Saturday, May 31, 2008

Publishers Summit -- Part IV

The Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit team members Roberta Isleib, JudyClemens, Jim Huang, and Nancy Martin visited publishing professionals in NewYork on May 14 and 15. The report on the publishing summit will run all week. Your comments and discussion are encouraged. The summit team is available to field your questions.

Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit, Part IV
By Roberta Isleib

Simply finding our way to Mira Books (a division of Harlequin Enterprises) helped build our anticipation. We took the subway to Chinatown for a quick lunch, wandered through a gorgeous little park full of Chinese folks sunning their children and playing board games, and stumped the remaining blocks to City Hall. (I assured the team it would be two blocks—it was closer to ten. Note to selves: wear better shoes!)

Mira is located in the stunning, historical Woolworth building in the southern tip of the city. We piled onto the elevator to the tenth floor, admiring the ornate neo gothic/art deco design. The office, where we were met by editorial director Tara Gavin and executive editor Margaret Marbury, is papered by posters of top-selling Harlequin books.

Margaret and Tara were happy to talk about their view of our genre. They agreed with other companies’ opinions that mysteries are “smaller” than suspense novels, meaning that print runs will be smaller for mysteries. It is harder for a book to reach a top-selling level if it’s a mystery rather than suspense or thriller. On the other hand, romance readers are very open to mystery and a number of Harlequin’s lines tend to include a thread of mystery (e.g., Intrigue, Nocturne, Silhouette.) Our hosts see a healthy future in mysteries, as they are selling mysteries in the romance aisles. Print runs for thrillers may be larger, but this kind of reader tends not to be as loyal as mystery fans. Good news for SinC writers: Mystery fans are heavy and loyal readers who return to read a favorite author’s next books.

Mira Books is the Harlequin line with the fewest restrictions and guidelines about plot and character. Their mysteries need to have commercial appeal, dropping clues but not necessarily told in a linear fashion. At Harlequin, they will label a book where they feel it has the biggest play—whether that be historical, mystery, or other.

The format in which the book will be published depends on where it will be distributed. Hardcover releases require a high level of quality, an established audience, and great promotion.

Our hosts reported excellent success with big box stores such as Target and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart will decline titles that are too sexy, including covers and flap copy. Mira is about to have one of their titles made into a big promotion by Target.

Although agreeing that publishing is a gamble in these uncertain economic times, these editors expressed enthusiasm and optimism about the future. Mira focuses on commercial fiction. They see opportunities in many of the Harlequin lines, including paranormal, romantic fantasy, inspirational, mystery, and young adult. They feel that Harry Potter readers are open to new possibilities. The digital future is coming, and Harlequin is embracing it, selling both short stories and all their releases online. See

Margaret and Tara had a number of suggestions for how authors can work with their publishers:
· Network and obtain blurbs from other writers
· Develop a website; include contests
· Make guest blog appearances
· Be flexible and fluid—don’t allow labels to affect you negatively. Take advantage of what the marketplace is offering and doing
· Ask your publisher to excerpt your next book at the end of your newest, but it’s got to be a humdinger of an excerpt to pull readers in.

If a mid-list author is not growing, she needs to reinvent herself. Taking a new name is not the only way. Start something new and stronger in order to give the publisher and sales department ammunition for a second chance. Basically, write a great book and follow it up with another—at least once a year. Some of their romance authors produce three per year.

We left Margaret Marbury and Tara Gavin with a spring in our steps, and headed uptown to Folio Literary Management. At the Folio agency, Ami Grecko works as the marketing director, assisting the agency’s clients with promotion and public relations.

In Ami’s experience, mysteries are often being sold today under different names (sometimes literary fiction), even though at heart, the books are mysteries. On the plus side, the mystery genre allows for growth of sales in a way that literary fiction does not. She emphasized how important a good cover is for attracting potential buyers. She feels that mysteries could easily make the move to e-books because of their loyal fans and encourages authors and publishers to embrace the future.

Ami was pleased to share her suggestions for what authors can be doing to help promote their own books.

* Make one-on-one connections with writers, readers, and booksellers.

* Use on-line resources: FaceBook, MySpace, Shelfari, BookTour. Meet your market on-line!
If your publisher supports a book tour, try to hit indies/committed stores in less-saturated cities.

* Go to stores, sign books, be polite! Signed copy stickers will make book stand out.
Find your hook/brand.

* Social networking is key. BUT…people really expect the networking on these websites. You must be present and active, not simply post a page and disappear.

For more of Ami’s thoughts and suggestions on publicity go here.

And that’s it for this year’s summit. We were so grateful for the opportunity to talk with the publishing professionals, and hope you’ve found these reports useful.


nancy said...

Roberta, one of the most interesting things we heard on our trip was Mira's opinion that thriller readers don't necessarily follow authors from book to book the way mystery readers do. (I know at my house, my husband will buy any thriller with a swastika on the cover----there's no villain like a Nazi!--but he doesn't necessarily look at the author's name.) And since Mira is one of the few companies that actually does market research, I tend to believe them.

Surprising, no? But this makes me think that a mystery writer who decides to re-invent herself as a thriller writer would enter the marketplace with an existing fan base--which has to be a good thing.

Joyce said...

Thanks for the hard work all of you have put into this. It's good to know that even though it's a tough business, it's still possible to break in, or advance one's career.

Good job!

Roberta Isleib said...

You're welcome Joyce. All four of us found the trip fascinating and were happy to pass on what we learned. Now we must go out and write some good books:)!

IlanaStephens said...

Thank you so much for all your work and research

Anonymous said...

This series has been interesting and enlightening. Understanding the realities of publishing--and the varying points of view--is so important. A million thanks for everyone's time and efforts!

Chester Campbell said...

This has been a great service to the members. Thanks to all of you who took part. Even though we keep hearing about how bad the market is these days, the message you brought back is heartening. The mantra about write a great book has a lot of validity, but there are only so many Sara Paretskys and Harlan Cobens out there. I still think there's a place for anybody who can write a book that interests and entertains readers, even though it may not be a masterpiece.

Dana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ami said...

Thanks so much for mentioning the Sinc meeting at Folio! And it's so cool to see that Sisters in Crime is definitely meeting its market online with this blog!

Dana said...

I wanted to wax a little more enthusiastic than I did yesterday, and also identify myself. I am so very impressed by this publisher's summit report, and by the SinC Links newsletter I just received. Sisters in Crime is becoming by far and away one of the most informative, useful organizations to which a writer can belong.

Dana Stabenow

polly264 said...

I have written a thriller which the publisher to whom i sent it said it was "dark" while praising the writing style. It's a psychological murder story of persecution for old sins. Is there a publishing house which is a bit more disposed toward the dark side?