Saturday, January 7, 2012

Publishing Then and Now

Crown, a division of New York’s Random House, published Dulcy’s hardcover the last week of September in 1992. A round of signings, readings, newspaper interviews, and television and radio appearances followed. I set these up by using the phone numbers provided by the Crown publicist. Crown promoted the book with a single ad in the magazine Cat Fancy. Dulcy’s book quickly sold almost 14,000 copies, mostly in Minnesota.   

A signing at an elementary school in Hastings, Minnesota.

            Here’s how I learned that.
            A former student of mine was accepted in the month-long 1993 professional editing seminar held each summer in Colorado. Prestigious editors and publishers taught the seminar. By chance, this articulate student sat at lunch one afternoon with a vice president of Random House.
            The student explained that the preceding autumn she’d taken a class in which the professor talked about a book she’d gotten published. “Do you remember A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story?” she asked. “And Dee Ready?”
            The woman did. “Dee sold that book,” she explained. “Without her the sales would have been minimal.” She confided that almost all the copies had sold in Minnesota where I lived. “She got out and promoted. I wish all our authors would do that.”
            The vice president then explained that publishers promoted bestselling authors who didn’t need promotion but expected it. “The small book gets lost,” she added.
            According to this vice president, no one at Crown thought Dulcy’s book had much of a chance but the editor—Jane Meara—believed in it. “If we’d listened to Jane, we’d have put some money behind it and had a bestseller.”
            I learned all this later and spent the whole of a day feeling morose. A friend suggested that the conjunction of the planets just wasn’t right. By then, however, Crown had sold rights to publishers in Germany, Korea, Japan, and China. Dulcy’s book was going to reach across the oceans. With that I was content. Crown had believed in the book enough to get it published elsewhere.           
            For the past twenty years, I’ve chosen to rejoice that her story reached at least 14,000 readers in the United States. And yet I don’t think that would happen today. Here’s why.
            In thinking about Dulcy I hit upon two keys—family member and channeling—to open the doors to interviews and signings. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s most people didn’t speak of animals as family members. That wasn’t acceptable. So when I called booksellers and journalists, I emphasized that Dulcy and I had become a family and that I’d lost my companion. I also explained that she’d channeled the book through me. These two keys intrigued my listeners. All responded with interest.
            I don’t think those keys would work today. After Dulcy’s book was published a series of other cat books were published. Some were excellent; others, not so much. The cat-book market slumped and editors simply had no interest in new books. Several writers, like Desmond Morris, continued to be published but their books were more about cats or dogs in general.
            Then a book came along that changed the publishing scene and made intimate books about animals important again. In 2005, Marley & Me by John Grogan became a bestseller and then a movie. It helped people everywhere understand the bond between dogs and humans.
            Then, in 2008, came Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. The book’s cover, a photograph of Dewey gazing gently at the reader, captured the attention of cat lovers everywhere.

            Today, people converse easily about their pets being members of the family. In 1992, that concept was intriguing. Today it’s just accepted. Channeling, however, might still work. I’m not sure.
            Another great difference, of course, between now and then is the fewer number of bookstores throughout the United States and also the fact that many, many readers don’t have the discretionary money to purchase books today. For myself, I’d be quite content if every library in the country had a copy of Dulcy’s book that could be checked out again and again by those who love animals.
            Finally, fewer newspapers exist today and many of these spend little space on book reviews. Also, many afternoon talk shows in local television markets have disappeared.
            So you see, the universe is just different from twenty years ago. Today, Dulcy’s book might not even be published. And yet. And yet. I continue to believe that she has the power to touch many lives.


  1. I doubt I'll ever catch up with my reading of blogs, but I will start slowly and see how I do.

    This is very interesting. I think what you have said here is so true. Publishing is funny business. A business I know absolutely nothing about. I do find it interesting that you promoted your book and had such success. My cousin is a published author with great success, but she has had to learn the business to be successful.

    I glad you had this success, and hope for future successes for you.

  2. I'm so glad Dulcy--& you--wrote her book. Both of you have CERTAINLY touched my life!!

  3. I am a huge pet lover, but I confess...I am not a real lover of what I call "pet inspiration" books. They just do not hit the mark for me...but my love of animals belies that. It is weird.

