Monday, January 13, 2014

Thoughts on Marketing

This came up for discussion on DorothyL, the mystery list serv, but since any discussions regarding traditional publishing versus self-publishing is verboten, the discussion has been terminated. So I'm going to talk about it here, because I think it's really relevant to what all authors are facing these days.

In a nutshell, there were a lot of angry words regarding reviewing and how reviews are becoming less "review-ish" and (a) more of a platform for an anonymous person who sees reviewing as a power play; or (b) author using the review process as a form of stealth marketing; and (c) how much we are all being overloaded with marketing efforts by those pesky self-published authors.

I don't think that self-published authors are any more guilty than "real" authors. The bottom line is that we are all  now expected to be marketers. Publishers used to market books and now they don't. The blockbusters get the lion's share of the marketing dollars. The rest of us get nothing. And yet we're prodded to "market." This isn't something I'm particularly good at, and yet I have a blog and I have a website and it's damn impossible to keep feeding these beasts. And yet we're told that we have to throw words at them constantly. It's the new reality. Do Twitter. Do Facebook. Blog twice a week. Keep your website fresh. Do book reviews because they will get your name out there. Ask someone to review your book to get your name out there. But please make sure it's a positive review. Get your name out there. And did I say get your name out there?

You know what? I work full-time. I do not have time to do all that. I barely have time to read DorothyL! I think that the reality is that it is not an issue of whether or not you're published by a mainstream press or a small press or self-published. The problem is that we are inundated with all these people trying to market themselves because no one else is marketing them. (And as an aside, as newspapers have completely jettisoned their book sections, the dearth of decent reviewers is now being filled by people with opinions--which are not reviews, they are opinions).

So yes, self-publishing is part of the new reality, but it's only the new reality because the old reality has essentially collapsed. Plus you now have technology and an entire industry that has sprung up to publish your book, which is good on one level. Raise your hand if you were a mid-list author who got dropped by your publisher. And yet you have books you want to write, perhaps a series you want to finish. You have readers who want to read you, but you're not a blockbuster author. You are not Lee Child, which is not a slight on Mr. Child because you will not find a nicer man in the business. But basically you have lost the keys to the kingdom. You were "real" and now you are not. Plus, in addition to dropping you, publishers have dropped a whole bunch of good authors, so you're competing against your friends and colleagues for that elusive book contract. You've become someone who can't break into a market that is now minuscule.

What options do you have left? You self-publish. Basically you become "fake." And if you found marketing as a "real" author terrifying and hard, just try it as a "fake" author. EVERYONE is marketing like crazy. We are INUNDATED with information. It's overwhelming. It has become noise. And we are all making noise together.

I've decided that I'm just going to put my energies into writing. Because if I'm marketing, I'm not writing. I'm forced to adopt a "write it they will come" mentality because, literally, there aren't enough hours in the day. I'm at the point where I'm just going to write the best book I can and hope some publisher buys it. If they don't, I'll self-publish it and hope someone reads it. But the marketing end of it? I figure it's part of someone's spam folder. The blogs that I follow directly deal with the industry (John Scalzi's blog is marvelous, BTW). I don't have the time to read anyone else's blog. I apologize to my friends who are writers, but I just don't have time. But then I don't think you read my blog, because I suspect--no, I know--you don't have time either.


Meri said...

I like 'write it and they will come'! I think you're right to focus on the essential.

Have you heard about the experiment that an Italian publishing house is doing with new crime authors? They're calling it 'co-publishing' and what they're doing is essentially taking on a bunch of new crime writers, making them compete on self-marketing, and then picking the most successful one to publish. It sounds a bit dog-eat-dog to me but maybe it's good. The new authors are making it easier for publishers to sign them because they'll be doing half the work (more than half, considering they wrote the book too...). See here if you're interested:

Claire M. Johnson said...

@meri: You know how much I adore you, truly, but this, wow, this makes me cringe. Because it means that the benchmark is your mastery of technology. Let me put it this way. You can be a god at technology and not be able to write worth a damn, but you can be a god at writing and not be able to manipulate media worth a damn. Who is going to get the book contract under this scenario? More likely than not, it's the person with an unholy ability to corral social media.

I actually don't see this as the third way. I see this as yet another way for publishing companies to maximize profits with little to no effort. They've already fired the editors, they've fired the copy editors (most books only seem to go through a spellcheck these days), so the only people left to fire are the marketing crew. Literally, *I* could run single handedly a publishing company on this model. And I'd be curious what exactly the percentages are in terms of royalties. Does this mean that the publisher only makes 7% on every book sold, given that the majority of the work is being done by the author? I doubt it.

In my view the publisher is in charge of the content. I produce the content, and the publisher is bound to market that content. That is NOT my job. I already produced the content. Besides if someone is already very good at marketing, what incentive is there for them to hand over their rights to a publisher that demands that they do the marketing. It's a defeatist business model. On several levels. I find this business model predatory, frankly.

Meri said...

Don't get me wrong - it makes me cringe too. The principle seems very unfair and exploitative, but I sort of suppose that there could be circumstances where it could work. If the alternative is that publishing houses will lose money on books by new authors that they can't afford to publicise enough (and consequently will not take any more on), I think co-publishing can have benefits for both sides. The authors will get the backing and authority of an official publisher and the publisher will be able to test out a new author without allocating significant publicity resources to them. If the authors are willing and capable, I suppose it could be okay. But I would like to see the author's hard work recognised in the form of much better royalties in return.

On the other hand, if I was an author, I think I would feel like you - neither interested to market myself nor probably a genius at it. I would want to concentrate on the writing. Also, as a reader, I'm easily annoyed by authors who seem to push too hard or really tout their own horn.

A third thing is - in the UK, the newest talking point in publishing is how everyone should be publishing fewer books. Fewer, better ones and more quickly. I would hope that if this is taken to heart it would mean that those few good books will get decent publicity, rather than just the big books.

(Sorry for leaving the most disjointed comment ever. :P)

Claire M. Johnson said...

Publishers are losing money for a variety of reasons. Some of it is that newspapers are dying. The newspapers that remain are killing their book review sections. So that avenue for free advertising is no longer around. At least in the Bay Area, small bookstores are making a comeback, so that model where booksellers hand sells your book seems to be reviving, at least where I live. The days when publishers allocating advertising dollars to all their authors is long gone, and has been for years.

I think with the advent of self-publishing, advertising fatigue is already setting in. I NEVER even look at emails from either amazon or B&N. I would imagine that's the response for most people. Blogging used to be a good way to get your message out without seeming like you were spamming people, but now everyone has a blog. Facebook? Not really working because, again, unless you already have a name, you're spamming your friends, family, and acquaintances. People are exhausted by all the information. My daughter says I need to tweet, but unless you have a targeted market, you are, again, tweeting to your friends and family, who have already bought your book. It's very hard to break out of that circle.

I do think publishers need to stop publishing so much and they need to return to a model where books are edited and not just thrown in the market with a spell check. I see this as the only way for publishing to regain it's market share and, frankly, it's respect. I'm at the point where I only read non-fiction because fiction seems to be in a horrible slump where it's all badly written and badly conceived. There is this sense that no one is minding the store. But then publishers are now corporations and the search for profits is relentless. They are all looking for J.K. Rowling. One author, a gazillion sales.