books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another Awesome Announcement: Former Big Six Editor Ruth Harris Joins the Blog

I have another Awesome Announcement this week: I now have a blog partner! She’s NYT bestselling author and former editor at Bantam, Dell and Kensington, RUTH HARRIS.

I’ve had a lot of fabulous guest bloggers here in the last year, but Ruth is the only one whose post made it into my top ten most popular posts of all time. Her no-nonsense humor and vast experience seem to speak to readers here.

I’ve been bugging Ruth to start her own blog because she’s got so much insider information that new writers would love to hear. But she’s got a whole lot on her plate right now, as she reissues her old titles and launches a bunch of exciting new projects.

My own plate is starting to fill up too. (See last week’s Awesome Announcement below.)

I believe social media should be fun (and social) and I don’t think it should take time away from the real work of writing (see my advice on Slow Blogging) That’s why joining forces seems like a win/win situation for both Ruth and me.

Ruth will be writing once-a-month posts of her own, plus we’ll be posting dialogues and Q&A sessions as well as welcoming a great line-up of guest posters.

Guests in the next few months will include Samuel Park, author of the critically acclaimed This Burns My Heart, zombie-lit star Jonathan Maberry, Public Query Slushpile’s Rick Daly, debut romance writer and blogging superstar Roni Loren, and Kindle bestselling phenom, Mark Williams.

I’m still basking in the glow of finding a U.S. publisher who is brave enough to publish something as cross-genre, darkly satiric, and outside-the-box as Food of Love. Yes, I’ve signed the contract, and Food is going be re-published soon by the lovely people at Popcorn Press, in both ebook and print—available in the US and the UK at amazon. More on that soon.

So ta-dah! Here’s Ruth. She is going to be giving us insider information about what editors want, and also let us in on what happens behind the scenes in corporate publishing.

And now she’ll tell us something about herself—

From Ruth Harris: About Me

I started out in publishing right after I graduated from college. My first job was as secretary to a textbook editor, an unpromising start if there ever was one, but I was soon promoted to copyediting—much more interesting.

In the years that followed—the years when editors ran publishing—I worked at Dell and Bantam and at Lancer, a successful but now defunct (not because of me!) independent mass market paperback publisher where I wallowed in the joys of genre publishing in its heyday. 

I've been a copywriter, assistant editor, editor, editor-in-chief and, eventually, publisher (Kensington).

I've written more magazine articles than I can remember and a few paperback originals even I've forgotten.

My books have been published by Random House, Simon & Schuster, and St. Martin's. I’ve sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback editions, been translated into 19 languages, published in 25 countries and selected by the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club.

I live in New York City with my husband, writer Michael Harris,  author of Always on Sunday: An Inside View of Ed Sullivan, The Beatles, Elvis, Sinatra and Ed's Other Guests  and The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground . Both are available in Kindle editions.

Recently I’ve been acquiring the rights to my backlist and re-issuing them as ebooks. You can now buy The Last Romantics, Husbands and Lovers, Decades, Love And Money, and Modern Women for your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other e-reader—with more titles to follow. You can find them at my author page at Amazon.com. 

I’ve also got some hot new fiction in the works. Stay tuned. 

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So Ruth’s in New York and Anne is in on the Central Coast of California. The blog has gone bi-coastal!


From Anne: Six More Things Writers Won't Miss About the Big Six "When They're Gone"

Two weeks ago I wrote about Eric Felten’s article in the Wall Street Journal: “Cherish the Book Publishers—You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone”  I responded with some suggestions about what readers won’t miss when/if those nice corporations get driven out of business by all the nasty little self-publishers.

But there’s even more stuff that WRITERS won’t miss—things Ruth will be telling us more about soon. Here are a few of them.

1) SHORT SHELF LIFE. People expressed surprise when I said that John Green’s hit book of last year, Will Grayson, Will Grayson was already remaindered in hardcover. But the truth is, the average Big Six book has a shelf life “somewhere between milk and yogurt,” as a former bestselling author once told me. Even if a book has steady sales, if they’re not in the millions, your book will be removed from bookstore shelves after a few months to make room for new fare. And this week the New York Times reported that the life cycle of books has been further shortened. Publishers are issuing paperbacks within a few months of the hardcover, thus giving a title an even shorter time to build an audience.

2) RETURNS: One of the insanely dysfunctional things about the publishing industry is “returns”. Bookstores are actually consignment shops. “Units” are only on loan. Books can be sent back at any time for a full refund. This is because of something that happened during the Great Depression, although I’m not exactly clear what. But nobody’s been able to change this insanity for 80 years. The returned books are remaindered or pulped. This means most books end up shredded like Steve Buscemi’s character in Fargo. Yeah. Kinda grosses me out, too.

