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E-books Don’t Smell (and other Revelations)

Recently, I said I was hoping to do a Goodreads giveaway as a promo for the paperback release of The Oldest Trick. I’ve got a bunch of electronic contributor copies burning a hole in my pocket at the moment and nothing much to do with them, so I thought giving them away would be pretty cool. Giveaways I’ve hosted here on this blog haven’t worked very smoothly (mostly because there isn’t a good system in place here to trade contact information, track entries, and so on), so Goodreads seemed a natural alternative. There’s just one problem: They don’t run giveaways for e-books. Bummer. Back to the drawing board.

This disappointment is just the latest in a long line of troubles facing the author who publishes only electronically. Now, don’t get me wrong – having a novel out of any stripe is pretty damned exciting and I love that there are people out there who have read and loved my books and I’m immensely grateful to Harper Voyager for publishing them. That said, I’ve found it much harder to promote and sell an e-book than I thought.

At the Writers of the Future Workshop (enter the Writers of the Future Contest, budding SF/F writers!), I had the unique privilege to listen to Tom Doherty of Tor speak about the publishing industry as it exists today. The basic theme of his talk was this: the primary difficulty for new writers and for publishers is the issue of discovery. “The Internet,” he said, “is great if you know what you’re looking for. It’s a really difficult place to discover new talent.” So, for already established authors – folks with back catalogs and name recognition – the Internet is wonderful, since people who like your work can find everything you ever wrote and buy it (a great improvement over bookstores which would only be intermittently stocked with older titles). But for the little guys (like me), I’m just one very tiny mote in an endless sea of book titles from relatively unknown authors. Many of these books are wonderful and an equal quantity are, well, not. It is very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff for anyone, editors, agents, writers, and fans all alike.

Of course, the author must promote his work. This – what you’re reading right now – is one author’s attempt at promotion (I hope that, by reading this blog, you might become curious about my work and buy it without me having to sling mindless Twitter ads at you day in and day out. I have no idea if it works). While the internet is a powerful promotional tool, the e-book is still a harder sell than a physical copy. According to Forbes, e-book sales make up 30% of the market and sales have risen sharply over the past few years while independent bookstores have dropped by more than 50% in the past twenty years. While those are harrowing numbers for print, the fact remains that 70% of books are still sold in print and, while you might not be buying it from an indie bookseller, there are good odds the book is still made of paper, no matter its place of origin. The age of the e-book is very much here, but it isn’t the lion’s share of the market by any means. And it’s worth noting that the 30% of the market that is occupied by e-books, is very much swamped with a vast array of traditional and self-published titles alike. Getting recognition from that 30% is very difficult. Print, a full 70% of the market, is somewhat more rarefied air, if you will.

This book is great, but I better keep it to myself. No one must know.

This book is great, but I better keep it to myself. No one must know.

I have tried to think of ways to effectively promote my e-books beyond simply shouting into the Twitter-Void, annoying people on facebook with ads, and writing blog posts. Here are the things I’ve tried:

  1. Blog Tours, which are the equivalent of book tours, but online. You go around and ask blogs to feature your book on their blog, interview you, or let you do a guest post. It works okay, but it is frequently impersonal and you need to be careful setting them up. The most successful ones I’ve done have been when I got writer friends of mine (in the same genre) to let me post on their blogs or asked them to feature me.
  2. Giveaways are possible, but getting an e-book to somebody as a gift is technically complex, involving codes and programs to download and passwords to submit and so-on.
  3. Getting Reviews has also been a significant part of what I do. I bug people I know have read the book to write me a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. This helps my visibility, which helps me gain recognition, which helps me sell books. It is very slow, very incremental work though. A lot of people don’t want to write a review for some reason, even if they do like your stuff. Also, badgering people about it won’t get them to do it any faster. It is likely it will turn them off to doing it.

And…that’s it. I’m stumped after that.

