Asking for Favors in Publishing? AITA-Edition
How, & How-NOT, to ingratiate yourself to those who could help you, bigtime
Writers ask their peers— and often, total strangers— to grant favors in our quest for glory.
We thrive on back-scratching, a colony of chimps! It’s our showbiz world.
Doing it right is priceless, and a clumsy attempt can be a death blow.
Industry favors are worth something. They have financial and credible value; or else, why bother? If you have to write a letter to ask, then it’s not inconsequential.
I received a favor-ask this morning that I won’t be granting. Nope.
Breakdown follows, after this primo James Bond pulp cover!
It’s Jerry. Hope you are enjoying your well-earned retirement from Audible! You have been so good to me, but I am hoping if you can help me one last time.
This is the stuff of late night tele-evangelism. You cannot employ a single cliché in an ask. It makes the reader cringe.
I retired from Audible more than a year ago. Okay. I realize Jerry didn’t look me up on my blog or social media since then. Otherwise, he could have wisely said, “I loved your storm-chasing scenes in Santa Cruz” (I posted photos on FB) or “I loved your review of The Crown in the Chronicle!”
Yes, it’s beneficial, it’s considerate, to make thoughtful or fun small-talk in your first line of an ask. It must be based on the most recent news. Your genuine current mutual interests. Otherwise, you’re going to have to think of something universal but very relevant.
As you may know, my most recent book, Searching for the Way: A Spiritual Primer, was rejected by your former colleagues at Audible.
I am in touch with my old colleagues, but they would never share news of who they’re rejecting. There are iron-clad rules about confidentiality. It’s unethical, and when you work with a publisher and editor, it’s understood they will not gossip about you or share your business relationship.
(Authors who write spirituality texts are more insensitive behind the scenes than the most aggressive stock market advisors or diet authors. It’s as if that because they are serene bodhisattvas in their public life, when the curtain comes down they lose their social graces. Shoemakers’ children have no shoes, etc.).
“I’m determined to publish an audiobook myself. I’ll work with the same producer Audible used.”
Self-producing is a popular option for authors. You don’t have to be particularly determined; it’s just another decision, like deciding to publish an ebook or a t-shirt line.
Jerry is prudent to have noticed whom he worked with before, and liked their work. It’s a small world.
“I don’t take Audible’s rejection personally, it’s just a business decision.”
Why mention it?
“Information about who has rejected you” — keep it to yourself. It can be used against you; it’s not something to dish about.
Authors often mention their rejections in a bid for sympathy, or their heroism in the face of rejection — forget it. That info is for the ears of your therapist or sweetheart.
Instead, lead with: “I’ve decided to self-publish, working with one of my favorite engineers.”
That’s all I needed to know for the favor he’s was about to ask me.
There is ONE time to brag about rejection, and it’s a goodie. That’s when you’ve had a creative success and you share a laugh with your fans and fellow authors. It makes everyone happy— and it’s in the REAR VIEW MIRROR.
“I will be reading the title myself as I did for my previous books.”
Good idea, since Jer’s customer reviews were all high marks.
I don’t know whether he checked out his reviews, or if he assumes his voice is a good way to save money.
Authors should ALWAYS read the customer reviews to see if there’s a critique of their performance. If you are not lauded for your voice and delivery, you need another actor.
Tip: in the business, it’s not “reading.” You are performing a title. It’s acting, and demands more than a conventional line reading.
“My question is this: How much would Audible pay a sound engineer to produce a 400-page book read by the author?”
Jerry wants inside information to get a good price on his production costs.
He thinks I could give him a single figure, just a second of my time, and he’ll take it from there.
THIS is the ask.
This author needs a longer consult for his freshman effort; it would be worth his time.
Let’s break down the question a little further.
It’s the engineer, the production studio, that sets the prices. Surely he must know that.
I can tell from the way he phrases his question, Jerry hasn’t called the studio to ask how much they charge per-finished-hour—the PFH. The studio are pros, who’ll have a detailed pricing sheet.
