Archive | November, 2007

More With Jeff Gerke

Here’s what I’ve been working on today: I’ve been writing a proposal for my next novel. I want to thank one of our regulars on this blog, Mary DeMuth (alias, RelevantGirl). Mary recently released an e-book on how to write a non-fiction proposal, and I’m finding it very helpful.

I’m an old hand at writing proposals and thought I knew everything there was to know. :) I’ve discovered that Mary knows a lot more than I do. Of course, there are vast differences between a fiction proposal and a nonfiction proposal, but even so, I’ve gotten some good ideas on how best to write this next proposal. Thank you, Mary!

Mary’s got the e-book for sale on her site for only ten bucks (scroll down a bit on the page and look for the title Nonfiction Book Proposals that Grab an Editor or Agent by the Throat). It has annotated examples of proposals she wrote for a couple of her books. Mary, I hope you’ll do a version of this e-book for novelists soon.

Yesterday, we started a conversation with my friend Jeff Gerke, who will be launching a new publishing house, Marcher Lord Press, next October. Jeff has the “impossible” task of trying to sell Christian fantasy and science fiction novels. This is a task that all the Big Boys in Christian publishing have tried without much success.

Today’s question for Jeff is the following:

Q: You and I brainstormed up some innovative ideas for launching your first few books at MLP. Tell us about those ideas and how you’re coming along with them.

A: The two main marketing strategies we talked about were a massive giveaway prize drawing for launch day (which is October 1, 2008, God willing) and freebie goodies to be given to anyone who actually purchases one or more books on launch day.

The plans for both strategies are proceding apace. But I’ll tell ya, when I thought about forming a publishing company I never thought I’d be reading about how to score cheap international airfare. Ah, it’s an adventure.

I know what I want to give for the grand prize but I haven’t figured out the financing for it yet. The name of the company is Marcher Lord Press. Marcher lords were knights who held the borderland between England and Wales and England and Scotland. Marcher lords were used in other cultures, too. And in literature: our dear Theoden King, is Lord of the Mark (March). So what would be better for a grand prize than sending the winner and a guest to England to stay in the most famour marcher lord castle of all: Caerphilly Castle in Wales?

So if you have any free international airfare tickets sitting around, could I please have them? Oh please, oh please, oh please?

I’ve also gathered and am still gathering tons of other great prizes. I want to have as many as 100 things to give away. I’ve got signed copies of Christian novels, I’ve got an etching from William Shakespeare’s tombstone, I’ve got a leather-bound 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings, I’ve got cups and canvas bags and book markers. I’ve even got a numbered, signed, canvas print by famed space artist Frank Hettick. More goodies continue to roll in, too.

For the added value items to be given away with a purchase on launch day, I’m going electronic. If someone in Australia buys a book, I don’t want to have to mail him my goodie individually (since the book itself will ship directly from the printer). So the goodies will be downloadable, I think.

The first is an original nonfiction book (20,000 words) on marcher lords and their castles by professional castle historian and author Lise Hull. The second will be an art book full of artwork by the many excellent Christian fantasy and SF illustrators I’ve come to know through WhereTheMapEnds.com.

Randy sez: Those of you who’ve heard me teach on marketing know that there are three main things you must create, and you create them in this order:
1) A web site
2) An e-mail list of potential customers
3) A product.

Most writers start with Door Number 3–they write their book, have it come out, and then say, “Oh yeah, guess I better start marketing it.” That is way too late. I will be starting in January to market the novel that I haven’t written or sold yet (the one I’m writing the proposal for now). The book won’t be out for at least two years, but I’ll be starting to market it now–by revamping my web site and using that as a platform to build a list of people who are interested in what my book is about.

Jeff is doing things in the right order. In October of this year, Jeff created a new web site. Then he created an e-mail list where people can sign up to be notified about new books that Marcher Lord Press will release. And he’s got a form on the web site on this page.

As Jeff noted above, he’ll be holding a drawing to give away prizes to anyone who’s on his list on the day his books release. Not everyone on the list will win a prize, but the more people you refer to his list, the more chances you have of being drawn. (This encourages people to tell a friend, and is a primary piece of what is called “viral marketing.”)

When his books launch, Jeff will notify people on his list and make his pitch. Part of that will include some freebies for anyone who orders on Launch Day. Those freebies are electronic, so Jeff can deliver them at no cost to himself. But they are valuable freebies. That’s an ideal situation.

Not everyone will buy Jeff’s books when he rolls them out. But here’s the thing–people will KNOW about his books on Launch Day. They’ll have an incentive to buy on Launch Day. The rest depends on how good the books actually are. I’ve been impressed with the books Jeff has acquired in the past. He mentioned Sharon Hinck and Tosca Lee yesterday. I know Sharon and Tosca and have read their novels. Jeff did extremely well in landing those books.

