Today’s guest blogger is Gabrielle Lichterman, who is also this week’s featured debut author. Gabrielle shares with us some of the potential pitfalls and misconceptions facing first-time authors, based on her experiences publishing her nonfiction book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential.
Don’t expect your publisher’s publicity department to do much for you. Or to even read your book. Publicists at publishing houses are overwhelmed with books and yours is just a blip on their radar screen. Get out your sneakers and pound the pavement yourself. Now, that said, do not—I repeat—do not anger, annoy, upset or accidentally insult your publisher’s publicist in any way. Treat him or her like gold no matter what he or she does (or doesn’t) do for you and your book. And if you accidentally do any of the aforementioned, suck it up and send him or her the biggest bouquet of roses you can afford with a big, fat apology. And if the publicist actually does snag you an interview, send an even bigger bouquet of roses with a big, fat thank you. The consequences of failing to heed this advice can be dire for the future of your book.
Make sure you’re 100 percent happy with your ms before you send it in to your editor. It’s very likely that your editor will look it over, then pass it along without suggesting any changes, providing any comments or telling you how brilliant or awful it is. Now, you may be lucky enough to get an editor who has the time to actually read every word of your ms and provide feedback. But, many simply don’t. In my magazine writing life, my editors are meticulous, helping me craft the message, get the style right and labor over every word so it’s just right. When I sent my ms in to my book editor, I was stunned to not get any feedback at all. And, frankly, based on questions she asked later in the process about my book’s content, it was pretty obvious she had little knowledge of what was actually in my book. That said, it’s key to also treat your editor like gold because he or she is the one who fell in love with your book idea and fought to have your project bought by the publisher in the first place. I’m just suggesting that you do more of your own homework and lower your expectations if they’re a bit high like mine were. And if you want your book to come out as perfectly as you hope, it’s primarily up to you to get it right.
Don’t believe all the promises. When getting wooed by a publisher, even a small one for a small amount of money, they will promise you all sorts of things to get you to pick them as your publisher—special promotions for your book, multi-colored ink, a pull-out calendar, etc. Unless it’s in writing in a signed contract, don’t expect to see those promises come through.
Pick your agent carefully. Don’t do what I did—I flew right into the arms of the first agent who said she’d rep my book proposal. My excitement took over, and I didn’t even meet her before signing a contract. A wiser choice: Find at least three agents who are interested in repping your proposal, and then interview them carefully. Find out which books they sold in the past six months, for how much and, most importantly, to whom. If an agent seems to have a relationship with only one or two publishers, this could be a red flag that he or she has a special relationship with those publishers (this agent may write for them on the side, get payments for recruiting authors for special projects, etc.). Move on and find an agent who works with a wide number of publishers instead. Also key: While interviewing your agent, find out how friendly or engaging he or she is. Agents are the ones who are talking directly to book editors to pitch your book and if they’re off-putting for any reason, book editors are already aware of this and will push his or her call to voicemail without ever listening to it.
Don’t be overly willing to yield just to get your book published. If there are changes being made that you don’t like, challenge them. I wish I had. For instance, I was never a fan of the title 28 Days because I was afraid readers would think they had to have a 28-day cycle to read my book when women with any length cycle can use it. And, according to reader feedback, my fear was well-founded. If I had a nickel for every email I received that said something like, “I’d read your book because I like the concept, but I don’t have a 28-day cycle….” I’d be a wealthy woman. That one title mistake cost me a lot of potential readers. It also cost me valuable interview time, because I then had to tell audience members that you didn’t need a 28-day cycle to read my book.
Keep your rights. My agent gave away much of the rights to publish my book in other countries to my publisher. But, I didn’t challenge it because I didn’t know better. I did, however, end up keeping the rights to three countries—Korea, Japan and Italy. Guess what? I sold the rights to all three and more than doubled the money I got from my American publisher. So, again, keep your rights. Same goes with movie rights—always keep your movie rights because nowadays anything can be made into a movie. And that’s easily another $100K to $500K right there.
One last bit of advice about rights: About nine or 10 months after my book was published, it got taken out of print. That was mighty fast, especially considering I was doing a major TV media tour with Procter & Gamble around the time and had garnered a ton of publicity. It really came as a shock. But what was most shocking is the way I found out: I asked about my book at a local Barnes & Noble store and was told by the clerk that it had been taken out of print. Neither my agent nor anyone from my publisher’s office bothered to tell me I was busy promoting a book that no one could even purchase. After I calmed down, I decided to ask for the rights to 28 Days to be given back to me. To my surprise, the publisher freely gave them to me. Now I can get the book republished if I wish with another publisher or publish it myself. And I get the benefit of correcting the mistakes I made the first time and hopefully avoid making them again.
Gabrielle Lichterman is a nationally known women’s health journalist and founder of Hormonology, the Hormone Horoscope. Her book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential, is the first and only horoscope based solely on women’s hormones. She offers a free daily hormone horoscope at myhormonesmademedoit.com.