Friday, July 20, 2018

Social Media (Acosta) and Publishing Business Intelligence (Gardner)

We get a bonus post this week, as Hector Acosta is still filling in for me. Thing is, he answered last week's question, and wonderfully so. I'll begin with his post, then just below you'll find my post on elevator pitches for authors. You want to stick around for this one, as my pitch game was on fire last week at ThrillerFest, and I returned with a lot of information for authors.

"Heeeere's Hector!"
Social Butterfly, by Hector Acosta, author of Hardway.

I don’t have a blog or newsletter, and it’s only in recent years in that I’ve opened Facebook to folks outside my immediate circle, but I’ve been on Twitter since 2008, and I’ve had a generally positive experience with the site.

"I think Dr. Horrible is dope."-Stan

My first tweet. I think it still holds up!

There’s plenty of valid criticism which has been levied against the site, and in no way should it be ignored—it can often be a distraction, there is a lot of toxic discourse in it, those in charge are slow, or simply don’t react against harassment, and the place can breed a dangerous mob mentality. But it’s also a place where I’ve found a bunch of folks who I now consider friends, people who’ve welcomed me into the crime writing community, have encouraged me, given me advice, and weirdest of all, have NOT turned out to be serial killers when met in real life.

It was through Twitter that I found Shotgun Honey, who published one of my very first crime fiction stories (and later one went on to publish HARDWAY).  Through Twitter, I got to know Kate and Dan Malmon, two of the nicest crime writing aficionados our community has, and I was honored when I was asked to participate in the KILLING MALMON anthology and got to kill Dan via my favorite condiment.

Even more importantly, I’m pleased to see Twitter and social media used to amplify the voice of groups of people who’ve strived to be heard for years. Especially in the last few years, where so much of the time it can feel like we’re living under a crushing weight to this administration, it’s nice to turn to Twitter and see folks continue to fight, organize, and speak out against the things they see as horrible.  It’s also just as gratifying in our own community working to make sure the crime fiction landscape can be as diverse as possible—if you haven’t done so, make sure to check out Angel Colon’s podcast BASTARD TITLE.

My first advice when it comes to ANY social media site is to step out of your lane. Far too often we can get deep inside our own little echo chamber, only retweeting the same group of folks, like the same type of posts, and ignoring everything else. Connect and don’t be afraid to interact. Have fun with it.

My other advice is that if you add me on Twitter (@Hexican), be prepared for a LOT of wrestling related talk.

"We'll be right back."

Thanks, Hector. Now, on to Elevator Pitches, of which I gave a lot at ThrillerFest last week. This is more conversational. A bit stream of consciousness due to time constraints. Bear with me. No rants. Just love, and valuable information to everyone in this writing game.

Pitch, But Don't Get Stroked On The Mound, by Danny Gardner, author of A Negro and an Ofay

Publishing used to be literature. Now it's entertainment. This I'm betting on, and heavily. Entertainment isn't so much a marathon, as we think once we get access to the industry and are able to maneuver. Then, sure, you gotta stay in, but before you get in—before you have the required access in an industry to maneuver—it's really a scrum. Imagine rugby, where everyone on the field is worthy to handle the pill but only one can in a given moment. I mean, an editor can only read so many manuscripts in a month, and plenty sit in her inbox before yours ever gets there. Seems daunting, right?

Yet should that editor be on the hook for, say, her share of 20 new book projects within three months, that might be a fit-in you can get in. First, you have to understand that beforehand. Two, you need data on trends, and not what's trending at the Barnes & Noble or the NYT Bestseller list but legit business intelligence. Perhaps not quite as deep as an investment portfolio, Secretary of the Interior stuff, but close, especially if you feel you need an edge. If you're well-represented by a literary agent, as I am with Liz Kracht, Senior Agent at Kimberley Cameron and Associates, you'll have the benefit of their business intelligence, gained through their relationships with counterparts and competitors and hours of hard work per day. If you don't, you have to get hip somehow so you can get in, remain in, and perform once you get your shot. That requires an edge. 

