I have to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea how to feel about that.
I have to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea how to feel about that.
So what might a writer learn from Locke? You’ve written a “good enough” novel–whatever you’ve decided that means. Maybe you just finished it for NaNoWriMo (and in which case, congratulations!).
Maybe you’re an experienced indie author still frustrated when you see other authors selling crazy amounts of books while sales of yours trickle in.
Maybe you’re an author who got a corporate deal–advance and all!–but your publisher never really got around to marketing you. Maybe you signed with Simon & Schuster, and they’re too busy with uploading and then deleting Snooki YouTube videos.
In discussing Locke and How I Sold (as well as Hocking and Eisler et al.), I think one huge caveat that must be enumerated, and can’t be mentioned often enough, is that: there is no magic bullet. What’s worked for one writer might not–and probably will not–work for others.
I’m sure someone could make the argument that people don’t discuss that bit because it’s understood, but I don’t buy that.
After debuting at $2.99 and having a 99-cent pre-/post-9/11 sale, The Prodigal Hour is now on sale for $4.99 at Amazon.
Now that Kindle’s Direct Publishing platform has allowed so many authors to bypass both literary agents and corporations’ acquisitions editors in favor of connecting directly with readers, many conventions long simply rotely accepted are being questioned.
One is pricing.
In a corporate-type situation, it’s not difficult to determine pricing. Probably due to a confluence of complicated factors too boring to really contemplate, we all know about how much a trade paperback costs: usually between $12.99 and $14.99, right? I think that’s about the upper limit. Hardcovers are, what, $27-ish? Maybe $30?
(Which prompts a question: who pays full price for a hardcover? Don’t all hardcovers [and most trade paperbacks, nowadays] come with some discount or other? Back when I was a proud carrier of a Barnes & Noble card Members Receive An Extra 10% Off books already discounted by 30% or more.)
After several years in a will-they/wont-they purgatory, the digital revolution in publishing has finally become more a matter of when than if, where “when” seems to be 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad–which featured five of the big six corporate publishers as partners and only ignored the sixth because someone within the company had outed the device the day before official launch–got the ball rolling and demonstrated that ebooks were not just a novel trend but rather new media for novels and all sorts of other forms of storytelling. In late August, Amazon’s third-generation Kindle, with its improved screen and form factor and its lower price, effectively killed the counterargument. The only thing left to really argue about is price.
But really, that’s fodder enough.
Since Apple got all those publishers on board and got its iBookstore rolling (or did it? Has anyone heard anything about the iBookstore? All I hear about are the devices–Kindles, nooks, iPads. Not so much about the stores), there’s been a debate about what’s a “good” price for ebooks. One common idea discussed when the iPad launched was the so-called “agency model,” which basically meant that publishers got to set their own price. Tech Eye mentions that this is in opposition to allowing, say, the vendor to decide the price. In other words, it’s the difference between, say, Harper setting the price of its books and Amazon doing so.
Publishers, of course, want high prices. This was why $10 ebooks were so common during the beginning of last year. Right after the iPad? Seems like publishers–corporate and otherwise–got a little high off the power of the partnership and suddenly decided that the right price for ebooks was between ten and fifteen bucks. The New York Times discussed the phenomenon.
To really get into the discussion, though, we have to consider factors regarding price. There are myriad.
I‘ve been posting stuff online, in various forums, for more than five years. A couple of years ago, shortly after graduating from USC, I realized I needed a while to be quiet. I needed some time to figure out what “being a writer” meant for me.
I’ve realized this is part of it. That the trouble with blogging is not something that concerns me anymore. Don’t take me wrong; I still want to explore the dilemma there, but more in the sense of what marketing and writing mean nowadays.
I’ve nearly completed my marketing MBA. I enrolled in Regis University when I lived, for a time, in Denver several years ago, and it’s possible to complete the program online without any of the connotations of online degrees. It’s not University of Phoenix–with no offense intended to that online institution.
