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Archive for the ‘marketing’ Category

My (non-fiction) book – A Parent’s Guide To Paintball, (published by Liaison Press) was released to Kee Action Sports on May 15th of this year.

They’re a rather largish paintball product distribution and manufacturing company (one of the largest in fact).

Liaison and I agreed to give them a bit of a grace period to market the book to specialty paintball retailers and held the book back from listing with Ingram for about two months;  this kept the book off of online book retailer sites (and Liaison’s site as well, lol).

Kee purchased a very decent order of books and have been pouring a fair amount of effort into promotion – including building me a website for the book.

The decision to hold it back was something of a mutually agreed upon experiment:  (Kee knows a bit about marketing, seeing as how they distribute hundreds of millions of dollars of product a year.)  We’d all heard both the arguments for and against the effects of listing on Amazon.  Personal experience in the field of paintball and books on my part (I both wrote good portions of and then specialty distributed a previous paintball book) told me that sometimes retailers get miffed when they see the book they’re trying to sell discounted on Amazon.

So we compromised on the listing delay:  everyone agrees that Amazon, B&N, etc., can provide good product recognition and display, traffic, etc, and we all also agreed that most folks in the target market would prefer to purchase the book from the local ‘experts’ in the game – even if they knew it might be available on Amazon.

Now, the book has been listed with Ingram, is up on Amazon:  an Amazon Vine reviewer who’d obtained a review copy has already given it a four star review.

The distribution of other review copies is also beginning to bear fruit.  I got a glowing endorsement from the curator of the World Paintball Library (an old time ‘baller like me).

This has been and continues to be an interesting and creative project for me:  it’s been a ‘hybrid’ of sorts between traditional publishing and self-publishing, an example of customized book marketing and I think everyone involved is learning quite a bit.

Here’s just a little description of what I mean:

Liaison is a non-fiction imprint of Creative Guy Publishing, a small (horror-oriented) small press.  One of Liaison’s biggest hits is Installing Linux on s Dead Badger and I hooked up with it’s owner – Pete Allen – by way of reviewing Gary Wolf’s Space Vulture (review).

I mentioned that I had a completed book and was looking for a publisher.  Pete expressed interest and we talked it around – but paintball wasn’t really in his bailiwick and I really couldn’t afford to pay for printing up a decent number of copies:  I also didn’t want to  do it as a POD self-pub.

Then, by virtue of discussing the state of publishing these days, we hit on the idea of selling advertising inside the pages of the book to at least partially defray printing costs.

In soliciting advertisements, I ended up talking to the CEO of KEE, sent him a manuscript and Kee decided they wanted to back it.

So essentially I ended up putting together a publicity/marketing company that also acted like a book distributor and purchased a huge number of books in advance, a small press publisher who threw in the layout/book design work (and incidentals like ISBN, liaison with the printer) and there’s the book.

I guess you could say that I got my advance directly from the distributor – rather than the publisher.

This experience plays in to publishing in general as I think there are some good lessons learned (especially for small presses and writers thinking about self-publishing).

And I’m happy because I got the book to market and, if the early ‘returns’ are any indication, it is being well-received.

If you’re interested in following along, visit the book’s website HERE

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Back in September I changed my host/server arrangement and moved the blog from Word Press hosting to self-hosting on the Rim Worlds website. I did so for a couple of reasons – first, because I was being hosted as a guest and couldn’t get a real good look at my stats and secondly because I wanted greater control over what I could do.

I then started experimenting with affiliate advertising – Adsense, Amazon and Ebay to be specific.

I’ve earned a bit of money with Google, but sadly I’m unable to retrieve those earnings because Google seems to think that it must be illegal to receive mail at a PO Box. I’ve gone round and round and round with them – they’re difficult to talk to, they put as many roadblocks in your way as possible and they seem to (deliberately) misunderstand the nature of your questions or statements.

I’ve given up on them and as far as I’m concerned they can keep the money I earned (something I think was planned on their part anyway).

