Wednesday, January 27, 2016

#9B: Authors, Don't Forget Hometown Newspapers!

This is #9B in the Book Deal Survival Guide because there are a couple of questions from the New Author Questionnaire that are especially important. And, um, I forgot to mention them last time. (The questionnaire is updated - if you didn't read it, check it out!) 

This questionnaire helps publishers identify your platform - your 'hook' for lack of a better word - which assists them in promoting your book more effectively.

It's not just U.S. publishers who do this either. UK author Kevin Ansbro, whose terrific novel KINNARA is racking up rave reviews since being released by an independent publisher last year, mentioned they sent him a questionnaire to help with publicity too.

So this is industry standard - traditional, indie or otherwise.  

Even if you're self-publishing, as I am this time, these questions will help jog your memory about interesting tidbits about you and the book - which will definitely boost your self-promotion efforts.

In addition to dozens of other questions Simon & Schuster asked me, they also wanted to know the names of my hometown newspapers and any contacts I had there. 

I didn't know anyone personally, but I was able to mention the two main papers: The Sudbury Star and Northern Life.

Thanks to designer, Dennis Cox! 
The S&S publicity department handled getting a press kit to these papers and I was interviewed by both when my book came out. In fact, I made the front page of the Star. My mom was so proud -- even though I thought my nose looked big in the photograph. ;) 

If you come from a smaller town, try not to lose touch with the people at the newspapers you grew up with - and that your family and friends might still read. 

Because small town newspapers are more likely to toot your horn than big dailies. 

So even months before your book comes out, get up the nerve to reach out. Focus on an editor or journalist who might be interested in you. 

Use your imagination about what you can do for them.

Rather than what they can do for you. Write a book review.  Interview an old friend or colleague who may have a great story. Write an editorial about something that concerns you about your hometown. For instance, last year there was a teachers' strike that affected my old school district.

It wasn't the first one to hit the city. In 1980, when I was sixteen, the high school teachers in my hometown went on strike for about four months! It's still one of the longest teachers' strikes on record. (Yep, sixteen years old and I didn't have to go to school every day. Or even get a job because we had a huge unemployment rate at the time. Even part-time jobs were hard to come by.) So for months, I didn't have to do anything except tap away on my novel during the day and party with my friends at night.

As much fun as that seems, it really 'changed' me. 

Sure, I got to party a lot. Sure, I even almost finished that book. But after months of a lack of direction, I started to get depressed. I think the strike affected all of us because it seemed our education - the very raison d'etre for any student - didn't feel as important as the teachers' salaries, work hours, or whatever other grievances they had. When school resumed ...

I went from being a generally good student to an attitude case. 

Last year, I was very concerned that the strike would drag out and affect a whole new batch of students in the same way. So I wrote an editorial questioning the teachers' stand that the strike was for 'the benefit of the students' - because it sure doesn't feel that way to the average kid. 

It was a great piece ... But I never sent it.

Too shy? Insecure? Lazy? Whatever. But I really wish I had because it would've raised my profile in my hometown and that could really help my platform when my next book comes out.  

So don't do as I do. Do as I wish I had done! Check out your old papers' websites and brush up on the local news. Put on your thinking cap and see if you can't come up with a few good articles that would build your profile in your hometown.  

btw my publisher also wanted to know the names of the papers in my current city - Toronto - and any contacts I might have there.

I didn't know this, but apparently it's much harder to get attention by big city dailies if you're a first-time novelist (non-fiction books are much easier to promote). My Canadian publicist didn't even bother sending my books or press kits to the big Toronto papers. When I found out, I was flabbergasted. She said "Big dailies don't care about first-time novelists. There's no use."

And she has a point, right? James Patterson and J.K. Rowling don't have trouble attracting attention in big papers. But unless a first-timer has soared up the charts or scored a huge film deal or is the wife/husband/kid of someone famous, when's the last time you saw a substantial interview with an unknown author in a big daily? Not often. "So?" I said to my publicist. 

