A review of The Publishing Game series by Fern Reiss

Each chapter comprises a week, within which every day is set out. In other words, like any good time management consultant, Reiss has “chunked” the process into a set of fairly simple and straightforward steps to follow, some taking only a few minutes, and others taking the best part of a day, but all limited by Reiss’s structure. You could, of course, take more than 30 days, or you could take less, but following the plan as Reiss has laid it out, is the easiest way to get from concept to actualisation.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Publishing Game
By Fern Reiss
Peanut Butter and Jelly Press
Find an Agent in 30 Days
ISBN 1-893290-83-2
Publish a Book in 30 Days
ISBN 1-803290-85-9
Bestseller in 30 Days
ISBN 1-893290-88-3
Paperback, $20 each or all three books for $49

Everyone’s doing it. If you want to succeed in the publishing business, you simply have to take control of your book. Regardless of whether you publish yourself, or get picked up by a large or small publishing house, the bulk of your success will lie with your own efforts. But for a new author, the skills associated with the publishing game are completely different from those which make for a good writer. Unless you’ve got experience in the publishing industry, the learning curve is a steep one which comes as a shock after the solitary and lengthy effort of writing a book. Fern Reiss has become a household name in teaching authors how to become book sellers, and her three books on the topic are as must reads for anyone looking to turn their manuscript into a marketable book with decent sales figures. What order do they belong in? Well, it is easier to get published if you have an agent, and you need a published book to make a bestseller, so perhaps the ideal order is to read Find an Agent first, then Publish a Book and then Bestseller. Of course you don’t need to read these as a set. If you are self-publishing then you probably don’t want an agent. And if you already have a published book, you don’t need Publish a Book in 30 Days. Each book is fully self-contained and there are a few minor overlaps, but the books do work very well as a set which takes the author through all of those difficult steps that occur once the manuscript is finished. The books follow a similar format which Reiss herself has devised as part of her 30 day method. Each chapter comprises a week, within which every day is set out. In other words, like any good time management consultant, Reiss has “chunked” the process into a set of fairly simple and straightforward steps to follow, some taking only a few minutes, and others taking the best part of a day, but all limited by Reiss’s structure. You could, of course, take more than 30 days, or you could take less, but following the plan as Reiss has laid it out, is the easiest way to get from concept to actualisation. The writing is clear, and the structure makes even the most impossible seeming goals seem achievable. Just follow the plan, and well, Bob’s your publisher.

The first book in the series tackles that elusive goal of gaining an agent, and perhaps if you do succeed at this one, you won’t need to worry about the second one. The book begins, on day one, with determining whether you need an agent at all, and ends with a reminder that you shouldn’t give up; that perseverance is the key to success. In between are mini-assignments that lead authors through writing the perfect pitch letter, putting together a book proposal, going to a number of venues, both online and in-person where agents congregate, working out contracts, maintaining the relationship, and a few last ditch ideas. The heart of the book is in week 2, where you pull together the pitch letter, complete with hook, why you chose that agent, target audience, marketing plan, and credentials. This is the most important part of obtaining an agent, since you generally only get about 15 seconds to pitch a book. That 15 second hook/pitch will form the basis of not only your agent pitch, but the agent’s editorial pitch, and the editor’s pitch to the editorial board, as well as all subsequent marketing material, so it’s critical to get it right. Reiss provides a series of useful tips to getting that hook perfect. Of course, it is very possible (even likely) that you will follow Reiss’ advice to the letter, and still won’t be able to get an agent. After all, as Reiss herself points out, only 5% of books and book proposals are accepted. Reiss says that this is because only 5% of books and book proposals are professional, but I’m not sure I agree. It may be that only 5% of books and book proposals contain commercially compelling work, which isn’t the same thing as work that is beautiful, evocative, or even publishable in a general sense. Only that there are often criteria for marketability that exist well beyond an author’s control. However, you can control the professionalism of your proposal, and you can also ensure that you get that all important reading. That’s what this book is all about.

