book promotion, reading

What’s Your Plan?

I am riled by (the info in) Atthys’ latest post: readership is down (we knew that), and self publishing is way up. A lot of folks who would formerly have been reading are too busy, having been inspired by Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking to try their hand at it.

He’s right about writers, to a certain extent. I have many books I want to dig into. I nibble, here, there. It takes something really special to lock me in. It doesn’t mean I don’t admire a piece, but I have things I feel I need (as opposed to want) to read. Much of this is research. I confess, I am one of the recalcitrant readers.

But there are still plenty of not-booked-up book lovers around. How do we reach them? How do we convince them that our book, in the vast array of choices, is the one they want to read? How do we get ourselves noticed in the first place?

We need a marketing plan. A robust marketing plan. Putting your thing up on Amazon, doing an interview on someone’s blog, planting an announcement here or there, buying an ad on Google, we see from testimony given here, this doesn’t begin to suffice.

Number one, you need a website. I’m working on one, as most of you know. Curtis wonders why it has to be so elaborate. Why can’t I just post my novella, hand out my bumper stickers, and get back writing?

I consider graphic style to be a hook as important as a dynamite first paragraph. (Well, natch. I’m a designer.) Everyone I manage to herd to my site who doesn’t have his/her socks knocked off one way or another, I’ve had my shot with them and blown it. I aim to tantalize with fun graphics and patter, holding their interest long enough to get them to read a bit of story, hoping they decide that my squirrely thing is for them.

Only days ago I inserted Mr. Peabody into the mix. The Mr. Peabody. He performs a specific mechanical function for me, but I’m sure I’ll find other use for him. He is, you’ll recall, a history buff, possessed of a rare breadth and depth of information. (How can I pass up this astonishing opportunity?) He’s spent the past forty years earning his Ph.D. Like my ex-sister-in-law did, changing schools and/or fields multiple times, because she could. She ran through a large inheritance in the process. She’s now forced to sell land that’s been in her family for generations. Dr. P has depleted his own money (from his hit show) and, broke, the poor guy lacking a considerable remnant of once massive farmland to surrender, he’s coming to work for me. I believe I’ll give him an advice column on my site, poor baby.

I may call it Ask Dr. P. Will people think I’ve got Dr. Phil on board? Phil-style babble, references to a TV show, they may. Should I exploit that somehow? Something to think about. I’m beginning to wonder if Peabody wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Dr. Phil show, and they accepted it to get him out the damn door.

When I’m all tuned up, ready to roll, I’ll promote my web presence aggressively:

This is a bit out-there, but I may try it: In a bookstore, poke your business card into books in your genre, way in the middle. Readers will most likely not find the Rogue plug for some time. If they’ve bought used, they’ll think it was left behind by the previous owner.

We have several small second hand bookstores in our area, and one rather renowned independent, the Hickory Stick in Washington Depot, CT. Might they let a local author put up a poster? The area is full of weekenders up from Manhattan. Who knows what eye I might catch.

Kent is a movers-and-shakers summer haven. I will set up on the main street on a big summer weekend. (In summer, all weekends are big, but some are extra big.) I’ll grab a prime parking spot early in the day and publicize Sly out of my car.

That’s for someday. Back to now: I pick up valuable information in the several writer/web design groups on Facebook. Here’s a tip I found just today: Google has a new search algorithm that gives priority to mobile-ready sites. I have debated making my .com site a pared down mobile-friendly portal to a full site. (As opposed to a supplemental thing.) After reading this, I am convinced a simplified feeder to the big bass drum (Booth led boldly with his big bass drum, that line sticks with me from tenth grade, fifty-five years ago) seems to be the better way.

More street level shenanigans: Can you get yourself profiled in your local paper? My cousin Jim Meirose has had several pieces done on him. He’s made himself a name, at least in Central Jersey. Have you thought about posting a flyer in laundromats? I’ve perused many a bulletin board, waiting for my duds to dry.

I’m wondering, seeing all the political frou-frou on my way to work, how about yard signs? I’m considering knocking on doors, offering twenty-five bucks a month for permission to spear a placard into someone’s turf. Near a stop sign, where drivers sit in line.

That thin flexible vinyl bumper stickers are made of? I wonder if I could get an over-the-shoulders front/back billboard, turn myself into a walking advertisement. My husband might want to pretend he’s not with me but I can deal with that.

For all of this, you need an on-line home, where you: Talk up your book(s). Collect email addresses. Offer premiums. Post dates and locales of personal appearances. (Craft shows, etc., especially if you have hard copies to sell. I’m thinking here of my eventual paperdoll.) On Facebook you can place a link in any number of groups. Some percentage of viewers will take you up on it. I investigate sites all the time, to see how others handle them.

A website is your best tool. Create a hybrid, op-ed content in addition to the show-and-tell for your story so that, having coaxed folks on, you might keep them coming back.

