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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? An Author or a Publisher?

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We get an average of 300 telephone calls a day at the PMA office (assuming we only work an 8-hour day, that’s one call every 1.6 minutes). People call for a variety of reasons, but primarily they want to tell us about their title and to ask for sage advice on marketing it.

Today, for example, I got a call from a gentleman who was handicapped (a broken neck, among other things). This caller told me that he couldn’t get around too much. He had written a book of poetry that was selling in numbers that would be considered good for any type of book. Still he wanted more. The caller wanted to know how we could get his book into every bookstore in the country. I told him we couldn’t really help with that, and suggested that he actually might not even want his book on all bookstore shelves. I suggested I assist him in setting some achievable goals.

When I queried the caller on why and how he was getting such good sales, he initially told me it was because his book was good. This may very well be the case, but upon further discussion, I discovered that the man had been featured on a local PBS TV station. He wrote this book while recovering from cancer. In effect, this poet had written his way into recovery and that was a source of inspiration for many people. The caller had made a lot of personal appearances in his area and was doing readings there. These efforts drove his sales. I asked him how many books had sold outside his region of influence, and he replied, “None.”

We discussed many things during that phone call. At the end of our conversation, I believe he had more realistic expectations ab’,’#sales and a way to approach the marketing of his book that would allow him to set and reach some goals. The caller decided to intensify the campaign within his regional reach and pursue more personal appearances on TV and radio at nearby locations.

Questions: While this man had published a book, was he really a publisher? Did this caller have any more books he wanted to write? Was he considering taking on some acquisitions of other authors’ work? Keep these questions in mind, and we will later look at another example of an author who is also a publisher.

Besides phone calls, we also get approximately 100 pieces of relevant business mail each day (many arriving with books inside)–again there are the queries about how to market specific titles. Some correspondents we can help; others we can’t. Now, we haven’t yet counted our on-line inquires. Mine normally total 70 a day; Terry’s about 80+. And I don’t dare ask our Webmistress, Lisa, how many she deals with each day!

Fortunately, every so often a book hits my desk that either impresses me or makes my job easier. One recently arrived from Rudy Shur, a long-time publisher member of PMA and former publisher of Avery Publishing Group. Shur now heads the editorial program at a new company, Square One Publishers; he has just created How to Publish Your Nonfiction Book: A Complete Guide to Making the Right Publisher Say Yes. (ISBN 0-7570-000-2, $16.95, paper). Plus, he’s even authored this fantastic tome. It’s filled with useful information for anyone who would like to find just the right publisher (even fiction writers could get tips from this). The book is beautifully designed and uses a unique storytelling approach to open each chapter.

For instance, here’s something that all of us in this business can relate to and smile about. From Chapter 2–”Where Does Your Book Fit In?”–I quote the intro:

“The phone rings, and picking it up I hear the voice of my secretary. She says, ‘There’s a gentleman on the line who says he’s a friend of a friend who told him you might be able to help him with his book.’ I look at the pile of work on my desk, take a deep breath, and accept the call. Who knows? It could be the next Carl Sagan.

“The writer tells me that he doesn’t have a clue about how he can get his book into publication. I ask him what type of book he has written and he responds, ‘I’ve written a novel. Yes, I know you don’t publish novels, but this is different–it’s based on a true story. It’s not really a novel because it tries to teach some very important lessons about life. It’s a type of how-to book in that sense. It’s perfect for college students who are confused about their future, not to mention those people who are looking for some kind of change in their lives. I really believe most everyone can gain something from it.’

“I think to myself, ‘Definitely not another Carl Sagan. Not even close.’ ”

Shur’s book is the first of a series of Square One™ Writer Guides, which can definitely be classified as insider’s guides to writing. Other titles in the series include How to Publish Your Poetry by Helene Ciaravino and How to Sell Your Screenplay by Lydia Wilen and Joan Wilen.

Yes, sometimes you can be both author and publisher. Other times, it’s better for you to enjoy your creativity, to focus energy into being an author, and to make an effort to look for a publisher to do all the work you’d rather not tackle.

And at some point, you may even consider growing up, although I hope not too soon. For it’s the heart of a child in all of us that keep us so enchanted with this mad business of publishing!

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