3) PREMIUM BOOKSTORE SPACE RESERVED FOR SUPERSTARS. Even if you get a Big Six contract and your debut novel comes out in glorious hardcover, your book may not land on that “new releases” front table or the endcap of the Barnes and Noble shelves. Hot bookstore space is purchased by marketing departments, who decide what they think might be a blockbuster and what won’t.

If you’re a debut novelist, they’ll probably decide it won’t. This means your book will get buried spine-out on the back shelf, probably in the wrong section, because some data entry person put the wrong code on the sticker. (I used to have to fight to put Margaret Atwood in the literature section of my B. Dalton store, because she was coded as “romance.”)

4) BEING A MINION OF THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT. You’ll be expected to do 90% to 100% your own marketing—their way. The New Yorker published a hilarious comic essay by Ellis Weiner  that purported to be a memo from a publisher’s marketing department.

Some prize quotes: “we’d like to see you on morning talk shows like the “Today” show and “The View,” so please get yourself booked on them.” And “I’ve attached a list of celebrities we think would be great to blurb your book, so find out their numbers and call them up. Be sure to do all this by Monday…because all of editorial…go to the Frankfurt Book Fair for a week.”
 
5) BIG ADVANCES THAT ARE RESERVED FOR SNOOKI’S PILATES COACH (see last week’s post.) Your chances of getting one of those big advances you’re always reading about are close to zero. Royals, reality TV superstars, politicians, and unconvicted felons get the big money, not actual writers.

6) BOOKS ON THE BESTSELLER LIST THAT AREN’T BESTSELLERS. In the comment thread last week, bookseller Christine Ahern explained it to us, “‘bestseller’ is not about how many books are actually bought by consumers. It is the number ordered by retailers—and these days, many of that number are returned. In that sense: being a bestseller on Kindle is more meaningful” than being on the NYT bestseller list!  
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Ruth and I aren’t going to tell you not to go for that big brass ring of the Big Six contract. The industry is changing by the minute, but getting an agent and a name publisher is still the most likely path to major publishing success for a debut author. Small and self-pubbers don’t get reviews in the New York Times or People magazine or Kirkus. We’re not likely to get into libraries or chain stores—which represent a rapidly shrinking, but still significant share of the market.

But it’s good to be aware of how dysfunctional the current system really is before you sign up—or start mourning it. Some things about this business really need to change. And that’s why this is such a fantastic time to be a writer.

Ruth has gone from the corporate big time to running her own indie business—and she loves it.

I’ll be traveling the middle ground with a small independent press.

So this blog will now be able to give you the skinny on publishing in all its aspects. Thanks for joining us, Ruth!

Scriveners, what subjects would you like Ruth to address? Do you have burning questions about the editorial and acquisitions process at the big publishing houses? Do you have any writing issues you'd like to discuss with a seasoned editor? Do you wonder what it's like to go indie after being a big-deal corporate honcho? 

Next week, we’ll have a guest post by the incomparable Samuel Park, whose literary novel, This Burns My Heart  has been getting rave reviews from all the most prestigious literati--and is one of Amazon’s top picks for this month. Samuel will be giving his secrets of self-editing--and tell us why you shouldn't always obey those publishing rules: read DON'T KILL YOUR DARLINGS!! by Samuel Park on August 7th.

And if you’re going to be in California in September, there’s still time to sign up for the Central Coast Writers' Conference, where I’ll be teaching Social Media for the Anti-Social.


29 comments:

  1. Anne, this is fantastic news, and what a great lineup of gust posters! I'm excited to see what comes up. As someone who has friends all the way from the biggest publishing houses over to the independently published authors who do everything themselves, I've also chosen the middle ground with an independent press. It has been the smartest move for me, at least.

    My question for Ruth is that I see so many big-time authors moving away from their NYC publishers and independently publishing instead. This is all fine and good, but what about us who are moving in a somewhat opposite direction? I'm with a smaller publisher, but they are growing by the day, and I plan to publish a handful of books with them in the next 5 years. After that, I may move on or I may stay where I am depending on how publishing looks at the time. Do you think it's possible for writers like myself to slowly move up the ladder to bigger publishing and large advances and deals? Maybe the question isn't that is it possible, but is it wise? Sometimes staying small and steady seems like the wisest course right now instead of trying to hit it big. I have friends who have secured large contracts, but I have yet to see how their careers pan out compared to mine. I suppose it's all individual and not truly a matter of how we're published, but what we keep writing and putting out there.

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  2. Wowee,this is fab! Looking forward to hearing lots more from both of you! :D

    - Spook

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  3. Fantastic news! Hope it works out wonderfully for both of you, as I'm sure it will. Looking forward to hearing further sage advice from both of you!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  4. I don't always comment here, but I always read. Welcome to Ruth.