A real book, though, still has a number of other options available to it – options that authors have been wielding effectively for years. Observe:

  1. Book Signings: People like signed books. People like meeting authors. Sit at a table with a stack of books to sign and you’ll make new friends, new fans, and so on. You won’t always be successful (my second WoTF book signing was pretty much just me sitting at an empty table talking to one guy who didn’t end up buying a book), but you’ll encounter and engage with more people you’d do otherwise.
  2. Book Readings: Yeah, you can read your e-book, but not as many people are likely to whip out their iPhone or Kindle and buy it right there. If you’ve got a stack of books and you’re reading from that book and all these people have come out to see you, odds are you’ll sell more. I’ve gone to book readings, and I feel weird if I don’t buy the book. It’s almost as though I’m insulting the author if I don’t.
  3. Book Giveaways become easier with a paperback. You just stick it in the mail and off it goes. Maybe even with a nice, personalized message or something.
  4. Impressing Guests is an underrated part of book promotion, I think. Some guy asks you what you do, you answer with writers, and he says “what have you written” and bam, there’s a book in his hands with your name on it. Your friends and family get to do the same thing – your book on their shelf. With an e-book? It’s always an explanation as to why your book is currently invisible.
  5. Bookstores, while dwindling, still sell a lot of books and are still the best places to browse for new titles. There you are, on a bookshelf alongside the greats, cover art on display.

All this, coupled with the fact that traditional books still control the balance of the market (I have people asking me when the print version of The Oldest Trick is coming out every day; it’s September 29th, by the way), means there is a lot to be said for the paperback, even now. Certainly, e-books are key, but they aren’t perfect yet. They don’t have that feel, that smell, that weight that makes it seem like somebody’s work and effort means something more than just the words on the page. E-books are whispers in the air; the physical book is letters on stone tablets. I, personally, cannot wait to have both at my disposal.

 

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Follow Me, Boys! I Know the Way!

(promptly falls off horse)

JONES, SR (to Indy):

Lost in his own museum, huh?

FADE OUT

You know how to toot your own horn, right? You just pucker up and blow.

You know how to toot your own horn, right? You just pucker up and blow.

As much as I aspire to be Indiana Jones and would even be tickled to be Henry Jones Sr., I am, I must admit, much more like Marcus Brody than anybody else. I possess vast armchair knowledge and, as of this writing, lack much field experience. Yet, I am very conscious that I stand on the threshold of, perhaps, changing all that. Maybe.

I’ve done some housekeeping around here. I ditched the stuff in the sidebar nobody ever clicked on and I made it easier for people to find my work, should they be inspired to do so. Furthermore, for those of you who like to swing by regularly, I encourage you to follow/like me on AmazonFacebook, and Goodreads. Of the three, I am most active on Facebook and then Goodreads. The Amazon page is a work in progress.

Anywho, I’ve been adventuring in Goodreads more and more, lately. I think it’s a great place to connect with your fellow readers, talk to your favorite authors, and find interesting books to read. I’ve spent entirely too much time adding books I’ve read to my shelf, and it’s been fun rating and remembering all the books that I’ve come across.

For all that, though, I’ve not written a review yet. I’m hesitant to do so. Yeah, I’ll give a rating, but when it comes to putting together my exact thoughts on the work in question and writing them out, I worry what that might mean for me. Now, for the rest of the universe, you should write reviews (bad or good) for the books you read. It helps the authors (in the case of a good review) and it can help your fellow readers (in the case of a bad one). Try to be fair, don’t be insulting, etc, etc, but you should do it. For me, however, the question of whether to review or not becomes more complicated.

The Fantasy and Science Fiction world isn’t huge, really. I am about to enter it as a new author and go full bore to try and make a name for myself in that industry. I’ve got an award coming to me (Writers of the Future), I’ve got three books on the horizon, and for me to start writing reviews for far better established authors than I, while tempting, has no discernible upside for me. On the one hand, if I dislike the book and say so, the author might read that, remember my (rather memorable) name, and next think you know I’m sitting on a panel with the person at a convention sometime and it gets…awkward. On the other hand, if I write good reviews only, I start to look more like a kiss-ass than somebody providing his honest opinion, and that’s not very good either. Given the odds of me actually having to interact with and even possibly work with these authors in some settings, it is perhaps best I keep my opinions to myself as much as possible.