There is, however, an interesting point I stick to there, and I think it applies overall. Nowadays, it’s so easy for people, online, to not only pose as experts but to become them. You get a lot of people talking very loudly in a small community, and regardless of their backgrounds, knowledge bases, and levels of expertise, people start to look to them for advice when the advice they offer is not actually all that sound.
Let’s say you’re a business. You have a product that you dedicated a lot of time to. You’re not sure you can properly distribute that product on your own. Sure, you might be able to handsell your product door-to-door, but you realize that, maybe with some help, you can get your product distributed on a wider basis, and maybe even generate some great attention for the product. There are a few companies who specialize in distributing your product, companies who have a stranglehold on distribution, in fact–if you don’t partner with them, chances are you’ll never get that wide distribution.
Already it’s a problem.
Here’s the big question, though; say one of those specialty companies came to you and said they’d help you distribute your product. Would you enter into any business arrangement with them without reading a contract? Would you sign said contract without reading it?
Now, I’d mentioned I considered submitting Meets Girl to the contest. I think it would have a solid shot at winning on merit alone, and that’s not even to mention that I think it would probably be right up the alley of Lev Grossman, who wrote The Magicians and who is one of the major judges of the contest. The Magicians was the first full-length novel I read on my Kindle, and it was solid–if not great–in a genre-bending sort of way that crossed literary with fantasy, which is what I think Meets Girl does.
I mentioned, in passing, there are other, better contests writers could enter. And commenter Sid (the only Sid I know is my graduate writing advisor, Sid Stebel, but I can’t tell by the email address if the commenter and my advisor are the same person) asked after those contests.
So here are the top-five writing contests I’d submit Meets Girl to over the ABNA.
That was one of the search phrases that led someone here. The actual phrase was “is blogging worth it writer,” but it immediately rewrote itself as a question in my head. I’m going to figure the seeker in question found “The Trouble with Blogging,” which remains one of the most popular posts on this site.
That post discussed the dilemma sharing writing online, for free, poses to the professional writer–and by “professional,” I’m meaning both those writers who are aspiring toward bestsellerdom and those who have already achieved it. Actually, though, I’ve realized, more accurately, it’s really only a dilemma for aspiring authors, less so for ones who’ve gotten publication deals already; certainly, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King don’t really have to worry about any such dilemmas, given how much money they make from their books already.
Then again, none of them blog.
(Can I note, as an aside, how much I loathe the word? “Blog”? It sounds like the Internet drank too much. It sometimes reads that way, too.)
The prevailing dilemma I wrote about was a simple question often raised in other contexts: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? If I–as a guy who’s endeavored, over the past few years, to become a professional writer, and, indeed, has a master’s degree in it–continue to post good, well thought-out, well written essays on my site, why would readers want to buy my books?
Of course, the answer is right there; because my site is not my book. Because my books–while well written and well executed and occasionally full of essays–are mostly not what is on my site.
But is it worth it?
In the realm of the every day, the word “exciting” generally means something fun, something that gets the old ticker going, but in the realm of science, physics, and chemistry, excitation has a more specific meaning. In quantum mechanics, for example, excitation means any particle’s assumption of a higher state of energy.
When I think of excitation, I think of electrons. It’s been years since I formally studied chemistry and physics, but I remember electrons and their shells. Every electron has a nucleus: positive protons and neutral neutrons. Around this nucleus exists an electron cloud difficult to study because of the way it exists–in a quantum sense, only sporadically. Consider a city block, and imagine that some of the buildings exist only on days that begin with a T while others exist on days that begin with an S and others exist on all other days, mostly, you get a sense of quantum uncertainty and the existence of electrons–as particles and waves that are both only partially there simultaneously.
Most atoms–save those of the first few elements–have electron shells with multiple energy levels. The number of electrons is generally equal to the number of protons, but sometimes that leads to certain instability, or even propensity to react. Consider, for example, lithium, which has three protons and three electrons in its shell. Its first energy level is full, with two, but that leaves a third electron to react with just about anything it sees: imagine a horny, hyperactive dog who will hump any leg it finds and you’re thinking of lithium. On the other hand, back up one: helium has two protons, with two electrons in its shell, a full energy level. Helium also has a monocle and a top hat, and it wipes its white-gloved hands with disdain when it encounters any other elements. It will only speak to one under duress.