Tell me your plan. Could be you have great ideas I’ve overlooked. I would love to hear them.

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book promotion, reading

Serials: The Little Engine That Could?

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Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, won’t you choo-choo me home!

Curtis says: “I have written a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.”

Atthys says: Agents … “didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth their time and effort. The bottom line really is the bottom line.”

Serials may be a viable alternative path to publication. Slow and steady wins the race, remember? No stone unturned, I promised that, to you and to myself, a while back.

I’m going to look into it.

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Here’s Yael Goldstein Love (of Plympton Publishing) on serialization: (some of this is paraphrased/condensed)

* A serialized novel is a novel delivered to readers in installments over time. Each installment is a satisfying read in itself, but it also leaves you wanting more. Any good serialized novel also reads well as an all-at-once book, whereas the reverse is not true. A slow, lyrical novel, for instance, might make a bad serial. I say ‘might’ because you never know what other charms this book might have. Maybe each chapter is a perfect gem you want to savor.

Charles Dickens was THE famous early serialist, with The Pickwick Papers. Pretty soon, and for much of the 19th century, it was rare for a novel to be published as a book without first appearing as a serial. Most of the great (and not so great) 19th century novelists needed that money to survive, before their full book made its way into stores.

* Time-wise, and cost-wise, a serial has obvious advantages (for a reader) over a full novel. The stakes are much lower. Don’t like the first installment? Don’t get the second.

* The rhythm of the thing: Monthly doesn’t seem to work. A month might as well be a decade as far as serial reading goes. You lose the thread, maybe have to start over. But is weekly ideal? Daily? Release everything at once and let the reader choose the pace? Yael says that works for the library of classics on Plympton’s companion site DailyLit. She doesn’t have an answer for original fiction.

Serials are something of a natural for us today. TV shows with a running narrative have trained us to expect our stories to arrive in bite-size chunks, and there’s real delight to the cliffhanger.

* Serialization may work best as a marketing device—to build buzz before a book is released. This means the format becomes, in part, a gimmick. But, historically, serials have changed thinking, and may do so again.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published as one complete book, wouldn’t have had the effect that it had on thousands of white readers. It would have been easier to read it, put it aside, and forget the uncomfortable fact that something horrific was happening in this country. Instead, readers had to sit with it for months, thinking and wondering as they went about their lives. That made it a lot harder to forget those uncomfortable facts. I mention this mainly because I think it highlights just how much depth and richness the serial experience can add. It’s the furthest thing from a gimmick; it’s an art form.

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Entertainment choices were once severely limited. Serialized fiction filled a real need. A popular author under contract was an asset, giving a newspaper an edge over rivals. It was no second-rate way of publishing, it gained you a wider audience than you would have had, and it paid, perhaps not handsomely, but dependably.

Online outlets have proliferated, but there is an admission process, and there are rules. We’re back to a situation in which we deal with a gatekeeper. Some spots are difficult to join, some less so. On those easier to infiltrate, the quality may be less. A few lemons and a reader may move on. There are pastures and pastures, some greener than others.

A handful of sites pay, most do not. The major gain is exposure. You’ll have to fight for it, like anywhere else and, to quote Ringo, it don’t come easy. There’s massive competition.

Plympton is a major player. It’s gotten some great press. I read about them on Salon. (Kindle and Amazon are the biggies, but Plympton is a well-known boutique site.) They handle some big names, and they take on unknowns. But I went to the website and found: No new submissions accepted at this time due to submission overload. I have no idea, as yet, how common this is.

You can go it alone, some do. But you have to promote just as relentlessly as you would for a book. And punchy episodic chapters that hang together as a whole are essential.

Punchy. We’re back to a formula. A few thousand words of fast-paced shenanigans, wrap it up with a hook that entices folks to look forward to the next bit of business. My dense, ambling style may not pair well with the format.

It is easy to believe, and it may well be true, that serials lead to repeat customers and enhanced customer retention. Some sites allow for reader participation. Authors generally welcome the back and forth, saying it gets a reader onboard like nothing else.

The form is appealing on both sides of the equation. An intriguing novelty, a short, self-contained story, read it on your lunch break. The structure lends itself to a test drive for reader and author alike. I expect that readers settle on a favorite one or two sites after a broader try-out.

With an eye-catching title, you may have a better than average chance of being noticed in a table of contents. It’s a form of market research. You may build a committed fan base before you vault onto Amazon, followers who may be Johnnie-On-The-Spot with a review when that time comes.

May-may-may. I’m constructing my castles in the air before I’ve ever set foot into a serial site. BTW, I read that some of them are loath to give out figures on traffic, hobbling an accurate evaluation of prospects. Choose wisely.

Hugh Howey created a serial without meaning to. His initial petite version of Wool proved so popular, readers demanding more and more from him, that he spun it out to a full-length novel. The rest is publishing history.

