Friday, August 18, 2006
Endorsements--Part 2 (In which I tell it like it is)
Good discussion yesterday. Thanks, commenters. It was interesting to see the different viewpoints.
There’s a big issue with endorsing that I saved for part 2, because it deserves a post all its own. Cindy T. brought it up yesterday, echoed by Randy M. This is the subject of publishers (and sometimes agents) requiring authors to submit names of potential endorsers with their proposals. Yes, proposals.
To use my favorite mixed metaphor, this is putting the cart before the egg.
I don’t know how this got started. Any editor/agent out there want to enlighten me? I do know that according to the word on the street, leaving this section blank on the submission form is a big mark against the author. Supposedly it’s a major help to get your book published if you can list a bunch of recognized potential endorsers. Agents who require this refer the issue to the publishers—“they’re insisting on endorsements right up front, so before I take on an author/book to try to sell, I need to get those endorsements in place!”
This policy drives me crazy. And I know for a fact I’m in good company with other pubbed authors.
Publishers—it’s up to you to stop this madness!
Let me put this in perspective for anyone who might not fully get the picture. Authors with recognized names are being asked to endorse not just by other authors whose books have been contracted by a publishing house. We’re being asked to endorse by every new author who is requested to submit a proposal to a publishing house or agency who passes on this policy.
Do you see why I get a lot of endorsement requests?
If I may state my case here—I don’t see this system working very well.
1. The sheer volume of requests for endorsements is forcing authors with recognizable names to put “just say no” policies in place.
2. The poor new authors who are turning in these proposals do not want to ask pubbed authors for these endorsements. I feel very sorry for them to be put in such a position. The emails I receive are always apologetic, realizing I’m busy, etc., etc., but the person must fill out this form that requires endorsers, so would I be willing to read the book for possible endorsement if it’s bought? I can hear the fear and trembling in their voices as they ask. They really feel put in a bind. I think this is unfair. I have to ask . . .
3. Between a new author and a publishing house, who has more ties to published authors with recognizable names? So why has the task of landing endorsers been placed on the newbie’s shoulders? It’s far better placed on the shoulders of the house’s marketing department.
Yesterday I mentioned that when Zondervan bought Eyes of Elisha, we had two endorsers. Z bought my novel because they liked it, not because I furnished any would-be endorsers’ names. Once Z bought it, the house set about finding endorsers. The two that endorsed it were in Z’s own stable of authors, and in my genre. James Scott Bell and Terri Blackstock were respected suspense names, and therefore were right for the marketing of Eyes of Elisha. Which leads me to my next point . . .
4. When a new author is forced to come up with names, he/she doesn’t always think in terms of what names would be best for the genre of story. Said “freaked out” author (as Randy put it yesterday) turns to whatever pubbed author he/she has the most ties to and is the least likely to bite his/her head off for asking. Therefore (to answer my own question from yesterday) you end up with new authors asking for endorsements from just about anybody, regardless of the potential endorser’s genre. In addition . . .
5. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a recognized author is going to say no to such a request. Even if I had all the time in the world to endorse and would do so for any genre, I’d still say no to these requests. Reason—I don’t know the author’s work. I have nothing to go on to tell me I’m going to like the book so well that I’ll be willing to put my name on it. And, given my encouraging nature, if I said “yes” to reading the book for “possible” endorsement, I’d be committed to endorse. Because there’s no way I’m going to read a book and then tell that author the story’s not good enough. That’s a devastating thing for a new author to hear. I know all new novelists are in for some hard knocks (watch out for those reviews!), but danged if I’m going to add to ’em. I know I’m not alone in this. There are just a lot of tender hearts in our industry. (Which is why we don’t see many hard reviews, either, but that’s a topic for another day.) Also, let’s not forget . . .
6. A manuscript will gain a lot of credibility after it’s bought by a publishing house. Scores of new authors, thanks to meeting editors and agents at writers conferences, etc., are asked to submit proposals. But few of those are actually contracted by a house. So doesn’t it make sense that a manuscript is more likely to hear a “yes” to endorsing after the manuscript is bought?
As a result of all this mess . . .
7. The new author is going to hear “no” from the authors whose names might really make a difference on the book, and will hear “yes” from those pubbed authors who are new themselves. Who may have one or two books published and may not have established a large readership yet, and may think (wrongly, in my opinion) that endorsing someone else’s book is a good way of marketing his/her own name.
So, where does this leave us? (A) New author submits proposal with less than stellar names for possible endorsers. (B) Which the publishing house may or may not use. (C) Meanwhile those authors whose names are more recognized are enervated by the whole state of affairs and are vowing to stop endorsing all together just to keep their sanity. (D) Nobody wins.
No doubt there are exceptions. X author just happens to come up with a magnificent endorser name who’s ready to sign on the dotted line—before the book’s even sold. But I do think this is the anomaly, and meanwhile the industry in general is being hurt by this whole backwards process.
Here’s what suggest, publishers, as I do believe the buck stops with you. On your forms, instead of saying “List possible endorsers . . .” how about saying something along these lines: “If your novel is bought, our marketing department will use its resources to find the best endorsers for your book. However, if you happen to know someone who’s already agreed to endorse your work, please include that name here.” And then, publishers, belly up to the bar and find the endorsers for your contracted novels.
Okay, I’ve had my rant. I'm now putting up my shield to duck the publishers’ tomatoes. As for you authors, pubbed and unpubbed, if you agree with me (and I know you’re out there), here’s your chance to add your voice to the fray.
Read Part 3