Andie wrote a comment that caught my eye:

Can’t get to know the manager of local Berkeley B&N. It recently went out of business along with Cody’s on Telegraph. Black Oak Books is teetering too. Sad.

Randy sez: Dang! When I lived in Berkeley, I bought most of my books at Cody’s, which was just a couple of blocks away from my apartment. Is nothing sacred??? :(

For our next blog, we’re going to pose this question to Jeff:

Q: Tell us more about the economics of your publishing model at Marcher Lord Press. How will you edit, produce, and distribute books? What advances and royalties will you pay your authors?

This blog appears Monday through Friday, so Jeff will answer this question next Monday. See ya then!

Talking Marketing With Jeff Gerke

It was good to see all your comments today on how you’ve done with NaNoWriMo. A lot of you have written a lot of words this month. That’s great! There are just a couple of more days in the month, so I’m expecting that more of you will cross the finish line before the deadline.

I’d like to switch gears now and talk about marketing again. It’s been awhile since we did that.

This time, I’m interviewing a friend of mine who has taken on what I would consider to be the impossible challenge:
1) He’s starting his own publishing house.
2) He’s trying to do what numerous big publishers have tried and failed to do.
3) He’s doing it with very little investment.

Who is this crazy guy? His name is Jeff Gerke, and he’s been a good friend of mine for several years. We’ve roomed together at numerous conferences and Jeff has cheered me on as I learned the strange world of internet marketing.

Jeff has worked as an acquisitions editor at three different Christian publishing houses. His big interest is “speculative fiction”–fantasy, science fiction, time travel, and anything else that’s weird. And this has NOT worked very well in Christian fiction (other than for a few big-name authors and a few young-adult authors).

So Jeff has decided to start his own publishing house. I’ll be interviewing him over the next few days to see how he plans to market his books. He is going to need some innovative ideas to succeed. (Some of those innovative ideas came from a brainstorming session he and I had a couple of months ago.)

In Jeff’s comments, you’ll see frequent reference to “CBA”. This means “Christian Booksellers Association” and refers to the niche market in publishing that caters to Christian bookstores. This has probably been the fastest growth segment in the industry in recent years, which is why Time-Warner, Simon & Shuster, Random House, and other major publishers have been buying Christian publishing houses lately–because money talks.

The first question for Jeff is:

Q: Tell us about Marcher Lord Press and why you want to publish books in a niche that hasn’t worked for anyone else.

A: Marcher Lord Press grew out of my frustration that Christian fantasy and SF novels don’t tend to do well in the marketplace. We have Left Behind and Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, but by and large Christian speculative novels crash and burn, sales-wise.

This frustrated me because I knew there were people who would love these novels if they were aware of them and I knew there were many talented Christian novelists out there wanting to tell these “weird” stories. Fantasy is the single most popular genre in secular fiction and many hundreds of thousands of Christians read it. I knew those people would embrace Christian fantasy and related genres if they could be made aware of them.

Unfortunately, those readers have long ago been driven away from Christian bookstores. This demographic doesn’t exactly like potpourri and cute little stories about knitting for the woman’s heart. They want blood-sucking aliens and fire-breathing dragons.

So if you’ve got the people who want a product and the authors who can create that product, your only task is to get those two groups together somehow.

For years I tried doing so from within the CBA publishing industry. I promoted speculative proposals when I was at the three publishing companies I’ve worked for. I spearheaded the launch of Realms, an imprint of Strang Communications dedicated to Christian speculalative fiction. At NavPress I championed a number of wonderfully weird projects, including Sharon Hinck’s fantasy trilogy (The Restorer series) and a wonderful story by Tosca Lee about a demon narrating the events of the fall of man (Demon: A Memoir).

After years of this I finally came to the conclusion that this wasn’t working (although Sharon and Tosca’s books are doing well, I’m pleased to see). The demographic reached by CBA publishers and booksellers does not embrace the weird. Even factoring in that some Christian novels are being sold through Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble, speculative novels do not do well when compared to the romances and historicals and female-oriented thrillers that are the bread and butter of CBA fiction.

If I wanted to bring Christian speculative fiction to the people who want it, I realized, I would have to circumvent the CBA industry. They’re very happy supplying the fiction demands of their audience. That’s wonderful for them. I wish them continued success. But it’s not the group I want to reach or the fiction I want to produce.

And so I started playing around with the idea of a small, indie press that would publish only Christian speculative fiction and would use the Internet to reach those Christians who read secular SF and fantasy. I like to say that my target audience is “Christians who love Battlestar Galactica” and “Christians who watch Heroes.” That’s my target demographic–and where are they? They’re all online.