Ebay hasn’t generated any revenue at all. I’m not sure exactly why – perhaps the fleeting nature of the auctions, perhaps my utilization scheme was flawed, but I’m dropping that as well.

Amazone – same deal as Ebay – but I’m working on a bunch of listmainia lists that might give that effort a boost.

And here’s why. I finally got around to looking at my website’s traffic analysis and stats and I was a bit surprised to say the least. I’m see somewhere between 600 and 800 unique visitors a day, that number is increasing by between 14 and 20 percent per month and my ‘page views’ are up to over 120,000 in just four months.

Now I know that this level of traffic doesn’t hold a candle to portal sites – but I don’t think its all that bad for a site devoted to a very narrow niche – classic science fiction.

So I’ve decided to go back to my original plan of directly soliciting ads from specific companies – companies that sell and or market product that might be of interest to something like 20,000 old and graying science fiction fans.

I’m also flirting with the idea of a tip jar (5 bucks a month from 1% of those visitors would be a nice boost) and/or checking out Project Wonderful, which is an affiliate system, but they seem to have a bit more on the ball than Google does.

In the meantime I’m conducting another experiment; I’ve place an advertisement for two friends who operate small presses on my front page – and I’ve asked them to try and keep an eye on things and see if they get any bumps from my site. I’m asking anyone who does click on those ads to let the publishers know that they are visiting from my site. In a month or so I expect we’ll all have some small idea of how effective an ad on my front page might be.

The two featured companies are Old Earth Books, Mike Walsh Propieter and Creative Guy Publishing, Pete S Allen, Editor. I’ve chosen to feature two offerings from each; all four books have been critically acclaimed and well received and, while they’re probably available elsewhere (like Amazon), I’m sure that everyone would appreciate it if you order them directly from the source.

In the meantime, if you think that it might be worth checking out my site for the placement of some targeted advertising, check out the page for my criteria, requirements and rates and/or get in touch.

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The debate over the fate of the science fiction genre keeps on popping up; it often gets intertwined with another discussion – that of the fate of the short story publications – the ‘pulp magazines’ (which in turn often gets mashed up with the ‘is short fiction dying’ discussion). And lets not forget the companion debate – is fandom dying/graying?

I think that one of the reasons that these four inter-related discussions get grouped together is the result of an historical legacy: science fiction, as a recognizable genre, began when a market was created for it with the introduction of several pulp magazine – Weird Tales, Thrill Book, Electrical Experimenter and Amazing Stories primary among them.

In the minds of many, a robust field of monthly publications is synonymous with the health of the genre as a whole.

Due to the nature of the publications serving the field, shorter works of fiction (and markets for them) were also closely tied to the perception of what the SF&F field actually was. (Consider that most ‘novels’ published during the golden age were serializations first and rarely ran more than 200 some odd pages when published in book form and you’ll begin to see how deeply the magazines influenced everything.)

Anthologies of the day were reprint publications rather than original publications – not separate markets that could be sold to. The original anthology, soliciting new work directly, is a relatively recent innovation.

So it seems natural for anyone even remotely familiar with the history of science fiction publishing to use the monthly, short story buying magazine as a place to take its pulse.

Plenty of others have pointed out numerous reasons why this is an incorrect measure: electronic markets, more room for novel length material (and better pay for potentially less work), the number of original anthologies with decent backing and so on.

But folks still persist in pointing to the ‘Big Three’, noting their declining subscription base and getting all hepped up over the future of the genre.

So, rather than trying to approach this debate head – on, I decided to get to the root of it all and ask if the magazines really are dying. And I think the answer is “No”.

The first thing I did was to graph the history of science fiction and fantasy magazine publications from the ‘beginning’ (which I define as the first year that a regular publication that featured SFnal content appeared on the newsstands). I wanted to see how ‘now’ compares to the historical record.

I restricted this first look to US – based publications only, professional publications (along with just a few highly-regarded and well-distributed semi-prozines) and didn’t include e-zines because they’re almost completely impossible to track, not to mention being a part of the debate itself (are they the future…?).

