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Writers are Readers

Categories: Inspiration, publishing news and views, the writing life.
Hi Writers,
Publishers Weekly published an essay last week “Two-Way-Street” by Charlotte Cook.

Cook, an independent publisher of her own book line, Komenar Publishing, was the subject of a short profile in Writer’s Digest last year. She writes that she was deluged with queries, phone calls and submissions after that article came out. It seems like attention would be a good thing for a small publishing house.

But here’s the rub: Cook writes that even with all of the attention Komenar received for that article in WD, they’ve seen little impact in the way of sales.

I suppose the implication here is that writers aren’t supporting the industry that they’re asking to support them. This makes me sad on a number of levels, but especially because I don’t believe it’s an accurate assumption to draw from one publisher’s experience.

I think, if anything, writers are the heaviest readers and the heartiest supporters of the book industry.

So, in the spirit of solidarity with your fellow writers, I’d love to hear your comments on what you’re doing to support the struggling book industry.

“A writer is a reader moved to emulation.”
-Saul Bellow

Keep Writing,
Maria

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22 Responses to Writers are Readers

  1. Anthony says:

    I love to buy books from obscure publishers. I’ve found some treasures that way. But I can also spend hours browsing in a book store, large or small, and always find myself walking out with a bag full of new books to read. I suppose I could save a lot of money going to the library but I love to scribble and highlight in my books. Even when I get a book from the library, if I like it, I buy it and then scribble in it.

    Books have a way of staying with you long after you’ve read them. I read a book in high school and 35 years later bought a used copy. Without looking too far, I found the story about Institutional Green Paint, and the bus ride with girl with the bad breath. I knew where in the book they were and what side of the page. (I lost the original playing street hockey – it walked off.)

    Does my writing affect other readers that way? Surprise, I do hear from readers who recall things I wrote decades ago that never left their head.

    But back to the topic. Always take a chance on a new publisher and a new author. You may find a new favorite.

  2. Julianne Daggett says:

    Exactally Cindy!! Buying a book by a publisher is the last step in an author’s research for finding the best publisher for his or her manuscript. What Ms. Cook was saying was two fold: 1. After the article in Writers Digest was published she was so innudated with unsolicated submissions that she had to start printing form rejection letters. Since she had to print form letters that means two things: 1. A lot more people were solicating her company more than usual. A small publisher can easily tackle 100 submissions a month, Ms. Cook said she was innundated and that it doubled or tripled which means about 200-300 submissions a month most likely. That number is no problem to a large publishing imprint like Yearling, Viking, etc. that get about 1,000 unsolicated submissions a day, but with a small publisher like Ms. Cook’s that only publishes 2 books a year its enormous and overwhelming. 2. Since she had to print form rejection letters probably very few of the people newly submitting after the Writers Digest article had done any research, even to figure out what kinds of books they print.
    And yes, of course, like any publisher she publishes an author because she thinks he or she is marketable, not because they’re chums or anything. But let me try to put it a different way and you’ll hopefully see her and my point: If you own a hat shop and 200 local hat makers want you to sell thier hats, but they won’t buy a hat from your store, how does that make you feel? Don’t think about it intellectually, just go with your gut, how does that make you feel?

  3. Cindy says:

    I love Writer Mama’s idea and will blog about Give Books, as well.

    After reading the essay (I hadn’t read it prior to my first comment, for shame!) I have to say it sounds a bit whiny, to me.

    Of all consumers in the world, how many are aspiring authors? I suspect precious few. Of those, how many actually queried Komenar after the article ran? When they say submissions doubled or tripled, does that mean from 1 to 2, 100 to 200, or 10,000 to 30,000?

    Personally, buying from a prospective publisher is part of doing my homework. It just makes sense if I want to sell my work. However, the quid pro quo notion is silly. Authors support a publisher by providing salable manuscripts.

  4. I have been thinking about this lately as well, Maria. Why don’t we start a little grass roots movement before the holidays to raise awareness that we all need to give books and bookstore gift cards and bookstore gift certificates and magazine subscriptions this holiday season?

