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.
Read Full Post »