Warren Buffett coined the phrase “skin in the game” when referring to executives of companies contributing some of their own money to ventures, rather than relying solely on outside investors (simply put). In other words, Mr. Buffett recognized that for everyone to win, it wasn’t enough to simply contribute your intellectual property; people need to assume some of the financial risk they are asking others to consider.
Today, the phrase permeates conventions dealing with the exchange of services having nothing to do with the venture capital or business start-ups. If you have expectations that a particular entity work in alignment with your efforts, skin-in-the-game on all sides is proving an effective way to move forward. For the sake of this blog article, let’s consider “skin in the game” in terms of adding to the publishing world’s nomenclature. As the industry experiences major shifts in its basic structure, models for more shared risk are beginning to make sense.
In terms of publishing, some might argue that an author’s intellectual property and creative brilliance is sufficient skin-in-the-game. Yet when you seriously consider the massive risk for which traditional publishing houses engage with new authors and the distribution of their work, you might reconsider that position.
I am and always have been the quintessential lover of win-wins. It rarely makes sense to me that one side of a deal receives a substantially lopsided advantage over the other side. Isn’t there a way for each entity (regardless of the percentages) to feel they have been granted their fair share? Of course there is. Let’s take a look at how that can be accomplished in the world of publishing.
Traditional publishing is just that… traditional. There are many aspects of the publishing world that are attempting to remain intact simply because things have always been done that way. It’s not working in many ways. And, the good news is that the publishing industry recognizes that it is not working in many of these many cases. The industry is slowly but surely creating new ways to underwrite the vast numbers of books that continue to be created by veteran authors and novice writers (to some, not fast enough). Storytelling, fiction or non-fiction, has been and always will be a form of expression that we require and desire; on both sides of the story. We share stories everyday; and some storytellers are fortunate enough to get their stories bound and shelved, or made available across digital platforms to be experienced by the masses or particular niche markets.
Let’s consider the ” we do it this way because it’s always been done this way” theory. My mind conjures scenes from Fiddler on the Roof, where a God-fearing, Jewish milkman named Tevye faces the changing landscape of his Russian homeland, as well as his daughters’ desires to step out of their customs to create a life more suitable for themselves. Tevye wrestles with holding tightly to his religious and cultural traditions, while feeling inclined to honor the individual desires of his own flesh and blood. The customs to which Tevye and his wife Golde have long paid homage somehow seem to make little sense when he extracts the individual desires of love and freedom that are equally important to his daughters. What was once an essential way of doing things no longer makes sense.
As translated in the publishing world… the archaic practices of the author providing only their creative genius, and the intellectual property that stems from that genius, is not enough today. The publishing houses do not have the luxury of assuming all the risk amidst the print-to-eBook evolution that seems to be putting bookstores on the endangered species list. In addition, the practice of publishers handing out huge, unsustainable advances is less appealing when you dissect exactly how everyone within the equation is suppose to actually make money. Doesn’t it make more sense to put an appropriate amount of that money into the marketing and publicity of the book, allowing the author and publisher to both realize more revenue in the long run?
Since publishing houses are risking losing tens of thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and possibly millions, in the hopes of a book actualizing enough revenue for the house to make that money back, with a profit on top, why don’t we look more closely at each side’s (author/publisher) skin-in-the-game?
Co-publishing seems to be a reasonable option. Within this model, the skin-in-the-game is offered in taking less to nothing on the front end, and receiving a higher revenue percentage once the book is actually selling. Even in this give-and-take formula, the publishing houses expect that authors do a substantial amount of marketing and publicity around their book. The irony here is that publishing houses customarily allocate large marketing budgets to an author who is known or has hit the bestseller list, versus the freshly published, fledgling author who stands to gain significant recognition if even a fraction of a typical bestselling author’s marketing budget was spent on their behalf. Bestsellers, or celebrity authors, don’t need a 5 million dollar marketing budget. Their book will fly off the shelves at the initial mention that it has surfaced and is ready for purchase. Bestselling authors’ books experience marketing overkill, while worthy books by new authors die on the shelves due to the fact that few otherwise interested readers even know they exist.
It’s bewildering, to say the least, but I see the industry doing what it can to rectify the disparate weight of these tipping scales. One way in which they are shifting is in putting the onus on the author to market and sell their books.
Authors are expected to blog, update social media outlets, create speaking opportunities that offer advanced or back-of-the-room sales of books, do their own publicity (or, more accurately, hire someone with the know-how and contacts to do it for them). This is where the skin-in-the-game begins to make sense… or not.
