Friday, February 16, 2007

Sue Brower Indepth Follow-up--Part 1

A number of weeks ago some of you sent in follow-up questions for Sue Brower, fiction acquisitions editor for Zondervan, after her interview at Novel Journey. You sent some in-depth questions, and she needed some time to respond. Running today and Monday are her very interesting answers.

1. You said, "(Zondervan is going to be) a company that takes advantage of new opportunities, trends, and fresh voices in fiction." Do you have any idea what those new opportunities, trends, and fresh voices are? Or will you simply know them when you see them? Any insight into this?

It’s a little bit of both. Zondervan has a research department that helps us identify new opportunities and trends. If there is a topic that is ideal for a specific author, we might ask him/her to work on it with us. If it’s totally new, we just keep it in mind as we receive proposals from agents and at conferences. Sometimes, though, you read something that is so unique and fresh that you just have to have it for your product line. These are rare, and the whole team has to have a passion for it before we will acquire it.

2. "Zondervan fiction...will appeal to the core Christian market." Although I have an idea, can you clarify "core Christian market?"

Since we use our mission statement as the filter with which we sift all of our projects, we will always appeal to those seeking “resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles.” Core Christians are those that not only attend church, but also look for resources and products that support their values and help them in their walk of faith.

3. Karen Ball just stated in an interview that most authors' ideas of how to market their work are usually not successful and/or generally don't work, yet that question is repeatedly asked of new authors at every application. How should a new author know what will work for his/her book since marketing techniques seem to be in flux right now with internet exposure and "gimmicks"/ideas?

It’s important that a new author work closely with the marketing department of his/her publisher to determine what tactics will be the most effective. It is probably going to be different for every author. I still believe that an author must have a website and that it is beneficial to network with other writers and writers groups. I also think it is to their benefit to become best friends with their local booksellers and librarians. Beyond that, it really does depend on the author. The most important thing, though, is to partner with your publisher. It’s very easy to duplicate efforts and waste money if you both aren’t working from the same plan.

Now, if you have a publisher that does not partner as well as you would like, here are the things I personally think are most effective for an author to do:

-- Write the best book you can possibly write.

-- Develop a simple website presence that allows you to promote your books and allows the reader to obtain sample chapters.

-- Make sure your website has some way for readers to sign up for updates on your next book. Some publishers have “author tracker” programs that will do this for you and all you need is a link. Otherwise, it is very important that you generate a mailing list. I don’t think you need to do a newsletter unless you have something to communicate to your fans—a new release, a book signing (more on this later) or an upcoming title. It would be nice to also have a place for all your reviews and feedback from readers.

-- DO go out to your local bookstores and introduce yourself as a local author. It’s never a waste of time when the staff knows you by name and is willing to put your book face out instead of John Grisham’s. It is also helpful to introduce yourself to your local librarians. If they have book groups, offer to come in and chat. Doing this may not make you a bestseller, but book groups are easy to do, and they can become a great word-of-mouth campaign.

-- The hardest thing for a fiction author to get is broadcast publicity. Unless you have a great personal story, it doesn’t take long to talk about your book. Do make sure your book is in stores before you do any publicity. It is a wasted effort if the readers cannot go right out and buy the book as soon as they hear about it.

-- I would find out from your publisher where they are sending your book for review and supplement that list with on-line reviewers. The best way to spread word-of-mouth is to encourage people to read your book—what reader doesn’t like to get a free book! If you're going to spend money on something, this is it.

-- If you are in a smaller community, you might also approach the local newspaper about doing an article. I would suggest that you connect with the religion writer and help them do an article on Christian fiction. “And, oh by the way, I just happen to have a new book in bookstores now.” If nothing else, you can write the article yourself and put your new book in the byline.

These are just a few things that the author can do. The bottom line is that you have a strategy and that it aligns with your publisher’s strategy.

4. It seems that publishers, like movie producers, keep repeating what appears to work until it's worn out. Is there a genuine interest by publishers today to stretch the "formula" for "successful" novels? And by that I refer to length and material in that "fresh" Christian voice?

Yes, there is a genuine interest by acquisition editors to stretch the “formula” and publish outside the box. We just have to be very deliberate in our approach. We have to balance the tried-and-true with the “fresh.” This means that there are not as many openings in our lists as we would like for experiments. So to the new author or the author trying to be innovative, it appears that we really aren’t interested.