    "Social Media for the Anti-Social" sounds like me. Sadly, I won't be in California.

    Thanks for a great post.

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  5. Welcome, Ruth!
    And I think I'm happy with my small publisher now, thanks.

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  6. Michelle—You're asking a question that presupposes publishing is rational. My first books were paperback originals published by small companies; my later books were published by Random House and Simon & Schuster etc. I certainly had nothing as intelligent as a plan—my books got better & so did my brand-name publishers but those were very different days.

    OTOH, sometimes it works in reverse. When I was working at a small, independent publisher, we took a chance on a book that had been turned down everywhere--you know, the classic ms with the coffee splotches. We sold it very well & our sales dept was thrilled. After 3 or 4 more books, the author wanted a bigger, "better" publisher & more $$$ & changed agents. She did indeed get more $$$ & a bigger publisher; problem is, they really didn't know how to sell her books. I think she had a 3-book deal & at the end of the 3 books, the publisher let her go. Her next publisher, her third, was a real disappointment & I don't know what happened to this author since.

    It's impossible to say that we would have been able to keep doing such a good job with this author; it's also reasonable to say she wanted more money & got it, so from that point of view, she made a good decision.

    William Goldman, the screenwriter, said, speaking of the movies: "Nobody knows anything." Same applies to publishing, particularly now at such a moment of great change. I will say that I think a 5 year plan seems unrealistic at a time of such volatile change.

    Spook--be careful what you wish for! lol Anne & I will have plenty to say!

    Sarah Allen—Sage? Also rosemary, oregano and thyme! Our advice comes in many flavors.

    Bonnie—Anne has earned all the congratulations.

    Carol—It works both ways, I'm looking forward.

    Alex—Staying where you are has lots to recommend it.

    Susan—We're looking forward & thanks for the kind words!

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  7. Hi Anne & Ruth!

    Thumbs up for adding more fabulous-ness to an already fabulous blog.

    I worked at the student bookstore when I was in college. Spent many afternoons packing up returns and tearing the covers off paperbacks. So depressing.

    I checked out the Central Coast Writer's Conference. Hmm. Tempted!

    Cheers!
    Jen

    (Atwood is romance? Oy.)

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  8. I didn't think my Sunday visits here could get any better :)

    Great news all around. As I read the point about how fast hardcovers are turned into pulp, how fast books go to paperback and how little time is given for some of these books to find "their audience/readers" I thought of the cut-throat major networks and the often popular cable channels who do much the same with new shows.

    Writers, screenwriters and television producers ... those who at one time had the luxory of the learning curve ... time to develop their craft, find their voice and their readership (viewers) are now thrown into the trash heap at the whim of "ratings/trends/someone's bottom line.

    What the alternatives of the small and indie press provides is a chance to not only get our work between the boards, but the chance we may also find editors and publishers who will spend the time, take a chance.

    Ruth: I have remained steadfast with one belief and would like your take ... Do you think that the trend to self-publish has left readers with a glutt of work that was not ready? Is it like our grandmothers said ... throw out the first two kids and start with the third? By that time you know what you're doing.

    I look forward to the thoughtful posts I know we will have from both of you, Anne and Ruth ... we are fortunate to have you :)

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  9. Congratulations on your book contract, Anne! And how wonderful that Ruth Harris will be a regular participant on your blog!

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  10. This great blog just got even better. I love the once-a-week, in-depth format you use here, and now look forward to Ruth's insights as well as yours, Anne.

    Ruth, I'm interested in your answer to fOIS in The City's question, as I share the sentiment expressed there. Also, I don't hear people talking about what seems to me to be the greatest loss with the dysfunction of the big publishing houses: the demise of the editor. I recently saw Richard Ford talk, and he mentioned that his past, much-loved editor regularly challenged 80% of his sentences. Other well-published authors also regularly point out how extensive the editing process with their editors is, and how valuable. Nowadays, agents seem afraid to touch a manuscript that needs ANY editing, which is your basic Catch 22. I'm beginning to think any writer who wants to produce a top-quality manuscript is going to have to invest their own (serious amount of) money with an excellent, professional editor before they attempt to get published. Thoughts? Advice? Thanks.

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  11. Bi-Costal is awesome. (I've lived on both Coasts in fact. *grin*)

    I'm really looking forward to continually hearing from this blog, both of you now. My hubby might think I'm slightly crazy when I talk about the publishing industry. But hey, I'm just as clueless when he talks computer security. *grin*

    :} Cathryn Leigh

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  12. Ruth--thanks for answering those great comments. I got to take off and spend an idyllic Sunday away from the computer. I went to hear a great Celtic music concert on the pier. We even had sunshine--unheard of in foggy Los Osos.