    We can call it GIVE BOOKS. There are book charities, and book groups, and, lest we forget, libraries that all need our support. I’m going to blog about this. Certainly, it’s relevant since I have organized a month-long giveaway in September. It’s the second annual Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway, and all of your readers are welcome to come on by. Then they can listen to me spout off about buy books, buy books, buy books!

  5. Julianne Daggett says:

    I think many people are missing the points that I and Ms. Cook are trying to get across which are:

    1. No, we’re not saying to break the bank and buy every book in Barnes&Noble nor every book that the Random House imprint Yearling or Ms. Cook publishes.

    2. Buying a book is a step in researching to find a publisher that best fits YOUR MANUSCRIPT. You should have purchased "Writers Market" or one of the wonderful (and I’m not sucking up, I’m telling the truth) marketing books that Writer’s Digest publish, "Novel & Short Story", "Children’s", "Guide to Literary Agents", etc. And found publishers that publish books like yours, for example Young Adult Fantasy. Then you should have checked out all of the Young Adult Fantasy publishers online catalogues, which don’t cost a dime, or have picked up Publishers Weekly upcoming sales catalouge, which is coming out this month for Fall books. And THEN after you’ve found a publisher that is publishing books similar to yours, you go out and buy, or have a friend or relative buy as a gift for you, one of the publisher’s books that is similar to your manuscript so you know 100% that this or these publishers are the place to send your manuscript. In other words its a part of RESEARCH for your own publishing GAIN. You WIN by knowing which publishers to send your precious manuscript out to, instead of sending it out willy-nilly to whatever publisher’s address you can find.

    3. Also if you’re sending your manuscript to a small publisher such as Ms. Cook’s its NICE, but not NESSECARY to buy one of their books. That’s what COURTESY means, haven’t your parents ever taught you how to be polite?

  6. Dulcie says:

    I guess no one can blame me for not buying, I spend at least $100 a week on books for any reason, usually I just am walking through the local Barnes & Noble (could be small press issue) to get a drink at the cafe but end up grabbing five or six books on the way. My grandmother was librarian for 60 years and has ingrained in me the respect for books and writers that put in the time. While she also encourages me to go to the library I like the smell of a new book, and old ones. The paper and feel of a real book will never leave my house (I have thousands of them since I was small). I could not live without a book…perhaps a small press could use blogs or sites like Goodreads.com who have groups of people looking for small press books…I am one of those people. Listening to an audio recording or scanning it on my iPod is never going to feel the same as curling up in bed or a comfy chair…I hope this helps some and I always looks for smaller press books since they have some of the most original writers. I hope she doesn’t give up and takes some of the ideas from the group here to help improve sales. BTW, I am still one of those who thinks breaking the binding and the corners is a sin – I am only 34 but all my books are clean and neat just the way they were intended to be treated – with respect and love for the writer and the people who brought us the book. Gosh I love that smell, did I say that enough? LOL.

  7. Julianne Daggett says:

    I would like to add that the other writers posting here are like aspiring writers in general and think that they have to query 40 or 50 publishers and imprints, but that’s not true at all, you should only be querying at most ten to fifteen or as little as one to three, depending on what your manuscript is about. I have my "Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market" open on my desk. In the Subject Index section I have it open to ‘Fantasy’, arguably one of the largest segments of children’s publishing and there are a little more than 60 listed. That sounds like an awful lot, but once you begin cutting it up into board books, picture books, early reader chapter books, middle grade and YA you’re left with about 15 publishers and imprints who publish, say, YA fantasy. And then finding the best YA fantasy publisher or imprint for your manuscript leaves you with fewer to query, maybe about 5 or 6. And this shouldn’t be a scary thing it should be a liberating thing, of the thousands of queries publishers and imprints get 90% are about stuff they don’t publish, for example a romance imprint getting a query for a children’s picture book. And then another 5% of queries don’t follow a publisher or imprints query guidelines. So by finding out what a publisher or imprint publishes and querying them correctly you’ve just gotten yourself to the top 5% of the pile and then the publisher will decide if they’ll publish you on your manuscripts own merits, and if the publisher thinks your manuscript is well written and appealing they’ll publish your manuscript.

