Paula’s Post #70 - Interview with the Vampire
Well, not really a vampire. Actually, just my cousin Vlad (not his real name, DUH). And since my-cousin-in-the-book-biz is incognito for this interview, I thought, ‘Vampires’.
I mean wouldn’t you?
And ‘Interview with the Vampire’ is maybe just a wee catchier than Interview with my Cousin.
Anyway, this week, my cousin “Vlad”, who incidentally knows a thing or two about the world of publishing, (as you’ll see from his comments, below) very kindly agreed to be interviewed for this weeks 5writers blog post:
Vampires, Vlad, – what do you think? I mean we always hear a catchy title can sell books. And a title with vampires in it sounds pretty catchy. Why, I’ll wager we’ll even increase blog traffic, just by using ‘vampire’ in the title of this post and repeating it several times, just for the SEO optimization. I think Google likes the word ‘vampire’.
Vampire. Vampire. Vampire.
So, with apologies to Anne Rice, today I’m bringing you ‘Interview with the Vampire’ – aka my cousin Vlad. Who, come to think of it, actually is quite pale in an almost Canadian kind of way and,- also come to think of it,- does seem to lead something of a nocturnal lifestyle.
Hmm… maybe we better check, just to make sure.
Q#1 – PAULA: Are you a vampire, Vlad?
Of course. Pass the blood vial, will you?
Q#2 – PAULA: Hmm. You’re kidding, right. But you did actually live in New Orleans at one time, didn’t you Vlad?
Yes. And I’ve lived in several other cities where vampires live. Does that make you happy?
Actually, the city that just drips with vampires is Portland…
Q#3 – PAULA: Are you making fun of Portland? You know Portland is my hometown, don’t you? Oh never mind. Anyway, just to clarify for our readers, Vlad, this past Friday evening was one of those rare occasions when we actually got to sit down and visit for a while and talk.
For reasons that are long, involved, complicated and, for the most part, totally irrelevant, we decided to meet at the ‘Beer Hunter’ bar at the corner of Washington and Hwy 111 on the border between Indian Wells and La Quinta.
Not only a notorious vampire hang out, but also a bar where you can:
a) Simultaneously watch four giant screen TVs playing, respectively: golf, tennis, baseball and hockey;
b) Order beer tasting flights with yes, no less than ten individual ‘tasters’ of beer for the princely sum of $11.
Sometimes, you’ve just gotta love America.
But I digress. I’m supposed to be interviewing Vlad
VLAD: just for the sake of accuracy, let us note that the “tasters” of beer are 3 oz – so literally “a taste.” 3 oz of blood would merely be a “lip wipe of the tongue.” I’m sure there’s a word for that in German, but it escapes me at the moment…
Q4 – PAULA: Hmm. I see. Well, back to the interview. So Vlad, Why don’t we get to see each other more often?
VLAD: Well, it doesn’t help that you’re usually in bed by 9. I’m barely up by then. And I do travel quite a bit – necessarily. You don’t want to over farm a particular field if you know what I mean. And not to be unduly critical, but the blood around here is all….aged.
Q5 – PAULA: Is that a another dig? Palm Springs isn’t just for retired folk you know. And besides, with wine ‘aged’ is a good thing. Isn’t it the same with – oh, never mind, I’m afraid to ask. Maybe you could just share what is it that you do that keeps you on the road so much? (See, I’m feeding Vlad lines here).
VLAD: Fresh….prospects. I do sell books as a cover – so I am, a travelling salesman. Such a jaunty title, ja? And with the recent merger, I am now even more…in demand. I work for the largest English language publisher, somewhat ironically, owned by Germans. We are working incredibly hard on trying to find a logo that works with both Penguins and a Haus. It’s a little like trying to get Vampires and Werewolves to agree on something… but Penguinhaus or Randompenguinvolk don’t seem to work to well. Perhaps…Igloo Books?
Q#6 – PAULA: Wow, Randompenguinvolk, – that’s a mouthful! I bet you publish a lot of vampire titles? (I ask, never missing the chance to up the SEO on the blog by repeating the word ‘vampire’ yet again).
VLAD: I’m not sure I follow. Vampires have never been gluttons. We like to, how do you say? “cut a fine figure.” (chuckles) And yes, there are a number of vampire books on our list – but then you could substitute almost any word for vampire and it would be true…
Q#7 – PAULA: You mean there are a lot of books on your lists, period? Your group employs – what? About 10,000 people globally across 5 continents? In other words, you are a very, very big, big f’ing deal in ‘bookworld’ aren’t you?
VLAD: I am but a small cog in a very large machine. Ze company is, yes, a pretty large entity, selling about 40% of the American market, but I am but a travelling salespersonvolk.
Q#8 – PAULA: My 5writers colleagues are going to wet their pants thinking you can get them out of the slush pile. Maybe I better check on that. Any chance you can pull a few strings and… you know…?
