Monday, August 21, 2006

More from the Mailbag: Geography Questions

I got hit with an allergy flare-up over the weekend (probably a combo from ragweed being about the only plant that's thriving in the drought and not being able to resist playing with my friend's kittens Saturday night), resorted to taking allergy drugs, and now I've got the fun grogginess that comes from a Benadryl hangover. Ugh. It does give me very interesting, vivid dreams, though. For instance, last night I dreamed the ultimate television crossover -- mixing House with The Gilmore Girls. Lorelei Gilmore wasn't feeling well, and that sent Emily into overprotective mama bear mode, so she insisted that only Dr. House was good enough to treat her daughter, and then Emily Gilmore and House really butted heads. I don't think I got to see that part because I woke up or moved to another dream, but that's the kind of clash that tends to leave craters in its aftermath. We'll never see it because the shows are on different networks and now airing opposite each other, but wouldn't it be fun?

I'm almost done with my revisions. I'm down to the part that needs the most work, so it will probably go more slowly now. In other news, I got word this morning that Enchanted, Inc. was going back for a third printing. Yay! The fact that they're going back to press this long after the original release date is a good sign. It's nice not to be fading away into the obscurity of an out-of-print book.

Now for another trip to the mailbag, as I address questions that come up frequently in reader mail. Some of this is turning into a discourse on how the publishing world works, but I figure that aspiring authors and even some readers might be interested in a peek behind the curtain. Today's theme is geography.

Q: Why aren't your books published in (country)?/When will your books be published in (country)?
This actually works a lot like the other subsidiary rights (movies, TV, etc.) that I discussed in my previous mailbag post. There are agents who specialize in selling to foreign markets, and they submit my books to publishers in those markets, who then decide what they want to publish. It's a lot like getting the book published in the US in the first place -- you send it to publishers, and they then decide if they want it (usually based on whether they think it will make money for them). My foreign rights agents have been very aggressive in marketing my books, so if a country hasn't picked up the books, it's either because they said no or because they haven't yet made a decision.

Enchanted, Inc> has already been published in Dutch in The Netherlands and Belgium. It will be published in Germany in January 2007. It's also sold to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. Once Upon Stilettos will be published in Dutch this November, and it's also sold to Japan. That book (and subsequent books) may ultimately sell in more markets, depending on how the first one does there. I don't yet have any foreign sales for Damsel Under Stress, but then, I don't have a finished manuscript. I hear that the Dutch publisher has been pleased with sales so far, so if the second book does well there, there is a strong chance they'll pick up the next book, too.

I do know that the publishers in the United Kingdom passed on the opportunity to publish Enchanted, Inc. I don't know about Australia (another country I get asked about a lot). I guess those of you in English-speaking countries outside the United States and Canada will just have to keep buying the US editions online or in shops that sell imported books. I'm not sure how you'd demonstrate to your country's publishers that there is demand for books like this there. I suppose it's like the "I've got to get me a piece of that" numbers that also come into play for film-type stuff. If it becomes big enough in the US, then foreign publishers might take another look. The whole industry is very "me too."

Q: Why don't you have a booksigning in (city)?
I know my booksigning locations have been pretty provincial, staying mostly within Texas, unless I'm at an out-of-town conference. That's because of one important thing: money.

I'm not the kind of author who gets sent on a book tour by my publisher. When I go out of town for a booksigning, I have to pay my own travel expenses, and for the most part, the economics don't work out. I earn about 90 cents in royalties for each copy sold. At my most successful local booksigning, one in town that all my friends came to, many of them buying multiple copies, I sold about 40 books. At my most successful out-of-town signing, I sold about 20 books (and several of those were to family members). More often, I sell around ten books. You don't have to be a math genius to figure out that this doesn't pay for even gas money when you're driving 200 miles to get there. However, there are other benefits to doing signings, which is why I do them, even at a loss. The big one is getting to meet readers, which is fun, and which I also think pays off in increased word of mouth, since you're more likely to talk about an author you've met. I also get to meet booksellers. There's usually a little publicity involved, like in the store's newsletter or posters in the store, which raises my profile. The store orders more than the usual six copies of the book, and the book gets displayed more prominently before and after the signing (at one signing, more books sold from the display before the signing itself than during the time I was at the store). I also try to get around to other stores in town to sign their stock and meet booksellers while I'm in the area. That makes it worth a couple of tanks of gas and a night in a relative's guest room or at whatever special deal I can get through I can't quite stretch to justify airfare -- which would more than triple the cost of the trip -- unless I have some other reason for going to that city, and there aren't a lot of places you can easily drive to from Dallas.

