al berrios & co. CONSUMER STRATEGIES REPORT 08.05.03: Writing A Book
THIS WEEK'S CONTENTS ARE:
 UPDATES: Newsletter Directory and Speaking Events
 EXECUTIVE LIFE: Writing A Book
 OPINION: Bush Defining Marriage Is Inappropriate
QUOTATION OF THE WEEK
"People would not be so elitist if they owned the company. If you're only publishing for an elite audience, you might be invited to more parties, but you will not sell many books," Gina Centrello, president and publisher, Random House Publishing Group.
Good morning execs,
Last week, al berrios & co. released its official list of newsletters that we subscribe to. al berrios & co. receives and reviews over 2500 newsletters per month from 300 different publishers, professional service firms, scholars and higher ed institutions, think tanks, government agencies, pr departments, political and labor activists, opinion leaders, artists, trade associations, networks, and company ads. This data is supplemented by our consumer research to give you the most current thinking available anywhere.
On Thursday, August 7, 2003, from 5:45pm until 7:45pm, I will be moderating an academic panel on "Personal Presentation and Negotiations" at Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business (where I am an adjunct professor). Speakers include senior recruiters from Department of Labor, Michael Levine Search Consultants, and Metropolitan Temporaries. RSVP by replying to this email. There is no cost to attend if you've received this email.
On Thursday, August 14, 2003, same time and place, I will be moderating our final academic panel of the summer titled, "After The Close - Advanced Negotiations". Speakers include successful entrepreneurs and advisors. RSVP by replying to this email. There is no cost to attend this event either if you've received this email.
On Monday, September 22nd, 2003, I will be presenting the first ever, public study on the premium cable consumer, authored by yours truly, which will also introduce our innovative research methodology to the research community at the Advertising Research Federation's Week of Workshops conference at the Crowne Plaza in New York's Time Square. I welcome you to attend to learn a bunch of new things, if not from me, then from other notable researchers. You can check out the ARF's site for details or download a brochure in Adobe PDF format. (Get Adobe Acrobat reader.)
Enjoy your REPORT!
Writing A Book
> What I'm Reading, So Why Not?
> The Book Business Plan
> "Show Me The Money"
> The State of The Business
> What They Don't Tell You
> The Nature of the Business
So, you want to write a book and don't know how. In this new series by Al Berrios, I'm going to take you through the system of doing things that have always been in the back of your mind, but you just haven't gotten around to it. Guess what, you aren't the only one thinking about it, and hopefully, this new series will help you figure out if it's something you really want to do. Although based on my own experiences in trying to get it done, as usual, I will be recommending articles and other research you should check out to further your understanding. I hope you find this new series valuable.
I've always said that I never wanted to write a book, particularly since I couldn't think of who'd want to read it. That's why I decided to write a newsletter. And even now, a newsletter still makes more sense because it can be updated perpetually, whereas a book gets old and stale.
In April of this year, I attended a book signing ("NYU Stern Lecture Series: John Steele Gordon on "The Great Game" and "The Thread Across the Ocean") and had the opportunity to ask a question that stumped the author, an expert financial historian. This caught the attention of the author's publisher who then proceeded to tell me I should consider writing a book. It's one thing when a regular person tells you to consider writing a book, it's a whole other thing when a publisher of the author you came to hear tells you to consider it. That piqued my curiosity and the very next week I called him up to pick his brain. Big mistake. It took me no less than three weeks to pin him down. And when I did, he was too busy reading manuscripts to even point me in the right direction.
I suppose it was my fault for not having done research on the industry before calling him, however, as I quickly learned, the entire industry naturally creates obstacles like this for the curious writer. Like most intellectual(?) and/or creative industries, the book business is extremely insular and elitist, and if you don't start out at the bottom, there's almost no way in.
What I'm Reading, So Why Not?
It wasn't that I was brushed off that motivated me to pursue something I really wasn't interested in. It was that during some post-rejection research, surfing around Amazon, and renewing my interesting in reading books, that I realized that there are some serious bozos writing out there that I knew I was better than. How could I not write a book? For me, this was a huge epiphany. To put it into context for you, I review approximately 2500 email newsletters monthly from many important institutions and even some not-so-serious sources. This has been a hobby of mine for about 2 years now and if I can get the most cutting edge information from this, why bother reading (or writing) books?
Well, just before April, I had read "Goldman Sachs" by Lisa Endlich and "The House of Rothschild" by Niall Furgeson. Thinking about the sort of books that interested me (historical/biographical accounts based on in-depth interviews and research), I then decided to read "The Predators' Ball" by Connie Bruck, then "The Prince" by Machiavelli, "The McKinsey Way" by Ethan Rasiel, "Tearing Down the Walls" by Monica Langley, and finally "The Iron Triangle" by Dan Briody during the last 5 months. I'm currently on "Bargaining for Advantage" by G. Richard Shell, "Baruch", an autobiography by Bernard Baruch, "Mein Kampf" by Adolf Hitler, and "Titan" (about Rockefeller, Sr.) by Ron Chernow. Bottom line, by understanding what happened before, I can put all this cutting edge information from newsletters into better perspective. And by putting it all together, I had enough material, including my own research, to write a better management book. The problem, what kind of management book?
