Because books are judged by them.
I’m probably an art director’s worst nightmare. I know I was for the first designer at Greenleaf Book Group assigned to HERE, HOME, HOPE. He and I spent a few calls and emails going over the plot, and some ideas I had for the cover design. And then I waited. When the designs appeared in my inbox a few weeks later, I didn’t like any of them enough to become my cover. Not one of the ten or so concepts. Panic ensued in my tiny home office. You see, with 25 years of marketing experience – directing the creation of brands for products and services big and small – when it comes to cover design, I don’t want to execute it, nor could I, but I do have strong opinions about what I’d like to see. Maybe I’d made a mistake trusting Greenleaf with something so important? Maybe I should hire an outside designer, a book publicist suggested. Someone with a track record in your genre, she suggested. First, I called Tanya. After explaining the situation to her, she talked me off the cliff and said I’d have a new designer the next day. And that was the start of a beautiful relationship. Sheila Parr, my cover designer and a Greenleaf art director, is amazing. Not only did she nail the cover – I think – she provided an array of choices. So many I liked, in fact, that I ended up having a contest on Facebook and among the book bloggers to pick the best cover between the two finalists. The final cover won by a landslide online. And I love it. When it came time to design the inside pages, I even had a say in that, too. It was a blast, and the result, I think, shows the beauty of collaboration. And that makes for a wonderful cover. A note on branding and continuity: One of the challenges Sheila faced was tying my existing Real You brand into my new novel (see Real You Incorporated cover above). We accomplished it by incorporating a daisy on the spine of HERE, HOME, HOPE and by utilizing a daisy in the breaks within chapters. It's subtle but important to my overall brand. * * * * * Here's what the Greenleaf website says about their approach to book cover design: "Your cover is the most important element of production — more than any other single factor in production, it determines whether or not your book sells. The average consumer spends just eight seconds looking at the front cover and no more than fifteen seconds looking at the back. The average national buyer takes even less time than that to make a decision about the number of copies he or she will buy and whether or not your book is worthy of face-out placement. Good covers don’t guarantee big sales, but bad covers can kill projects." "Greenleaf focuses on compelling combinations of text, art, and color. Our process begins with the development of a few design concepts for the front cover. After working with our clients to choose the most effective concept, we build the spine, back cover, and flaps (when printing dust jackets). Finally, we explore printing technologies that can enhance the design, and then we prepare the files for press."
Finding the Real You in the Wide World of Publishing
Greenleaf Book Group and their Model of CollaborationA very long time ago, as a small congenial child, I dreamed of writing a novel. Life, as it often does, got in the way. Sure, I’ve snuck in writing time over the years, attended some writing conferences and taken some great classes from The Writer’s Studio and UCLA. I have, which I know is common, several completed manuscripts that have yet to see the publishing light of day.
It’s not that I haven’t been published. I’ve been writing for a living, writing almost everything you can imagine, for years. Advertising copy for clients as diverse as Pioneer Electronics, Frosty Paws Dog Ice Cream and Real Living Real Estate; public relations writing for accounts such as McDonald’s and Stanley Steemer Carpet Cleaner; magazine features for local, regional and national publications; newspaper columns as diverse as personal finance and society. My first “published” article was in Brides magazine, right after our honeymoon. (We’ve been married 21 years now.)
Over the years I’ve queried. I even had two wonderful agents who tried really hard. We made it to the editorial board a couple times, with each agent, before getting the no. That meant even editors at the big publishing companies liked my work. But not enough. Not during that particular season, not that particular manuscript.
Imagine my surprise when the notion of writing a business book came up. At the time, this was 2006, I was busy helping to build Real Living, a residential real estate company my husband and I created in 2002. I was very active in the marketing associations, and speaking about brand building and marketing to women. A person from the American Marketing Association approached me to write a book for their trade publications division. After completing the outline and a sample chapter, I decided perhaps it could be a “real” book. I sent the book proposal to an agent and a publisher – just one of each – on the same day. The next day, both called back and wanted the book.
I’m not kidding. Does that ever happen? No. I signed with my agent, and then with Wiley. The result was Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs. Now, I’m not going to say the experience with Wiley was horrible. In fact, I loved my editor. She even took me to lunch at the famed Algonquin Hotel in Midtown Manhattan to celebrate the deal. We were a team. It was the beginning of my book publishing life, albeit not quite the life I’d envisioned.
The honeymoon ended as soon as the manuscript was in and approved. As a marketer, I’m accustomed to collaboration. At the time, I headed a fairly large team of creative folks. The cover design came in from Wiley and it looked like a really bad 1980s working girl movie still. Two women, shoulder-padded suits, hunched over a huge desktop computer. My entrepreneurial and creative loins were rankled.
“This cover isn’t ok, no, not at all,” I stammered to my Wiley contact. “We’ll design it here at my office and get it back to you.”
“We don’t collaborate on cover art,” said the Wiley person.
Well, let’s just say, we ended up collaborating on the cover, fortunately. And when it came to the internal page design, same hurdle, same answers, but eventual collaboration. The book, when it was released in February of 2008 was in fact a big collaborative effort between my design staff and the team at Wiley. It wasn’t something they were accustomed to, but they bent a bit and so did I. I think it made the finished product better – I hope they agree.
