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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Stoddard’

Here are the points that Jason Stoddard raised and that I tried to elaborate on yesterday:

the new paradigm (for success) requires that authors engage directly with their audience through a wide variety of web-based outlets, many of them of the social-networking variety

many authors are naturally inclined against such engagement and/or feel that they lack the time or skills to present themselves in a desireable manner

publishing companies already posess internet departments, marketing departments, sales departments, art departments. 

Like authors, publishers need to engage the social networking aspects of the internet

The sticking point is the enabling aspect. The solution is for publishing houses to invest a relatively small amount in beefing up the appropriate in-house resources and creating an implementation plan for (seamlessly) providng all of the internet-networking capabilities for their authors.

The benefits are many, the downsides few. Publishers will find themselves sitting on top of a vast, interconnected and cross-promotional platform of hundreds of web sites, blogs, youtube video channels, flickr photo galleries and friend networks.  This will undoubtedly have a positive impact on advertising budgets, brand recognition and sales (not to mention the potential for loosening the hold of distributors), and perhaps even raise the bar on author earnings.

Any author who is currently being published by a large house and who is not fully engaged with the kinds of outlets and networks that Jason described should be agitating with their marketing departments right now. The author’s job will consist of doing a little bit more of things they already do – write, answer emails and make themselves accessible to the fans that they already have.

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Edit:  I realize that parts of this post are seemingly incoherent and that I didn’t actually get to the Stoddard quotes I suggested I would be in the beginning.  This is the fault of TOO MANY INTERRUPTIONS WHILE WRITING.

But I don’t have the time right now to go back in and fix things.  So please read this with a grain of ‘first draft’ and look for the updated version later on today or tomorrow.

So I’m picking up the ball that’s been tossed back at me by Jason Stoddard.

I mentioned the other day that I’d exchanged a couple of emails with him regarding his New Marketing for SciFi pieces on his blog and the fact that he agreed with me that someone, somewhere ought to pick up the scut work of setting up websites, blogs, youtube, myspace & etc pages, RSS feeds, twitters and etc., for authors because utilizing those outlets, creating a community and engaging directly with the fan base in an INTERACTIVE manner is the new way forward to increased sales, recognition and creating a ‘tail’.

What I didn’t mention was that I’d asked Jason for permission to quote his email responses and more details about our discussion.  He graciously granted that permission, and I in turn promised not to write anything that might get him in trouble.

Let me set the stage once again.

Jason (correctly) states that if authors really want to survive the (possible) coming implosion of the publishing world (a speculated implosion, said speculation based on all kinds of observational data, including but not limited to the throttling of distribution channels, the surmised decrease in reading, an increase in cost, the fact that very few authors earn a living solely from writing, the death of the magazine market, the rise of da intarwebs and the great kitchen sink in the sky), they need to step up and GO TO WHERE THE AUDIENCE IS.

Which is of course the internet. Specifically the ‘social networking’ aspects of the internet.

More to the point, they need to establish a presence where the audience is, build up a friends network, provide additional content and engage (Can you hear Picard’s voice?  I can.).

Of course, Jason also identified the key obstacle to all of this, which is (are) the authors themselves.  Most authors live inside their heads. While many do just fine in social settings, its been my experience that they do well when they’ve chosen to go out in public and bask in the warm glow of fan appreciation otherwise known as egoboo.  However, this is done in a schizophrenic manner. The author has two distinct personalities – writer-at-work and writer-on-display.  The split personality is a direct consequence of the requirements of writing: one world consists of being entirely inward looking and brooks no interruption. (Try being the other who says ‘hey honey, can you…?’ during that critical juncture when the major scene is being written.  Actually, don’t try that since cleaning blood splatter off the walls is painfully time consuming.) The other world consists of adopting the persona of raconteur, artist-in-residence, wit, charm and a passive reception of praise, sometimes with a little criticism or silliness thrown in. 

Nothing wrong with either. The problem lies with switching back and forth between the two, which many, if not most, authors, find difficult to do.  There are notable exceptions (Ellison writing short stories in public while the peanut gallery comments), but they are uncommon.

