Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Column: The Business of Writing - The Shy Author Syndrome, Part 2 by Linda Rohrbough

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series. You can read the first part here.)

Last time we talked about the first part of the equation, why authors get shy in the first place after they publish their first book. And remember I said that happens no matter how they publish it: with a small press, a big press, or a subsidy press. The biggest problems are publishing with a subsidy press, or what I’m going to call a “vanity” press.

Part 2: Enter the Vanity Press

By vanity press, I mean any press where the author contributes to the printing and production costs of the book. If the author subsidizes, by my definition, it’s vanity press. These presses have seen the shy author syndrome over and over. So they get the author to plunk down a chunk of cash, and make a bunch of promises about national distribution channels and electronic formats. They even put these promises in writing. Then some of these houses don’t deliver. How much they don’t deliver varies, but most of what they don’t deliver has to do with paper distribution and electronic formats.

And what I’m figuring out is, that’s the business model for these vanity presses. They find an author who has money, get the author to pony up, and then take the money and run to romance the next author once the book is published and the payment for the initial print run is secured. Five months after publication, a vanity author is lucky if they can get their calls returned, much less get the distribution they were promised, even if they’re paying for the books for distribution.

I see this a lot. I coach authors, and many authors I’ve coached decided to go the self-publishing route rather than spend time (maybe years) shopping the book to agents and editors, despite my advice to the contrary. They usually find a vanity press, sometimes with my help, sometimes without. But in every case, lots of promises are made. But what these presses fail to mention is they don’t make money if they distribute books because distributors charge them in many cases and they have to pay shipping. They only make money when the author buys books themselves.

So in that critical first year when the book has its best chance for attention because it’s new, the publisher is no longer interested. They don’t make money by time spent with existing authors. When an author I’m coaching asks the press to pony up on their promises, the press goes into stealthy mode. They miss telephone conference appointments, forget to return calls, ignore emails, and more or less tune out the author. National distribution becomes whatever the author can sell out of the trunk of their car in as many states as the author cares to drive to. And the only call that gets returned is the one where the author is ordering more books.

The Work Around – How to Get Out There and Hustle

What can an author do? Actually, there are things the author can do to work around this problem if they signed with a subsidy press that’s now letting them down. Or any press, for that matter. Let me say up front none of the remedies I recommend have to do with filing a lawsuit. There are specific ways to get out there and hustle. Because if you hustle, you’ve got a chance at selling to a press that actually cares about selling books to someone besides you, the author.

What does hustle look like? It’s the opposite of the shy author syndrome. Get book signings. And try to get the signings onto the local media events calendar (the bookstore will often help with that). Because that gets the title of the book out there in print. Authors who do this may have to work with independent bookstores, and if so, that’s fine.

Enter contests. A win or two in a national contest makes a big difference. The book becomes an award-winning book. This ain’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than the next step.

Hire a publicist, if you can possibly afford one. People cannot buy a book they don’t know about. If you can hire a publicist before you write the book, that’s even better. Because you need to be thinking about who your market is and how you’ll promote the book before it’s published. And it takes time to set up publicity for a new book.

Write another book. It’s about the same amount of work to promote one book as two, three, four or a dozen. And people are more likely to read you, especially if you’re a fiction author, if you have more than one book out there. Plus you’re more likely to get picked up by a “real” press because they have seen the shy author syndrome before and know they don’t want a one trick pony. If you’ve got other books, they are more likely to see possibilities for you and themselves ahead.

Fight the Good Fight

My final word here is let me help coach you into fighting the shy author syndrome. Because the shyness does go away. And when it does, you don’t want to be left standing there with that magical first year for your new book gone. Loss of that first year doesn’t change my advice, but it makes the entire process harder. Not impossible, mind you, but why make things harder than you have to?

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." The Prophetess One: At Risk recently won two national awards: the 2011 Global eBook Award and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website:

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