His story was so successful that he’s the first author ever to negotiate a contract allowing him retention of digital rights. He’s got his big book deal, and he keeps the full proceeds from online sales. Full earnings, not whatever percentage your liege-lord thinks good and proper. They had to do it. Hugh wouldn’t have signed otherwise. He’s making too much money on his own. How’s that for an inspiration?

Check out Tuesday Serial, which offers . . . whoa! . . . one-hundred-twenty-seven pages of listings. I’ll dig deeper into that next time.

 

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Welcome

It’s a Grand Game.

That’s what I keep telling myself.

Thoughts on a gray, ugly afternoon, when I long to be out in the garden. I’m not in a cheery mood.

 

images-3I never thought my book could be published, for a number of reasons. I’ve gotten past that. I’ve finally found a solution for what I always saw as my major problem, radically different tones in books one and three. I’ve nudged both sensibilities to a middle ground, and I think it works.

The marketing will be as hard or harder. What can I say except: we have to try to enjoy the experience in and of itself, as a game. Because, we all know it, the odds are heavily against us.

Here we are, on this crazy train, right? Maybe we’ll end up in a sweet place, maybe not. Set your sights too high and you’ll have your heart broken, I’m afraid. My definition of high would be a genuine career, earning anything (and I do mean anything) remotely akin to a living.

I hope none of us has paid one of the rebooted vanity presses for a (very likely) iffy edit, a formatting, a cover, and a few POD hard copies. I have a neighbor who bought such a package. At first I thought she had been legitimately published. I was thrilled for her. Then I googled the name of the small press publisher. Their charges run four hundred to well over a thousand dollars. I doubt she’ll make her money back. I asked her, what are you doing to promote it? I got a blank look in return.

Actually, a thousand ain’t bad. My father paid to publish his autobiography in the early eighties. The story in my family is that he spent ten thousand dollars to get himself in print. (Ten thousand thirty years ago. What would that be today? At least double.)

He may have sold a few books through the Swiss-American Society (his family immigrated from Switzerland when he was a child, and it was rather an interesting story, hardscrabble homesteading in Canada, mine disasters in Washington state, rough, they had it rough) but he had to give most copies away.

There is a ton of stuff on the web about promotion. I’ve been gathering it, for years, into a file. I’ll fish out the most useful items and dribble them in here from time to time. But my best advice is, have fun with this. Honestly, that’s my very best advice.

Here’s a more nuts-and-bolts tip: I’ve read again and again, take it slow and steady, keep writing, publish multiple titles, grow a following. That’s how Hugh Howey (Wool) did it. He initially offered his book in serial form. And, of course, he had a great story in a popular genre, and a lot of luck. I’m not writing in a popular genre, and I’ve never been particularly lucky, so I’d better settle for having fun. Frankly, that’s been my game plan all along.

I’m right now googling a book written by a former housemate. My brother told me twenty years ago that he’d walked into the Harvard Coop on a visit to Boston and found the guy doing an author signing of Murder in the Combat Zone. I lived in a group house with Herb for five or six years. Now I find on his Linked In profile that he studied creative writing at Cornell.

He never breathed a word about an interest in writing all the time I knew him but, neither did I. Rae was a computer person at MIT, Christopher was the perpetual PhD candidate at Tufts, I was making stripper costumes for the Combat Zone (which is why I remember the title of his book exactly, I had jotted notes for a thriller set in the Zone myself and I was jealous, and bummed). No writing went on in that house that I was aware of, but for Chris and his never completed dissertation. Herb and everyone else (we had many transients) were working for a computer-paper recycling co-op that my brother started. I’m curious as hell to know how well he writes, now that I see, my God!, he studied creative writing at Cornell. Maybe under Nabokov. Hold on. I’ll check on that.

Nope. Nabokov was there until ’59. Herb would have landed on campus in the fall of ’64. Vladimir wouldn’t have been teaching undergrads anyway. I can’t find a mention of Herb’s book anywhere. He apparently never wrote a follow-up. I guess the first didn’t sell. Big surprise, hey? This would have been the eighties, pre-ebook. Damn! You’d think a reseller would have a copy listed.

Well, we have ebooks now and they don’t disappear. This is something of a nightmare for those of us trying to get a toe in the door. I pump myself up with the idea that a hundred years from now someone may discover my nonsense and I’ll be a sensation.

I mean to be encouraging. Is it working?

This venture shows signs of developing into a formidable resource. GD’s first post contains very useful information, in Jousting Windmills. Thanks, GD. I may use a variation of that phrase on a piece comparing goofball me to Miguel de Cervantes and goofball Sly (my fast-talking cat) to Don Q. Who’s roly-poly Sancho? Sly’s own sidekick, my roly-poly froggie, of course.

We’ve got some good heads here (mine the least of them, providing comic relief). Dip a toe in every now and then. You’re going to be glad you did.

 

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