Stoddard recognizes this by frequently mentioning the presumed authorial response to his suggestions, succinctly summed up as “ugh, barf”.  I’ve read enough author’s websites and commentary to believe that this correctly identifies most authors reaction to being told that they need to put together a Myspace page, post regularly on LiveJournal and take pictures of the sunset to stick up on their blog site.

Most authors know how to use a word processor, click around the web, do searches.  Do most know how to set up a website, design a page, activate an RSS feed. Most seem to feel that having to regularly post on a blog, answer emails, add people to their friends list, is a distraction (because it moves them from the writer-at-work persona to the writer-on-display personality). To most writers, getting the next ten thousand words down on the page is far more important than making sure everyone knows that they’ll be attending a book signing at the local book store.

I think it’s relatively easy to see that both activities are requirements in today’s connected world. Finishing up the latest novel is just as important as making sure people buy the latest novel. Unfinished draft equals no sales. No market for finished product equals no sales.

The tasks following the completion of the manuscript used to be the responsibility of the publishing company. However much they laid out in advance and spent on jacket design, printing, PR work, distribution work and etc., they’re not going to get any of it back unless they do the rest of their job, which is selling.

That dynamic used to work quite well in the pre-electronic era, because the publisher was the only entity in the equation that had the channels (shared perhaps to one degree or another with agents). 

What has changed is accessability. Readers now know that they don’t have to go through multiple layers in order to get to the source. They’d much rather hear from the author directly than they would a rep at the publishing company.  “Just finished chapter 12 of the 17th book of the Recursive Redundancy Trilogy and boy does Joe Smith get it!” has a lot more resonance with fans than a flat PR stating “Best Selling Author Dell Schuster is hard at work on…”

Not to mention a fan announcing to their own friends network that they just received a personal note from their favorite author.

Authors can justifiably question why they’re being asked to pick up some of the work that used to be the publisher’s responsibility. The short answer is because this is not really work the publishing company used to do – this is NEW work that responds to and (hopefully) takes advantage of new opportunities and capabilities. The other answer is, because the publisher can’t BE the author. They might get away with an autoscribe when that special edition requires 10,000 signatures, but no one else can replicate the personality and touching the personality is what the market wants.

In looking for a solution to the problem, it occurred to me that a service that handled all of the scut work, one that would let the authors do what they already do (write and wit) might be the answer. The idea being that as soon as a publisher signed an author, the promotional service would conduct an interview (what are your favorite pastimes? do you have pics of family/pets/strange happenings in your life, what kind of music do you like?) and then create a web page, a blog, a myspace page, a flikr image gallery etc.) and then link all those in to the other authors represented by the publishing company. Periodically updates would be performed, or the author could get in touch and say things like ‘Can you set up a podcast thingie for me?”

Just so you know I’m not just blue-skying this, there are a few obstacles. One is making sure that the author stays on some kind of regular update schedule. Another would be authors represented by multiple publishers. These are not insurmountable. RSS feeds from related authors into each website would at least help content updating limp along. A recognition that sales from one publisher is an asset to another publisher would handle the other. Similar obstacles are, I believe, as relatively easy to solve.

The huge advantage is that the market would be immediately tied in to every single author represented by these publishers. Promotion of one author would take place across the entire platform of every other authors’s sites and feeds. Friend networks (and potential buyers) would increase exponentially.

I asked Jason’s marketing-maven persona if he thought that the publishing companies would be interested in such a service. (I also asked him if he thought the answer was yes, why his company wasn’t preparing or offering such a service.)

His answers were instructive and the come down to one basic supposition, one I generally agree with: publishing companies prefer to handle their stuff in-house.

The consensus is clear: authors who HAVE been engaging in the kinds of activities described are experiencing success with doing so. 

Publishing companies that have established interactive, quasi-social networking websites for their company as a whole are experiencing success with those (Tor, Baen, etc.), by which we can ascertain that they already have most, if not all, of the in-house expertise necessary for suporting such efforts.

While I still maintain that such a service as a third party serving all publishing firms and authors would be far more cost-effective (and potentially responsive) than a series of smaller, in-house operations (and would also serve to mitigate internal ‘attention-issues’ – top flight authors getting more love than mid-list folks), where/how it is done is not nearly as important as starting down the path to getting it done.