VLAD: It is much better to know an Agent, or an editor, than a salesperson. I have tried over the years to help a select few, but have met with very modest success, and most of that with non-fiction. You have to understand; there are ~4000 books published every day (in the US) or about 1.5 million a year. If you haven’t been published, you just need to try a little harder. Someone WILL publish you. And of course, it’s even easier now, via Amazon, to self-publish. No, do not sneer, cousin P – let us remember that some of the great tomes of the last few years were discovered by publishers in the Amazon 99 cent bins…like 50 Shades of Chartreuse, for example. Or Grey? Whatever.
Q#9 PAULA: How big are you?
VLAD: About 190 lbs – how big are YOU?
Q#10 PAULA: NO! I meant how big is the company you work for?
VLAD: Oh, it is quite large, and quite worldwide. But the US market is still by far the largest, followed closely by…not Canada.
Q#11 – PAULA: Hmm. I think that is another ‘dig’. I’m getting the idea vampires like ‘digs’. But getting back to that slush pile…You see my buddy Helga has written this fabulous La Carre-esque cold war novel set in post-war Vienna. And ever versatile Joe not only has this cool PI novel set in the high California desert, he also has penned the first volume of his planned YA Fantasy trilogy. What do you think, Vlad? Maybe you can help out a couple of my 5writers colleagues? How can we give their manuscripts a leg up on the ‘ole slush pile? (Or is that a mixed metaphor)?
VLAD: mmmmm. How do I break this to you and your lovely rosy companions? So full of LIFE, ja? Even poor John Le Carre himself does not sell so well anymore…and why write about the old Cold War, when the new one is freezing before your eyes? Isn’t Tehran the new Berlin? Did you know that 20% of Americans think Ukraine is in S. America?
Ze problem with a cool PI novel set in the desert is obvious, but here is another thing to consider – yes, most detective novels strive for an original regionality. But it helps to pick a region with a lot of potential readers/buyers. This is why so many books are set in NY. Or places people want to go…Venice for example. Do you know how many murder mysteries have been set in Venice? It is a great way for writers to “write-off” a trip to Venice. And then, of course, the editor may find it necessary to visit the writer in Venice. Most editors in NY (and 99.9999% are in NY) do not find the “high CA desert” so fascinating. Well. Maybe the “high” part. Not so much the desert. Or CA. It’s a long trip.
Q#12 – PAULA: Hmm…. I see your point. Pick somewhere nice for the setting. Super nice. First, the writer gets to go there. If their lucky, the writers agents and editors get to go there… and finally, either physically or at least metaphorically, the reader gets to go there. I get it, a nice locale sells.
But what about the YA Fantasy trilogies? First Hunger Games, now Divergent. No road trips to those worlds, but they’re selling like hotcakes. Sounds like a no brainer to me?
VLAD: Um, ja. They haff always been big, you forget perhaps, Tolkien? C.S. Lewis? Or Asimov’s Foundation books? As long as there are disillusioned and devious youthmunchkins, I think these books can succeed. But there are many many of these written, and only a few rise to the top. Like cream. Unlike sediment in wine or …pass ze vial, please cousin.
Q#13 – PAULA: Maybe you are really just on the hunt for more vampire novels?
VLAD: I think you can just put a period after ‘hunt’, ja? There are already many more vampire novels than vampires. Perhaps we need a new endangered genre, ja? Where are all the panda novels?
Q#14 – PAULA: But seriously Vlad, you know a lot about books and the authors that write them. Can you share with my 5writer colleagues and our faithful readers what’s hot this year?
VLAD: This is always much easier at ze end of the year, when I can say, ja, this was HOT! But I do seem to see a trend of handicapped, adopted, otherwise marginalized “Kleenex” books succeeding. Jojo Moyes made a small splash with “Me Before You” and I haff just read a ms of Five Days Left which is in a similar vein. You know, very sad people, stuck in a struggle for LIFE, and then you know, a sad, but uplifting ending, and you know, very, very good for Kleenex salespersonvolk. This is not a favorite type of book for vampire. The trend of writing a novel about the spouse of a famous person seems to be slowly withering…you know, Paris Wife, Freud’s Mistress, Ahab’s Wife, etc. I will not be surprised to see novels about children of famous people, My Dad Einstein, or things like this. But do I recommend writing them? Nyet.
Q#15 – PAULA: So, not to pluck at any 5writers wounds, but I’m interested in your opinion about how frequently you need to pop out a book to be a successful published author of series commercial fiction?
VLAD: If it is truly a series, and if you ARE successful, then from a publisher view, the faster the better (to some extent). But the key is “successful.” If you are a writer of a ‘sort of okay selling’ series, then once a year is plenty. There is an interesting phenomena where books with shorter sentences and paragraphs and chapters seem to do somewhat better (esp in genre fiction) than more erudite, complicated, and intertwined textual messages. This may have to do with time demands of our age, or texting, or just because you can read it faster.
