Friday, February 18, 2011

The Marketplace

How does a writer proceed with a marketing plan?

A friend of mine sold several novels to numerous small presses. All well and good. However, most of these titles have not seen distribution through any major outlet, and therefore his ratings are slim. These ratings don't relate to the quality of his work, but rather how well he sells, how much of a brand his name may be or stand a chance of becoming. It's difficult to sell well if one doesn't promote one's work, or if that work isn't on display somewhere for the casual or not-so-casual shopper.

A few folk have waved away this concern. "It doesn't matter where you're published, as long as you're published," some say. "If you're good enough, you'll shine through. Persistence will pay off. Eventually, the larger publishers who pay more will recognize you and be forced to buy your manuscripts and market you."

Others may comment,  "There's always the electronic publication path. Sell your book on Amazon." Or, "I don't care about the corporations. They don't care about me. I know I can do well self-publishing and be my own boss."  Hmmm.

With the business in such flux, the choir of discordant voices is understandable. Look at how many titles are being cut by publishing houses, look at Border's current bankruptcy and the recent celebration of the rise of the ebook. Look at the drop in actual readership, and especially the drop in young readers. Look too at the manufactured author, the one chosen by a multinational corporation and promoted to godhood even before a book is released (not that I'm blaming Justin Cronin for jumping at the opportunity).

In the end, what is the unknown and unloved author to do? My personal belief, for what it is worth, is to have a marketing plan, one which is adaptable and comfortable. Study your market, look at the call for submissions; if you haven't been published, then turn to the net and seek publication there. If you are published, then (my opinion) be careful of the ratings. If you have a novel, try and sell it where there is distribution. If there isn't distribution, your ratings drop and it will become harder for a publisher to interest a distributor to push your book through the chains. If you're an author who had ratings and saw them plummet two or three books in, then perhaps its time for a name change and reboot of a career. Or not.

There's no one path. But I believe stumbling into the marketplace without some knowledge and foresight is a guarantee of failure. The author who writes without a marketing plan is the author who would do well to buy a lottery ticket each time he or she sends out a submission. Actually, that might be a good practice for anyone sending out submission.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Beauty of Group

I had an interesting writers group session the other night, which once again showed me the value of the group process for writers. We were discussing one author's first two chapters and several of us began focusing on character development. What began as single, orderly observations became an amazing riff with folks rapidly building concept and feeding off one another's perceptions. Loud, unruly, manic, it was what a group should be, a positive and re-energizing synergistic explosion.

I'm not saying a group shouldn't have structure, or that people shouldn't wait in turn, but sometimes it is liberating to let the discussion follow an organic evolution. And Christine Purcell, my collaborator on The Breach, whose job it was to ride roughshod on us, let the banter and ideas flow, reining us in at last by care-taking the person whose work we were critiquing and making sure ideas were summarized and needs were met.

Any group is a tricky animal to groom and maintain. Too often some groups fall into a predictable groove and tedium ensues. Mixing it up, changing or rotating leadership, trying different activities and letting things evolve rather than forcing them are often the difference between a productive outing and a fulfilling experience.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Saturday, February 05, 2011

From The Valley of Scorned Books

When to let go.

Some folk have no problems tossing aside a book. They get to page fifty, decide it isn't worth their time, and without a qualm, pitch the offender. Me? If I get to page ten, I'm probably going all the way. A book has to be something extraordinarily horrible for me to give it the heave ho. I'll curse the author, the editor, the publisher, their parents, wives, immediate and extended families, and rend my clothing---but I'll finish the damned book.

In the last few years, I've only abandoned three or four reads. One was the work of a well-known and successful genre author who heavy-handedly beat me up with his ideology (one diametrically opposed to my own). Another was a book sent my way by a publisher who asked for a review (I made it through half the novel before deleting it from the Kindle). I wrestled with this one, trying to decide how to say something, anything, which might be used for promotion. In the end, I remained silent. What else could I do?

I wonder what my inability to abandon a book says about me as a person? Is it part of the strangeness that makes me think the furniture dances when I head off to bed? That the plates convene a some sort of meeting? Or that books sit on a shelf, waiting their turn, hoping to read and enjoyed and then reshelved, rather than cast aside in scorn.