Especially considering the general opinion is that most books will only sell around 5,000 copies anyway, and most often selling those 5,000 copies will still be enough for a book to be reasonably profitable. But even a book that sells 10,000 copies isn’t necessarily considered a success, it’s just not thought of as a failure anymore. 

As an agent, if you send me a proposal and tell me you’ve published in the past, I’m going to ask for specific unit sales figures on those previous books. Why? Because I know any editor worth her salt out there is going to ask me for that same information. I’m hoping to see one or two books that sold over 20,000 copies (generally considered a success in publishing), but I’ll still be OK if you’re typically selling 10,000 copies of each book you publish. If none of your books gets close to that, I’m going to have to decline the opportunity to represent, just because your track history has proven that people aren’t terribly interested in buying your books.

This is one of those rules of publishing success that I hate, and which hits home for me. I represent someone I believe to be an immensely talented suspense novelist. Her fans think she’s the next Dean Koontz, and she’s actually won a national award for her writing. But she’s published three novels to date—two of them with publishing behemoth Simon & Schuster—and none of her books has sold more than 9,000 copies. 

That’s just not enough in a crowded marketplace like fiction publishing. I can’t sell her fourth book, and S&S dropped her even before her third novel released, citing low sales of her second book as the reason. 

So you see, sometimes a little success in publishing is worse than no success at all.

What You Can Do About It

1. Omit what you don’t like. 

If you’ve published in the past, and unit sales numbers from those previous endeavors isn’t impressive, then just don’t tell me about those books. Don’t mention them at all—maybe I won’t notice. You’ll still have to deal with the perception that you have no sales history to speak of (see Reason #56), but that’s better than telling me that your sales history sucks. 

Some authors think that any published book is a something to be proud of, and they insist on listing everything they’ve ever done. This your ego talking, so ignore it. You be sure to tell me about only the books that make you look good. For instance, I’ve published over 60 books myself, but if you read any bio of me anywhere, you’ll see—at the maximum—that I list only about half of those books. And most often I’ll just list three to five of my top sellers. Why? Well, obviously, the ones I’ve omitted were, um, a bit less than successful in the marketplace. Some books you trumpet, others you bury. So be sure you bury the ones that don’t flatter you.

2. If you just can’t avoid talking about it, then highlight what you learned from it about making a book successful.

If you’re pressed by an editor or agent who wants to know why your book (or books) failed in the marketplace, don’t try to shift the blame to others. (Hey, we all know your books got no marketing support, but we won’t accept that as an excuse anyway.) Instead, present it as a learning experience which will make your next book’s prospects that much better. 

Talk about the inexperience of youth, the carelessness of innocence, or whatever. And tell a few specific ways you’ll “change” in order to help your publisher sell your next book. Make it clear you want to avoid going through that poor sales “learning experience” again. 

For instance, you might say something like this, “With my last book, I was still early in my writing career. I took the idea of success for granted—and I paid the price for it. From that experience, I’ve learned that I really need to be a strong partner for my publisher, both in the writing and in promotion of my book. So for this next book, I’m planning to do a much better job as a publishing partner. Specifically, I will…” 

Make sense?

3. Cultivate ways to increase sales of your existing books.

This is so hard to do without the assistance of a big-pocket partner (like, say, a publishing house’s sales team), but since current sales affect future opportunities, it may be worth your while to stop writing for a year or so and invest your time and money into bolstering sales of your books that are already on the market. 

No, this won’t be easy. And you may fail miserably at it. But if you succeed, it will definitely help your chances for the future in the eyes of my Sales VP.

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Reason #58: You Self-Published Yourself Into Oblivion

A Sales Team reason for rejection

These words of noted author, radio personality, and columnist, Garrison Keillor, sound ominously familiar, do they not? 

“The future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.”

With the proliferation of print-on-demand (POD) technology and the growing affordability of self-publishing options, the previously sequestered ability to print a book has never been more widely available to anyone, anywhere. As long as you can write a check to a self-publishing company, you can publish pretty much anything you like.