  4. I'm sure that vice-president was right. You sold your book, not the publisher, Dee, because you really believed in it.

    I think one of the big differences between publishing then and now is the advent of electronic publishing. I have a school-friend whose son writes science fiction and all his books have only been published electronically, not in hard-copy. They are available for the Kindle from Amazon in the US and UK and have had lots of good reviews. That is probably how you would have published Dulcy's story today if you couldn't find a print publisher to take it.

  5. To FRANKANDMARY--To simply classify Dulcy's book as a "pet inspiration" story would be no more correct than to call it just a memoir or a love story. It is simply one of the best books it has ever been my priveledge to read.

  6. Sally,
    Thank you for the wish for my success. I'm hoping that 2012 will bring change in my life with regard to getting published again. Like you, I've been away from blogging. Let's pace ourselves in trying to read all those we like. I hope you are feeling better now.

    It gives me such delight to know that Dulcy's story has touched the lives of people around the country. Thank you. And also, thank you for your response to Mary.

    Yes, electronic publishing has made a big difference. I'm glad that my niece typed Dulcy's book and got it on Amazon as an e-book. That may be the route I'll need to go for my four other books about cats.

    I'm not sure that Dulcy's book is a "pet inspiration" book but I can understand your hesitancy about it. You might want to read "Fishducky's" remarks both before your comment and then afterward.
    The truth is that friends often suggest books to me and when I try to read them I just can't get into the story. So Dulcy might appeal to you and then again she might not!

  7. As you know, I'm with fishducky about this book. It is simply the best book I have ever read and I have read several books a week since I was a small child. Period!

  8. I can't wait until our copy of your book arrives!

  9. I'm so glad your Dulcy book was published when it was -- and all those foreign sales as well as the 14,000 in Minnesota are very respectible! I'm a publishing veteran -- writing professional for 45 years and having my first book published in 1979 by Simon and Schuster. I sold 13 books from then until 2008, when a division of Random House published the sixth (and probably last) edition of The Teenage Body Book. You're right about the vast changes in publishing in the past 20 years -- not just the fewer bookstores and the near disappearance of independent bookstores -- but the move of entertainment conglomerates taking over publishing houses and putting much more emphasis on celebrities than ordinary people with something to say. It has become much harder to sell a book these days. And book proposals are changing: I used to write book proposals that focused 90% on content and 10% on marketing. Now it's almost the reverse -- with much more concern about marketing, platform, etc. and less on content. It can be discouraging. So I'm glad you had your first venture into publishing at a better time -- when an editor who believed in you and loved Dulcy's story could make the book happen even if the marketing department was skeptical. One of my current proposals is about Timmy, a cat I used in psychotherapy with a select group of patients. My agent says all we need is one editor to say "Yes." As Jane Meara did with Dulcy's story. I agree with the others: your book is very special and should be in every library -- at least -- for animal lovers to savor!

  10. I am also another one touched by both you and Dulcy. It helped to be a cat lover to begin with, but she was definitely a very special one, to all of us who have learned to love her through your book. Thank you.

  11. Your love for Dulcy and your unique story telling style is what sold your book, Dee.
    I wish you well in all of your future endeavors and continued success with Dulcy's tale :>)

    Kind regard's,

  12. Inger,

    I sent your book on Friday. I hope you receive it by Monday or Tuesday. Let me know please. I so hope you and "Peanut" enjoy it.

    Your history with publishing is so impressive and so I truly value your thoughts on the differences between now and then. I've tried for the last twenty years to get something else published but had no luck. Finding an agent is tough, but this year I'm going to try again. Good luck on finding that one editor who says, "Yes!" to your book about the cat who helped you with therapy.

    Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed meeting Dulcy.

    Thanks for stopping by, Pam, and for the good wishes for the future. I continue to want Dulcy's book to touch the lives of others.

  13. It must be so rewarding to get a book published, but, to get it published in so many countries must be so exhilarating, Dee.

    This is all so insightful. The fact that you worked hard to promote Dulcy's story is also a tribute to the relationship you had with Dulcy. I have a friend, a pastor of our church, who has a book out about being "green". It's called Green Mama. She was in the right place and time, which she readily admits, to have it published, but, like you, had to get out there and promote it herself. Her audience is primarily busy young mothers, who often don't have time for book signings.

