Hello, Red Room!
I'm brand-new here, but not to writing. I've published 13 self-help books since my first one in 1980.
Publishing and I have both been through a lot of ups and downs since 1978, when I signed my first book contract, and we're in the beginning throes of a new publishing revolution -- small presses, special focus online bookstores and new, small special interest bookstores are about to enter a boom phase. Not to mention e-books and the yet-unknown "Kindle" reader.
There may be some standard process other writers follow to get published, but for me it was accidental. Publishing was a very different business in 1980, when my first book was published. Small publishers thrived, and an unknown had a chance.
Boy, was I unknown: In 1975, divorced, bereft, and despairing, I took the psychotherapy training that became the basis for restructuring my life, and met Riley K. Smith, who became a lifelong friend, colleague and co-author. We both joined in a cooperative living situation with seven others. We wanted consensus, not majority vote, so Riley and I developed a way to solve problems cooperatively and reach consensus. This led to teaching a class at Los Angeles Community College, called "How to be a Couple and Still be Free." Hundreds of people showed up for those classes. We had to get bigger rooms. We needed a workbook, but every relationship book on the market in 1975 recommended sacrifice (compromise), and not cooperation. So, we cobbled together a primitive, typed manual.
Then Riley ran into Al Saunders, whose bookstore he had frequented. "I own Newcastle publishing company," said Al. I publish New Age and self-help books." Riley replied "I’m writing a sort of self-help book," and our first book was born.
In those pre-computer days, we wrote it on typewriters, and cut and pasted with scissors and tape. It was a mess! The book took five years from beginning to publication in 1980. How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free became Newcastle’s best-selling book.
As to PR, we were complete novices. The week we signed the contracts, Newcastle’s publicist called and said she had a TV program lined up for the publication date, which sent me into a panic attack. I had never known an author, much less been one. I had no idea what lay ahead. But Al introduced me to some of his other writers, and the publicist conducted mock radio and TV interviews, which calmed me down and gave me some confidence. What publisher would be so helpful today? They all want to publish writers who already have a "platform."
In the era of successful small publishing, networking led to success. After Newcastle published my first two books, I met editor Hank Stine, who introduced me to Jeremy P. Tarcher, who published my next three books. I loved being a Tarcher author, and Jeremy took personal interest in his authors, and sent me on a book tour with each book. His editors were first-rate, and gave me a valuable education. At Tarcher, I finally felt like a pro.
Then came the acquisitions period. In the middle of a twelve city tour to publicize The Real 13th Step, Tarcher was acquired by Putnam, the author/publisher relationship changed drastically. I signed with agent Laurie Harper and The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again was published by Macmillan in 1998 (and immediately sold to IDG) there was no budget at all for PR, but fortunately I had learned a lot by then, and the book was easy to promote. For the next three years, it passed from publisher to publisher, and I now feel lucky that it’s landed at Wiley, who have printed a new edition.
In 1999, HCI published The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before 40. HCI had just become hugely successful as the publisher of the Chicken Soup books, but retained the feel of a small publisher, taking interest in its authors. They invited me to sign at the BookExpo in Los Angeles in May, 1999, which, led to the Spanish edition and exciting tours of Mexico, Columbia and Costa Rica, including the FIL (International Book Fair) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Eventually, due to HCI’s foreign rights expertise, the book was published in 14 languages.
The Spanish version was published by Pearson Internacional, and, to my amazement and amusement, I found that, if I traced the corporate buyouts, almost all my books wound up under the Pearson umbrella. It didn’t matter who I signed with, corporate buyouts determined who would eventually be my publisher. I counted myself fortunate to have three books with the New Page Books division of Career Press. A small press I can count on to care about my backlist.
After six publishers, some huge ones, I now have two new books with Adams Press, coming out in 2008. Money, Sex and Kids was just published, and Commuter Marriage will be out in April. Each time I get a new book published, I am grateful for my mind, my experience and every person who participated to get me to this point. I say a silent prayer of thanks, show my friends and my husband, call my agent and we tell each other how good we are. I'm an author. I wrote a book. I love this stuff.
The days of big book tours are gone, and today, it's all about PR on the web, and "virtual tours." I'm learning a whole new ballgame.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about publishing, promotion and the publishing industry. As a mid-list author, with a very long-lasting backlist (How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free was published in 1980) it’s more important to me to have a publisher who will support my books for years.
Publishing history tells me that there is a huge gap in the book market today. Authors are unhappy with the shortsightedness of huge publishers who market books like cans of peas, and who drop books before they’ve even had a chance to create a market. Readers are not able to find the books they want, because the big chains focus only on bestsellers, publishers who can pay for shelf space, and old standbys. The World Wide Web makes it affordable for authors to promote their books, and to reach niche markets. The failure of e-books to sell in big numbers says that readers still want to turn pages, and browse in bookstores. New, specialty focus independent bookstores are already starting to spring up, and the advent of print-on-demand (POD) books means that more authors are self-publishing, and that plus the possibility of Web sales mean there is room for new small publishers in the market. These are exactly the conditions that encourage new enterprise and new publishing startups.
I’m looking forward to it.
I'd love to share PR secrets with other authors -- I'll tell you what I find works, and you tell me yours.
Causes Tina Tessina Supports
The Carter Center