The thing about those energy levels is that, under the right circumstances, an electron can be induced to assume a higher state. This higher state of energy is called “excitation.” An excited electron is one that achieved a higher level than it had reached just a moment before.
Very exciting news around these parts. I’m thrilled, honored, privileged, and humbled (simultaneously) to be working with Simon Smithson.
During the past few months, I’ve found my excitement for all things stories and words and books rekindled. Which is a pun, mainly because Amazon’s Kindle might be the most significant source of my newfound enthusiasm. I swear, I haven’t had so much fun, nor read so much, nor bought so many books, since I don’t know when.
Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Kindle, though, is all it makes possible. It throws open the doors, kicks wide the gates.
There’s a new world of possibilities.
When I published my collection in 2007, neither Kindle nor iPhone actually yet existed. eReaders were niche gadgets, novelties at best and absurdities at worst, expensive and awkward and not really able to deliver a quality reading experience. The first Kindle was still six months away and would be expensive, even if its e-ink display would become (and remains) the best in the market.
Now Kindle is on every device out there. Jeff Bezos has been really smart to deliver the platform across devices, tying the reading experience to software, rather than hardware.
And it’s rather perfect for a couple of emerging authors to take advantage of.
Which is what Simon and I plan to do.
This week, we’re launching Sparks. He told you all the news with regard to the book.
What he didn’t really much go into was what it means for Exciting Books.
When I published my collection in 2007 and effectively founded Exciting Books, I’d already conceived of the model I aimed to ultimately follow with regard to writing and publishing. Back then, I wasn’t sure what sort of path my career would take, but I did know the sort of projects I ultimately hoped to work on: highly commercial, genre-busting blockbuster novels, which I’d intersperse with projects I saw as smaller.
Meets Girl for all intents and purposes, would fall into the latter category.
What I ultimately hoped to do was exactly what I’ve found myself doing, even if I wasn’t quite aware of it: leverage my experience and knowledge to bring publishing up to a new, and higher, energy level.
And now, with other authors.
Because this is how things change. A couple of blokes with a bold idea to excite things. Shake things up a bit while taking them up a notch. Which may mix metaphors, but hopefully doesn’t conceal my intention.
In the past year or so, I’ve reveled in quietude while trying to figure out how to do what I meant to do. I’ve moved to Manhattan, studied marketing, dedicated myself to writing better.
And now, I think it’s time to try some exciting things. In the spirit of which I figured it was time to redo the site header, retitling this here endeavor. In the spirit of which I intend to publish more often more exciting and interesting things, including but not limited to the stuff I’ve been learning over the past few years.
In other words, here goes everything.
Sparks marks the first Exciting Book that isn’t solely mine.
Exciting Books: When people talk about ebooks and epublishing, the ‘e’ they’re talking about is Exciting.
Meets Girl and its preorder is not the biggest news in books and writing this week.
I know! I’m as surprised as you are.
No, but seriously, I do hope you’ve been enjoying the serialization, and I hope you’re looking forward to launch day as much as I am. Or maybe even more; I’m looking forward to it with equal measures of excitement, hope, and terror. Especially considering that I’m a totally unknown writer, and especially especially given that what I’m doing flies against the conventional, the traditional, the Way Things Are Done.
Because let’s face it, this ain’t it.
The Way Things Are Done right now, really, is simple: if I wanted to go the conventional, traditional route I’d write up a nice, succinct query letter, and I’d go to Twitter and Agent Query dot com and literary agents’ websites, and I’d read their guidelines and I’d choose, say, ten agents to send that query letter, and the first chapter of Meets Girl, to. After which point, I’d hurry up and wait. I’d try to forget I’d sent anything out, because remembering so is a sure path to crazy, but mostly I’d be waiting for rejection emails if I got any responses at all, because so many agents, nowadays, don’t send them.