Jerry describes his title in terms of “number of pages” — that’s a useless figure. One page could be any size, and have a single word or a thousand upon it.
The key math is how many WORDS are in the Work. That number will determine the time it takes to edit and complete the title.
Is there music? Tops and Tails? Are there language and dialect considerations? Is there a supplementary PDF? What is quality control going to look like? There are many more things to get ready. It would be wonderful to have a guide, a little full-spectrum advice.
“If you could give me a ballpark figure, I would appreciate it. I don’t want to underpay the guy, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of either.”
This sounds like someone who’s anticipating being cheated, or who enjoys getting the upper hand in a deal. It’s defensive.
Think about it: Jerry could figure out his answer from his own life experience. He’s a mature man. I bet he could figure out Audible gets better rates from studios than any individual. A large publisher is a source of months of steady work.
A studio is not going to give a single author, especially one who’s doing it for the first time, their best price. After all, a novice author will take more time to record and edit than an experienced actor who never makes a mistake, and doesn’t need special attention. A non-pro takes 2-3 times as long to record, as a pro.
The studio will likely still want Jerry’s business — they don’t take jobs for granted. If they’ve been in business for any length of time, they rely on their word of mouth reputation and repeat customers — they don’t have the time to underbid or cheat their customers.
Instead, here’s how you find out what’s legit: Read the reviews of the studio you’re keen on. Get quotes from more than one company. See if you like their vibe, and make your decision.
“Either way, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the help and guidance you have sent my way over the years, and I sincerely hope you have a wonderful 2024. — Jerry”
The bottom of his heart. He should value that place. Jerry has never written me outside of seeking business, or taken an interest in my work or life.
Nor does he need to. It’s a professional ask.
In my years as an acquiring editor/publisher, it was my job to bend over backwards to accommodate the most neurotic or narcissistic author. Our company wanted their talent and name, to sign a deal with a spring in their step!
Authors with incredible creative gifts are not necessarily nice or “appropriate.” They don’t have to be. They can be as ego-centric as they like.
Editors are able to overlook all the personality shockers and see the best in a person. An editor’s needs and moods are irrelevant. If an author called me in the middle of the night having a meltdown, my job was to say, “Oh my goodness, you must be a wreck. Let me see how I can help.” You protect them. That’s the job. You see how their talent is worth guarding the flame.
But nowadays . . . I work for myself. Jerry’s coming to me for a favor because I’m a guru.
So therefore, if I was Jer, here’s what I’d write:
[Appreciative, cogent sentence or two about something RECENT of mine he’s read or noticed].
Listen, I’m self-publishing my next book in audio, and I’d love to bend your ear. Could we make an appointment in the coming weeks? Let me know how you like to work.
I want to learn about audiobook costs and how to prep the title, what all is involved. Once we have a date, I can send you the manuscript and any other details you need.
Thank you so much; I look forward to hearing from you soon.
[If there’s another wholesome sincere personal remark to make, this where it goes.]
All my best, Author
If this author had written me such a note, I’d suggest we make a half-hour date and I’d quote him a friendly price.
As it is, maybe he’ll find this blog post, but I don’t think so — he’s not paying attention.
I saved the best for last . . .
PS: Susie, please send your address. I’d like to send you a signed copy of my new book as a tiny token of appreciation.
“A tiny token of appreciation?”
Jerry wants to harvest my address. Sure, join the club.
Sending a manuscript or one’s book to an editor is not a gift, it’s a request for help or sales.
If an artist books an appointment, they don’t need to offer tokens. Remember my opening maxim: Your ask is valuable, if it’s worth asking.
Giving presents to colleagues is another thing. It’s a big deal and very personal. On Xmas, my old boss sent me an antique tin of cookies she made, wrapped in festive tissue paper, with a note that made me burst out laughing. I felt so loved and appreciated. It’s moments like those that make you shrug off the ding-dongs!
Next on Publishing AITA: Am I The Asshole? —
How to write to an author— or an editor— about a deadline when there’s been a death in the family.
Next Friday on Pub Chops!
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