Thursday, June 28, 2007

Taking the initiative

TNWhat I Meant...

My friend and a co-founding member of our writers group Rebel Writers of Bucks County, Marie Lamba, wrote a wonderful YA novel entitled 'What I meant...' that's scheduled to come out in July. It's receiving great reviews that'll post after publication and have selected it as a Summer Pick. (You can click to Marie's website via my sidebar.)

Marie learned yesterday from her agent that Random House will not be publishing What I softcover and her already approved sequel.

Naturally, Marie was devastated.

A fighter who takes charge of her destiny and aware that decisions can be reversed, Marie has developed a strategy to save her book and has emailed all her friends and requested them to help by buying the book from Amazon and B& as pressies for girls aged twelve through adult and it's working.

The day of an author sitting in an ivory tower churning out novels and/or nonfiction and insisting it's their publishers responsibility to market their precious darlings and their duty is only to write gorgeous prose is well and truly over in this age of the internet. Authors need to develop time-management skills and write as well as help their publishers market their work. But this is a double edged sword and publishers, especially the large commercial houses, need to reprogram and come to see that authors can be an integral part of the entire project, not just the producers of the raw material.(Granted some authors will be incapable of wearing a marketing hat or be clueless as to who the audience is for their work, but they are in the minority, I feel.) My publisher involved me in the process, sought out my marketing ideas, called me in to the sales meeting to present my book to the teams, and we brainstormed. Sell-in to the chains was excellent as a result of the synergy and A Son Called Gabriel became an ABA Booksense Pick with independents as a result.

There's just too many forms of entertainment competing for the consumers dollar so all steps have to be investigated within budget.

Here's my interview:

Hello Marie, thanks for dropping by and it's nice to chat about books in a forum outside see our writers group

Thanks! It's great to be here.

What's What I meant about...?

What I Meant... is the story of 15-year-old Sang Jumnal, who is crazy about a guy, but her Indian dad won't let her date until she is 16, maybe. And her American mom, who usually sticks up for Sang, suddenly thinks she's a liar, a thief and a bulimic. Sang knows why. Her aunt, who has been living with them for a few months, has been stealing food and money and setting up Sang to take the blame. But who will believe a 15 year old over an adult?

Who do you think the reader is for this work?

Girls ages 12 through adult (including the adult chick-lit audience) will get a kick out of this comic novel. There's lots of wacky humor, so it's a fun read, but there is also a more serious theme. Here a girl must fight to be believed, even when an adult is lying about her to everyone. When all the truth finally comes out, it's a humbling moment for her parents and a touching moment for Sang. I think this appeals to any teen who has told the truth, but wasn't believed or trusted.

The book will also will have a huge appeal to biracial kids, and Indian teens.

Tell us about the day your agent told you the novel had sold?

You know, all I remember is saying, "You're kidding," over and over again. Then I called my husband, and he said, "You're kidding," over and over again. I wandered around the streets smiling like an idiot for hours. All those years of struggle had finally paid off!

What has the editing process been like?

First of all, I have the world's best writer's group, with wise mentors like one Damian McNicholl on it. My group helped me focus my novel, and shaped it up before I even sent it out. Then the editor at Random House sent me this huge letter of suggested changes, and words of encouragement. No contract, though. This was clearly a test. I spoke with her on the phone first, to understand her vision. Fortunately I totally agreed with her suggestions! Then I set to work. The contract for a two book deal soon followed, along with several months of back and forth corrections. My editor was wonderful. She'd suggest changes, never demand. I usually agreed with them, though, because they made a ton of sense.

How have you found the process of working with a publisher? Frustrations, joys, laughs

For writers, working with a publisher really translates to working with an editor, which was great. I've never met anyone else at Random House, truthfully. And I just started working with my publicist there, a nice person who I've emailed back and forth with.

Okay, now to the turmoil of the other day. Tell us what happened and how you felt about it?

Two days ago, less than a month prior to publication of my novel, my agent called to tell me she had terrible news. My already written and accepted sequel What I Said..., which was to appear in 2008, was cancelled. The paperback of What I Meant... was cancelled. The hardcover of What I Meant... was being printed but at a smaller than anticipated number. The reason? Prepublication sales were low because the major chains mostly passed on carrying What I Meant... I don't know why. Perhaps they didn't know where to put a YA novel that was clean enough to be enjoyed by younger readers, too. There is nothing wrong with the book, which is being enjoyed by reviewers.

Naturally I am devastated and heartbroken. I haven't slept much since...

Would it have helped if you could have met with the salesforce and been able to have given them pointers, do you think?

Definitely. Who can pitch a book better than the author? As you can see, authors are simply not involved in sales at all. In a way I can understand it. Can you imagine the zillions of authors that'd be running around these meetings? All with varying degrees of abilities to pitch and speak to a sales force? But on the other hand, I certainly could have helped. This book has a huge market and a wide appeal.

Have you done or been allowed to do any marketing for the book?

The publicity department at Random House has been sending out press announcing the book's publication. Because it won't be seen in most chain stores, I know I have to get involved by really stepping things up if I want to get this book into the hands of readers throughout the country. I've laid a lot of groundwork on my own, and that is definitely paying off now.

I have a website A myspace page with lots of friends and groups. I've participated in blogs and contacted other authors. And I've just begun to spread the word that this book needs extraordinary support from readers in order to succeed.

One thing I'm doing on my own is helping out girl scout senior and cadette scouts throughout the area by offering a workshop. In 2 hours they can earn a Reading badge that would take them normally about 2-3 months to earn, and at the end of the workshop they each get a signed copy of my book. Various girl scout councils are getting excited about this, and it ensures anywhere from 10-100 book sales per event. I hope to do much more of these in the future, and will drive throughout PA, NJ and perhaps even NY or DE, depending on the venue, if any readers out in cyberspace are interested in setting up a date.

How did you come up with the strategy to 'save' your book?

I came up with this strategy because, quite simply, I had to. I couldn't let this book I'd believed in so much die quietly. Nevermind my poor sequel.

My strategy is this: I figure the only way to save What I Meant... is if there are massive pre-orders, followed by a groundswell of support. We need to quickly sell out the first smaller printing and go into reprint. We need readers, press, and bookstores to take notice. I'm contacting EVERYBODY I know and asking them to please pre-order ASAP through their local bookseller, or I'm asking people to talk to librarians and bookstore managers to tell them that this book is in trouble, not because it is a bad book, but because pre-publication sales were low. If we all ask them to champion this cause, help the underdog, great things can happen. A great time to ask booksellers about What I Meant... is when readers go in to pick up their copy of Harry Potter. What I Meant... will be out just three days after Harry Potter.

You know, without the Internet, it'd definitely be over. But now with a click of a button, thousands of people are informed. It is truly miraculous. I am overwhelmed with the support and kind words I've received. I watch my numbers on amazon and barnesandnoble improving by the second. I read about people who have bought 4 copies, forwarded my message to 100 people, to 14,000 people even, and I feel so lucky to have people like this in the world.

What words of wisdom do you have for a writer about to enter the process?

You know what? All I can say is be brave and believe in yourself against all odds. It ain't over till it's over. But then again, we writers already know that!

Thanks for these insights, Marie.
And let's wish Marie lots of good luck as she moves to turn the fortunes of her first novel around.

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