    Jennifer, thanks! The CCWriters conference is intimate and fun--and Mark Coker from Smashwords will be there.

    fOIS--I think your analogy with TV is good. The best shows often take a while to find their audience, but execs would now rather cancel if they don't have a smash-opening. They aim for mediocrity. I'm sure Ruth will have more to say on that subject.

    Marilyn--Thanks. I'm so happy to watch your indie publishing success!

    Linda--Ruth sure did allude to that in her comment about "when editors ran publishing". I'm sure that was also the era when editors edited. We then moved to the era when agents edited. Now we're in the era when you edit yourself or pay a private editor a lot of money up front.

    Cathryn--I think we're all a little crazy in the publishing biz--on account of the business itself is crazy.

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  13. Ruth: Thank you so much for your answer! It's really helpful. :)

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  14. Jennifer--Yes, that IS depressing. It was also depressing to edit books I (& every other editor) knew would end up in a warehouse waiting to be pulped. At least the un-bought and the un-loved won't meet that fate any more. These days, it's just the "delete" button.

    fOIS In The City--Sure, readers will be up to their wazoo in unbaked books. I've seen "books" whose authors (literally) couldn't write a basic English sentence—you know, subject and verb. Doesn't bother me very much because a) the books are cheap so no one's getting ripped off and b) because if the writer is really motivated he/she will learn his/her craft and by the third (or fifth) book, will get good. Would probably have to publish under a different name but plenty of writers do that anyway so what's the big deal?

    Marilyn--Thank you. :-)

    Linda--In the "old" days, publishing was an apprentice system. Young editors learned their trade from older editors and, back then, editors ran publishing, not marketing depts. The change in publishing has been so convulsive that talented & experienced editors have been "let go." I think they will be able to do very well working free lance in this new climate and, of course, there are gifted editors who have emerged along with the self-pub revolution. In fact, it's sort of a secret, but there were bestselling writers back in the days of TradPub who hired their own editors & thought the expense well worth it. Plus ça change... Anne and I will be writing more about this subject later.

    Cathryn--Thank you. Bi-Coastal IS awesome. Looking forward.

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  15. Congrats on the partnership! It's hard to imagine this blog getting any better, but I have feeling you two will outdo yourselves. :) Looking forward to getting to know you better, Ruth.

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  16. Welcome to the blog, Ruth.

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  17. Welcome Ruth, and congratulations to both of you. Looking forward to this new duo.

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  18. Oh! Now it worked (I tweeted you earlier that it didn't).

    Good for you for giving yourself a week off a month from writing a post (I assume that's the idea here . . . ) and for bringing such a great member to the team. It's been an exciting week+ around this blog!

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  19. Jennifer--Thank you. I'm looking forward too. That getting-to-know-you thing works both ways. :-)

    Bob--Thanks for the kind welcome. I feel at home already because of nice people like you!

    Sue--We are, too! Looking forward, that is...

    Nina--Anne *does* have a way of stirring up excitement, doesn't she?

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  20. Such great info. Thanks Anne and Ruth. You two already make a great team!

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  21. This is great! I also enjoyed the info about the not so incredible Big 6. :)

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  22. I didn't think this blog could get better, since Anne is such an amazing blogger, but I can see now I'm wrong.
    Ruth, your career and your insights are as timely as they are insightful.

    Here's a q for you, do you think the Big Six dino's will figure out how to hybrid what's happening in the publishing world before they plod off into a semi-extinction phase? My friends hubby was at Scholastic for twenty years, and for the last ten he kept warning his powers that be that they needed to heed the media iceberg headed their way, via e-pubbing etc, but they of course didn't.
    What do you think is really coming down the road towards us?

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  23. Annette--Thank *you*! :-)
    Sara--Thanks for the welcome!
    Karyne--What's really coming down the road for TradPub has already hit with a splat.
    No, I don't think they'll get out of the way--to misquote the well-known phrase: they're too big not to fail. Small & mid-size pubs & specialty pubs, OTOH, may be nimble enough to avoid the apocalypse. Interesting but not surprising about your DH & Scholastic. A friend's DH worked at Lehman & kept warning them to increase capital & deleverage. Did they listen? Nope.

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  24. I tell you, your blog is the happenin' place for news these days, Anne! I love it! Welcome Ruth--it's lovely to blog-meet you :-). I look forward to spending many a Sunday reading your ladies' sassy posts.

    ;-)

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  25. Thank you for the warm welcome, Christine. Much appreciated.

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  26. This is a really good post. I enjoyed reading all of it and went to the New Yorker post...what a find.

    Oy...it seems like as times go on, no one wants to work anymore but everyone wants to get paid. Maybe the Big Six will eventually adopt this model where they don't actually publish and have someone else do it for like pennies on the dollar and they just slap a label on it.

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  27. Great read, and I love that little satirical letter you linked to. So many perfect little barbs! Thanks for an excellent post.

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