"Send the press kit to the Toronto papers anyway!"

I was pretty miffed. And pretty desperate. This was three months after my book came out. It was obvious I didn't have a bestseller on my hands and I figured anything was worth a try.  
And you know what? The lovely and talented Liz Braun of the Toronto Sun did a two-page, full colour (positive!) review of Devil May Care.  There was even a long excerpt. It was the easily the best publicity I got. And this was six months after my book hit the shelves! Even my editor wrote to congratulate me. So don't ignore anyone when it comes to getting attention for your books: whether the papers are big, small or indifferent.

Thanks for following along! 

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Friday, January 15, 2016

#9: The Author Questionnaire: Are You A Writer? Or A Spy?

After you get a book deal, you're going to start worrying about your inbox because every now and again - when you least expect it - an email is going to ruin your day. Or life, as the case may be.

One of those days will be when you get your Author Questionnaire.

Or, sometimes, New Author Questionnaire. I was partway through revisions when the New Author Questionnaire from Simon & Schuster/Atria dropped into my inbox. It happened at MacMillan/St. Martin's Press, as well, so you can expect you'll get the same quiz when you sign a book deal. 

The form will be e-mailed by your editor's assistant - who sounds very young on the phone but who probably a PhD in English or Art History from Harvard - so play nice. (For more on dealing with powerful literary assistants, check out this post: The Devil Wears a Headset.)

The email will go something like this (because they always go something like this):

Hi there! Hope everything's well! Can you please fill this out and get it to us by the end of the day? Tomorrow morning at the latest. Thanks!

It's always 'tomorrow morning at the latest.' Unfortunately, you will have no warning that this questionnaire is coming. Nobody will breathe a word of it. But it will be one of the most important tests you ever write. 

The Author Questionnaire is something the publicity and marketing departments need to promote you and your book. But the form is so long and involved, you're going to wonder if you're just publishing a book - or trying to get recruited by the C.I.A. 

The questionnaire is all about determining your 'platform.'

Are you famous? Award winning? Lauded in your profession? If not, do you know anyone who is? And preferably, someone you're related to? 

I didn't have any time to 'study' for my New Author Questionnaire - and I think it set me back. 

But now here's your 'Cheat Sheet.' 

Basically, this is a word-for-word transcription of the questionnaires I received from my publishers. I was absolutely devastated to read them because I really didn't have anything impressive to say about myself. All I'd ever done was ... well ... write. And at publishing houses, they've got a lot of people who do that already - plus other things like being famous, saving lives or winning the Nobel Prize.

By the way, I've condensed the formatting just to save space - there's actually a lot of a intimidating space to answer each question. Warning: If you have a delicate ego, you might need a drink and/or session with your shrink after this one. Good luck! 

btw as usual, you have until the end of the day. Tomorrow morning at the latest. 



In filling out our questionnaire, please feel free to attach additional sheets if needed.

Book title and editor:  

Name (pseudonym if applicable)  


Home Address:

Home Telephone number:

Cell Phone number:

Email address:

Business Address (if different from above):  

Business telephone:

Agent name, address, and phone:

Please indicate if you would like your correspondence to be sent to your home or business address:  

Date of Birth:  

Place of Birth:

Educational Background (with names of college or university newspapers):

Honors, Citations, or Prizes:

Present Occupation(s):

Marital Status:

Number of Children:

Names and/or Occupations of family members, if newsworthy or relevant:

Avocations, Hobbies, or Special Interests – underscore anything relevant to your forthcoming book:

Please list all Social Media Accounts, Websites, Blogs, etc., especially those applicable to your book:

Clubs, organizations or charitable causes you're involved with: 

Cities and States in which you lived, including approximate dates:

Foreign countries in which you have resided or traveled:

Names of newspapers in your hometown, and any contacts you may know:

Names of newspapers in your current town or city, and any contacts you may know: 


Please provide a summary of your book:

What was the inspiration for your book?

Who are your favorite authors?

How and why did you start working on this book?