Regardless of which side of the publishing fence you sit, the fact that publishing houses offer far less book marketing than they have prior puts the industry in a precarious situation. The pendulum is swinging, as it does, and we are all hoping it ultimately lands within that happy balance.
How do you see the skin-in-the-game concept playing out in the publishing industry?
Authors, both veteran and novice, must face a very important reality within today’s publishing landscape… writing your book is the EASY part. What follows is the necessary and – if done right – lasting fruits of your manuscript writing labor.
Though overwhelming to do alone, authors today are required to market their own book with vigilant tenacity. That means you have to constantly interface with your readers (and all those potential readers), the press and anyone watching your career. As an agent and publicist, I encourage authors to walk alongside someone who has the experience and connections to make these often monumental tasks less daunting. Even the best in the biz experience overwhelm.
My friend Arielle Ford speaks for many authors in her Huffington Post blog entry. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arielle-ford/is-it-just-too-much-to-as_b_811106.html
Take Arielle’s suggestions by breathing and staying focused on your vision. Take my suggestion and hire someone who believes in you to help you. What authors are expected to do to sell their books is a huge task with a duration that is lifelong. Allow someone to share the burden. And if you are an author with ideas to share, please leave a comment. We are all in this together.
Okay, let’s face it. We all love the fact that video/film outlets such as Netflix and Hulu display movie trailers for our previewing pleasure. I will even go as far as to claim that these movie trailers are often the very reason we stream a movie onto our computer, or pop it into our queue in hopes of its imminent arrival by mail.
It stands to reason that book trailers, like movie trailers, would do the same for us with books.
If done well, they do. A well-produced book trailer allows us a sneak peek at a piece of literary fiction or non-fiction, while expounding on the book’s juicy or informative morsels of content. The delivery of information comes within a nontraditional medium for the likes of books (unless, of course, you’re a Muggle experiencing the moving pictures within the The Daily Prophet in an adaptation of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series).
Ask Generation Y how much more compelled they are to purchase a product after being able to view it in video form. I have asked, and the majority would rather watch a video to glean a book’s premise than read a Preface from the very book they are considering buying. (A bit ironic, yes; however, this is the same group that will text a friend only 5 feet away from them, rather than walking over and talking to them directly).
The Millennials aside, even those of us of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations who are avid book readers cannot deny the intrigue of what we commonly know as a movie trailer. There is something about the way the scenes, the music and the cadence captivate and draw us in. There is just enough information shared to titillate us and pique our curiosity to want more.
A good book trailer uses the very same notion of baiting our interest, in the very same way a movie trailer does. Emerging authors are budgeting money to produce book trailers for the following reasons:
* To provide a multi-media promotional piece to announce a forthcoming book.
* To offer fans an opportunity to post links or embed the book trailer video into social media outlets.
* For utilization in press kits for garnering reviews and publicity, or create an entire integrated marketing campaign with the book trailer as a key piece of collateral.
* Agents can provide a link for editors who might show interest in reading a manuscript, to additionally augment the agent’s already well-delivered synopsis of the book. (Ahem)
Publishers are also using book trailers in additional ways. Harper Collins outsources book trailer work for authors such as bestselling author Melissa Marr. Marr’s latest paranormal thriller is one example. Watch here.
Publishers (large and small presses) are utilizing book trailers for their in-house benefits of presenting a book for editorial review consideration, as well as supporting their authors once the book is picked up and launches.
The book trailer below was produced for the book titled THE SECRET OF THE GOLDEN VINE, by middle grade and YA author, Rob Fiser. See how we’ve infused still imagery with action video, while combing casted scenes to create this trailer. We think it is a good sample of a well-rounded trailer that holds the attention of the viewer.
What are some of your favorite book trailers? Do book trailers compel you to purchase the book? We would love to hear from you.
Based on the book “The Secret of the Golden Vine” by author Rob Fiser
Art Director —- Lisa Fravel
Videographer —- Connie Aramaki/Jae Macallan
Video Editor —- Anderson Zaca/Jae Macallan
Producer —- Deborah Drouin
Cast Wardrobe Stylist —- Theresa Clarke
Documentarian/Photographer —- Anton Moentenich
Miranda —- Victoria Gersch
Shelley —- Mira Wellington
Munch —- Landon Brooks
Dr. Marsh/Grandpa —- Dale Bowers
Check out this article from Forbes’ Booked blog by Alan Rinzler of Jossey-Bass (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons). There are occasionally gems among the 750,000 self-published titles attempting to circulate each year, and some of us literary agents are willing to seek them out. http://tinyurl.com/2cmu2aj