Thursday, April 07, 2005

Watch Me Pull a Rabbit Out of My Ass!

In recent weeks I've been informed by at least three different colleagues that a particular author of ours has found out about me and my new position and is interested in having me develop his web presence. That's all, really, just develop his web presence. Right. When asked where he'd like to be more prominent, the answer has been, "you know, like online reading groups." Oh? Which ones? "I don't know. There have to be some out there, right?"

Now I'm all about doing the impossible, but no where in my job description does it say I will pull rabbits out of hats or perform other feats of magic. I suppose this is the result of having a new job that my colleagues (and authors) don't yet understand, but I think it's also indicative of a more wide-spread phenomenon: authors want something to happen for their books, but haven't a clue as to how to go about it.

How many times as a book publisher do we hear an author say, "I think my story would be great for Oprah. Can you make that happen?" If some authors sold a book for every minute they pined over the Oprah Winfrey Show, they would probably be national bestsellers. Getting on Oprah is about as easy as hitting the lottery - and about as equally fair, too, which is a credit to Oprah. Just because you've booked an author on her show before (or even twenty authors), doesn't mean you have any kind of inside track on booking other guests.

While the Oprah show deservedly has a good reputation for selling books, ...wait, here comes the shocking revelation: there are OTHER media outlets that help influence book buyers as well! It's hard to fathom, but for years now literate people have actually been getting quality information from sources other than Oprah. In fact, there's a whole tradition (which supposedly pre-dates Oprah) called "print" media that seems to have some effect on consumers, and then there's something called the "interweb" which the kids keep yammering about, going to "revolutionize" something or other.

All joking aside, this is really to say that there are thousands of ways in which we communicate information to one another in our modern (I should say post-modern) lives, and different groups of people gravitate towards different mediums and modes of communication. I don't watch Oprah, but I could probably tell you everything that was on Nerve and Gawker yesterday and, this may surprise you, I love reading about medieval British history. My grandfather wouldn't know a URL from a UFO, but he loves using email and reading detective novels. Mainstream media might not reach either of us effectively. We're both avid readers, though not always conventional readers in the way demographic marketing might think of us.

In fact, the best way of ensuring that we get a marketing message is through an integration of several mediums (big and small, complicated and simple). Parts of that web might include an interesting online presence, possibly one that supports a poignant, viral (read e-mail) marketing component, and recommendations from credible sources (be it traditional reviews, bloggers, word-of-mouth, gift-giving, etc.). Credible sources come in a thousand different varieties, and their credibility varies among different audiences, but it's the primordial "grass roots" technique that is still the most powerful form of marketing there is.

There’s no universal answer or formula for success, no magic hats. There’s not even a simple solution, and this brings me back to my original point about expectations. In the history of the world, no meal has ever been prepared simply by wishing for dinner. Not only does it require someone who knows how to cook, but the right ingredients as well. I suppose it’s possible I could improve the web presence of an author, but what’s the point of that when his readership isn’t online? Hell, I might be able to get a book about the history of post-industrial capitalism on Oprah, but it probably won’t sell any copies (that’s actually an experiment I’d really like to test). Simply put, the fact that the internet or Oprah exist and probably influence people to buy books doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for every book and author, and if we as publishers we willing to be a little more honest with our authors, maybe I wouldn’t have so many requests for the ridiculously impossible.

6 Comments:

Blogger Bob Liter said...

I'm not worried about getting a publisher to turn my novel into a bestseller. I'm worried about getting a publisher to publish any one of my nine completed novels.
Bob Liter

10:00 AM  
Blogger Jozef Imrich, Esq. said...

to be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
- e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

If I have one reader, just one single solitary reader in the entire world, then I am happy, I consider that *success* by my own definition. The web has a nerve to be different.

The virtual world also tends to accommodate anyone who reads widely and who dares to post a comment or two from time to time ;-P

12:20 PM  
Blogger Jozef Imrich, Esq. said...

Ach, The definition of literary superstars ;-P

12:28 PM  
Blogger sepulculture said...

Nine completed novels? Without knowing a thing about you or your work, or if you have approached the right agents and publishers, my guess is that none of those nine books could be published and sold such that a publisher stands to make any money from the endeavor. Perhaps, before you write number ten, you should consider reviewing and revising numbers one through nine to see WHY they don't work and figure out how to fix them. The fact that you’ve completed nine novels, none of which have sold, tells me you are not learning from your mistakes. Just an opinion, of course.

PS – Patricia Storms is the eff’n bomb!

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Jane Guill said...

British medieval history? I've got a novel for you. I'll even send you a free copy. (My marketing efforts may be gravely limited, but they're earnest.)

Jane Guill
NECTAR FROM A STONE
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone March 2005

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Jane Guill said...

British medieval history? I've got a novel for you. I'll even send you a free copy. (My marketing efforts may be gravely limited, but they're earnest.)

Jane Guill
NECTAR FROM A STONE
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone March 2005

11:32 AM  

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