But I don’t know. My editor left, and my new editor and I have met once and talked twice. I don’t know if she still works there or not. I’ve emailed but haven’t gotten a response. My title sold pretty well – considering it was a business book for women and women traditionally haven’t purchased business books. (That’s changing, with more and more titles acknowledging our unique and powerful characteristics in business.) There was no marketing campaign from my publisher. And twice a year, I receive a sales report, of sorts.
That’s it. No transparency. Because of my contract, I had to pitch my next nonfiction book to them, not a business title, and they respectfully passed. I hoped they would. At the annual Marketing to Women conference one of the other speakers had told me about her new publisher, out of Austin, Texas, named Greenleaf Book Group. She was excited about them, and their model, combining the best of distribution and collaboration with all rights remaining the authors’. I was intrigued.
I completed the online submission form and sent in my nonfiction work, the next in the Real You series. A wonderful woman named Tanya Hall gave me a call and said they loved the book and would like to publish it. She explained they are selective, accepting on average about three percent of all books submitted. I was elated.
But then my dream started to burst forth.
I heard myself ask, “Do you publish novels?”
“Yes, we do publish novels, although the majority of our titles are nonfiction,” Tanya answered.
“Is it lame to self-publish a novel?” I asked.
“It’s only lame if the book is bad,” Tanya answered. “Why don’t we review your manuscript and render an opinion.”
And with that brief exchange, I began my journey into uncharted territory. A lot of it.
Once Greenleaf accepted the manuscript for publication, they assigned me an amazing editor named Linda O’Doughda who worked with me to improve the content. Our work together was quite collaborative and fun – albeit hard work. I received a complete project management chart from Bryan Carrollat Greenleaf who kept me meeting deadlines. Next, I was assigned an art director for the cover and interior pages.
You guessed it. I didn’t like the first round of covers. No shoulder pads, but different issues. No problem with the Greenleaf gang. They assigned me another art director and soon, I had a cover I love. Love.
And while the Greenleaf team won’t ever replace the support of a literary agent – I don’t have one now – or be able to provide the depth of expertise or the connections an entire marketing team at a big publishing house provides, they are great with suggestions and helping along the way. I speak or email with at least one of the people on my Greenleaf team each day. Probably, I’m driving them crazy, but I can’t help it.
This is my dream, darn it.
My first novel is coming to publishing life. The manuscript is completed, the cover is finalized, the print run is determined and I’m in a holding pattern – of sorts – until May 1. Sure, I’m worrying over publicity, and advertising and events but what I’m mostly worried about is whether bookstores, independents and the big guys, will order the book into their stores.
Nervously, I wander into my local independent book store. I am told this is what I must do to pique interest. I ask for the owner. The first question he asks when I tell him about my novel-to-be: Who’s the publisher?
I tell him, proudly, Greenleaf Book Group.
Never heard of them, he mumbles, checking his computer screen.
This isn’t good, I think, but try to remain calm my cheeks flushing.
“Who’s the distributor?” he asks.
“All the big ones, the usual ones,” I answer. “Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and well, you name it.”
“You’re going to need help spreading the word,” he says, handing me a book publicist’s card.
He was right. I do need help. But not just from my publicist. Kristen Sears who is my distribution contact at Greenleaf delighted me by letting me know Barnes & Noble had ordered HERE, HOME, HOPE. Books-A-Million, too. And Hudson News will be carrying my novel this summer at more than 40 airports across the country. That news just made my day. It was a stamp of approval, a “we’ll give it a try” from the big guys. Did I mention I know the name of my distribution manager? That just didn’t happen with Wiley. And soon, once the book is released, I’ll have real-time data provided by Greenleaf on sales and warehouse inventory. That’s a smidge different than a printed and mailed-twice-a-year report from Wiley.
Now I need Independent Book Stores to support me, an independent author. I need that. We all need that. Without the ability to do a big co-op display buy-in like the big publishing houses can do, I’m on my own. It’s a one-to-one business when you’re with an independent publisher, and I’m doing all I can to spread the word. Sure, it’s an uphill battle. But that’s the case for almost all first-time novelists, no matter the size of the publisher.
When one of my traditionally published, big house author friends tells me about her “marketing team” or her fabulous agent or awe inspiring editor, sure, I get jealous. And sure, that’s still the ultimate dream, I think. As Amanda Hocking succinctly put it on her blog, self-publishing is hard work: “I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.”
And having control, being in control, does take away from what I love to do. Write.
But for me, it’s the path I’m on right now. It’s tough having to call all the shots, to be the ultimate decision maker. The success or failure of my novel is, in my opinion, up to me. I can’t turn around and blame it on lack of support from my publisher, as they were clear about what to expect going in.
As I write this, it’s a month from pub date. During the journey of publishing HERE, HOME, HOPE, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect upon whether I should have tried one more time for an agent who would get me a traditional publisher. Trust me, I tried.
I’ve chosen my path. I hope I have chosen well. It has been a very collaborative and supportive journey with Greenleaf. I hope I can become one with bookstores, and readers, across the country. Time will tell. And trust me, I’ll be watching.
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Find Kaira Rouda on Facebook – Kaira Rouda Books and on Twitter @KairaRouda.
For more about her books, visit www.kairarouda.com.
HERE, HOME, HOPE is available online for preorder now, and everywhere May 1st.