I’d do that because so many publishers–most especially the big six, but every day, others, too–don’t accept unagented manuscripts. Like there’s some sort of vetting. Kept gates, the theory goes.
Used to be–once upon a time–I followed that path, those rules. I queried out The Prodigal Hour, and before that Twilight Brilliance.
And maybe–onceuponatime–that system worked. It worked then, I sheepishly admit, because though I plan to do the same thing with The Prodigal Hour that I’m doing with Meets Girl, that’s only because I rewrote and revised and rewrote it again until it was actually a good novel.
You’ll probably never see Twilight Brilliance. Even my editrix had to wheedle and cajole it from my old hard drive.
Before Meets Girl.
I wanted to talk a bit more about the project before the launch, though. Because, honestly, I’m basically doing it completely backwards at this point. Ask any of the so-called or self-proclaimed writing gurus or marketing Internexperts or anyone else on Facebook and Twitter . . .
Look. Am I the only one completely exhausted by all the writers nobody’s ever heard of expounding their advice on how best to reach wider audiences? I can’t be, can I?
The situation is daunting at best. In terms of social media and networking, at least, never before have so many people said so little so loudly. The signal-to-noise ratio is crazily lopsided to the latter. There’s so much advice out there and so little of it actually sound. Anyone would tell you, if you want to become a successful author, you need a platform. You need a steady readership, which you gain from getting on Twitter and Facebook and updating your website and creating a fanpage and all those sorts of things.
In an ideal situation, of course, the implication is that all those things come after producing a solid novel, but I’m not sure how many people infer that fact, nor even that it’s true. In many cases, platform is the primary gauge of saleability. Indeed, corporate publishing is less a vehicle for writers and authors than for people with platforms who wrote books. There’s a huge distinction there.
According to most advice, I should have posted endlessly about how to write. How to structure. I should have reviewed more books so I could be a book blogger, and I should have posted links to other writers’ blogs. I should have done it daily, or nearly so, or even more frequently, an endless push of writers talking about writing and bloggers talking about blogging and let’s not forget about marketing and buzz and et cetera (and let’s be frank and call it ad nauseum).
A few years ago, back when I published my collection, I used to argue that doing the same thing with a novel didn’t make sense. The market for a novel is different from the market for a short story collection, I argued–and still maintain, as they’re very different forms. I’ve always preferred writing novels, but never realized just how much I preferred it until I practiced more at short stories and screenplays in grad school.
Grad school was good for me, as a writer. I’d spent years querying agents, moving beyond form rejections to requests for partials, but finally recognized a painful truth: I wasn’t yet as good a writer as I could be. So I sucked it up and decided I was going to learn how to be a better writer, and I applied to USC and got in. I took workshops with great teachers who read like a who’s who of contemporary American writing, and I remember how formative my first ever fiction workshop was. I learned a lot about the marketplace, and publishing, and did so on top of experience actually publishing, albeit in a trade versus commercial publication.
Toward the end of my first year, I realized that the market for short fiction sucked. Honestly, not much has changed since then. There are a handful of publications–like Esquire or The Atlantic or Playboy–that reach a lot of readers, but they’re nigh impossible to break into unless your last name is Moody or McEwan or Franco, and then there are the smaller literary journals, mostly affiliated with university-level writing programs. Easier, at times, but filled with often homogeneous writing that all pretty much sounds the same and is often about middle-class ennui or the dissatisfaction of getting drunk at parties. They don’t pay much, and usually in complimentary copies when they do, but writers who get stories published in them get publication credits, which look good on a query letter.
For me, frustrating. I don’t write for publication credits. I write to get to readers. And chances are most of the readers of those small literary journals are either the volunteer university staff who published them or the writers who hope to submit to them.
Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have played the game harder, written more stories with blank characters nobody cares about who live lives in which nothing much happened. Freedom seems to be doing pretty well, after all.
So if I’m now doing what I want to do when I grow up, does that mean I have?
