This is the second and final part of an interview with experienced book shepherd Sharon Goldinger. The first part can be found here: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Book Shepherds, Part 1.
7. What sorts of questions should someone be prepared to answer when contacting a book shepherd?
People who contact a book shepherd to have their manuscript reviewed and assessed should be prepared to answer these questions:
- Who is the audience for your book?
- Answer: Every woman in the world.
- Better answer: Women ages 20 to 50 in the United States.
- Best answer:
- Career women ages 35 to 45 in the United States who read Ladies Home Journal.
- Married women ages 30 to 50 in the United States who want to improve their relationships with family members.
- What is the goal of your publishing plan?
- Answer: To have a book.
- Better answer: To have a book available for my clients and potential clients.
- Best answer: To publish a book that will offer answers to a specific problem.
- What is your time availability?
- Answer: I have some time. How much time will this take?
- Better answer: I know this will take time. I’m ready to start now, and I hope to be able to have some time available each week.
- Best answer: I know this is a long-term time commitment. I’ve read several books about the publishing industry and how to market a book. I’ve started researching where and to whom I can sell my book in addition to bookstores and have already started my two-year marketing plan.
- What is your budget?
- Answer: I have some money put aside.
- Better answer: I have researched what this will cost. Please confirm the numbers with me.
- Best answer: I have researched what this will cost. Please confirm the numbers with me. I have also set up a line of credit that I can tap so that when the book is ready for reprint, I will have funds available to pay for the reprinting while waiting for the money from the distributor to come in.
- What types of books do you work with (nonfiction, fiction, categories)?
- How do you work with your clients (meet with them in person or by phone, have weekly meetings, delegate the project to a staff member, provide guidelines and lay out steps to take)?
- How long does the process take?
- How much or how little can you help me?
- How much do your services cost?
- What kinds of projects have you worked on? Can you tell me some of your clients’ successes and failures and why you think they occurred?
- Do you charge for an estimate or assessment of my project?
9. What rates can authors expect to pay for a book shepherd’s services?
Rates can be by the hour or the project. Much of this decision depends on how many tasks the book shepherd is going to do versus the publisher (or his or her staff). Every consultant is different and provides different services (sometimes directly contracted). You should ask what the book shepherd’s typical project fee is. The needs of a project can vary so much that it is hard to say what fee is and isn’t appropriate. However, the amount should be examined in light of how many books need to be sold to break even. Developing a cost analysis or creating a P&L (profit and loss) statement for each book is a good step.
10. Do you walk authors through every phase of publication? What are those steps?
Book shepherds can do as little or as much as the author or publisher needs. Some clients have more time than money; some, the opposite. A book shepherd can assist with any or all of the following:
- Creating the publishing company and obtaining all necessary legal, business, and publishing paperwork and forms, including resale permits, ISBNs, copyright, cataloging in publication data, and more
- Coming up with a book’s title and checking to see what other books already are using it
- Determining if permissions are needed
- Setting a publication date
- Recommending and/or checking out interior and cover designers and indexer
- Assessing comps for the book (price, size, features, etc.) and determining the price
- Setting up or updating the author’s or book’s website
- Making decisions about fulfillment and storage
- Developing an “elevator speech” (brief description of the book)
- Determining the audience (specific statistics: gender, age, generation, buying habits)
- Establishing the benefits the book brings to readers
- Obtaining endorsements and testimonials (whom and how many to include)
- Developing a marketing strategy
- Author’s participation—speaking, writing, website, book tours, blogging
- Other public appearances (libraries, colleges, book fairs)
- Media training
- Networking opportunities (for example, via groups the author belongs to)
- Email and direct marketing
- Partnering with an organization
- Number of galleys to be sent out
- Length of the publicity campaign (e-blasts, galleys)
- Collateral materials (postcards, bookmarks, flyers)
- Bookstore promotions (co-op and advertising dollars)
- Online publicity and marketing (which websites and social media sites to target)
- Special sales opportunities (via trainings, workshops, conferences, reading groups)
- Foreign language translations and serial rights
11. Can you get an author’s books on the bookstore shelves?
With more than 200,000 books in print each year and the average superstore carrying 100,000 books, it is impossible to get every book on a bookstore shelf. The question a publisher should ask a book shepherd is, “Can you get my book into the bookstore system?”
Getting into the bookstore system generally means having a book listed with the nation’s wholesalers (for example, Ingram and Baker & Taylor) [In NZ, Wheelers, TLS etc.]. While there are exceptions to every rule, most of the time a publisher needs to be represented by an exclusive national distributor. [No need for exclusivity in NZ] Having a national distributor (which does all the warehousing, invoicing, billing, collections, etc.) has many benefits, but the bottom line is that a publisher needs a distributor more than a distributor needs a publisher.