I should make note for ze budding writers, that the genres with the highest frequency reader, the voracious and insatiable beasts that require the most filling of the trough, i.e. romance, and mystery and thriller, these are exactly the books moving most to “e-book” format. So if you’re writing a “read it once and you’re done” kind of book, you must realize that MOST of your readers will now download, read, and delete your work. 70% of romance is now sold as e-book, just as an example. However, a History of the Sudan, in three volumes? Not so much.
Q#16 – PAULA: In other words, something like one novel every 5 months or so? Will that about do it?
Speed can be good, but reliability is much more important. If you tell a publisher, “I can write a book a year” they will schedule you like that, and if you don’t deliver on time, it messes a LOT of things up. How would you feel, if I, your salespersonvolk, said, “oh, sorry, I had “salesmansblock” last three months, and couldn’t get around to selling your book, but I’m feeling really optimistic now, and should be able to sell it in the next few months”?
The question is, are you a professional writer, or an amateur? A professional meets deadlines, maintains his/her social media, helps get the word out, presses the flesh, signs books, answers fanmail, etc etc. They do not whine about “writersblockenspiel.” Sad but true. Writers are published as much for WHO THEY ARE as for WHAT THEY WRITE. You have to have BOTH now. Better to be a beekeeper in AR who writes about bees, blogs about bees, sells bee honey, than a retired accountant in a trailer in 1000 Palms writing about a detective on the UP in MI. Capice?
Q#17- PAULA: So, if you were an unpublished writer of hmm…. advancing middle age. One who procrastinates and is easily distracted, would you be inclined to:
a) make submissions through the conventional process (send out queries to agents, wait. Send out more queries. Wait. Send out more queries. Give up and write another book and try, try, try, again and again to get represented with the aim of selling your book to a traditional publishing houses?
Yes. Write an extraordinary book. That is actually quite important. Not a “good” book. Not an “ok” book. Not a book that “needs a little work.” A book that makes someone stay up until 3 to finish it, and then wants to tell everyone “you’ve GOT to read this!” These are books publishers look for…and pay for.
b) take a good long, hard look at self- publishing?
VLAD: Yes. You can write a not-so-good book and throw it up on Amazon. Someone will probably read it if it is 99 cents or less. Then they will tell you, “this is not such a great book.” You will think, “what a schmuck.” Someone else will read, and say “the other reviewer was being kind. This book sucks!” And you will think, “what a poor deluded soul.” Then maybe, if you are very, very, lucky, someone ( your Mom?) will say, “these other two reviewers have missed the depth and wonder of this extraordinary piece of writing, I can’t wait to read what they write next!” And you will think “GENIUS!” But there is value in feedback and just getting your work out in front of readers. I am a little surprised that more people are not using Amazon to write serial novels (like magazines used to publish). If you sold two chapters for 25 cents, then the number of people willing to buy chapters 3 – 4, would pretty much tell you if you’re on track…and if no one buys, start a new novel…
Q#18 PAULA: Oh wait. maybe that question could get you into trouble?
VLAD: Everything gets me in trouble.
Q#19 – PAULA: Don’t answer if you’re going to get into trouble. We don’t want to get you into trouble.
VLAD: My middle name is Trouble. Vlad Trouble Van HelsingkvolkpersonVYes, I sell books that I love, and books that I hate, and books I wonder why in hell they were ever published. I am sorry to say, I don’t believe there are very many “great books” that never get published. As far as I am concerned there are too many books published.
Q#20: PAULA: Well, that’s about it Vlad. Unless you have any other advice for my 5writer colleagues?
- VLAD: 3D printers (with apologies to The Graduate)
- PAULA: I mean I know you aren’t an agent or editor, but you do sell the books that make the authors $$$$. Even a lot of vampire books.
VLAD: Yes, I sell books that I love, and books that I hate, and books I wonder why in hell they were ever published. I am sorry to say, I don’t believe there are very many “great books” that never get published. As far as I am concerned there are too many books published.
PAULA: I know you know a lot about the biz. So this is your big chance to spew. What are your top, tips for getting a shot at getting published?
It’s really very easy.
Write an extraordinary book
Send to the right agent.
Let the agent sell to the right editor/publishing house
Let the editor “sell” the book “in-house” to create enthusiasm. Have all the sales reps read and love it.
Let the salespeople’s enthusiasm get booksellers to read and love your book.
Let the publicity and marketing people get reviewers, TV shows, Bloggers, etc to read and love your book
Let all those people get consumers to read and love your book.
Nothing to it.
PAULA: Thanks Vlad.
VLAD: You’re Very Velcome.