When I got the call that offered me a position teaching fiction, I was staring down a fork in the road. After this semester, I’ll be a mere few courses shy of an MBA, and one of those courses is a capstone, which I get the impression is a demonstration of the proficiency I have acquired by way of my courses.
I decided to earn the MBA because while I learned some great things about craft and writing in USC’s MPW program, the courses I took concerning the business side of things really set me thinking and made me want to learn more. I hear too many stories of too many writers who concentrate solely on one word after another with no concern for audience and how to reach it. And while I think that strong writing and good stories must be one’s primary concern, the thing about strong writing is that writing is a form of communication. It is meant to convey a particular idea from one party to another. It’s not just about the words, but what those words are conveying, and by extension, to whom.
I think it’s detrimental to a story to neglect that. Any story. Writers must consider to whom and for whom they are writing, as those aspects, I think, must be part of the why they are writing; if not to convey information, if not to transport a reader, if not to entertain and excite, what, precisely, is the point? Don’t take me wrong; the ideas conveyed may be for some purpose, to convince the reader, but still, both reader and purpose must be considered.
Which is why marketing and branding fascinate me. I have always liked stories that strike on a visceral level, stories that, for some reason or other, somehow transcend the words and the pages so that the stories take on lives beyond both writer and reader; stories are the halfway point in culture where tellers and their audiences meet, and like all halfway points, there is much power in them.
Before I digress too far, however, my dilemma: three courses left for a general degree, only a couple more than that for specialization–I’ll be done by next May at the latest, and probably sooner.
And what to do then?
I haven’t had a corporate job since I stopped working at a small publishing company in South Jersey a month before I left for USC, and one of the myriad reasons I had to stop working was that I could no longer fulfill my end of the employee contract. I would say the corporate lifestyle of set hours and salaried wages doesn’t appeal to me, but really, to whom does it?
I love marketing and branding and advertising, though. I thought I might be able to usefully apply what I’ve learned in my business courses beyond my own writing career by trying to find work as a copywriter in ad agency, eventually working my way up to creative director. Of course, a position like that requires much experience, which requires many long hours working for clients. I’ve been in that position before, working with Kraft and Sony and Campbell’s. I won’t say it’s not fun. I can’t say it’s not fulfilling.
But there’s writing.
There’s always writing. I tried for years not to do it. I tried to find other things I liked to do as much.
And then, at USC, I did. I still remember the moment I was standing at the reception desk as the gym where I was working, mostly folding towels, when I realized I’d like to stand in front of a class. When I considered how interesting it might be to teach. At the time I envisioned a fiction workshop.
In four semesters, I’ve gone from teaching freshman composition to teaching core fiction. And this fiction course? It’s a dream. I walked out of the meeting during which I talked to the chair about the books I hoped to use, and I was giddy. I literally jumped and clicked my heels. Because I always heard that’s what people do when they’re happy, and so I made it a habit to do so when I get great news.
I’m only a few days in. I’m still teaching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which I’m using as an introduction to elements of story like structure and plot, as well as to outline the Hero’s Journey as explored by guys like Joseph Campbell and George Lucas. So far, I’ve been relating it not only to Star Wars and The Matrix but also to the big myths, the real myths, like the stories about Baldur and Christ.
So far, I’m having a great time. I’m hoping my students will ultimately say the same. I’m hoping they’ll learn some new things about fiction.
It’s been validating enough that I’m realizing I need to retake the general GREs and then take the subject one, too, because, okay, fine, yes, I want to get my PhD. I always avoided it because I never thought I’d find a place in academia, but maybe I don’t need to. Maybe it’s worth enough that I feel like I can say the same thing about a chalkboard and a roomful of students that I always said about a keyboard and a screen.
Give me those things, and I’m home.
Just read a post by Jane over at dearauthor.com: “Books as a Business”. It’s a mostly good article with some interesting analysis, though I would change the title, at least; books are what we read, while publishing is a business.