    Your post also brings light to how much the book business has changed in twenty years. I "get it". I don't purchase as many books and certainly not with the zeal I did in 1992. Most of my friends now have some sort of e-reader, a device I've resisted, but, my eyesight for reading is such that I've started to consider it, especially since public libraries are now using them.

    Well now, I've gone on, so inspiring and rich your story has been has me in a "talkative" mood. I hope you are continuing to feel better, Dee.

  14. It's interesting to me to read about the part of publishing and promoting a book that I'm clueless about. It does seem to me that there are more and more people out there that yearn to get a book published - or perhaps it is just that I've met more people recently who want to write a book. Who knows!

  15. Dewey is such a cute little kitten. This seems like it would be a very interesting read!

  16. I definitely agree that the success of 'Dulcy's Story' is down to you and Dulcy! Throughout the process of getting published and promotion you were intimately involved and seemed instinctively to understand what you needed to do. Also, you have the ability to draw people to you and your openness and honesty are very attractive and quite charismatic. So, personally, I believe that whenever you had published you would have found success...

  17. Penny,
    I like you in your "talkative" mood! And yes, my devotion to Dulcy came through in the promotion. And everything does seem to be about timing!

    Your perception that more and more people want to write is, I think, correct. The computer has freed all of us from our fears of making a mistake and then starting again on a clean sheet of paper in the typewriter. And more and more we are realizing the healing power of story. And so we wish to write the story that will bring healing to ourselves and others. It's a wonderful time in which to live.

    "Dewey" is a lovely book. He chose the library and there he stayed until his death. The cover says it all! Thanks for stopping by.

    Thanks for your vote of confidence. I do wish I'd experience some success this year as I try to find an agent who wants to represent my writing!

  18. Today you could self-publish on the internet. You couldn't do that then, could you?

    Novels are hard to sell nowadays, I hear that memoirs, non-fiction, and even books about animals do better.
    Having said that, a friend has just been given a 2-book deal for a lot of money. Perhaps it's 'whom you know'.

  19. The business is very different now but getting out there still needs skill. You Tube is a place that is being used even by talk show hosts. Then the fastest way to push anything now is Twitter. But as the publishing industry is shifting and changing so is the entire education system and all the libraries. I cannot imagine what it's like in the classrooms of today. The reports I get from my nieces tell a tale that has me wondering.

  20. I'm so proud of you, the way you promoted Dulcy's book and still are. :0) You're such an inspiration to so many ;)

  21. Dulcy must have been a remarkable cat. I love the perspective you took: 14,000 lives were affected by Dulcy. I think, with your blog, you may add more lives to that list.

  22. It's true that times have changed, but I really do think that when there's a good story to tell, there is a way! Dulcy was a remarkable cat and she was going to have her story told! And look at you telling her story all over again twenty years entirely new form of publishing. Quite an experience! Debra

  23. Friko,
    I hope you're right about books on animals doing well now. I'm ready to start looking for an agent to represent at least one of my four books I have ready on animals. Let's wish one another luck. As to "whom you know," I don't know anyone!

    Yes, like you, I can't imagine what being in the classroom is like today. I would think that the attention spans of young people are so short what with texting and all the quick camera takes on television and the computer.

    You need to be proud of yourself also. You've done a wonderful job of promoting "The Golden Sky." You're going to be famous one of these days. Mark my words!

    She was a remarkable cat and so many people wrote to tell me that her story helped them remember the remarkable dogs and cats they, too, had lived with.

    This has been quite an experience. And you know, I think that blogging had helped my writing. I'm going to go back and polish my Palestine novel now that I've learned so much from writing for this blog.

  24. It does seem like the publishing world has changed and it's harder to get published. But it seems like until you become uber famous, you have to do your own promoting. You did a great job of that! These days, instead of reviews in newspapers I suppose you'd have to find places online...and even Amazon reviews by people help. It's all so different. Having the book become an ebook is a wonderful move. A good story is a good story, no matter what. Congratulations--from then and now! :):)