The Book Business Plan
It didn't take long before I contacted John Wiley and Sons, one of the premiere business publishers. I was directed to a young lady that treated me, I felt, like she was fresh out of school high school. Granted, she had no way of knowing what I was all about when we first spoke, however, if this is the caliber of people that I had to start out with, then I started to understand why it's so difficult to start out.
She did offer me valuable information that inspired me to originally write an Industry Report on the subject (which, due to recent conversations with other executives, inspired me to write my research as a lifestyle series instead): first, write a business plan for a book, including marketing plan, then submit for approval. If approved, write it, implement your marketing plan, which will include you taking a break from your life to go on a ludicrous amount of book signing tours, managing your own public relations efforts, spamming your client's email, and most disgusting of all, when published, buying a minimum of 5,000 copies, in the event your book doesn't sell, Wiley is covered. Wow, I thought, what a f*cked up business. If I'm doing all the work AND buying it, what good are publishers?
Undeterred, I decided on a topic that implemented my theories and research on irrational consumer behavior and continued my research on how to get published without having to go through the standard process. During one of my visits to another publisher's sites, I learned that they wouldn't accept any book submissions or even phone calls without agent representation. Agent representation? So, I've got to pay for my own marketing, buy my own books, but now, I've also got to pay an agent. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some cheap bastard, however, when I set out to write a book, this was not what I had in mind. And as a result, any new expense was more than I was willing to accept.
"Show Me The Money"
So, I started researching literary agents. Obstacle number two. Literary agents are so busy reading manuscripts that something like 2% of them have websites. There are hundreds of them listed on websites such as Writers.net and LiteraryAgents.org, however, many of them are unreliable at best, and there's no way to determine that before selecting your agent.
The irony was that when I finally narrowed it down to an agent that may accept my idea for a book, he told me the exact same thing John Wiley & Sons told me. I was awestruck that it was this difficult to penetrate the industry. But, I wasn't through yet and continued my research into the industry. Here are our alternatives:
1) use some of our companies'
marketing budget to print and publish our books. Use our client and employee
contact lists to distribute our books. This eliminates the publisher and agent
from the process, leaving more money in our pockets from sales; or
2) write an e-book and distribute it the same way.
The State of The Business
How did things get so bad? A look at the current state of book publishing reveals that it's no longer the industry it used to be, however, its insular culture doesn't want to accept it. Recently, AOL Time Warner attempted to sell its book division, but changed its mind when the buyer, Random House, changed its mind about the price. Random House, the 800-lb gorilla has also been cleaning house with those elitist types and emphasizing profits. "People would not be so elitist if they owned the company. If you're only publishing for an elite audience, you might be invited to more parties, but you will not sell many books," Gina Centrello, president and publisher, Random House Publishing Group. (Hirschberg, Lynn, "Nothing Random", New York Times Magazine, July 20, 2003).
Although there are no other books other than your own, the publishers don't see it that way. This is a numbers business, and the more writers they publish, the greater their chances of hitting it big. As a result of publishing so many different books (as many as 150,000 in 2002), publishers cannot afford to spend on books that haven't proven themselves with consumers. Honestly, if you wrote a book about business, how many people would really be interested? How about one about irrationality? (Although there are precedents from academics like Gary Stanley Becker, Daniel Kahneman, and Richard H. Thaler, publishers will claim that this sort of book just doesn't appeal to the mass consumer, and therefore, not worth publishing. However, to this, I say, bullcrap. If Adam Smith can sell millions of books talking about economics at its most dreary, surely I can sell a book on helping companies develop relationships with the irrational consumer.)
To make things worse for publishers, elitist writing is rapidly getting replaced by commercial writing, like suspense and romance novels, but elitist publishers haven't totally faded away into the sunset, and although consumers (unfortunately) continue to demand visual entertainment more than they demand intelligent writing (the domain of elitists and some evidence of which has been presented in our discussions on the state of news content), sucking down every byte of media diarrhea that spews from any orifice of our media daddies, a culture clash is destroying the old business models and opening up a whole new world of cross-media, ad-platform, strategic publishing that keeps the business the domain of the few.
