Blue Leaf Publications publishes science fiction, fantasy, and romance novels in print and electronic formats. Learn more here.
SQF: According to a report by Foner Books (http://fonerbooks.com/booksale.htm), “[g]rowth stagnated for booksellers in 2008, and overall book sales barely moved according to the government.” In addition, I’ve read a number of articles concerning the difficulty authors are having securing book deals. In your opinion, what is the current state of the print book market?
BLP: The print market is still there, it’s just sometimes a bit harder to reach. In December 2009, Bowker’s PubTrack reported that “nearly 34% of Americans...are cutting down on how many books they are purchasing due to the economic downturn,” so it’s obvious that many consumers are changing their spending habits and limiting the impulse buys. Yet it doesn’t mean they aren’t reading. If anything, they’re being more careful in what they do purchase and may not be spending as much. Plus with the growing popularity of electronic readers and the lower cost of ebooks—which appeals to those looking to save money—consumers are also purchasing books in formats other than print, which influences the overall total number of print copies sold. It also has to be noted that it is the traditional print market that has flattened, whereas the digital print industry is still showing growth, with a measurable “181% increase over 2008,” nonetheless. Overall, I still believe there is a sustainable market for print books but, as with any product, it will just take a bit more ingenuity and creativity in both production and methodology to prompt the book buyers to buy.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?
BLP: Writing that can hold my attention beyond the first page. This is said with the understanding that many editors want the first line, whereas I recognize some writers can be slow to start, so I like to give them a page or two to get going. If it’s good enough, we can always correct the “first line” issue later. Another thing, I like to have my senses involved. I want to see what the author is seeing and feel what their character is feeling. Pacing and tension are also important to me, as is good self-editing.
SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?
BLP: First, they don’t read the submission guidelines, and if they do, they don’t follow them. It’s obvious when an author doesn’t do their homework to find out what we’re looking for. Not sending the requested material is another one. Authors have to remember that if they don’t send the synopsis and first few chapters, I can’t assess the work and I don’t have the time to chase it down. Also, another big mistake is saying that “we just have to publish this work because it’s guaranteed to be the next big seller.” That’s great that a writer believes so much in their work, and I like to see that confidence; but they need to keep in mind that we, as a publishing business, also have to see the potential for our investment before any decisions can be made.
SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?
BLP: A third to a half of our yearly releases depending on how many titles we accept. I have no qualms about taking on a new author because when it comes to accepting (or not accepting) a title, it’s more about the quality of the manuscript, not the experience of the author.
SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?
BLP: Chase the big dogs first. Identify your genre and market, do your research, find out who the larger firms and agents are, make sure they are reputable, then shop them before moving down the ranks. Why? Because you never know, you just might actually have that “next great bestseller.”
SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?
BLP: What should a new author do before shopping their work around to agents and publishers?
Write it. Edit it. Edit it again. Edit it until there’s no more red ink left in the pen. Have it beta’d by someone who is not a friend, relative, or co-worker; someone who will be honest with the work and who cares enough to make it hurt. A lot. Then rewrite it and run it through a critique group, or two. Tighten it, shred it, hack away at it, wrest every last inch of life out of it until both the manuscript and author are screaming for mercy...then think about submitting it.
For additional reading:
One in Three Americans Cutting Back on Book Purchases Due to Economy, According to Bowker’s New PubTrack Consumer Survey.
Bowker Reports Traditional U.S. Book Production Flat in 2009 Explosive growth in “print on demand” drives total production past the million mark.
Thank you, Dehanna and J. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
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