The Right Publisher for the Right Book

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When my publishing career began in the late 1990s, a period that I refer to as the golden age of New York publishing, it was an enchanting time.

From an outline, my first book, What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should), went into a four-day auction between several editors. (This was during the era when imprints within a parent company could bid against each other.) It might have lasted longer, but my brilliant agent, Richard Curtis, called for “best offers on the table before sundown,” when Yom Kippur began. Each publisher placed significant six-figure bids.

Putnam won the hardcover, paper, and audio rights. Then they went to work, intent on delivering a bestseller, which they did to such effect that 22 years later, the book continues as a successful backlist title.

I have published six books between Penguin/Putnam and HarperCollins. All were either auctioned or preempted with large advances. Every person attached to the projects was marvelous and committed. For each release, I traveled on multiple-city tours with generous expense accounts. Publicists delivered remarkable national media spots, including ones with CNN, Fox, the New York Times, People magazine, and The View. The coverage didn’t stop there; in every city, I received substantial local media attention as well, including reviews and television and radio appearances. Speaking at independent booksellers’ conferences, I met store owners who, kindly, hand-sold my book.

With the guidance of tremendous publishers and editors like Phyllis Grann, Sheila Curry, and Michael Morrison, my career was launched. Successful books led me to form a syndication company to distribute a weekly newspaper column—entertaining stories about the South, its characters, and its unique language. Frequent speaking engagements and occasional television work came, including documentaries with Fox Sports (I wrote a critically acclaimed book about my NASCAR days) and a recent HBO documentary on my stepmother-in-law, Mary Tyler Moore, in which I referred to her as a “feminine feminist,” a phrase I coined in my first book.

. . . .

I self-published two books of columns because I didn’t want to sign away rights to 1,200 columns. With almost a million readers, I have a devoted fan base.

Now comes a new journey. My book, St. Simons Island—A Stella Bankwell Mystery, releases in August from Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga. It is the first in a series of Stella Bankwell mysteries. In every way, publishing this book has been a different experience from working with major publishers. Quite frankly, without a nudge from Mercer’s Allen Wallace and Marc Jolley, I might not have published again. The industry has changed so dramatically, with big publishers today focused much more on books by celebrities, reality stars, and well-established authors.

After an aggressive deadline to finish the book, I slept for three days, then opened an email from Mercer’s marketing department asking when I would deliver copy for the book jacket and online booksellers. I was stunned. I’d never had that responsibility. Fortunately, I am a journalist turned publicist turned author, so it’s in my wheelhouse.

The real game changer—which makes it easier to go to a small press—is social media. I and my husband, a prominent television producer, have celebrity friends and influencers who will join us in posting. But any tour stops, such as the Southern Festival of Books, will be at my expense.

With Mercer’s limited resources, why did I choose to go there? For important reasons. I believe that Mercer is one of today’s best publishers. The catalog is diverse and bold. Mercer takes chances on authors who the big publishers now overlook. They are also my people—Georgians—so it feels like family. Though advances are small, the team there is incredibly passionate. It’s hard not to be drawn in by such devotion and enthusiasm.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG suspects he’s not the only person reading the OP who wonders why the author is so upbeat about being published by a small educational publishing house after having what she paints as a good run with Penguin/Putnam and HarperCollins amidst bidding contests with at least six-figure advances during her earlier career.

Does the statement, “Mercer takes chances on authors who the big publishers now overlook” imply that big publishers are now overlooking the author?

PG didn’t have time for more than a passing look at Mercer’s books, but doubts that “The [their] catalog is diverse and bold” is a very good strategy for selling lots of books for an author who would like to receive large royalty checks. Most of the Mercer titles PG quickly glanced at had 7-figure bestseller ranks on Zon.

Perhaps visitors to TPV can help PG understand the story behind the story in the OP.

3 thoughts on “The Right Publisher for the Right Book”

  1. I didn’t go look up the original author, but there is a lot of happy-speak in the post: my editor is best, my publisher never does anything wrong, I am happy at this publisher, we split because of creative differences… putting the best possible face on what not everyone knows are bad blows, so that you might have a publisher – any publisher – regardless of how not thrilled you are, because if you are too vocal about your dropping expectations and income, they will drop MORE precipitously, and no one ELSE will take a complainer on.

    It’s hard on the ego.

    It may not be the case for everyone.

    But there’s the whiff of desperation in evidence in some of these stories that SPAs may be glad to avoid.

    I remember reading about $35,000 as an ADVANCE, to WRITE a novel – and thinking wow. It was a long time ago.

  2. “As it was in the beginning, as it is now, as it ever shall be.”

    Big Publishing has always asked the question “Who are you?” Failing a good answer there, it is “Who do you know?”

    To get the “platinum package” from the houses, you must have a good answer to at least the second query. Apparently, the OP did have one – note the “casual” reference to being related to Mary Tyler Moore and her “famous producer” husband.

    I am pretty sure, however, that if I were to ask any of my three children who Mary Tyler Moore was, I’d receive a blank look. Maybe a “Didn’t Mom mention someone like that sometime?” I haven’t even come across anything on nostalgia channels for the Dick Van Dyke show, or the even more successful (in its time) Mary Tyler Moore show.

    Her list of “Who do I know?” is likely quite past its sell date – at least with BPH.

  3. I’ve been in this authors shoes. The big mid six figure advance from the big NYC publisher, the media blitz, the constant parties and dinners, the movie attention from Deniro to Clooney, the rock n roll lifestyle essentially…Then something happens along the way. You sell only 50K books instead of the 100K they expected. They put out the second book without the same fanfare and it’s don’t let the door slap you in the ass.

    But don’t I get lucky in getting my rights back. A smaller pub brings out the first book under a new title and an awesome new title. Bingo, the book sells 100k units in a month. The second book sells around 30k units. Suddenly I have new major offers…now aside from a few select noir titles I publish exclusively under my own imprint, Bear Media. I retain my IP and I’m intent on building my own media monster. Fuck NYC.

    Oh and I know and have worked with my fair share of celebrities too and they don’t care about you or your books. They care about what they see in the mirror.

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