What They Don't Tell You
Imagine if you had thousands of products, how would you market them all? Each major book publisher faces this challenge, so it naturally falls on the writer to do everything they can. And increasingly, this includes getting blurbs for the jacket of your book from other prominent writers. "Today, blurbs are considered so powerful that some literary agents are going to publishers with blurbs in hand to help persuade editors to buy their books," Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A., "What's An Author To Do With No Blurb On The Book Jacket?", Wall Street Journal, 7/30/03
The problem is, in order to get a blurb, these prominent writer folks have to read your entire manuscript. And the more prominent they are, the more manuscripts they're solicited with, leaving barely any time for them to write for their prominence. Imagine being inundated with dozens of novels for your opinion, while you're busy trying to do what you love more - writing? According to the industry, this tactic is crucial marketing for your book in the fight for differentiation. It helps readers because if their favorite author liked your book, they would, too. But the solicitations have gotten so bad that authors just aren't offering blurbs any more, even if they received them when they started out. Today, it takes an average of 6 to 8 months of non-stop persistency to get enough blurbs to fill the back of a book jacket, unless you're Stephen King.
The Nature of the Business
Who's to say your idea for a book is good or not? And after you write it, who's to say your writing is good or bad? Creativity is subjective, and as a result, everyone believes they can write. And everyone does write, presenting our culture with the most abundant amount of information and entertainment in history. Publishers take advantage of this to become unofficial gatekeepers to what they deem genuine creative and take a cut out of every dollar you're entitled to with the promise of direction and support. And even though almost every writer acknowledges the support of their editor, few don't understand the business well enough to eliminate the publisher.
If you did it by yourself: You come up with your idea for a book topic; you create a business plan for it; you create a marketing plan for it; you write it; you have to convince others to read it for endorsements (blurbs); you have to make accessible to a public (either by printing and binding, audio, or electronic); you have to get distribution for it (via retail, media, or "alternative" channels); you have to execute your marketing plan; you make money.
If you did it with a publisher: You come up with your idea for a book topic; you create a business plan for it; you create a marketing plan for it; you write it; you have to convince others to read it for endorsements (blurbs); you have to get an agent to sell it to an editor; your editor enlightens you as to "what works and what doesn't" with readers so you end up having to change what you thought was creative genius; your publisher publishes it and gets it into the stores; you have to execute your marketing plan; you make less money than you thought because the agent and the publisher are now standing between you and your reader.
In my opinion, the best way to know whether you're a good writer or not is to start small, with articles, then journals, then newsletters, then reports, until you've got enough material to write a book. If your audience likes what you do, then it's safe to conclude that there may be a larger audience for your work out there. If you wrote one or two articles to less-than-enthusiastic reception, you can either continue to work on your ability or give up and let someone more creative do the writing.
Don't be disheartened by the process or if you believe yourself to be untalented. If you've built your company, made it to the top, received so many degrees, or believe your interesting perspectives and quirks are good enough, write. With so much data out there to consume, consumers have trended towards data relevant just to them. In other words, niche is in, and if you're only able to attract a few hundred or even thousand people to your writing, you're a successful writer.
Bush Defining Marriage Is Inappropriate
It is unacceptable that a personal definition of marriage should be imposed on the rest of us. What's next? Definition of human? Imagine the Bush administration defining what sort of person can be constitutionally recognized as human, and anything not within that definition, tough luck? Anyone want to buy a slave real cheap? Maybe we should shoot anyone of Arabic descent on sight because they gave birth to an Osama and a Sadam, so they can't possibly be human?
Who's exaggerating? By denying legal recognition of same-sex marriages, we're denying the civil rights of humans, regardless of their sexual preferences. And why? Because they prefer something the general public doesn't? And sending our young men and women off to die on false information for the sake of keeping fat cats fatter is all right? For Bush to get involved with my beliefs is a little extreme for me, but I understand why he's doing it: a) election season's here and he needs to start changing to subject of attention from his screw-ups to his re-election platform and b) choosing sides has historically served as a strategic advantage during battles. You may not win all the votes, but you can win the ones that count, and apparently, the ones that count in America aren't ready to have gays enjoy the same legal status as them.
I started debating this subject with my friends, who believe in what Bush has done, but without reason. As I struggled to understand their position, I thought that perhaps by making the issue legal, Bush is attempting to bring resolution to the countless families arguing for ownership of the possessions of gay relatives who have passed away, from their gay partners. However, even opposite sex marriages have problems in such cases. So then, what about benefits coverage, inheritance issues, etc. Again, these things have resolutions in gay relations. So then, why would Bush address such a sensitive subject so boldly? Particularly in light of widespread benefits coverage recognition of same-sex partners by corporate America, Wal-Mart being the most notable?
Corporate America, in its quest for profit, looks at developing relationships with gays as a step in the right direction. Politicians, in their quest for votes, don't. Women and black people were minorities once and America was forced to recognize their rights, too. So, with such historical precedence, how can we all still think this way in 2003? Who still thinks there's no need to understand irrationality in strategy?
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