Monday, December 13, 2010

What's my name?

A skit on a recent "Saturday Night Live" episode featured a game called "What's my name?" Contestants were challenged by people they see every day (a doorman and a cleaning woman) to tell them their names. Of course, the contestant confronted by the doorman had no idea what his name was, nor did the woman know the name of the cleaning lady who emptied her work trash every night. And, of course, "Norman the doorman" and "Mary the cleaning lady" were ridiculously offended.

Everyone wants to feel important enough to be addressed by name. Even publishers. Over at John Kremer's blog, a guest post by Jeff Rivera (founder of stresses the importance of not addressing your query letters, "Dear Agent."

It should really go without saying that this is a no-no, but...

The same thing happens to publishers who receive un-agented submission. We receive queries just like those received by agents, so we're just as frequently the recipients of cool, impersonal salutations like, "Dear Sir" (with the unfortunate assumption made that only men work at the company), "Dear Sir or Madam," or even, "To whom it may concern."

All of the above (with the exception of "Dear Sir") are appropriate when--and only when--there is no possible way of knowing to whom the letter should be addressed. Before addressing it this way, however, I highly recommend you do everything you can to find a name. Look up the company online, find the department you're contacting, and find a person whose name you can use. Or call the company's customer service or information line and ask to whom your letter should be addressed.  At least then, if you still can't find anything - even after looking up the publisher in the Writer's Market or Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents - when you write "Dear Publisher," you'll be confident you had no other option.

- Lyla P.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Best Seller, Schmest Seller. And: Why go with a trade publisher, anyway?

More of your questions answered. And, finally, we get into the "Stump the Publisher" questions readers sent in. Our boss hasn't been stumped, yet, so keep sending them in. Remember, too, that the purpose of this site is to be a resource for writers who want to know more about the publishing industry. Consider it "everything you always wanted to know about publishing but were afraid to ask." If you have or want a publisher, or have or want an agent, and have questions you're afraid to ask those you hope to work with, ask us. 

Now, to the questions.

Isn't it always a good thing to be a New York Times bestseller?
The New York Times bestsellers list is the most prestigious and by far the most recognized bestseller list of books in the world. Any authors who have made it to the New York Times bestseller list will have bragging rights for years to come. However, making the list doesn’t necessarily mean your work is good. It simply means it's sold enough copies in one week to be placed among the top sellers for that week nationwide. Rather than it being about the book, it is far more about sales and your ability to market well enough to get people to buy your book in a given week. Books that already have a buzz, like Harry Potter, automatically secure a place on the list because of their following.  If the New York Times is your goal, go for it. Just know what it's about: not quality, but quantity.    

From a publishing company's perspective, a New York Times bestseller is great -- but only if it's a consistent bestseller. When there's a spike in sales of the magnitude generated by a NYT bestseller listing, a lot of money goes into trying to maintain it. If the readers don't continue to buy it, the publisher eats the promotion cost and has to wait for book two (or rely on other consistent sellers) to make up for it.

And here are the first two stump-the-publisher questions:

Convince me that traditional publishing is worth the effort, if a writer's goal is something other than becoming a household name and/or making a million dollars. (Submitted by MK)

Well, I don’t know that I could really convince anyone of anything he or she already has a strong opinion about. Traditional publishing is the route for those who want to have shelf space in the traditional bookstore. Such placement gives your book visibility it's extremely difficult to achieve as a self-publisher. Going the traditional route doesn’t ensure name worthiness, and certainly not riches. However, it's a start. An author ultimately has to decide what is best for him or her. Both avenues can lead you to success. I prefer having the strength of a publisher on my side to create a much needed synergy. I guess I believe in the old adage, “Two are better than one.”

What exactly is "Slipstream"? (Submitted by Ian)

Slipstream is a sort of convergence of hyperbolic fiction and conventional literary fiction, seen as crossover fiction for its ability to exists in and speak to two genres. The phrase was first used by Bruce Sterling and has become known as “the fiction of strangeness.” Slipstream in and of itself is not actually a separate genre but rather a literary effect.

More questions answered next Thursday. Remember: if you have questions of your own, we want to answer them. (And don't you want your shot at $50?) We love talking about publishing more than we love talking about almost anything else. (Writing may tie.) Contact us here. Also, remember we're accepting query letters for critique.

- Lyla P.