  8. Julianne Daggett says:

    I agree with the last two commentors, that publishing is a business and a publisher publishes you because an editor thinks you can make them money. And, of course the book business isn’t as strangled as the nightly news or the latest doomsday report makes you think, in fact it’s having higher sales this year then the entire retail segment. However small publishers are struggling, they may have a staff of one or two people and only publish one to five books a year, and they only make a small amouont of money. For many small publishers publishing books is a money losing, not money making venture. And if you had read the article you would have known that the press in question is one of those small presses, they only publish two books a year and of course make very little money. If even half of the over 100 writers had bought one of their books that would have made a huge dent in thier sales and would have given them a lot more money to produce, sell, and give an advance to whatever two authors they chose to publish. And a querying writer buying the publisher’s book isn’t a ‘business model’ its professional coutesy, which is an entirely different animal.

  9. James A. Ritchie says:

    Huh, what struggling book industry? We had more than two billion dollars in book sales last year. Just because thousands of small publishers have popped up doesn’t mean the industry is struggling. Quite the opposite. It means everyone smells money, but too much of anything is bad, and there can’t possibly be enough readers to keep the immense number of small publishers we now have afloat.

    As for writers being readers, yes, of course we are. But as a reader, I want a good book, written by a favorite author. I want that book to be easy to find, easy to get, and I want it as cheap as it can reasonably be had.

    As for a writer buying books from a publisher in hopes of getting published there, that’s nonsense. Publisher’s make money by finding and buying books the reading public can’t resist, not by having unpublished writers fork over twenty-five bucks for a book they don’t want.

    The last thing my agent asks me before submitting a book somewhere is whether I’ve read books from that publisher. She doesn’t care, I don’t care, and if anyone at the publisher has any sense, no one there cares, either.

    Either I have a product they can sell to the reading pubic in large numbers, or I haven’t. Period. If I have, they’ll turn a good profit. If I haven’t, the editor should have rejected my manuscript, or found a different job.

    This is a business. It’s not a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours fairytale land filled with little bunnies fluffy clouds.

    If I see a book that looks like a great read, I’ll buy it. But I buy it for the same reason any other non-writing Joe Blow member of the reading public buys it, which is the need for a great read, and not because I want to support one more independent publisher in hope that, gee, golly, wow, maybe they’ll buy my manuscript if I buy eleven of their books.

  10. Jeff Yeager says:

    It’s common sense to read at least some of the titles on a publisher’s list before querying them with your work, and maybe it should be considered common courtesy too.

    But the idea of a quid pro quo (i.e. "If you buy a book from me, I’ll be more inclined to publish your book.")stikes me as an odd business model. Publishers are in the business of making money – for themselves and for the authors they publish – and this means publishing the best work they can find, I would think, regardless of the author’s personal spending in support of the publisher’s enterprise. As for publishers spending "thousands of dollars editing, printing, and marketing (and marketing alone is, at minimum , $2,000) the writer’s manuscript", this, of course, isn’t an altruistic act on the part of the publisher; it’s done with the expectation that the publisher, and to a lesser extent the author, will make money from the sale of the book far in excess of the front end investment.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’ll do anything and everything I can to support my publisher, although ultimately purchasing a few books from them seems insignificant in comparison to things like submitting to them only my best work and partnering with them to promote the heck out of my book once it’s on the shelves. If every author on their list does the same, that’s the kind of tide that can really lift all boats.

  11. Good morning Maria,

    I have a long list of books on my wish list at Amazon. Every month I purchase at least two and schedule time to read them before my next buy-date.

    I hope i am helping.

    Cheryl

  12. Julianne Daggett says:

    Oh, some clarifying points. I’m just talking about buying books from publishers, and more specifically the imprint, that your querying, not every publisher or even every imprint of a publisher. And, of course, you should check the publisher and imprints online catalogue for recently published books so you’ll know if your manuscript is similar to the books the imprint publishes. At this point you should ONLY buy books from a publisher’s imprint that matches your manuscript and read those books. By buying and reading one or two or more books you’ll know if the imprint and publisher is right to publish your story. And by doing that you’ll save tons of money on paper, ink, envelops and stamps and you’ll have beaten the odds by sending your manuscript to the publishers who are most likely to publish you.