Which aligns with my previous couple of posts, staying on the theme of writing as creative endeavor and publishing as business endeavor. The other day, I was chided on Twitter by dietpopstar for using the word “monetizing” with regard to writing, and who told me I’d “lost my way” as I’m supposed to be “a fucking artist,” and such considerations were “vulgar.” She’s arguably right about my using the word “monetize,” I admit; I probably should have chosen a different word or phrase, like maybe “I gotsta get myself paid, too, yo.” Which, at least, is funnier.
And that’s the trouble with blogging. Not the funnier part. The part about having to get paid.
I went to an information session today at Regis University, a Jesuit institution in northern Denver. I think it’s best I didn’t manage to get into the University of Denver’s PhD program, but I still want to continue schooling somewhere. Thing is, there are two options now, both with Regis.
The first is another MBA, this time in religious studies. I’m fascinated by religion in all ways, but more important, I sense something right now. See, I’m thinking specifically of guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom wrote mega-bestselling books concerning the fact that religion is, at its heart, a bad idea.
But I think there’s a foundation for all religious thought and pursuit, really. Personally, I don’t believe there’s any difference between a spell, a prayer, and a meditation session; all are, at their bases, pretty much mainly modes of positive thinking. Same thing with that The Secret book from last year or so.
The problem, I think, is that Harris and Hitchens lack a scientific background, and are approaching religion from a mainly philosophical/ethical point of view.
Which is fine, of course.
But I think it misses some very huge things. I honestly think that the fact that most people believe in something of a divine nature has some substantive argument to it. But most of all, I think the more one examines biology and quantum electromechanics and physics, the more one starts to not just believe but realize that there’s something greater going on.
Einstein himself said that religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind.
And I think there’s something there.
So I could, in theory, design a degree in something like scientific deology (they’re not allowed to use the word “theology,” apparently, for some Arch-Diocesan reason [okay, so there’s a spot where Hitchens and Harris have a point]), and ultimately produce a book I’m planning, called Godology, on the application of the scientific method to areas including God and the afterlife.
Or, I could go for an MBA. Which would really sort of be the first practical degree I could actually use I’d be earning.
And the thing is, it’s not a question of passion or love or whathaveyou, because just the existence of this blog and all I’ve done related to writing is evidence of how I’m fascinated by marketing and branding. I’m aiming for “Entrekin” to become a brand every bit as much as Crichton and King and Gaiman are. I’m not solely concerned with the airy-fairy artsy-fartsy aspect of writing, which is the most major reason I chose USC to study writing; it was about professional writing. About the craft of it yes, but also about selling it.
Because I’ll be honest; I’m not solely trying to write the best books I can. I’m also trying to get them to as many readers as I possibly can.
And part of that is marketing. Part of that is both about analyzing target audience and then reaching it.
So this weekend, I’ve got some figuring out to do. I think, ultimately, the MBA is probably more practical, and I’ll certainly write Godology anyway.
Do you care that I’m still “almost done” my novel? Something I’ve been saying for a bit, I realize (if, by “a bit,” I mean, like, two years), but well, closer every day. That stumbling block the other day knocked me a bit sideways, and the ending is, and always has been, a trouble spot. Namely because I know the precise effect I’m trying to go for but haven’t a clue how to frickin’ do it.
So I’m experimenting. I’ve written and rewritten it several times already, not counting previous drafts.
I’ve been hesitating to continue posting about it, though. One of my favorite Hemingway quotes, and perhaps the smartest (not to mention: most sober) things I’ve ever heard he said was: “Fuck ’em. Let ’em think you were born knowing how to write.”
Or something to that effect.
Which is why I’ll admit I sometimes struggle with blogging (and probably why I take so many breaks from it), not just as an activity but as a culture. With blogging and MySpace/Facebook and now with Twitter . . . just how connected do people need to be? How much do I really need to know about people? Do I care what you’re listening to? More important: do you care what I’m listening to?