So here’s the graph:

magazine graph

It runs from 1913 (introduction of the Electrical Experimenter) through 2008. Each block represents one year vertically and one title on the newstands horizontally. Just to make sure you are all reading it correctly, the bottom row of blocks (green) is for 2008 and it’s showing 7 publications being distributed for that year. Similarly, 1926 (also green) shows three publications (Weird Tales, Amazing Stories and Science & Invention).

Which brings me to the next caveat: Amazing Stories hit the stands in April of 1926, yet it is still given credit for the ‘year’. All of the publications were treated in this manner. Many were published irregularly, so a title’s entry for a particular year may only represent a single issue – or a full year’s worth. Some titles represented above were quarterlies (4 times per year), some ‘annuals’ (one big issue), some bi-monthly and some simply tried their best.

Finally, in cases where a magazine ceased and then resumed publication at a later date, two (or more) entries for that title are represented. Amazing Stories ceased publication in ’96 and resumed in 2004, so it is added in for all of the years from 1926 to 1996, not represented from ’97 to ’03, and is seen once again for the years 2004 and 2005.

The axis across the top of the graph shows the ‘total number of individual titles’. The highest this ever climbed to was 37 in 1953.

Some folks may be confused by seeing seven titles for the present year. That’s because regular magazine publishing of SFnal content goes on in places other than the Big Three. The titles for 2008 are: Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Starlog, Weird Tales and Heavy Metal. Certainly my definition of what constitutes an SF magazine may be questioned and quibbled, but the intent is clear. Adding a few titles in (SciFi.com, for example) or taking a couple out doesn’t really change the results all that much because,

what we’re looking at is certainly a low point on the graph, but nothing all that unusual.

If you were to adjust the 60s by removing the reprint titles (most from Ultimate Publishing corp) and adjust the 50s by removing the really low-end publications that were almost universally despised by authors and readers alike and adjust the 40s by removing the quarterly reprint rags, the graph would be much more even across the decades.

Without getting into deep statistical analysis, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the current state of affairs, while being at the low end of activity, is still well within the normal range of what we’ve been seeing from the beginning of the field.

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SKIFFYTUBE ORIGINAL 11 17 copy

AND

TDESS FINAL copy

WATCH IT NOW! JUST CLICK ABOVE AND YOU’LL BE THERE!

Meanwhile, sadly, I will not be attending Philcon. Scheduling screwed with things and no magic carpet ride from the Boston area materialized, despite my begging. I think I need to work on the begging technique.

Regardless, my HS buddy Joey Pickles is going to take a shot at it – he only lives a few relative blocks from the convention hotel in beautiful downtown Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Yes, there are trees there. No, you can’t see or smell the refineries. And BTW – the convention hotel is RIGHT OFF OF EXIT 4, in case you were going for that hoary old Jersey Joke.

Joe has volunteered to try his hand at guest-blogging for me next week – hopefully he’ll have some nifty pictures. I was planning on blogging from the hotel lobby/panel rooms and party rooms myself, but – see the opening paragraph.

Simon Owens over at Mediashift, has a rather nice piece about the collision of pulp magazines and the internet – specifically SF&F pulps.

He talks with Godon van Gelder of F&SF and John Scalzi (as the go-to successful ‘I give stuff away for free and still have plenty of sales’ guy): we’ve seen this discussion before and the people who’s opinions I agree with all agree that ‘it’s the marketing, stupid’ – not some inherent flaw of the subject matter or the publishing medium.

Actually (lest he chastize me yet again) Scalzi is not the ‘give stuff away for free guy’, he’s the ‘sterling example of how to manage successful internet marketing techniques to drive sales’ guy. One of three cited (Stross and Doctorow being the other two).

I’ll say it again: it’s marketing, not the medium or the message. The BIG THREE (really ought to be the small-minded three, considering that between them they command an unimpressive paid subscription circulation of only 61,469 or an equally unimpressive take of $2,059,610.93 in gross subscription sales (estimated from their stated prices and the numbers in the article).