Publishers make more profit per copy than I do, but even publishers are cutting back on book tours. It's almost impossible to sell enough books that wouldn't have sold whether or not the author came to town to pay for the cost of hotel and airfare. I've gone to a couple of signings by high-profile authors, and there were maybe 35 people there (many of whom brought their own copies of the book that they'd already bought). The publishers also have to focus on intangible benefits like meeting fans, meeting booksellers and maybe getting some local publicity that wouldn't have happened without the author being in town. There seem to be two kinds of authors who usually get sent on book tours. One type is the big, bestselling author that people will line up to see. Then a lot of books do sell, and the author can usually get some good local media attention. Those kinds of tours are also sometimes treated as a perk for the chosen bookseller -- they get the chance to have a celebrity author in their store, which then helps build a better relationship between the publisher and the bookseller. There's also co-op money that comes into play and a lot of other behind-the-scenes stuff.

The other kind of author that gets sent on tour is the author the publisher wants to build into a big bestseller (and no, they don't really want to build all their authors into bestsellers. They wouldn't complain if it happens, but they only pull out the big guns to make an effort to create bestsellers for a chosen few). In this case, it isn't so much about selling enough books to pay for the tour. It's more about making connections, making the booksellers know that the publisher is really pushing this author, and generally raising the author's profile to lay the groundwork for what might happen with future books by that author.

Most of the authors who get tours are published in hardcover, since those books are more profitable for publishers. You can pay for the tour faster in sales of hardcover books than with trade paperbacks or mass market paperbacks.

There are a few exceptions to the above trends. Authors who live in places where you can get to a lot of cities in a short amount of time might get at least a mini tour among the major cities there. It's a lot easier to send someone to hit DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston when the author is already in one of those cities than it is to fly someone in from another part of the country to visit all those cities. Authors whose books have strong regional ties may get a regional tour. Southern authors who write about the South (and especially who already live there) might get sent to Atlanta, Memphis, Charleston, and so forth.

What does that mean for me? Unless my publisher has been so blown away by sales of the last book and really thinks the next one will be my big breakout (so far, they're pleased but not really blown away), chances are that I won't be doing a lot of booksignings in other parts of the country, unless I can find some other reason to be in those cities. I'm thinking about maybe trying to do one big out-of-Texas event (out of my own budget) with the next book if I can find the right combination of factors that could allow me to justify it -- like a really great bookstore that could draw a crowd through their own efforts, a big concentration of existing fans who promise to show up, maybe a writing conference or sf/fantasy convention where I could speak (especially if they cover part of the travel costs for their speakers), and a good chance for local media coverage if I go there.

So, if you want me to come to your town for a booksigning or other event, there are two things you can do. You can continue telling people about my books and maybe helping boost the sales to the point the publisher decides that a book tour would be a good idea. Or you can look for events like conferences and conventions in the May/June timeframe next year when the next book comes out and suggest that they invite me as a guest speaker (especially if they pay some travel expenses).

1 comment:

Maureen McGowan said...

Congrats on the third printing Shanna! Yippee!

I love the idea of a Gilmore Girls/House crossover episode. Ha! And they play on the same channel here in Canada. One of the many great things about being Canadian ;-) is we often get two choices/nights for watching hit shows... They even moved Friends to 7:30 for those years it was opposite Survivor, because the same network up here had bought both shows. Then we also get the American networks on cable. Choice. Gotta love it. It's particularly great during the Olympics when we have 3 choices... English Canadian coverage, French Canadian coverage (cause with sports, who cares if you can't understand every word?) and the American coverage.

Now, if the Canadian networks could just come up with some original programming (other than the news) worth watching. Nothing good since Kids in the Hall :-)