An old friend in a new role

Are you thinking of publishing a book? If so, you’re probably wondering how to stack the odds in your favor, in terms of market success. And if you’re not thinking that, you should be. Why? There are three hundred thousand new titles published every year in America. Of that, no more than a few hundred make the New York Times list.

But that’s not the worst of it . . . most bestsellers are written by authors who wrote bestsellers before. In any given year, fewer than fifty debut authors break out into the mainstream lists. If you want to be one of them, you need more than great writing.

You the right story at the right time, shaped in the most compelling way. Armed with that, you must catch the interest of a fickle public, and for that to happen fast enough to make a bestseller, you need the power of the media behind you. I’d like to tell you about a friend who might be able to help you out . . .

Let me introduce Steve Ross, the publisher who discovered Look Me in the Eye and many other huge bestsellers. Steve headed Crown Publishers back in 2007 when I took up the book writing trade. He left Crown before my book came out, but I credit him for having the vision to acquire the title – something that took a lot of vision and courage, since I was a complete unknown.

My book would never have been the success it is, if not for his original vision, and the work of the team he assembled to bring it to market . . . Rachel Klayman, my editor; Tina Constable, who took over Steve’s role when he left; Whitney Cookman, who created the wonderful cover; and all the marketing, promotion and production people who brought my story to the world.

Steve Ross left Crown to run one of the divisions of HarperCollins, but his position went up in smoke when the economy imploded in 2009. Since then he’s been consulting with authors on his own. In today’s Publisher’s Weekly, I see that he’s formalized this new career by taking a new position at the Abrams Artists Agency.

To quote PW’s Rachel Deahl:

Ross has been running his own author services business since last February, when HarperCollins closed the unit Ross was president and publisher of, Collins. Starting July 12, Ross joins Abrams, working both as an agent and heading up the company’s newly formed Abrams Author Services.

Ross will be director of the book division and will, as he explained, be bringing the consulting business he’s been overseeing to Abrams. While Abrams currently handles some books—Maura Teitelbaum is the sole literary agent there—Ross said the company, which he described as “solidly entrenched in other talent management,” is looking to sign more authors.

Ross . . said Abrams Author Services will offer the same kind of package he’s been delivering to his clients, which means guiding authors in the editorial process and helping them with everything from title selection and jacket design to deciding on the best distribution option. As a result of the consolidation and cutbacks at the big six houses, Ross said, agents are finding it harder and harder to sell books they would have easily placed five years ago. This, in tandem with the growth in distribution/delivery options, means, he believes, that there’s a greater wealth of worthwhile books that have an audience but no major publisher.

Ross . . will be working from Abrams’s Seventh Avenue office in Manhattan. He can be reached at

Give Steve a shout, and if he puts together a deal for you, be sure and let me know.

Here's the announcement from Publisher's Weekly

Here's the press release from Booktrade


Tammy said…
I've thought about writing a book, about my son, but it would be tough.
Unknown said…
John, you've hit the nail on the head. My wife is a debut author, and we've seen firsthand exactly how tough it is to not only get published, but also noticed. I've heard agents describe getting hundreds or even thousands of manuscript submissions per week. They have to reject 99% of those just because of time. Once you have an agent, it's still a long road, but at the very least you have an advocate on the inside.

Complicating matters, the industry recently shuffled and laid off lots of the most experienced people. Fortunately, my wife's book survived the turmoil, but others were just put on hold - and this made it a hundred times more important to shine in the crowd. A great editor can refine a very good book into something that'll hit the charts, because the author usually thinks their story is ready when it needs a lot of work. So after a long road, Blood Law by Jeannie Holmes hit the shelves this past Tuesday. So far, it seems like people love it, and I know from the rough drafts that the editing made a huge difference. She's currently at Thrillerfest in NYC promoting her book while learning from industry experts - also a very worthwhile endeavor.

A car analogy works here: If you have a mechanically perfect Rolls Royce for sale, a professional detailer can make a huge difference in its ability to sell and get the best price. LMITE is a great story, from a great storyteller, and it is very well polished. Both you and your editor did a great job and I'm planning to buy your next book based solely on my experience with the first one.
cath c said…
thank you for the headsup.
Kate said…
I just wrote a book and was wondering how to get it noticed, so this is a very timely post for me. I self-published it on Lulu and advertised it on all of the relevant websites, and I've gotten a few bites, but it's been slow so far. I wonder how much your friend charges - I might just email him to find out. (For anyone interested in my book, which is autism related an therefore hopefully relevant, please go to )
jonathan said…
I wrote an unpublishable novel that wa rejected by ten literature agents. Also a short nonfiction book needing work. I have worked on a second novel on and off for a few years, I may never finish a first draft.

It is very hard to get published let alone on the NY times bestseller list and you have to write a publishable work first. It is even worse now that the economy is so bad.
Unknown said…
John, Forgive me for being obtuse but isn't the reason that you were able to get an "in" with the publishing world is that your brother is also a fantastically successful author? Not to be an ass here... I love your book and have bought it no less than 5 times new for various friends. It's great to pump up an old friend but please don't pretend that you wandered into this book authoring thing blind.
John Robison said…
MR, having a successful author as a brother certain ensured that any literary agent would read my query. It did not mean any publisher would publish the work.

The history of publishing is full of bestseller brothers and sisters who are total flops. In fact, that tends to be the rule more than the exception.

While I do not mean to discount my brother's encouragement and the help his earlier work provided when I got started, my work did and does fully stand on its own.
Unknown said…
Hi John, Not sure why it just put me as Mr when my handle is mrbort.

I really didn't mean to discount your work; I certainly think that it stands as its own as an important work in a field where there is a need for both passion, compassion and humor. It is superbly written and nothing takes away from that.

I guess what I was trying to get at was the crucial "in" that you had to get this superb team to read your work and consider it as having a little more gravitas behind it (your brother's endorsement) than the standard manuscript thrown at them by a total unknown.

Having thought about it more, I am taking this away from the post: Steve Ross is a guy who can see the qualities that may to others in the industry remain obscure in unconventional subject matter (such as your book). This is a great takeaway message and an encouragement to authors to seek him out

Again, I don't mean to in any way malign your accomplishment or throw water on the dreams of other aspiring writers. I wish both you and them the best.

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