The future of the industry is riding on 2 million bucks?

Scalzi comments in his whatever blog as well.

I’ll have more to say on this – probably later on today. What I do know is that – this is not the first time that the magazine field has shrunk. There have been die-offs and resurgences aplenty.

What I do find MOST interesting is the fact that the Big Three represent one magazine each from the three BIG eras of “pulp” magazine publishing: Analog as the successor of Astounding that hails from the primordial era (late 20s, early 30s) Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1949 (49, Simon, not ’48) – the big ‘cold war boom’ era and Asimov’s from the ‘late space race’ era of the mid 70s to early 80s.

What is also clear is that, in terms of ‘marketing’, trying to expand the reader base with media tie-ins is NOT the way to go. Amazing Stories suffered this fate, as did Omni, Science Fiction Age and several other relatively new publications.

Finally – PULP is long gone. For purists, ‘pulp’ refers to bedsheet sized rags printed on pulp paper. The current crop of ‘zines are ‘digests’ and, whole Analog can claim a pulp heritage, neither F&SF nor Asimov’s were ever printed on pulp in large-size format – they’ve always been digests.

(Asimov’s companion ‘zine Asimov’s SF Adventure was printed as a ‘slick’.)

Laters!

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I was listening to a PBS radio broadcast the other day and they mentioned the Beta of Google Trends – a service from the search engine folks that allows you to compare the search volume traffic for from one to five search terms you enter. Once activated, it spits back interesting data – graphing your terms against each other, showing related terms, the top physical locations (by country/city) that the searches originated from.

Trends deserves a fair amount of discussion all by itself – but that’s not what I’m here for, so you’ll all have to do that for yourselves. Check it out, it’s a lot of fun and an interesting web time waster.

Being who I am, what do you think the first search terms I typed in were? You got it – SCIENCE FICTION and SCI FI.

Here’s what it returned for those two names:

trends

“sci fi” 1.00 (blue) “science fiction” 0.92 (red)
Scale is based on the average worldwide traffic of “sci fi” in all years.

As you can see, searches for “science fiction” have been on a steadied and measured decline since 2004, while “sci fi” has risen steadily (if more slowly than “science fiction’s” decline); the two names traded places during the second quarter of 2006. Since then, “sci fi” has been searched for more frequently.

You’ll also see that “science fiction’s” search volume is a mere .08 percent lower than “sci fi’s”. The graph, I think, tends to exaggerate this relatively small difference. On the other hand, the search volume is measured in millions, so on an individual basis, there’s probably a good several hundred thousand people more around the world who are plugging in “sci fi” than there are typing in “science fiction”. (See what I did there? I used the modern term for entering a search term for “sci fi” and the older word, one synonymous with ancient and decrepit technology, for “science fiction”.)

The thing that I found most interesting (and which didn’t show up today) when I did this yesterday (11/13) was that Morocco turned up as one of the highest originating countries for searches.

I looked at that for a bit and then checked the languages. Yesterday, English was number one, and French was number two. Most of the Moroccan searches were done in English.

Hmmmm. A small group of expatriates hidden away in Casablanca are feverishly searching the net for sci fi stuff. And science fiction stuff (but doing .08 percent more searches for sci fi…)

Somewhere off in the background, I hear Peter Lorre (Ugarte) saying “Reeek, Type in ‘sci fi!’, you must help me, Reeek!”

Rick types “science fiction” into the search engine. “I stick my neck out for nobody” he replies.

Watching, Ugarte says “You despise sci fi, don’t you?”

Rick doesn’t bother looking up, keeping his eyes on the screen. “If I gave it any thought, I probably would.”

***

(All in fun Bill.)

I think I’m going to spend some time re-writing ALL of the dialogue for Casablanca as a discussion of science fiction versus sci fi, rather than the struggle between good and evil that the story really is.

Right now though, I have to go to Concord to buy some pants.

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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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