For publishers that need convincing, allow me to belabor a few points:

1. IF you were to have a website, blog, myspace page, flikr page, RSS feeds and whatever else the market researchers determine is worth spending time on for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR AUTHORS, it will be possible to cut your outside advertising budget. You’re replacing hard dollar ads with in-house costs. Your cost for such advertising could drop as low as maintaining the web-marketing department.

2. You’ll have hundreds of websites all pointing back to the main site; hundreds of motivated ‘sellers’ hawking not only themselves but every other author in your stable.  Each one of them brings along a fan base.  Imagine what would happen to sales if only say, 2% of one authors ‘friends’ picked up a novel written by another author.

3. Traffic. Rankings. Ratings. Marketing stats.

It seems pretty straight-forward to me. For the cost of a couple of staff with specialist knowledge added to the in-house web team and time spent on developing a cohesive interconnection strategy (say, for example, each one of your author’s pages has a feed box that’s updated from other author’s websites, a stylish button accesses a directory of all of the connected pages and your firm’s logo in the upper right corner is one-click away from contextual ordering pages) and the publishing companies would be turning on their greatest marketing resource.

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Not much going on today except for having to take both the cat and the dog to the vets for annuals.  The dog loves going, the cat has to be fooled into the carrying case.  (Put them in backwards without letting them see it – works every time.)

I see that the courts have decided in favor of Andre Norton’s caregiver and against her lifelong fan in regards to control of the literary estate.  Not knowing either party, I’m incapable of rendering judgement on who would do the best job in maintaining Andre’s legacy.  It is nice to know that her works will once again be available for reprint.  What with all the concentration on YA lit these days, Norton’s novels are a gold mine waiting to be plumbed.  There’s the possibility of an appeal which could still delay things so we’re still in wait mode, but at least this thing is coming to a resolution.

I exchanged a couple of emails with Jason Stoddard regarding his “New Marketing for SF” pieces on his blog.  It’s nice to see someone who not only makes recomendations but follows his own advice as well.  INterestingly enough, Jason has Louis Edelman listed as a friend on his Myspace page, and I just exchanged a coupld of emails with Louis last week concerning my upcoming reviews of InfoQuake and Multireal.  (Finished Infoquake, about one third of the way through Multireal – see below for more).

I’m impressed with the accessability displayed by these ‘new’ authors; I’ve yet to not receive a timely response from anyone I’ve had occassion to email – Doctorow, Wolf, Scalzi, Edelman, Frank, Stoddard… 

I do agonize quite a bit over writing to them;  writing is their business and I’m asking them for ‘free’ time in doing so.  I don’t want to come across as annoying, and I try to remember that just because they seemed to appreciate the prior email doesn’t mean that I can start sending them recipes or pictures of my pets.  I don’t want to get classified into the ‘stay away’ column.

But my biggest fear is that some ham-handed attempt at getting an idea across is going to be misunderstood.  Email, blog commentary, etc., lacks the all important inflection conveyed by expression and tone.  There are a million ways to ‘say’ ‘your story sucks’ – from sarcastic to serious, but only one way to type it. Even if you followed it with an lol or a happy face, chances are your intention will be misconstrued.

It’s not all that different from being a fan attending a con, approaching that favorite author with some trepidation – that is until you get to know them (and they you) – but even when you’re on a face-recognition basis, it still doesn’t mean you can monopolize their time.  They’re at the con for everyone, not just you. 

***

I’ll not provide spoilers for my review of Infoquake that will be appaearing in an upcoming issue of Ray Gun Revival other than to say that I’m now on Multireal.  You might think that statement would give you a hint, but it doesn’t really.  Once the review is out, I’ll offer additional commentary here.

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I was struck (again) the other day by the unending lamentations coming from some quarters of the SF community.  In my head, it sounds like I’m standing in an alley between a Catholic Church and an Orthodox Synagogue as both congregations engage in response:

From the left: Priest: “For God hath created the singularity beyond which there is no knowing”

Congregation: “It is  truly a turd in the punch bowl that stinketh to high heaven”

Priest: “It is an abomination in the sight of the Lord, from which he turneth away”

Congregation: “And there shall be no more science fiction”

From the right: Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘these words lacketh in style’”

Congregation “Truly, they are non-literary”

Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘these characters are flat and uninteresting”

Congreation “Truly, they are non-literary”

Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘Go ye forth and write literary works for they are a sweet smelling sacrifice. No longer shall ye write in a clunky pulp style”

Congregation “And on that day, science fiction was no more. Amen.”