Remember that publishing is a business: everyone has to make some money in the publishing process. How does a distributor make money? By selling books. How does the consumer know that a book is available for sale? Through marketing. Who’s responsible for that marketing? The author and the publisher. Once those responsibilities and relationships are understood, it will be easier to partner with a distributor.
A distributor wants to know what a publisher’s marketing budget will be—in detail. What’s the total budget? Who is the publicist? How long is the publicity campaign? How big are the author’s and publisher’s mailing lists, and how often will the people on the lists be notified? How, when, and where will the consumer be pushed into bookstores to buy the book? And, since there are so few “one-hit wonders,” what are the next books that the author will be writing, and when will they be published? [Some good points.]
12. Competition for shelf space is tough. Do book shepherds help with marketing and promotion? What tips do you have to share with authors to help them stand out from the pack?
Book shepherds often help with marketing and promotion. Services can range from providing a referral to a competent and experienced marketing company and publicist or doing the work themselves. The decision depends on the project, the genre, and the budget. When it comes to marketing, specialists are important. A book can be viable, but it may not be the best fit for certain experts.
I always check to make sure I create win-win situations with my clients, projects, and vendors. While every book goes through similar marketing and publishing steps (for example, reviews need to be sent out four months in advance to Publishers Weekly), every marketing plan needs to be tailored to the audience. Should direct-mail pieces be created and sent out? Where can the author write and speak to gain attention (local and national networking groups, local and national publications)? What should your online and social media marketing campaign look like, and how should it be built?
13. Fiction is tough to sell these days. How do you help authors get their novels noticed?
I specialize in nonfiction—although I’m pleased to say that when I did make an exception for Rashi’s Daughters, it was a great success story. The key to my accepting this project was how it was referred to me (by an experienced colleague who is a fabulous fiction editor) and the amount of homework that the author had done. She was an exceptional client in terms of producing an exemplary product and following directions.
The author’s primary goal was to create buzz about the book. Her first step was to research her audience. She knew that her historical fiction book would appeal to a niche audience of Jewish women—a group that reads and buys a lot of books. She then had to find where they were and how to reach them. An Internet search of Jewish women’s organizations revealed a number of national associations, all of which she joined a year before her book came out.
She wrote articles for and bought ads in their newsletters. And she contacted them to speak at their local and national conventions. She spoke for free—all she asked was permission to sign and sell her books at their events. A critical element was her relentlessness. She sent emails, made phone calls, and followed up, followed up, and followed up some more.
She also created a website for the book where she could direct people if they wanted to learn more. She spoke at libraries and bookstores. One final note: she made sure to get the names and addresses of everyone who attended her speaking engagements so when her second book was released, she already had a mailing list of thousands of interested readers.
14. How much importance do you place on cover design? Interior design? Do buyers and readers really notice these elements?
I think all the elements of a book (editing, cover design, interior design, back cover copy, marketing and publicity) are important. I believe that buyers and readers notice them, especially if they’re done poorly, and we work with our clients’ distributors in these areas as well.
Book shepherds ensure that every book they work on meets industry standards, which means that the interior and cover designs are created by experienced book designers. It’s important to note that there is a difference between a graphic designer—even an award-winning graphic designer—and an experienced book designer. Creating a Clio-winning advertisement is not the same as knowing which fonts to use in a book and what colors to use on a cover.
Just as you would not ask a dermatologist to treat your broken leg (dermatologists and orthopedic surgeons are both doctors, but their experience and knowledge are obviously quite different), a publisher needs to use an experienced book designer—not just a designer.
15. Will you recommend how many books an author should get printed? How do you determine this number?
A book shepherd should be willing to make recommendations on every aspect of a book’s life (font, cover design, marketing, printing, etc.). Depending on the market (Is the book a calling card? How many copies does the distributor want? How many presales have occurred?), I provide recommendations for that number as well as the appropriate printer type (digital for short runs, offset for longer runs).
The number of books that should be printed depends on how many the distributor wants and how many pre-orders have been received. Book shepherds help determine that number for the first run as well as re-printings.
I have found that many people don’t plan for success. I ask my clients to consider this: What happens when you sell out your first print run? You won’t see any money from your distributor for three or four months, but you need to print again now.
16. Do authors ever come to you with an idea that has little market potential? If so, how do you handle this?
I come from the land of straight shooters. If I don’t think a project is marketable, I will tell the author and turn down the project.
17. What are some of the frustrations you encounter with your clients?
I’m pleased to say that I don’t have any, and that’s due to one simple reason: I gather good information up front. I know the client’s goals, I feel that I can assist him or her in meeting them, the client has been truthful with me regarding the goals and budget—it’s that straightforward.
In conclusion, I call publishing a game—but it’s a winnable game. Like any game, you need to know the rules, have the proper equipment, know what players you need on your team, have a good coach, develop a winning strategy, and be willing to put in a lot of hard work and money.
My final advice: do your homework, check references, and read and understand every sentence in a contract before you sign it.