  13. Julianne Daggett says:

    The article Maria mentions does not talk about ‘supporting’ the industry its talking about professional courtesy. If a writer wants a publisher to spend thousands of dollars editing, printing, and marketing (and marketing alone is, at minimum , $2,000) the writer’s manuscript then the writer should spend the $25 or so to buy one of their books. It’s just professional courtesy. It’s discourteous, and in fact rude and nasty to say "I want you to spend thousands of dollars on me, but I’m not going to spend anything on you."

    Just try to see things from the publisher’s perspective.

  14. Elizabeth Etheridge says:

    It’s a fact that most writers don’t earn very much and their craft costs quite a bit to hone. So, I believe that even though writers may want every inspiring book out there we just can’t afford them. It’s often a case of ink? or book? The ink is a pressing need as is the paper, manilla envelopes, and postage. We do support the industry, but we can not ‘support’ the industry financially untill we make block-buster sales. Then we will buy every book we want when we want it. Till then we slog away.
    Elizabeth

  15. Hi, Maria and commentors,
    I am grateful for commentors such as Julianne Daggett who went to the whole article and gave Maria’s comments a bit more context. Especially when Maria says, "if anything, writers are the heaviest readers and the heartiest supporters of the book industry."

    Sorry, Maria, but the majority of books bought and read are purchased by readers without one small aspiration to write. My husband the bookseller is one. And the many many many book club readers offer a similar statistic and population. And please don’t interpret my remarks to be anti-writer because I’m in this business for of all of the fine authors waiting to be published … and read … by the likes of me.

    Finally, to all those writers who don’t have the cash to buy books, the public library is a great place to find books. Library systems buy books and provide them free to those who have run out of budget. For publishers this is a great way to support us and your community.

    But I have to return to Julianne Daggett. She’s absolutely right. Discover the publisher before you go there with your hopes, dreams and manuscript. The reason so many form letters exist is because too many manuscripts cannot be handled personally. We have resorted to two form letters. One for those who don’t follow published guidelines. The other is for people who don’t bother to even read that we don’t publish nonfiction and certain genres. I truly wish that we didn’t have to resort to any form letters. A real dialogue with an appropriate submitter makes my day. What converstation! What a gift!
    Charlotte Cook

    I hope more people

  16. Julianne Daggett says:

    PS I also agree with the editor that it is inconsiderate for an author to query a publisher to publish their manuscript when they never even bought one of the publisher’s books.

  17. Julianne Daggett says:

    I’ve read the article and the editor wasn’t saying that writers DON’T buy books, he was saying that writers weren’t buying the books the company PUBLISHED. Which I agree is very hypocrytical of the authors who are trying to get the company to publish their manuscripts, but not buying any of the books the company publishes. It’s also quite dumb from a business perspective because don’t you want to know what kinds of books the publisher publishes so you’ll know if the company is the best place for your book? That’s author publishing 101, knowing publishers lists so you send your manuscript to the right place and getting acceptance letters and not rejection letters. Also buying a publishers books and having some knowladge of their list looks good when they sign you and can only help you in working through the editing and bookselling process.

  18. Mary Ulrich says:

    Of course we read, and underline, and write in the margins….

    If you need evidence, my husband has our Discover and Visa receipts.

  19. Another thing I thought of, Maria — if we don’t know what books to buy for others as gifts, we can always buy gift cards to their favorite bookstores.

  20. Cindy says:

    When it comes to buying books I’m like Erasmus. However, there are simply more books out there than I have dollars to spend. When someone refers me to a book, I buy it – usually.

  21. Maria, what I can do as one person may seem relatively small, but if we all do these small things, it can make a big difference. Here are just a few ideas: Besides buying the occasional book for personal use and enjoyment, I also buy books to use as gifts as well as giveaway prizes on my blog. When hearing other writers speak, buying a book at their book tables is also a great chance to support them and the book industry at the same time.

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