The thing is, many regard it as the answer or solution for writers and publishing, which they see as “in decline.” Oh, whatever will we do, peepul dont reed no morez11!! You’ve heard the lamentations. You’ve seen the YouTube videos, and if you haven’t, there’s this one, which caught on in the blogosphere a while ago:
The thing about it is that I think it’s pretty uniformly utter bullshit (and I like that that video highlights that). Book trailers? Book videos? Lulu has some marketing package thing that includes bookmarks and, like, postcards or some shit.
I can’t believe readership is down, or if it is, not for the reasons many suspect, like the “ADHD Internet culture”; the utter and nearly spontaneous proliferation of blogs seems to me to demonstrate otherwise. It took, what, nearly 20,000 years or something for the human race to reach the 1 billion mark, while blogs reached double that number in, like, two hours or something (I’m using hyperbole here, obviously, but only just).
I think it’s more about a signal-to-noise ratio, because I think readers thirst for content. I think our culture is starved for it, in fact. I think one of the reason for this proliferation is that people are starving for something they are looking to such 2.0 stylistic hoodoo to provide.
If readership is down, I think it’s because there are too few writers, and I mean real writers out there actually doing their job. One of my other favorite quotes, which traces back to a pseudonym used on the Well many moons ago (but possibly still in use), was “You’re an author! Fuck off and auth!” How many writers with popular blogs have actually managed to write good books?
(and yes, I realize that begins to get into the subjective nature of “good” and such, but I’m not tackling that here)
One of the major points I think all this examination of web 2.0 and its relationship to writers and books has summarily and utterly missed is that you can market the hell out of a mediocre book and it doesn’t actually make the book any better. And readers know that.
The thing is that it’s focus on two disparately different things: the writing of a book versus the selling of it. Two completely different functions and activities with, I’d argue, very little in common. And yes, I would be among the first to note that it’s no longer enough for writers to simply write their books, that proactive energy is necessary, but while it may not be enough, that’s where it starts.
The other thing is that the Internet and its numbers don’t translate. I learned this personally, on MySpace; I established a rather substantial readership of nearly 4,000 friends and 1,200 subscribers to my blog. My blog had nearly 3,000 views per day when I realized I wanted to publish my collection. And I won’t say it was summarily ignored (far from it), but those numbers certainly didn’t transfer from one situation to the other.
I think Entrekin has gotten about as much attention as it ever deserved to; some, certainly, because I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t thought it was good, but not a lot, because it’s certainly not a great book–it’s a book collecting a bunch of stories by a writer discovering his voice in the process of telling them. The order of the pieces is very nearly chronological (which, I think, demonstrates said evolution), to culminate in the first two chapters of my novel. It’s not perfect (and even the novel chapters have since changed rather markedly), but it’s a record, and concerning the people in whom it does manage to strike a chord, it seems to do so deeply. What negative response it seems to provoke has less to do with the book than it does with people’s perception of me, as a person.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to digress and really have no idea how I ended up where I now find myself, but that’s my story. An ironic call to arms, probably, from a guy who maintains (roughly) three separate blogs, but I hope a call to arms nonetheless, if to no one else but myself. Because, really, it’s time for me to finish a good book.
I’ve started reading Seth Godin’s blog because, through my business course, I’ve learned enough to realize I don’t yet understand everything about marketing.
I caught this entry, and I don’t mean to come off as a chest-pounding proponent of revolution, but bear with me a moment.
According to above post, Borders discovered that, by displaying books with their covers out (rather than their spines), they increased their sales by 9%.
(of course, 9% in terms of the publishing industry is next to nothing, but that’s beside the point)
The Espresso machine is built to print a book in five minutes, flat. Consider that all that shelf space might instead be devoted to revolving banner advertisements with a limited number of books on hand, all of which can be previewed via the Espresso machines, as well as every other title in existence. Whatever you want, bookstores’ll have it.
And yes, certainly, some people browse books in the store, but I think the majority of perusal applies to magazines. So keep a periodicals section, while you devote all that glorious shelf space to 100 Espresso machines.