What kind of experience has writing your book been for you (fun, exciting, agonizing…)?

Tell us anything about you as a working writer that you think might be interesting or unusual:

Did you have any interesting experiences while you were researching your book, or getting it published?

What do you feel is the market for your book?

Please list the names of any classic or popular books that seem to have the same kind of readership you want to attract, e.g., books which might provide useful comparisons or sales handles for your own work:

Please list current books, or works in progress that you know of, which might compete with your book for public attention:

What features distinguish your book from others on the subject?

Please list other books you have written with the title, publisher, year of publication, description of the book, (e.g., fiction, verse, biography, etc.) and sales figures for each:

If any of your books have been serialized, reprinted, (e.g. paperback), adopted by book clubs, made into a film or published in foreign editions, specify details and give the names of each magazine, book club, film production company, and/or foreign publisher:

Please list magazines or periodicals which have published your writing, giving approximate dates and titles.  Please indicate if you are a regular contributor: 

If you have ever been a guest on a U.S. TV or radio talk show, please give the name of the show, host, date, and topic of interview, to the best of your recollection:

Show: Host: Date: Topic:

Are there any well-known people who you feel should receive an advance copy of your book for the purpose of giving promotional quotes?  These people do not have to know you personally, but please indicate those who do.  Please supply complete addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, if you know them:

Please list any U.S. periodicals that you believe should receive complementary copies of your book and the name of any editor or staff writer you may know personally, or any regular contributor who may be interested in your book:

Do you shop regularly at a particular bookstore or bookstores, and do you know any booksellers personally?  

Where do your friends and family members shop for books?

Please list any organizations, institutions, or associations that might be interested in either selling or publicizing your book (include complete addresses).  If you have contacts with any of these groups, please indicate the name and title of the person or persons you know.  Would any of these groups have mailing lists available?  If so, do you know how these lists may be obtained?

Do you have lecture or seminar experience?  How extensive?

Do you have a lecture agent?

Please let us know about any upcoming lecture schedules and provide us with your lecture agent’s name, address, etc., if applicable:

Are you planning any business or other travel around the planned publication date that would allow time for possible publicity interviews or book signings?

If you have had other books published, please enclose copies of any publicity about your work, e.g., endorsements (jacket blurbs), book reviews, mentions in magazines and newspapers, ads, etc.

Please attach a brief biographical sketch. Please do not include any information that you do not want released.

For publicity purposes and/or for the book jacket, we would appreciate three copies of a black and white glossy photograph of you.  Please indicate if the photographer is to be credited.  If this photo is not from your private collection, please secure written permission for the photo to be used.



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Monday, January 4, 2016

#8: Non-Working Titles

#8 on the traditional publishing road trip: Titles!

As authors, we all know a great title can give our books an advantage in the marketplace. Whether or not the perfect one comes to us in a flash, or we spend years trying to think of it, there's no question we can get 'attached' to the title we eventually choose. 

But that's not always a good idea at publishing companies. 

Because they reserve the right to change the title of your book. This is how your book will be referred to in your 'Publishing Agreement:' "In consideration of the premises hereinafter set forth, Publisher and Author hereby agree with respect to a work tentatively titled YOUR BOOK TITLE (the Work)." 

Some publishers' contracts have a little less legalese, but one way or another, the title of your book will only appear once on the first page. Over the next 15-20 pages, it will always be referred to as 'the Work.' 

Please note the use of the word 'tentatively.'  

Like most writers, I spent months (years?) trying to find the right title for my first novel, a quirky romance/horror/comedy about an actress who thinks she's fallen in love with the devil. It wasn't an easy job. But I eventually settled on the title THE BRIMSTONE BED. 

I got the name from a poem by Coleridge called THE DEVIL'S WALK. Here's the first stanza:

From his brimstone bed, at break of day
A-walking the devil is gone,
To look at his little, snug farm the World,
And see how his stock went on.

