Friday, August 22, 2008

Interview With Karen Syed On Community Fridays

Welcome to the very fist edition of Community Fridays!

In this feature, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new interviewees for upcoming Community Fridays. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

And now for your education and reading pleasure is an interview with Karen Syed, president and CEO of Echelon Press, LLC.

You made a transition from being an author to being a publisher. Do many authors make that switch? What motivated that transition for you?

I don't know how many might have made the transition, probably quite a few in the independent sector. For me it was a weird choice. I have had 8 of my novels published and I live that, but I am a terrible author. Do as I say not as I do is my author motto. I can teach people how to self-promote and market, I just suck at it. I am not shy, but I have a very hard time talking about myself. Kinda weird.

As for my motivation to switch, it was a no-brainer. I was getting screwed over left and right by small presses and it was just getting to be too much, so we decided there needed to be a place where new writers could go to get their foot in the door and not get bent over a table with no flowers first. Our company was born: Echelon Press…the next step in publishing! (which has changed a little since then.)

I think many aspiring authors worry that they'll put a lot of effort into trying to get published, and then not be able to make a living out of it. What are your thoughts on this?

You get what you put into it. Now, that is not to say that some authors don't get lucky. They hit a good day and get the big advance and actually get a marketing budget, but those strikes are few and far between. For most authors who get published, they don't seem to understand that you get back what you put in. If you sign a contract and then sit back waiting for the readers to buy and the royalty checks to roll in, you better stock up on Bon Bons, Baby, 'cause you have a long wait.

You have to be willing to get out there and hoof it from here to there and back again, telling everyone who you are and what your book is. If you don't, no one will. This I promise you. If you are somewhat lucky you will find a house that will at least work with you, as opposed to simply throwing you out to the wolves with a new book and not a clue.

If the only reason you are doing this is money, spend a bit on sales training, because those are the skills you will need to sell your books so you can get a royalty check. Writing a great book is no longer enough.

You are a big proponent of authors taking some ownership of promoting their own works. Can you tell us from the point of view of a publisher why this is important?

This is common sense, especially from my point of view. I am a small company with a minimal staff. We simply cannot do everything for everyone all at the same time. This is also relevant to bigger companies, they may have bigger offices, and bigger staffs, but they also produce more books, so it all evens out in the wash.

Authors complain about how hard it is to write, market, and promote their books. Well imagine doing that for hundreds of books. You have to take off your blinders and look at the entire picture and not just what is in front of your nose. Have you ever thought about what a publisher has to do?

There is editing, formatting, designing covers, more editing, contacting distributors, placing and designing ads, contacting bookstores, libraries, event venues, maintaining company records, accounts, orders, packing, shipping, folding, stuffing, labeling, stamping, processing. Then there are all the e-mails and phone calls from authors who want you to do various things for them, find out books did not arrive where they are supposed to be when they were supposed to, finding out why distributors are out of stock, processing returns…the list goes on, but you see the point. Now take into consideration that many of these things have to be repeated for each book in print or being released.

We need all the help we can get. The key to remember is that even though you the author are promoting and marketing your work, we are STILL doing all those things as well. It's a partnership. We work as a team and get we get twice as much done, which means twice as much potential exposure and sales for you. This in turn makes it easier for you to make more money to support you and your ten cats. :-)

What is one promotion tool that you've had a lot of success with lately?

Oddly enough, MySpace and Twitter have been good venues. I don't spend as much time on these as people seem to think, but the exposure is translating into sales. One thing that we also use is Amazon and their many programs. Amazon Associates allows authors to use their accounts to sell their books and make a little extra over their royalties. I only use this in specific places so I can track if the exposure is creating sales. Works well on Twitter and our Blog.

The other tool I find VERY productive is festivals. Not just book festivals, but craft festivals as well. This is not for everyone, but we sell lots of books at festivals. Very lucrative in local venues.

What catches your eye first when you're looking for a new author to publish?

Enthusiasm and tenacity. I won't even consider an author who walks up to me and says, "You're probably not going to be interested, but can I send you my book?" What's with the negativity? I don't have time for negativity in my life or my business. I have my own issues to keep track of, I don't need to bring on needy authors who have no self-confidence. You have to know and believe your product has value and that you as an author are worth my time. If not, there are plenty who are worth it. I want authors who visibly present well. You may be butt ugly, but if you take the time to make a good first impression and keep it up, then you have passed over the first hurdle. Not everyone is beautiful in everyone's eyes, but no one has to be sloppy and unkempt, especially in business.

I am certain everyone expected me to say that I want to see a great book. That is important too, but no matter how great your book is, no one will ever know if they are put off by you. "But they won't all see me." you say. It's not all about looks, don't be a dork on the Internet. Don't swear in public venues. Don't mouth off about your political and religious views in the public forums. Keep a clear head, and remember, you are trying to impress people, not irritate them. So you have a strong personality, great, but don't be a bully.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

I have to tell you, this is a new contact for me, but I am so impressed with her efforts. Check out Dani over at Quickest Blog Book Tour Guide Ever. She isn't a publisher or an editor, but she certainly is in tune with our industry and she is doing incredible things to help authors and editors and publishers and anyone else in the business increase their exposure and build solid networks.

She is a tsunami of inspiration and knowledge and if she doesn't know something, she makes every effort to learn about it. It's only been a short time since hooking up with her, but already she has had a huge positive influence on me and my networking and marketing venues.

About the Author:
Karen L. Syed is the president and CEO of Echelon Press, LLC. Every day is a new success story for her as she continues to grow herself and her business. She has seen eight of her own novels published (writing as Alexis Hart), along with numerous articles and short stories. As a former bookstore owner, she garnered a nomination from Publishers Weekly for their Bookseller of the Year award. She is a member of EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection), SinC (Sisters in Crime), MWA (Maryland Writers' Association), and ITW (International Thriller Writers). Karen is committed to helping and encouraging everyone she comes in contact with to seek a healthier and more positive quality of life by reaching for their dreams. You can learn more about Karen Syed here.

© Emma Larkins and Karen Syed
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