My advantage is the ability to succeed on only a very small number of units sold. While traditional CBA publishers must sell anywhere from 7,000 to 50,000+ copies of any given title to break even, I’ll break even on something like 350 units sold. My experience allows me to do many of the steps in producing a book myself, thus keeping my costs very low, and my network of colleagues and friends allows me to use trusted freelancers to do the steps I can’t do. My own published novels plus my years in the industry give me the credentials to make a go of this.

A Christian speculative novel that “fails” through the traditional CBA publishing and bookselling channel will sell perhaps 5,000 units. If I sold half of that, I’d have a runaway blockbuster on my hands. There’s something wrong with a 5,000-unit selling being called a failure and something right about a 500-unit seller being called a wild success.

Randy sez: It’s an interesting marketing problem, and one that is faced by an enormous number of writers around the world who are writing for small niches. (There are many small niches that simply can’t be filled by the big publishers, because it’s not cost-effective.)

As Jeff mentioned, a book that sells only 5000 copies is losing money at most publishing houses. But let’s remember those brutal numbers that I talked about in my e-zine a few months ago. In any given year, about 98% of all books sell FEWER than 5000 copies. 80% sell fewer than 100 copies!

But let’s remember one other thing: Jeff’s plan is NOT to produce books that will only get read by a few hundred readers. Jeff’s plan is to produce books that will BREAK EVEN if only a few hundred readers buy them. That radically lowers the risk of publishing each book. But Jeff’s plan is to do his best to market his books well so that SOME of them sell thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies. That’s the plan.

How’s he gonna do that? Tune in here tomorrow and he’ll answer the next question:

Q: You and I brainstormed up some innovative ideas for launching your first few books at Marcher Lord Press. Tell us about those ideas and how you’re coming along with them.

A: [in tomorrow’s blog]

How Did NaNoWriMo Go?

I would like to start talking about marketing again, since it’s been awhile since we talked about that. I expect to have a guest on in the near future to discuss some of his innovative ideas. In the meantime, I’d like to hear how NaNoWriMo went for all of you. Bonne posted a note today to say she finished! Congrats, Bonne!

I have never done NaNoWriMo, although I have written a 90,000+ word novel in a month, once. So I’m curious how you all did.

If you’ve finished NaNoWriMo this year, post a comment here to tell us about it so we can celebrate with you.

If you’re about to finish, do the same.

If you gave up, post a comment to tell us why.

I’ll mention my own news. I wrote up three sample chapters before the holidays and sent them out to my freelance editor. She’s quick! She already sent me back her review of the chapters. She likes them, but she’s spotted a recurring problem and wants me to work on it. She even recommended a particular resource that I can use to help me. I bought it this morning and am awaiting its arrival so I can start learning something new.

I’ve probably mentioned this already, but the life of a novelist is about continuous improvement. You will NEVER arrive. You will never be perfect. The trick is to identify your biggest weakness and work on it until it’s no longer your biggest weakness. And so on, forever. This is why God created freelance editors–to poke holes in your armor and help you figure out what your weaknesses are.

Quick Comment

Hi All: I got back late last night after taking my daughter back to Seattle after the long weekend. Woke up late this morning and have been playing catchup all day.

I noted Camille’s question:

Don’t you notice that in stories like P&P, for those who know the novel/film, ’scenes’ (ie goal, conflict, disaster) are subtle?

Chapter 16 describes a dinner party setting, which includes the ridiculous Mr. Collins who exists, as far as I’m concerned, for comic relief. As far as I can tell, the scene is primarily about Lizzie discovering something from Wickham that significantly increases her dislike for Mr. Darcy. If this is a ’scene’, her goal, as I see it, is to hang with Wickham. The next chapter moves on to another setting, where Lizzie and her sister discuss the new info and decide how much merit it deserves. Gripping stuff, I know. I bet you thought the next scene was Det. John Maclean stuffing Mrs. Bennet into a helicopter and flying it into the Lincoln tunnel.

My point—can I be honest guys? I want permission to explore the intricacies of human nature without feeling pressured to blow something up.

Randy sez: Shall we vote, folks? I vote that Camille can do this if she wants to. As for John McClane and his exploding helicopters, I vote for those too. A side note: in Die Hard 4, McClane shot down a helicopter using a CAR as the projectile. Ya gotta love a guy who can do that. It shows . . . character.

Now getting back to P&P, I don’t have my copy handy right here, but I’m assuming that’s the scene where Wickham reveals what a dastardly guy Darcy is, right? Well that’s a major disaster in the story. In my Three Disaster analysis of P&P, that is the middle disaster that ensures that Lizzie will hate Darcy forever.

One should not confuse “lack of exploding helicopters” with “boring.” Of course a scene may very well be boring and not have an exploding helicopter in it. I’ve seen it done. But a good scene can explode anything–a helicopter, a hippopotamus, or a hypocrisy. What you explode is up to you. Just make sure you give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience in the process. :)

Tomorrow, we’ll start a new subject.