Publish a Book in 30 Days goes a step further. Accepting the horrible odds in Find An Agent in 30 Days, this book provides you with an alternative. If you can’t get an agent, or a publisher, for whatever reason, you can indeed self-publish. In the past 5 years, prices for commercial printing have dropped so dramatically that anyone can put out a professional looking printed book, and POD means that you don’t have to even take a chance on potential sales. Just set the book up and sell whatever you can. You keep 100% of the profits (minus any costs of course), and control every aspect of your book. The flip side is, once again, the learning curve. It is also important to remember that if you want a professional book, you need a professional editor, a professional cover, and a professional distributor, and all of these cost money. You can do everything yourself, and produce an e-book for almost nothing, and you can set up the book with a POD press like Lulu.com for nothing as well, but your book will not be comparable to those books that you see in bookshops. And your own name as an author may suffer in the process. Reiss’ book once again follows the 30 day structure, and takes you from deciding if self-publishing is the route you want to take on day 1 through to planning your next book on day 30. In between are a series of nicely structured mini-goals which take you through things like developing a business and financial plan, setting up a company, getting ISBNs, setting up discount schedules, creating a website, making progress charts, ordering barcodes, setting up cover art, choosing an editor, sending out galleys, cataloguing, layouts, printing, shipping, and registering the book. The appendix include a sample budget, which should give potential self-publishers an idea of exactly what a professionally set out book costs. Reiss has plenty of experience in this area, and provides an insider’s perspective on publishing which will ensure that many issues that new publishers haven’t thought of are covered. The self-publishing route is not for the faint hearted, but Reiss’ roadmap is so clearly written, and so nicely broken up, that it may open new doors to authors.

Bestseller in 30 Days is applicable to any author, whether agented, self-published or published by a big or small house. Promotion these days rests squarely in the author’s hands, and if you can’t get your name out there and create a buzz around your book, you just won’t sell. This book is designed to bridge that gap between author and audience and uses the same 30 days chunked formula that Reiss’ books are known for, breaking up the otherwise almost too exhausting to contemplate process into small, simple, manageable steps. The book was designed to be used pre-publication and contains a number of valuable ideas that you’ll need before you sign the contract, such as:

As an author, the most important thing to do is to get a good discount on your books from the publisher. A smart publisher will sell you as many of your books as you want at wholesale prices – because you’re going to do your utmost to sell them. If it’s not too late, make sure you write this into your contract. (22)

The book opens with a quick check on making sure that you’ve got all the components needed to get books into the bookstores, and ends, like the previous book, with planning the next book. In between Reiss covers such topics as listing with wholesalers, generating quotations, making up postcards, setting up a website, writing articles for magazines to promote the book, selling to chain stores, obtaining a BookSense endorsement, selling to libraries, getting listed in Amazon and B&N, book clubs, running media publicity campaigns, entering contests, press releases, getting reviews, book fairs, speaking tours, foreign sales, syndication, email newsletters, and a lot more. The simple format almost makes it all seem too pat – as if you just did the thing you need to do on your allotted day and were done, but it does make this great big task seem quite simple. There have been quite a few books written lately on this topic, but some of the ideas in here are unusual and innovative and focus on areas missed by others such as ways of making the most of signing tours by linking your book’s release to local news or issues, or writing an essay about your library experience, or an article about your book signing in so that it is published in the local newsletter. No one can promote your book as well as you can, and considering the cost of hiring a publicist, this book is a bargain.

Of course all of the books pre-suppose that you’ve written a marketable and perfectly written book. For most of us, that is the hardest part! Even if you think you’ve got one, you may not–your book may just not be up to agent or formal publishing standard, and that is, unfortunately, the limits of Reiss’ offering (though there are many books which look at the writing craft from all angles). If your manuscript is up to par, then Reiss’ guides will help you get it out in the world, and her almost gimmicky but very effective process is one which will make it as painless as possible. The books are all peppered with anecdotes, examples, and samples from her own books, and her estimates are all based on real life experiences. Although there are times when the overall enthusiasm and infectiousness of Reiss’ friendly style may make you feel that some of the suggested actions belie their complexity, she does base her advice on real life experience. There are many books on these topics, but taken together, the unique format, and easy to follow plan make these guides stand-out for demystifying the publishing industry.