Certainly, it’d take a bit to get the venture started, but I have a feeling that’s how most bookstores are going to look in ten years. The fucker is pretty much a book vending machine:
This thing will take up less than five cubic feet, which, as many publishers know, is about the size of the remaindered rack in your average Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstore. What’s going to have to change, unfortunately, is how much publishers make via booksales. Because at this point, publishers are the equivalent of primaries; they’re in place so you know who’s good enough to buy books from, just like the primaries let you know who’s good enough to vote for president.
I’d say, in the future, it’s going to be more difficult to find the quality, but hey, you got to this blog, didn’t you? Just goes to show, somehow, it works out.
That’s the title of the only course I’m currently taking. It’s all about targeting to audiences, marketing, and branding. We only meet one weekend per month, and we’ve only had two weekends so far. Today begins the third (class all day tomorrow).
I’ve been struggling so far with it, if only because I never really stopped to think about my audience; I’ve just figured that anyone who likes to read or likes stories will dig it, mostly. I knew there were some caveats: there’s a time machine in it, but I don’t think it’s really a science fiction novel. It doesn’t feel that way. I think I once read Patrick Nielsen Hayden talk about genre and say that he mainly thought it was a product of the writer’s mindset as the writer was composing. Being that he’s an editor at Tor, generally knows what he’s talking about, and was a large part of the reason I ended up in a graduate writing program, I’m compelled to listen to him, and my mindset was never that it was science fiction. No more than one might consider Jurassic Park or Timeline science fiction. Really, they’re high concept commercial technothrillers.
Or, simply, you know, fiction.
There’s an old argument that all fiction is fantasy, because it’s made up (though that seems to indicate that all memoirs are fantasies, too, lately). I don’t really agree or disagree, mainly because it’s never something I’ve cared much about. I just like good stories. I’m as likely to enjoy a good love story like Shakespeare in Love or The Time-Traveler’s Wife as a brilliant action flick like Mission: Impossible III.
Anyway, I did as best I could with the marketing plan and trying to determine who my target audience is, besides, simply, everyone. I’m pretty happy with the proposal.
But now I’ve got to go to class.
Video tomorrow, though.
Have a good one. Wish me luck.
I haven’t really mentioned it except to note that I finished the draft and was going to start blogging again. Which was true. The draft is, finally, finished, but still needs some polish. It clocked in at a little more than 109,000 words, but since I posted that I was finished, I went back over the beginning and cut roughly 4,000 of those, and that was only in the first hundred and some pages. There are still at least two hundred to go.
It surprised me it clocked in so long, as I excised a pretty major subplot. But I did so because I upped the limitations for the main characters, and I think that ultimately makes it work better. It was something several readers suggested when they read the first draft of it when I first finished it a little more than a year ago, and they were very much right.
As it stands so far, I’m extraordinarily proud of it, but I realized, as I was tightening, that I shouldn’t yet. Which is what I’m doing now; I’m taking a couple of weeks away from it. This weekend/week, I’ve had to participate in a normalizing grading session, and on Friday I’m supposed to come up with a comprehensive marketing plan for a business class I’m taking (one reason I buckled down to finish is that this is the book I’m using for class example, and I was having trouble marketing without actually having a, you know, product). Coming from a scientific/literary background and being rather deeply analytical in nature, I’m fascinated by branding/marketing but find it difficult to apply some of the concepts. I look at some leading, renowned marketers, like Seth Godin, for example, and I just have to scratch my head, because it feels like it all becomes about attention and curiosity, and very rarely does anyone mention the actual quality of the product. It’s extraordinarily difficult for me to come to terms with the idea that the quality of something has absolutely nothing to do with its ability to find its audience, even though this is evident time and time again (Spiderman 3, for example).
I’m leaning toward a new title, too: The Prodigal Hour. It’s a phrase that came in a flash while I was at work one day, and it’s perhaps the one moment that felt most powerful with the book’s so-far best draft. This is the one that went farther than the others, and I feel like it’s the one where my skill as a writer finally matched up with my talent as a storyteller.
I’m going to try to finish a novel/la (I’m not sure which it is, yet) in the next few weeks, then finish the manuscript and start submitting it.