Publishing

Who Hires a Book Editor?

“Who hires a book editor?” was my question when I joined Yellow Bird and another online editing company in 2014. I had spent 23 years writing and editing for large, traditional publishing companies before getting into the online, edit-for-anybody business.

Many authors in search of an editor are aspiring novelists, and the quality of their writing varies dramatically. Some are professional level. Others are great storytellers but their grammar is a disaster—or vice versa. I’m amazed by the number of fantasy and sci-fi submissions. Some of these books are in excess of 200,000 words, with the author often asserting that his or her initial book is the first of a trilogy. I edited one author who penned a 130,000-word fantasy novel and said it was the first book of a three-trilogy set! What’s 9 x 130,000?

I have edited both fiction and nonfiction over the last two years, and I’ve been blown away by the variety of the subject matter. These are some of the online nonfiction submissions I’ve edited:

  • Brennan, a special-ops soldier, wrote about his experiences in Iraq—about his desire to kill and how fellow soldiers exploded into pink mist before his eyes. Derek, a jaded platoon medic, told Brennan: “That’s why we’re dying. People want training and the military to be all soft and cuddly but then wonder why their overweight, television-addicted little pussy got his arms blown off because he wasn’t looking around properly because he has the attention span of a hummingbird.”
  • Jeff, a former Hollywood prostitute and Colt Studios model, wrote about the famous gay men he slept with, including Elton John!
  • Keena grew up in the African bush as the daughter of paleontologists. Her diaries discussed her life-and-death adventures with lions, hippos, and crazy baboons…and the scariest creatures of all: junior high girls when she returned to suburban Philadelphia.
  • Rex penned a biography of fellow Vietnam War veteran Ace Cozzalio, an eccentric, heroic helicopter pilot who always wore an 1800s cavalry uniform, complete with white hat and saber.
  • Tina was raised by a coldhearted mother who adopted (basically stole) Tina’s two children and prevented her from seeing them for 15 years.
  • Author Damon reminded me of a black Forest Gump. He was confined to juvenile detention simply because his father wanted him to be more disciplined; was unjustifiably bullied by cops on the streets of L.A.; lived through the Watts riot of 1965; and explored drugs in Vietnam, which caused him to attack his officer.
  • David, who created the live play-by-play technology that you see on MLB.com and ESPN.com, described his court battles with Major League Baseball, which tried to use its legal muscle to invalidate his patents.
  • Tana was looking for a roommate after her divorce. She found a seemingly nice fellow who owned a house in Florida who agreed to rent her a room…then turned psycho and wouldn’t let her leave the house!

What’s your story?

How to Sell 10,000 Copies of a Book

Brennan Morton published DYING FOR STRANGERS only on Amazon, and despite zero publicity sold 30 books a day over the first several months.

Brennan Morton published DYING FOR STRANGERS only on Amazon, and despite zero publicity sold 30 books a day over the first several months.

In my 20 years at Publications International, I edited books that generated more than $15 million in revenue. They never made the literary circles, but they did stack high on tables at Costco and Sam’s Club—and to a lesser extent they lined the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble. We were in the “bargain book business”; i.e., we published attractive coffee table books on subjects with wide popularity—Players of Cooperstown,America’s Lighthouses—and sold them for a relatively low price. They often made nice gifts for Junior on his birthday or Grandpa on Father’s Day. We’d easily sell 10,000 copies of a book, and sometimes we’d sell in the hundreds of thousands. My book The Love of Baseball sold close to 300,000 copies.

Unfortunately for Publications International, people don’t buy bargain books anymore. They’ve lost their wow factor in this era of smartphones, tablets, and online videos. Every publisher struggles to sell books nowadays, and 10,000 copies is usually an unreachable goal.

But it can be done, and you don’t need to be an established author to pull it off.

One way is to choose a subject that’s immensely popular and strike when the time is right. Triumph Books, which specializes in sports, struck gold with books on New Direction, which hit stores just as the boy band was rising up the charts and girls’ hormones were raging. These books were by far Triumph’s biggest sellers in recent years.

Another example is Derek Jeter #2: Thanks for the Memories, authored by my colleague David Fischer. David understood that a tribute book on the legendary shortstop would sell like hot dogs at a Yankees game if it came out around his retirement. Yankees fans would want a keepsake of their hero, and—since he would retire in the fall—it would make a perfect Christmas gift. Fischer pitched the idea to publishers about a year in advance of DJ’s retirement, and Skyhorse bought it. The advance was low but the royalties were high, because the book sold more than 10,000 copies from October 2014 to January 2015.

Now, a traditional publisher won’t just let any shmoe write their books. Fischer, for example, already had several baseball books under his belt, including tomes on the Yankees. You typically need to be a skilled writer and build a body of work before a publisher will put its faith in you. However, if you have a great idea and a winning proposal, you could consider partnering with an established author. You’ve got the goods; they’ve got the cred.

Through rare, it’s also possible to sell thousands of copies of a self-published book. Recently I edited the raw manuscript of Dying for Strangers: Memoirs of a Special Ops Operator in Iraq. Author Brennan Morton, a highly descriptive writer, provides little-known, fascinating insight into the Iraq War. Here he describes his emotions after a general told his platoon to, for PR and political reasons, release Iraqi aggressors: “Fat tears burned down my cheeks as I gripped the steering wheel so tightly I thought the tiny bones in my hands would finally shatter. I cried so hard that I could hardly see the road. My anger choked me until I gasped and screamed as the men seated around me dealt with the anger in their own way.”

Brennan not only enchants readers with his writing ability and subject matter, he also writes to a large, underserved audience: those searching for unfiltered truth about U.S. military operations. Brennan published the book only on Amazon, and despite zero publicity he was selling about 30 books a day over the first several months. In other words, he was on a 10,000-a-year pace.

Writing skills. Subject Matter. Timing. If you get it all right, you could be on your way to 10,000 copies.