Then again, I’m not much for self-censorship. Ask me what I think of you and I will tell you straight. You might not like it; I might not like saying it, but I will anyway. So, I’ve decided that, while I will give a 1-5 star rating to the books I read on Goodreads, I won’t write reviews (good or bad) as a kind of personal compromise. I also will try and stop reviewing my prospective peers here, on this blog (which I have a few times in the past). It strikes me as some kind of bad karma, maybe. I don’t know. Perhaps I’m overreacting. Or underreacting. Who knows?

So, yeah – a bit of a new look here for the blog, a resolve not to write too many reviews, and an entreaty to check me out at all those places. That about covers it. Thanks everybody!

Making Friends and Meeting People

I must confess something: I’m not much of a networker. Honestly, were it not for the existence of Facebook, I’d barely converse with anyone my own age. If Facebook crashes and burns, the thought of having to move to some other social networking site seems like a lot of trouble. I probably won’t unless forced (which is how I wound up on Facebook – my wife signed me up). I lose contact with people easily. I really don’t work very hard to keep in touch.

Your challenge: talk to these people without really having a conversation. Go.

Your challenge: talk to these people without really having a conversation. Go.

It isn’t that I don’t like people – I like them just fine – but I don’t especially need people to feel fine. I can go literal days and even weeks without speaking to another human being. I did it in college during Spring Break my senior year – I stayed at school and just sat at my desk and wrote for the whole week. I barely went out. I barely saw anybody. I don’t think I had a conversation with anybody that lasted more than five seconds. At the end of it, I felt fine. In fact, I felt more than fine – it was then that I finished the first draft of my first novel (no, you won’t be reading it. It was terrible).

I would say that I’m an introvert, but that’s not precisely true. I have no trouble talking to people, I just don’t need to talk to people. In fact, unless there is a reason to speak to someone, I usually don’t. I don’t do small talk, for instance – either we are having a conversation about something or we are not talking. I find meet-and-greet events tedious and troublesome, since usually it involves me having to strike up conversation with people who don’t actually want to have a conversation – they want to talk about the weather and ask banal questions about each other’s professions. God forbid you actually engage in a real answer to a question, like when somebody asks me “how are you” and I give them an honest answer about my health. Suddenly I’m the weirdo for some reason, when they are the person who asked. Sheesh.

But I digress.

As my novel, The Oldest Trick (Part 1), nears its deadline and eventual release, I’m starting to worry that no one will buy it. Well, maybe not no one, but barely anybody, anyway. Not enough people for me to finish out the series, not enough people to put it on anybody’s radar, and not enough people for it to allow me to nab myself an agent. I have, therefore, gradually begun expanding my ‘social media presence’. You can find me on Twitter (which is sort of like the small talk Olympics, so I feel like a camel in the Congo there) and I have set up profiles on Goodreads and Amazon. There’s this place, too, for what it’s worth. I should probably get around to setting up an Author page on Facebook, which is the only social media platform I use with any regularity. I’m also a recent winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, which is a networking advantage all its own, and I’ve maintained some contacts among other up-and-coming scifi and fantasy authors. These are all good things.

Even still, I feel disconnected, aloof. I’ve never been a guy for diving into the crowd. I like parties and I like talking to people, but I generally prefer to do it with fewer people as opposed to more (since, in the former case, I can actually speak with and be heard by others in comfort). There is no earthy way anybody is getting me to go to a bar, and especially not if the bar is playing music loudly. Give me a couch, a dozen friends, and a good meal. All that, though, is sort of the antithesis of what an author wants or needs to build his “brand.” I need to inspire the masses, somehow. I need to make a connection with hundreds or (ideally) thousands of people so that they like me and want to buy my books and follow my every step. Frankly, I have no idea how to do that. I could be doing it right now and I’d have no idea.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I’ll be fiddling with the layout of this blog over the next few weeks, trying to make it a more efficient portal to access my work (evidently, nobody seems to see the “where you can find my stuff” category on the sidebar, despite what I feel is its very, very direct title). Wish me luck, folks. Oh, and if you have any tips on how to be better at networking, be sure to pass them along.

And if you’re an agent looking for a talented fantasy writer, well, I could really use your help. I think. That’s just it – I have no idea.