The Day I Learned So Much My Head Hurt

Wow, today was hard and I’m absolutely knackered; I feel like I’ve done ten hours of physical labour.

And who do I have to thank for my shear exhaustion? Loraine. That’s who.

But I wasn’t pruning her hedges or painting fences or any of those things that make someone’s back ache. Today’s labour was all mental, and I couldn’t be more tired.

First off, all my ideas where shot to shit, and she made me come up with another set for tomorrow’s meeting, which where subsequently shot to shit. All those ideas; those ‘These are brilliant marketing plans, why doesn’t everyone do them? I’m a genius for thinking of this stuff!’ ideas. Yeah, they were unusable. After a while, I think it dawned on Loraine that I’m absolutely clueless, so she helped me come up with ideas. I felt like I was in school again.

But before I go on about what exactly doesn’t work in publishing, let me defend Loraine. Not once did she make me feel stupid or thick. She was so patient, and sometimes we even got into a little debate. She always won, but it was a debate all the same. She’s so lovely and supportive.

However, there is one tiny problem. Because she knows so much about everything, I’m kind of scared of her. Not in the way I was afraid of Boobs, but in that way you’re kind of afraid of your Gran. You love her, and you respect her, but you know that if you do something wrong she’ll tan your hide. Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling about Loraine. (Not that Loraine advocates corporal punishment in the workplace.) Next time, I need to do better, that’s all.

So, what got shot down today?

Slush Pile: 
Me: Simply put, I’m not finished with the stack.
Loraine: She said that I need to have the pile cleared, because it will just get bigger. I’m not to spend more than 30 second per covering letter, and another 30 seconds for the sample chapters. If I’m not interested in that amount of time, then move on. If I am interested, read a little more. But if, even for a second, something else catches my attention, I’m to give it a ‘no’ and move on.
Me: How will we ever find the gems if we don’t spend the time looking for them? Isn’t the agent also the editor? What if we find an author who’s has a lot of promise, but just needs work? Won’t we miss this person if we just glance through the slush pile?
Loraine’s Answer: Over time, you’ll find those gems even with a 30 second glance. You’ll want to spend more time than 30 seconds, if it’s good. If it’s bad, you’ll regret losing those 30 second of your life to something that’s so badly written. (Actually, she’s right. I know how that feels.) It’s not about spending less time, it’s about being able to sift to find the good stuff.
Me/New Goal: Get faster.

Marketing of New Books:
(If you’ll remember, I was given the task of designing a marketing plan for two new authors who weren’t getting enough publicity from their small publisher.)
My Idea: Book Tour.
Loraine’s Response: Too expensive.
My response to Loraine: We’ve got to spend money to make money.
Loraine’s response: The cost of a book tour, even around the UK, can cost up to a few thousand pounds — once transportation, food and lodging is taken in. If a book sells for £10, and the author gets £1.2 off every book, and we get 18p commission off that royalty, we’d have to sell 11,000 books to break even for one small Book Tour. Being that most new authors MIGHT sell 20 copies (if we’re lucky) at a reading, we’d need to do 550 readings. Not very likely. 

Marketing of New Books 2:
My Idea: Find out which libraries have the largest number of people requesting the author’s book, and send them to that library for a signing with a stack of books.
Loraine’s Response: Very good idea for the bigger authors who want to retain sales, but not for the authors that aren’t selling, because they aren’t even being checked out at the library.

Marketing of New Books 3:
My Idea: Book Festivals. They’ll pay for the travel and accommodation. Loraine’s Response: ‘Good idea, now see if you can book them.’
My Internal Response: Great! Now I’ve just created myself a job I have no idea how to do. Do I just ring up festivals organisers and say, ‘Hello, I know you’ve never heard of this author, but do you want to pay him to attend your event?’

Marketing of New Books 4:
My Idea: The authors should blog. (I’ve noticed that one has hardly any online presence.)
Loraine’s Response: One already has a blog, and the other is very resistant to any form of social media. She wants me to talk to him.
My Internal Response: Oh just great! I’ve got to call up granddad and walk him through the intricacies of using the internet.

After all that she asked me, ‘Why do you buy a book?’

My Responses:
*Because I’ve read a good review on it.
*It’s by an author I’m already reading.
*Someone else was talking about it and said it was good.

God, she’s good with her leading questions.

She wants me to focus my marketing tactics on getting these two authors a mention in the press: television, newspapers, online. Figure out ways to spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth. It’s one thing for us to talk about these books, but we want other people to talk about these books. The best sales team is the public.

Right, easy job. No problem. Magically get the world talking. (Big sigh.) Back to the drawing board.

Oh, but wait, I forgot. There was more shooting down of ideas.

She previously asked me to have a browse through the internet (no small task), and look for trends. What’s hot? Where is the undiscovered talent? If I were an agent, who would I represent? (Once again, no small task.) Today she asked for my findings.

Luckily, this here old bloggy woggy came in handy. Before the meeting I jotted down blogs and websites from my In Search of New Writing section (although I haven’t updated it in a year), and dug up quite a few more links. I presented them to her like a cat who was bringing a mangled bird to its master. I was so proud.

