Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Publishing trophies come in three forms: signed contracts, making a best-seller list, and winning a writing award. But, with all the changes in the publishing industry, these trophies are beginning to look like kids’ sports trophies–if you were on the team, you receive a trophy. That way everyone wins; but that also means trophies lose meaning. Here are some hints to figure out what’s what:
Signed contracts. Scrolling through posts on Facebook, I see plenty of pics of writers turning into authors as they sign their first book contract. It is a heady moment, and the writers have worked diligently and probably for years to arrive there. But a contract with a tiny indie publisher that includes little or no advance is not the same as a contract with a long-established and revered publishing venue–let alone a contract with one of the Big Five.
Not that all writers should strive to publish with one of the largestpublishers in the world. Many projects would simply be swallowed by the big boy authors who swim in those roiling waters. But the difference between signing with a publisher who will sell a couple hundred copies of your book and signing with a publisher who can bring in thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of copies sold is like the difference between riding a tricycle and revving the engines of a Harley. Yes, it’s a triumph to ride either, but they’re almost not the same thing.
Making a best-seller list. You may have read about marketer Brent Underwood’s hoax in which he created a #1 Amazon best-seller with $3 and in five minutes. He recounts how he created a wordless book and sold three copies to make his book a best-seller here.
Underwood explains the trophy aspect of writing (or in his case “creating”) a best-seller:
The reason people aspire to call themselves “bestselling author” is because it dramatically increases your credibility and “personal brand.” It can establish you as a thought leader. You’re able to show that you not only wrote a book, but that the market has judged it to be better than other books out there. It’s a status symbol, one that cashes in on the prestige of one of man’s oldest past-times. At last, I had acquired this coveted title for myself.
Underwood set out to reach best-sellerdom to make a point: If you become an Amazon #1 best-seller, that might be akin to the kid who showed up for every grade school baseball game wearing a uniform. If you understand what you need to do to win the trophy, it’s not all that hard to achieve.
Now, legitimately winning a spot on the New York Times list, Publishers Weekly list, USA Today list, ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers) list is not so easily achieved and holds real meaning.
Even managing #1 best-selling status on Amazon can mean significant sales have occurred. The caveat with Amazon is that fame can be fleeting (capture a screen shot of that #1 status because it can be gone in the next hour). And the book must achieve that status in highly-competitive categories (parenting, historical fiction, cookbooks, etc.). Or, your goal might be to demonstrate that you can reach a significantly large segment of readers in a specific category (say, gluten free cookbooks).
A book that’s hot right now on Amazon shows it is selling signifcant numbers of copies by its rankings. Quieting Your Heart: Six-Month Bible Study Journal by Darlene Schacht is ranked at this moment like this:
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
This title is #1 in the top 100 of all books, #1 in the all-the-rage coloring books for grown-ups category, #1 in humor and entertainment, and #1 in worship and devotion (this category includes all devotional books, including the huge NYT best-seller, Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling). And, get this, Quieting Your Heart is a self-published book, which means the best distribution plan is sell it on Amazon.
I’m pretty sure publishers are vigorously explaining to Ms Schacht why her next book should be traditionally published–and why she should bring Quieting Your Heart into their waiting arms. That’s because publishers understand those rankings are impressive but also that they can distribute it in places Ms. Schacht can’t reach.
But it takes knowing the details to ferret out whether Amazon #1 best-seller holds any meaning beyond the author being wildly successful in books about feet, like Mr. Underwood. (Underwood’s book has now been moved from the foot category into the “parodies” category, and alas, is no longer a best-seller.)
Winning a writing award. We all know that winning a Pulitzer or a Man Booker Award or an Orange Prize (now known as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction–way to kill the value of being branded the Orange Prize, by the way) indicates your book is several cuts above all other books and worthy of a sticker on the cover. But what if you win a writing award at your favorite, small-but-national writing conference?
My clients frequently ask me which writing contests they should enter their books in (or request their publishers to). That’s because writers don’t know what award will be meaningful to publishers and bookstore buyers, let alone to readers.
While it’s affirming to win an award at the small writing conference, it holds little merit beyond that sphere. It’s like being named Most Valuable Player on your grade school’s team. Nice but shoulder-shrugging-worthy in the larger scheme of things.
Awards of real merit are those awarded:
- For quality of writing, judged by those capable of grasping such things (not one’s fellow writing friends).
- In a national competition with significant entries (at least hundreds) in every category.
- By an organization that has shown through the years that those selected were worthy of the honor of being declared a cut above in the writing.
The waters are muddy in each of these three areas–signing a contract, writing a best-seller, and winning an award. Most individuals who work in publishing can figure out which trophy is meaningful and which one isn’t weighty. Writers often are befuddled by the possibilities and unsure what’s what. Even established authors have difficulty knowing which trophy is worthy of holding triumphantly over their heads and which is a nice pat on the back for showing up.
What other publishing trophies confuse you? Do you agree with me on which trophies are meaningful? What trophy are striving to attain?
Have publishing trophies become meaningless? Click to tweet.
How can you judge if a publishing trophy is meaningful? Click to tweet.
Written a bestseller? Is that a meaningful achievement? It depends. Click to tweet.