It seems like every day there is yet another reason why science fiction is no longer relevant, is dying or already finished but for the burial.

The post singularity future is unknowable, so we can’t write about the future.  SF is not literary enough and will therefore die in the marketplace.  We’re living in a science fiction world and therefore can’t imagine a future sufficiently wonderous enough to engage the reader. SF is and always will be perceived as an adolescent affectation. Science Fiction is for geeky nerds. There aren’t enough geeky nerds in the worlds to support the market. YA is stealing SF’s thunder. SF is a literature of short stories and the short story is dead. Magazines are the foundation of SF and magazines are dead. The audience has dumbed down and can’t handle thought-provoking literature of any genre. The society is falling apart and is too distressed and depressed to care about the future.  Genre’s only have a 75 year life cycle and we’re in year 100+.

My first thought is: you can’t have it both ways. Liteature of any kind is supposed to be about character.  SF’s contribution is a focus on the future, a vehicle for illuminating today through non-threatening speculative tropes, the home of the ‘big idea’.  But all of those things are realized through the characters that inhabit the story, the people that things happen to. 

Maybe a lot of SF characterization is ‘bad’ when seen through some ivory tower literary prism, and maybe there is room for improvement but, if stories are really about character (or are supposed to be) then how can a concept like the singularity threaten the genre?

I don’t think any of the aforementioned laments is accurate, nor are any of them the genre-killer they’re sussed out to be. I think the real problem is some underlying dissatisfaction with where the genre is today.  But not even that.  I think it’s dissatisfaction with where the genre is as opposed to some people’s fevered imaginging of where it ought to be. It might be a pay-scale thing. It might be an earnings thing, it might be a marketing thing. Some authors look at their advances and royalties and think they ought to be doing better. Some publishers think they ought to get more notices, or a better distribution deal or more shelf space. A lot of people look at the enormous impact some SF films or televisions shows have had and wonder why the golden touch hasn’t reached the book end of the business.

I’m not intimately familiar with the behind the scenes work that agents are doing for some of the more vocal authors (film options, etc), but of the authors who’s intimates I am familiar with, none of them are amongst the complainers, because they’re doing ok.  I don’t draw any conclusions from that observation, merely pointing it out as a possible data point.

And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with wanting more – better pay, more cultural recognition, bigger presence in the marketplace – but if that is what all of the complaining is about, I think the effort would be better spent on figuring out how to achieve those goals, rather than bemoaning the death of the genre.

Jason Stoddard was recently interviewed and covered a multi-part blog post he’s got going on SF and marketing.  His mantra is self-promotion and social networking (and the relatively low cost of high-impact advertising available via internet resources).

In those pieces he correctly identifies most writers initial reactions – “ugh, barf”.  And I agree that that is probably the standard reaction, except for a chosen few who seem to have a natural bent for it, such as Doctorow or Scalzi.  Not surprising, considering the relatively solitary nature of writing and world-building.  Most authors are, of course, happy to share the end product, but many are reluctant to let all but a few carefully hand-picked people in on the beta testing.

So, maybe the solution is to foist this activity off on the publishing companies? Maybe, as part of their marketing efforts, they need to not only host their own websites with lots of nifty content and quasi-social networking applets, but should, as a matter of course, automatically set up a blog, a youtube channel, a myspace page, add characters to virtual environments, generate appropriate widgets and etc.  Most authors have no problem writing, but many have a problem with the day-to-day maintenance of building a website, adding RSS feeds, finding the tributes and commentary, the reviews and such.

Instead of having each individual author try to do these things, there should be a department at a good publishing house that handles all the background crap.  Think of the traffic: if every single published author had at a minimum, myspace, youtube, flikr, website and blog, and all of those were linked in to the publishers main site AND cross-linked to each other (maybe a company logo at the top of the page), we’re talking a huge amount of internet real estate.  Think of the cross-promotion when every single one of those websites becomes a billboard, not just for the author in question, but for every other author represented by that publisher. 

Then the writers can do what they do – write. Preferably non-singularity conflicted, non-literary, pulpy science fiction.

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