Loraine’s Response: She’d heard of most of the literary blogs and magazines that I’d noted. ‘Nothing new’, she said. ‘But keep an eye on them.’ Then she added, ‘Anything else?’

I was a bit panicky, because that list was my trump card. I had nothing else. Then I thought, ‘I read blogs. Loads of them. And my favourite ones are those in which people talk about their lives. These type of blogs feel really comfortable, I can relate. But they all have their own uniqueness.’

So, (drum roll) I presented her with, ‘What if we turn some of these diary blogs into books.’

You’d think I shredded a mouse and left it in her bed.

Here are the problems (according to Loraine) with this idea:

1. Blogs about people’s lives don’t have story arches. They just kind of continue on. You may have one bit of conflict (a blogger loses his job), but they later find another job. And in the mean time, they’re on to another crises. Life doesn’t fit neatly into a story line. We like to think our lives are chapters of a novel, but really they’re just one big long endless story.

2. Trying to edit these blogs into a story arch is not easy when we’re not dealing with writers. A lot people who are writing about their lives are…well…just people. And essentially, it would take too much time and effort to edit their lives into a narrative. She compared it to celebrity autobiographies. Those take hours of editing and ghost writing, because the celebrities aren’t novelists. But because they are guaranteed to sell in the millions, rewriting some non-author’s life into a book is worth the effort. The guaranteed sale isn’t there for the blogs-into-novels idea.

3. Final problem, memoir novels are way out of fashion. She said, ‘Those died, thankfully, five years ago.’ No one wants to hear about how someone’s mother didn’t buy them a bike when they were 5. Reality may be a trend on telly, but fiction is hot in the publishing world. (I didn’t even try to explain that the blogs I read are much more light hearted than the memoir novels she was thinking about.)

But it did bring up a really interesting topic. She said the trick is to not just pick the next big author, but the next big trend. Loraine said she’d never take on an author who does vampires, because that trend is dying. She said that — while there are others at the agency who like this genre — she feels that the crime fiction trend is over saturated as well. She thinks that crime fiction is about to go down the tubes.

She related it to horror in the late eighties. After a decade of everyone loving anything that involved a bleeding wall or a disembodied head, horror became unfashionable.

She said the way to make money in this business was to figure out what was going to be big and get in early. Or, better yet, if you’re good at your job, you can dictate the trend.

God, I learned so much today. This is why I’m so tired. I have been completely drained.

And tomorrow, after work, I’m meeting Pete at the train station. He’s flying from Turkey to London, then London to Edinburgh, then the train over from Edinburgh. It’ll be a long day for him, but even if we’re just in the flat for the night, I can’t wait to see him.

Now off to prepare for tomorrow’s conference call, so I can come up with at least a tiny shred of something to say.

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6 responses to “The Day I Learned So Much My Head Hurt

  1. I had a professor and supervisor who could do this to me. The feeling about the cat presenting the dead mouse? Oh, gods… SO many times! And I can’t even tell you how many times I thought my brain had broken down from sheer overuse. But, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. He was one of the best teachers, friends, and mentors I’ve ever had, and I attribute a lot of who I am and how I interact with people today to his efforts. It sounds like you have some pretty exhausting work ahead, but it also sounds like it’s going to be very rewarding. It also sounds like you won in regards to finding someone to learn from. ^.^

    • Teachers like that are hard to come by, but once you find them they’re worth their weight in gold. It’s so lovely to hear about how much a professor influenced your life. I do feel quite lucky to have Loraine, and while the work will certainly be exhausting I’m happy to be doing it under her tutelage.

  2. Oh! And (ignore the rest of this if you’re not looking for unsolicited advice from nosy readers), I’d have to imagine publishing is an industry of relationships. You might want to ask if it would be okay to pitch some of your more well-known authors to the organizers of those book festivals. Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door and built a rapport with the organizers, they’d be likely to be more inclined to book your not-as-well-known authors on your say-so. I haven’t a clue if that’s a possibility, or not, but if it’s an industry you’re looking to stay in for awhile, it might be worth the commitment to make it happen long term?

    • Actually, this is fabulous advice. I shall bring it up on Monday with Loraine. (I’m not in the office tomorrow, and she’s away just now.) I just hope you don’t mind me taking credit for the idea. I can’t very well tell her about the blog.

      • Please do! I’m glad if it will help a little. The new workplace/new role thing is all pretty overwhelming all by itself. I’m sorry if my enthusiasm for what you’re doing comes across as minimalizing what you’re going through with feeling overwhelmed and everything. I’m sure that as you settle in and feel more comfortable, though, it will get a lot better! It just sounds like such an exciting (if anxiety-inducing and exhausting!) time to be where you’re at. It’s the kind of thing that you can look back on a few years down the road with pride and say, “I was a part of that.” That’s a really, really good feeling. I hope for that feeling for everyone. ^.^

  3. SkyddsDrake. You are in no way minimalising what I do; in fact, your enthusiasm is so encouraging. It helps to remind me that I can not only do this job, but I should be pretty happy that I have such a wonderful opportunity. Thank you so much for the support.

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