Or, as the venerable Mr. Keillor puts it, “The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that is also the downside. You can write whatever you wish and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest.”

I know. That seems a touch unkind. 

After all, what does an elitist author like Garrison Keillor know about your struggles to achieve your vision of a writing career? You’ve gotten dozens of rejection letters for your book recently. Agents and editors alike are determinedly indifferent to your prose, and your dreams. Self-publishing is affordable—finally—and it gives you an opportunity to prove your worth by delivering an actual, physical book to show off in the marketplace. Why not give that a shot, since traditional methods aren’t working for you anyway?

Here’s the catch: publishing a book and successfully publishing a book are remarkably different things—especially in the eyes of my Sales VP and his team. My sales team doesn’t give a rat’s tailswing that you’ve published a book. They only care to know if you can publish a book that’ll sell. Self-publishing yourself into oblivion does nothing to prove that to them.

Just last week I received a query from an author who listed two previously published books in his credits. Knowing I was going to write this chapter, I checked Amazon.com to learn more about his work. Both books had been self-published on Lulu.com. One ranked a miserable 4,621,308 on Amazon. The other ranked at 4,810,589. 

I’m sure this author thought he was helping his career when he sent those books into the Lulu system, but he wasn’t. The abysmal sales history he earned as a result of his self-publishing efforts was enough for me to send an easy rejection.

Consider yourself warned.

What You Can Do About It

1. Don’t self-publish as a stepping-stone toward success in traditional publishing. 

This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but if you want to publish, don’t self-publish. That is, if your ultimate goal is a career in traditional publishing channels, don’t try to shortcut your way to success by self-publishing one market failure after another. 

Despite the fact that self-publishing works by entirely different standards than traditional publishing, any book that’s in the marketplace will be judged by the same expectations that my Sales VP has for books that he publishes. That means you could legitimately self-publish and be wildly successful in that effort with sales of 700 or 800 copies of your book. But when my Sales VP sees that you have a book in print with only 800 in sales, he’ll view that as abysmal and as proof that you are unsalable on a larger scale. 

So, unless you can guarantee yourself a significant number of sales (say, 10,000 units or more), or unless you don’t care about pursuing a traditional publishing career, just don’t self-publish. You’ll do yourself more harm than good otherwise.

2. Self-publish for personal reasons, not for professional ones. 

OK, lest you think I am unfairly exclusive and judgmental about self-publishing, I will admit there are a few good reasons to pursue a POD opportunity for your book. Those reasons have nothing to do with traditional book publishing success, though. Still, if you don’t care about becoming a career author or about someday pursuing publication through a traditional publishing house, then sure, self-publishing could be a good option for you. 

For instance, if you want to tell your life story and leave it behind as a legacy gift for your kids and grandkids—well that sounds pretty cool to me. Or if you want to create a keepsake book of poetry and stories for family and friends, then by all means, print up a dozen copies and send them out this Christmas. Or if you want to put together a fun little advice book for newlyweds and give it as a wedding gift every time kids in your church get married, well that’s just sweet, so why not?

So, yes, there are plenty of personal, relational reasons to self-publish a book. If that’s your motivation, then go right ahead…just don’t assume that it will lead to professional success as a result.

3. If you’ve already self-published for the wrong reason, slant it as an “educational” experience. 

There is value for an absolute novice writer to go through the self-publishing process as an educational tool. Doing so gives you a hands-on, practice education on the unique requirements and daily demands of a publishing enterprise. It helps you better understand a traditional publishing process because now you know what’s needed editorially, promotionally, and production-wise to create a final product. And afterward, you can exploit what you’ve learned to become a much better author partner for any traditional publishing house that chooses to start your “real” author career.

At least that’s what you can tell an editor who asks about your abysmal sales after your preemptive attempt at self-publishing. (Good luck.)

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