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?...