Thursday, August 23, 2007

Benchmarks in a Writing Career

I'm blogging today, Aug 23 at Fresh Fiction. Hope to see you there. Meanwhile, I have a lot to say, enough to spread it around :) And today's topic at Daily or Not is Benchmarks:

BENCHMARKS, every career has 'em. In a writing career, these indicators are particularly important, because they may also be used as promotional devices.

I am surprised how many writers do not know the importance of certain benchmarks. Just as a freelance article writer needs clips to prove background and quality of writing material, a mass-market writer must also be aware of benchmarks, and what they can mean to a career.

Publishers want to see any credentials that a writer may have, and many of those are awards, on the best-selling lists, high print runs and good sell-throughs (they can ring these up in a minute; they are tacked to writers' backsides). Literary agents also want to be apprised of any benchmarks in a career, or perhaps in personal achievement that could be used for promotion. But for the purposes of this blogger and this post, the focus is on benchmarks of a mass-market career. I'm addressing mass-market fiction/romance, because that is what I know best. I've heard too many people addressing topics in which they have absolutely no experience. I do have some small experience.

I'm asking for input from other writers (because not all experiences are the same and I need help) and may revise this list later. All of this is very fluid, depending on experience. Here are some benchmarks for mass-market fiction/romance writers, starting from the top of the list (and this will be adjusted, too). If you can think of anything else to add, I'd appreciate hearing from you and others would too. Here's 25 benchmarks to start the ball rolling:

1. Placing on the top of the New York Times best-selling list (You've really made it!)
2. Placing on the New York Times extended list (Going good)
3. Placing on the USA Today best-selling list (better higher, then lower, still good going)
4. Placing high in sales at Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, etc.
5. Placing on any best-selling list at all
6. A starred review in PW and reviewed well by top magazines/newspapers in literary columns
7. Hardback to softback publication, both hitting top lists
8. Print runs over 100k in softback with high sell-throughs, i.e. 80%
9. Special and focused placement in the publisher's sales catalog
10. Publisher paid ads in media, i.e. radio/magazines
11. Publisher invites to business conferences, i.e. promotion. And pays travel
12. Featured short stories in women's magazines and/or featured biographically
13. Publishers sending writers to distribution conferences, or on tours
14. Your publisher invites you into special projects, i.e. the "headliner" of an anthology
15. Publishers other than your own inviting you into special projects
16. Booksellers/distributors requesting you for promotions, this through the publisher
17. More powerful agents/agencies
18. More author advantages clauses in contracts, i.e. cover input or approval, holding all foreign rights
19. Notably increased advances with every contract
20. Awards: RITA, Holt, Bookseller Best, and others
21. Any positive review
22. Invitations to speak, expenses and fees paid from a notable conference
23. A high number of readers on a mailing list. According to a PR specialist, 2000 to start is good for a list. But some high flyers have well over 40,000
24. The association and coupling with big name writers in websites and blogs
25. Invitations to speak and/or write articles for different periodicals

However, there are other benchmarks, small but significant and not necessarily in order. They are:

1. If an editor sends flowers after a particular coup, i.e. making a best-selling list
2. If an editor responds quickly to all of your queries
3. If a senior editor and/or publisher invites you to chat about your career with them, and their plans for you. (Perhaps this should be above.)
4. If a notable agent/agency answers your informal query with interest
5. An invitation to a major/star writer's private party (small but nice and affords opportunity to learn more about business from those w/more experience; hobnob with the greats :))
6. Seated at an editor's table during a conference/meeting, via a special invitation
7. When an editor invites you to a private, not group, dinner at a conference. This doesn't always hold true, because schedules differ, but it is a prime benchmark. (This should probably be above.)

The top benchmark of all:
***When your family recognizes that what you're doing behind those closed doors is actually producing a book that other people read, that can be seen on the book stands, that those readers actually enjoy your book


Maddie James said...

Great list, Cait. I may have to copy and hang over my computer! I'll be looking forward to seeing if others make additions. thanks for posting!


Shirley Hailstock said...

Hi Cait,

I have some benchmarks to add.

1. Having your picture on the walls in Barnes and Noble and on their store bags.

2. Major promotions and in-store displays by booksellers that result in massive preorders of your book.

3. Having readers and booksellers hold parties for the characters in your books.


Cait London said...

That's great, Shirley. I'll incorporate all these later. I think it will be fun and very interesting.

Heather Hiestand said...


This is very interesting! I'd move the positive reviews #21 down to the bottom because there are so many reviewers that this isn't too hard to do. I was very interested to see the stat about mailing list numbers. I'm primarily epubbed and it seems like 300-400 is a good sized mailing list in that world. It really is bigger on the mass market side! I'm sending my friends to read your blog entry.

Heather Hiestand/Anh Leod

Cait London said...

Heather, send over anyone you like for comments, but please note that I am focusing on mass-market fiction. I think e-pub is great, btw, and some of my books are e-pubbed.

I like your input w/number. I'm hoping to get enough comments to rearrange and add and make a final list.

For one thing, benchmarks in mass-market fiction can be more than the 100k print run listed. They are usually 100/200/250/300+ But working up to that 100 and making it after 50k or so, is a real happy benchmark :)


Charlene Sands said...

Hi Cait,
Thanks for posting 25 Benchmarks. I'm hit a few, but there's definitely room for improvement and it's a good reminder of what are goals are, besides writing the best book we can!
Charlene Sands

Eve Silver / Eve Kenin said...

Cait, this list is brilliant. Thanks for posting it!