I have a young friend of mine, Ty. He's an excellent fitness professional. Educated. Dedicated. Isn't training toward a music career, or making the rent while he writes a screenplay. Ty's future is helping other people take control of their health through fitness, education, and his assistance as folks become expert operators of their own bodies, which is far cheaper than my private health insurance coverage. I watch him save lives. He's a great young brother. 

Now, Ty sees my old ass in the gym daily. He was my fill-in trainer for a few days as my usual, equally brilliant trainer traveled on holiday. I'm banging out these compound movements on a mission. He catches my effort and then matches it, upping the intensity but making sure I don't give myself a heart attack. Between sets, he mentions how driven I seem. I say I intend to change my baseline because I have to write not just better, but more efficaciously, so I'm able to increase my individual productivity. That's the fit-in/stay in part. To do that, it means up earlier, sustain my focus longer, fit in the necessary research time, plus continuing professional education to remain sharp. I needed to change my baseline so I can have a few thousand words done by 9am PST, which is Noon everywhere else publishing really happens. I needed to be the Danny of twenty-five who could work 18 hours a day and still function, but with the skill I've developed over a creative career spanning decades. Can't write at 4am with an extra 30lbs around my upper body. "I have to seize it, you know. No excuses." My man looks at me, pats me on the back and says, 
"You got it already. You know, your competitors are somewhere, right now, being lazy."
Now, my man Ty doesn't know my peers and friends in mystery/crime the way I do, but his point still stuck the landing. He's right, ol' young, fit, smart mother#^@%*&. Folks always pretend they work harder than they do. But how effacious is that labor?

That's a big part of the elevator pitch. The soft shoe. Letting the gift of gab get you a little bit closer to the prize. You need to have them ready, but if they're canned, in an ever-changing global economy, they'll be stale before you use them. You catch someone influential in the elevator, which is about one step up from opening the restroom stall door and just unloading your ideas on them, you better have a focused pitch, which comes after your pitch to get the pitch.

"Hey, may I propose to you my book idea?" sounds like you should have spent the money on PitchFest.

"So, I hear the trend next year is X. Glad I'm out in front with my current standalone," sounds like an enticement to keep talking. Then that elevator won't seem so small and you won't seem so desperate.

You can't just hop up on the mound. You have to gauge interest, and know folks are looking for what you're selling. You don't want to catch an editor who just left a staff meeting where the edict "no more series" is handed down and corner her with your 8-part novella odyssey idea. A brilliant anthology pitch to Johnny Temple at Akashic may as well be an idea for a new hamburger concept at McDonald's. You need intel, desperately, and you get that by consulting, no, not social media, but trade publications, trusted experts, research reports. Occasionally reading Publisher's Weekly and relying upon rumors and gossip from the wire is but a small part of it. Spend a part of every day reading up on business trends in publishing. The Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal may help you see if one publisher is better positioned to give your book what it deserves than another, and you didn't have to attend an expensive conference to learn that. Seem like too much to do? Okay, but isn't that easier and less expensive than spending 5 days at an expensive conference in NYC, hoping you run into someone buying what you're selling, and then betting it all on not annoying them?

Everyone has a sweet spot. You can find out what it is. My nearest and dearest Allison Davis travels for her career. She's a globetrotter. She comes home to a front porch filled with general and specialized trade publications, the local paper, the NYT, the WSJ, and reads them all, even if they're a week old. Some folks guess. The successful make it look like luck by knowing as much as they're able to learn where their business concerns match up with counterparts in their industry.

Take this example before I get out of here. This morning, around 3am, I read this tidbit culled from a Google alert I set up for publishing BI (business intelligence, so I can sound even more like frickin' Gordon Gecko):
Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in the digital publishing industry. The United States continues to be the biggest market for the audio format and in 2017; there was over $2.5 billion dollars in sales, which is a slight increase from the $2.1 billion generated in 2016. Michelle Cobb of the Audiobook Publishers Association stated, “26% of the US population has listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months.
I hold the audiobook rights to all my works. That's an angle, and it may even be an edge. A lot of folks listen to books they otherwise wouldn't read, and humans are well-conditioned to accept serialized entertainment. You think, in a buyers' market, where editors are saying "No series," you don't have a shot. Except your series would make an amazing audiobook product. Now you have an edge. Now you know what to pitch and how. A bit more reading and highlighting over your morning coffee and you can strengthen your position. Now your pitch may have legs.

