September 15, 2004

A tiny fish in the vast ocean of books Writer Stacey Sullivan learned that if your book isn't a political memoir or a trendy diet, you can't expect your editor to edit it, your publicist to publicize it, or bookstores to try to sell it. When the book industry adapts Hollywood's blockbuster mentality, where does that leave authors?
  • It leaves them with getting a good agent and making sure they're part of the promotion office. Try to build a presence, using a combination of PR and maybe even a website or two. Make sure you go on signing tours. If you can't get your publicist to do it, fight for permission to do it yourself. Find some relevant issues in the media, and send out Press Releases to the media on how your new book relates. Sign up for a bunch of meta-blogs under an assumed name and self-link to you book and how crazy-cool it is. (Just kidding...or am I?) If you have friends in an industry that can help, call on them for help. If your book isn't something you'd have reason to pick up yourself, find out what it is that you'd have to do in order to make it into something you'd pick up. Writing the book is only the first small step of the process; getting it to the public is potentially a longer and harder road, and if your publicist isn't going to do it, you'll have to do it yourself.
  • It leaves the authors with the small presses. At least it should. There are ways to reach an appreciative audience, other than going with the self-important corporate publishers.
  • She's writing for a pretty niche audience I would think- not many people go to B&N thinking "I'm going to buy a book about the Kosovo Liberation Army." She got a publisher with an editor (and was already a talented author and editor herself from her experience as a journalist) but not much publicity. But if you understand your target audience well enough to write a book for them, then you could probably target your potential buyers better than the big chain bookstores. Obviously it'd take a publishers backing to get your book on the front rack at B&N or fly around the country making talks. But you could market it online- try to get a good google score, send copies to popular bloggers who cater to people you think would like your book. Or locally- get a write-up in a local paper, or volunteer to do a talk at the local library or book store. Get enough people to read it, and if it's good enough they'll start recommending it to others. I would think that that's how one would market a book that's not a political memoir or a trendy diet book. On preview, what sandspider said, only I'd add cory doctorow to the list. On preview again, re what skrik said- it's not the large publishing houses' fault that the majority of americans actually want to read political memoirs and trendy diet books. If you have a book that could have mass appeal, then go to them. But you're right, if you're targetting a smaller audience, then maybe it's better to go with a smaller publisher.
  • Oops--I should have mentioned that I found this article via
  • Cory Doctorow seems to have done fairly well for himself giving his books away for free. He certainly wouldn't be as well-known a sci-fi author if he was just another guy with books no one had heard of. And enough people still prefer reading on paper that he sold enough books to make it worthwhile.
  • As a small (vanity?) press owner, I can attest to about two decades of the pain and joy of being completely ignored by mainstream publishers. Let them do their thing, I'll do mine. BTW, if any monkey wants one of my new books-- Economics, let me know and I'll send you one free of charge. Help a monkey out today...
  • Who needs the book industry? There are comic book publishers that do everything from sales to distribution to finding a printer themselves and make a living -- and they don't have to sell any of their rights to do it. Sure it is hard, but nothing worth doing is easy!
  • Assign your book as a textbook in the class you lecture....wait, that would pretty specific. It's been done, of course :). The free idea is very good - especially places where you know you will get a good target audience. SF&F at conventions, poetry at literary events, etc. I find new authors generally through reccomendations and give-aways - if you don't know if you'll have the one, try for the other - and if it's good, you will start getting the second.
  • Stephen King's autobiographical On Writing actually has a nicely written step-by-step for writers to become *authors*. Basically: write short pieces for lit mags, increasing over time in size of piece and prestige of magazine. Build a reputation for (a) talent and (b) willingness to work easily with editors and publishers, and eventually a literary agent will approach *you*. King implies that writers who seek out agents are pretty much doomed to failure, as are 99% of all writers anyway. It is as hard or harder to be a successful (read: able to pay your modest bills on what you earn) writer as it is to become a rock star. Probably harder. People ought to know that going in. So, burgeoning authors: Buy a Writer's Market and get to work on some short stories. And keep your day job, at least for now.
  • Knowing King, it probably helps to be prolific as a mutha.
  • The writer's dilemna is, often, having to choose between 1. time you would spend in actual writing/researching vs 2.time you would spend doing book tours, readings, book signings, interviews, networking with those in the field, perhaps giving workshops or seminars -- and, in the case of self-publishing, also selling, distributing, promoting your book, even finding someone to do art work for book jackets, illustrations, etc. Believe few serious authors nowadays edit their own work, a process beset with pitfalls. A common practive is to circulate manuscripts among friends/fellow authors for editing and feedback, services which may be available also via some writer's groups.
  • Next week, I'll ship my publisher the manuscript of my fifth book. Frankly? Stacey's story -- at least, as presented in the article -- strikes me as more than a little whiny. Admittedly, there are big differences in what we're doing and how we're doing it. I took several topics I felt passionate about (corporate training, brainstorming consulting, and, of all things, Tarot cards), blended them (brainstorming with Tarot cards, anyone?), and created a unique approach. I made contact with the communities where my readers would be, both on-line and in the real world. (Not hard to do, since I have a genuine interest in the things I write about and a genuine passion for creativity consulting and Tarot.) As a result, I was around when a brilliant acquisitions editor from Llewellyn Worldwide popped onto one of my Internet groups and asked, "Anyone here writing a book?" So: now I've completed six projects (all limited-appeal books for a niche market) for a small, independent publisher. And you know what? I'm delighted. - I'm touring the country, running workshops, making appearances, and enjoying signings at independent and chain stores. - I'm blessed with two incredible Llewellyn publicists who have engineered an amazing eleventh-hour boost in my first book's sales by landing me some great media appearances and by getting the material into the hands of creative folks who need it most. - I'm blessed to be working with an established but innovative small publisher who lets me try all kinds of cock-eyed promotional schemes, including posting the entire text of the first book to the web in order to generate interest in it and the following books in the series. - I'm having the time of my life. I'm meeting amazing people through the website I created for readers, traveling up a storm, and seeing my ideas help people generate insights and get work done faster. I'm by no means on anyone's best seller list, but I'm having a ball, I'm living my dream, and I'm making a living as a writer. (Well, I also do some voice acting and consulting on the side.) With all due respect to Stacey Sullivan, this tiny fish is just too busy working and writing to worry about his books vanishing into the sea of forgotten books.
  • As far as assigning the book in your class, as I understand it very very few accademic books make any money regardless of if the prof uses them in their class. Of course I'm one of them crazy people and if I assign something I've written to a class I'm teaching, I just put it online and tell them to download it and when I do get a book published I will probably do the same thing.