[Brandilyn here. This is a key issue. The new author already has the harder challenge of “breaking in.” This is because there are fewer slots in any given house for a new author. The house needs numerous established authors’ sales to carry one new author. If you add to that mix content that has a narrower audience or is a further gamble, you narrow your chances for scoring a slot even more. This is why it’s so hard for a brand new author who is “pushing the envelope” to land a sale. With so much going against that author, the writing has to be absolutely stellar.]

Monday, questions 5-11, beginning with: You spoke of a "category strategy" in your interview. What does that mean exactly, and how do authors fit into that?...


Mike Duran said...

Brandilyn, I found your addendum interesting: "’s so hard for a brand new author who is 'pushing the envelope' to land a sale." This being the case, would you recommend that unpublished, envelope-pushing authors back off their edginess in order to get a foot in the door, or go full-throttle in hopes their "originality" will be recognized? Thanks!

Tina said...

Brandilyn or Sue (and others who have gone before):

I have heard from several in the industry that doing interviews, etc. before your book is ready to release is wasted time. This makes perfect sense to me, but what of local publications, news stations, etc. who invite us to interview or write something about what it's like to be an author going through that process for the first time?

I have not sought out such opportunities, but I've had invitations to participate in regional opportunities like this (interviews, radio, speaking to writing groups, writing articles, etc.) and haven't said no because I think it creates a good relationship for next January, when my book does finally come out. Maybe they will ask me back or maybe someone might recognize the name.

Plus, I like sharing with aspiring authors, but from my own experience level, of course (not that wide yet. LOL). It's a way to encourage others, which is something I needed when I was the writer in the closet.

Is responding to opportunities to "share the first-time journey" a smart move? Are there ways one can get the most out of such opps? Pitfalls?


Kristy Dykes said...

Great info, Sue. Thanks for sharing it. Thanks, B., for bringing us the interview. I look forward to the next segment.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

No, Mike, I think you gotta keep on keepin' on. And I didn't say it's impossible. Folks have done it, but they didn't get in until they really had a cool idea for a story and great writing to go with it. Recent authors in that vein--Robert Liparulo, T.L. Hines, Chris Well (all Sta Akra authors). Now Michael Snyder's done it. I broke into Z with Eyes of Elisha, which scared all the other editors to death because of the visions aspect.

So don't despair. Also don't blame the industry, thinking they "just want shallow stuff." This is what Sue was saying--it's not that they don't want to stretch, it's that stretching is a gamble moneywise, and a good house is going to go about this very carefully. Sometimes the lesser fiction houses, in my opinion, will pick up a "stretcher" but not market it well, and the book goes nowhere. So be careful also where you allow your first book to be placed.

Tina, it doesn't hurt to do pre-interviews, so if they come your way, certainly take them. It will help you build a network with media. It just doesn't help book sales. I had the opportunity to do Phil Donahue (remember him?) when I was still writing my first book, the true crime. I certainly didn't turn it down. The book came out months later, so I don't think that show could have helped sales. It would have helped tremendously if the book had been out then--but Phil wanted the story while it was the hottest. But after the book was out I went on to do other media, such as the Leeza show, and the books really sold. So do both--just understand the downside of early media. And if you have finite time to set up media events, use your time setting up events when you know you'll have a book. Do the early ones if the opportunities happen to fall in your lap.

Ron Estrada said...

I think we're going to see marketing take on a whole new look in the near future. Writers will find that just creating a website and blog us much akin to opening a shop along a busy highway and hoping the traffic will stop. We must have an understanding of things like keywords and search engine optimization, to mention a few. We still have to do the interviews and signings, get personal with our readers, but there's nothing that beats the net for reaching out to potential new readers. It can be boring as watching baseball in April, but we have to learn the technical aspects of internet marketing.

SolShine7 said...

The publishing industry is a beast and we think those who run will the bulls in Spain are wild...

Mike, thanks for your question. I was going to ask something along those lines. And Branilyn, thanks for answering it.

This is series great so far! I want Monday to hurry up and get here already. ;)

Air Force Family said...

Great info! Thanks Brandilyn!!!

Robin Caroll said...

Very insightful interview. Thanks Brandilyn and Sue.

John Robinson said...

Good stuff, Brandilyn. Now that I'm re-lauching my writing career, I have renewed hope that my new works will find a house. Thanks.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

that was a great interview Brandilyn, and I gleened a lot of markteing points that I have copied down for when the time comes :-)