In 2002, I sold a film I made practically alone and with my own money in, what was for me, a great deal. Made two years of hell and a cross-country U-Haul move worth it. Everyone wanted to be the last of the Robert Rodriguez, lunch money auteurs, but I actually did it. I don't stitch my CV on my sleeve so I don't talk about it, but I know how to get in and remain in a few very difficult industries.

At an expensive conference, the American Film Market, I found a Producer's Rep, which is an agent for finished films similar to a literary agent who represents completed manuscripts. I got a deal which was huge for what was being offered to far better films in the same era. It didn't include a vanity theatrical release, but home video, subtitled in three languages, all of North America (Canada down to Mexico.) Major distribution. Almost 100,000 rental copies out all at once. My face was on the new release shelf for a calendar year back when that meant something. Can't have my kids for the summer this year? No problem. There's Daddy's face on that wall over there. Go see me anytime. Pay-per-view followed. 5k buys with no advertising, just because customers saw it on that new release shelf but it was all checked out Friday night. When Netflix pioneered on-demand, in-home streaming, I was in the first class of films chosen.Y'all, I made that flick with a dotcom bubble severance check, 2 pots of coffee a day, and old tech I cobbled together post-apocalyptic like. Want to know how I got the deal that has helped me remain in the most expensive city in America for 17 years, and still get the "when are you making another feature" question every time I go out?

Newmarket Films, through one of their home video labels, was short 4 thrillers for a Blockbuster retail deal. My film was quickly packaged as a thriller, tossed into the scrum, mine didn't suck, and I didn't need as much money as other producers. I got no palm leaves on my poster, and I didn't quite prove myself worthy of a studio deal, but everyone made money off me and I did better than any other filmmaker I know who enjoyed a much higher profile. That's it. Artistic merit didn't matter. Fiscal and sweat equity didn't mean jack. They needed a thriller and mine was on the stack of thrillers at the right time because business intelligence. Someone was able to fulfill a need, solve a problem, with my product. That's it. Again, nothing to get me a table at Musso and Frank's when it's crowded, but great for my financial, physical, mental and spiritual health. I became a commercially successful feature filmmaker, with contacts. Just because my life's masterwork (at the time) plugged up a hole. I didn't make a film, but a widget, and it was the widget that fit. The next feature I make, I'll know how not to worry my health away.

Look, I know even all this was a lot to read, and I understand you already do too much every day. We all do, and it's unfair. We work, we have families, we have relationships, our global politics cause us stress. We're all afraid of committing to the wrong effort because we have no energy to spare. Follow the folks who know what's going on and make your morning social media activity just that. Set morning coffee time an hour earlier and read while you sip. Combine your intelligence with peers and make your casual conversations shares of quick digests of industry information.

Again, I keep bringing it back to the dogs you hunt with.

Yo, I know I go on and on about shit. No one has to tell me. But at least it's useful shit. Remember what my man Ty says.
"You got it already. You know, your competitors are somewhere, right now, being lazy."
If you can't wake up any earlier to write, make up the difference by alternating writing with reading about the industry you want to access. No tricks. Just work. No secrets. Just business intelligence. 

It feels good, the sensation that we're really accomplishing something. It's what keeps us going through our uncertainty. The thrill of interest is the best feedback for it makes us feel productive in the moment, but that can take us off course without the right information. It's like golf. One degree or two off the mark doesn't look like much of a variance when the green is 100yards and in. If you can hit a 250yard drive, one degree off in your trajectory winds up 30 yards off target. Is that a westerly wind? Shit. Now the ball is in the water. It was an easy hole to birdie. Now you're teeing up again on a par 4 and you're taking your fourth shot. If you're playing long, and that's the marathon part, yeah?, you need accuracy, and for that, you need information you can use intelligently. That way you're not just well-rehearsed and performative in that elevator.

Then you're LEADING in that elevator. Then you'll get a book deal.

- dg


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.



Cathy Ace said...

Two great pieces - I'm off to get on with my industry reading while I wait for my latest MS to come back with edits - great advice :-)

Susan C Shea said...

Just wrote an elevator pitch for a new book...thanks for adding your good advice to everything else Minds offered this week.