I thought THE BRIMSTONE BED sounded sexy and sophisticated and cool. All these years later, it seems a little stuffy and full of itself. Anyway - for better or worse - this is the title that appears on the first page of my contract with Simon & Schuster. 

About four or five months after I got the book deal ...

I was at home recovering from a gruelling first round of 'revisions' (in the business, the editing process is called 'revisions' - "I'm in revisions"), when my editor called. We caught up on a few things and at the very end of the conversation, tagged on as an afterthought, she said: 

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. They're changing the title." 

I wasn't sure I'd heard properly. It seemed like such a big decision to be delivered so lightly. I think I said something like: "Wha, wha, wha?" 

"Yeah, the marketing department didn't like it. They thought it sounded too historical." 

Marketing departments have a lot of clout in publishing. Just FYI.

And that was basically the end of the call. Afterwards, a few of us tried to come up with a new title. Because the book was about the devil, that figured in a lot of the options: SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, etc. 

Eventually, the publisher chose the title DEVIL MAY CARE. 

To be honest, I wasn't crazy about it. But I wasn't crazy about a lot of things that had happened to me so far during the process, so it was just another blow.

About four months before DEVIL MAY CARE was due to hit the shelves, I started hearing about another new book getting a lot of buzz. Maybe it rings a bell?

My mom, who has a tendency to worry sometimes, also got wind of it. "This is going to ruin the chances for your book!" she said. 

Sigh. "Please, Mom, I'm having enough trouble as it is. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, ok?" 

She didn't have much to say after that. 

Of course, PRADA raced up the bestseller lists worldwide ...

The whole time, a new mantra began going through my head: Please let DEVIL MAY CARE be a bestseller too. Please let DEVIL MAY CARE be a bestseller too. But it was still a very awkward situation for me. This was the average conversation back then:

"Oh, wow! You're getting published! Congratulations! What's the name of your book?"
"Really? That's great! I've heard so much about that! It's doing really well, isn't it?"
"You're thinking of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA."
"Oh right! I really want to read that book! It's supposed to be so great!" Beat. "Well, I want to read yours too but ..." 

What was worse, PRADA'S author Lauren Weisberger and I bore a slight resemblance to each other because we both had long blonde hair. 

Well, I promptly started losing mine and most of it is gone now. 

After a while, the title wasn't the only thing getting confused! 

People actually started thinking I was Weisberger herself. I remember calling one bookstore while I was traveling (you can do that, btw; if bookstores stock your books, even if there's no reading or tour, you can go in to 'sign stock' as it's called, autographing all the copies of your book they have in their inventory; then they get to slap a 'Signed by the Author' sticker on it).

"I'm so excited to meet you!" the bookstore manager said over the phone. "Your book is just flying off the shelves!"

Finally, I thought. Some good news! Whew! About time. 

When I got to the store, the manager was very welcoming and effusive. I'm sure it was the hair that was confusing him because he led me to a huge table stacked with hundreds of copies of PRADA.

When I told him who I really was, I don't know who was more disappointed ... me or him. 

But it was pretty anti-climactic for both of us when he had to go to the back of the store and find the six or seven copies of DEVIL MAY CARE he had in stock. 

Of course, I'm sure the vast majority of books are published under the title that their authors choose, but if you're stalling sending queries because you're waiting for the 'perfect' title to occur to you, don't bother. As your contract states - the title of 'the Work' is only 'tentative' and it might get changed anyway.

Here's another tip I learned from the title glitch in my book deal:

If you're going to start praying to the book gods for special consideration, be very, very specific. Because a few years after my first book was released, DEVIL MAY CARE did become a bestseller. Maybe you heard of it?

It was a 007 James Bond thriller written by Sebastian Faulks. 

So in your prayers to the book gods, make sure you mention not just the title of your book, but your name, your publisher and the ISBN number too. The book gods are very busy processing a lot of requests from authors. And they can get confused. ;)

Next time on the traditional publishing trail: #9 Book Covers! 

That's another doozy of a story. Of course. ;) Thanks for checking in! Hit the 'subscribe by email' to follow along!