Monday, April 04, 2011

Blowing Smoke

I'm reading more and more about how average books can still sell, meaning that there's more to selling books than the quality of the content. For instance, at Self-Publishing Review, the editorial "Bad Writing Doesn't Matter Anymore" talks about  how the unsophisticated readers outnumber the sophisticated, changing the dynamics of what sells.

Publishers might like to believe that they have the finger on the pulse of what sells – or what should sell – but when mediocre writing is becoming a bestseller, this pretty much renders the slush pile meaningless.

Is there any wonder that the good-old-boys of the publishing world are bumping into each other in a tizzy trying to get a grip on what to do next to keep up with changes? To sell books?

Frankly, I think books nowadays are more than a quiet read snuggled up in a chair with tea in hand. We're wired, people. A title rumbling on the net, stirring electronic word-of-mouth, isn't a seller until readers know about the author - the dirt, the good, the unusual, the history, the quirkiness of his lifestyle, wife or upbringing. The website matters as does the blog.

Before we were so connected, we read a book at face value. The author was a name only. Then authors went on book tours, they had celebrity status because they were a rare commodity to see. Still, the majority of the readers never knew whether an author was red-headed or donned a long black braid. All that mattered was the story experience.

Now we want more. We crave everything about Amanda Hocking. She landed that phenomenal book deal after self-publishing. She's one of "us." One of the common folk. We Google for articles, interviews and statistics, because if she can win the lottery like this, there's hope for us yet. Most of us couldn't name a single title she's written, but we'll get our hands on one soon enough because we're heard so much about her.

You've heard about brand and platform, and the terms confuse you. Think of presentation instead. I just returned from a conference, and people confessed to me they didn't understand the meaning of platform. It's like sand... slipping through our fingers before we get a feel for what it really is.

While presentation isn't platform, you acquire a platform via presentation, so the end result is the same. It's reaching readers and making them want your book.

While at my conference in Blue Ridge, GA, I spoke to the bookstore representative manning the table. She was selling my book The Shy Writer. She asked about my fiction, and I told her the suspense novel would be out winter 2011-2012 - no exact release date yet. She immediately spat out, "Make sure it has a good cover." Then she asked who the publisher was. I told her, and she seemed satisfied. My publisher is noted for quality covers. Again, presentation before quality.

They used to call faking anything "blowing smoke." Everyone is now blowing smoke for fear their work won't be noticed for all the other authors blowing smoke. It becomes a scramble to blow the most smoke, the best quality smoke, the highest smoke. You have to coax a reader to read the book first, often through facts, pictures, humor, covers, press events and gossip.
You might feel indignant that you have to play these games to be recognized, but the rules have changed. In a world alive with multi-media, when books have television commercials, when crazy blogs mean more than a good chapter one, when YouTube grabs more attention than book reviews, you have to weigh whether you want to whore yourself out to these tools. We live in a 3-D environment filled with action, color, personality and tricks to catch the eye. Because after you catch the eye, you have that split-second moment to connect with someone's attention, in hopes they decide to pick up your book.
Maybe that's the wrong way of looking at it. Consider book trailers, blogs, contests, website, podcasts, and such for what they are . . . a means to sales. You know they'll like your book once they've savored it, right? So do you "blow smoke" or do you hope people just read your book and tell enough others about it?
Can you dare take that chance?


Unknown said...

I think gold stands on it's own value.
Writing something great should go farther than gossiping to a mass market.
Selling is a whole different bussiness,there are a zillion things that will sell better than books.
It all depends on who you are for real.

Becky Benson-Flannery said...

I wish gold really did stand on its own, but it does not anymore.

Social media makes everything harder and easier simultaneously: we can learn everything about a favorite writer and even interact with that person via Twitter. But, social media makes marketing oneself as an author, as a job candidate much more difficult and time consuming. Doing anything has become a group effort.

I am sad that not-so-great books populate the best seller lists, but I do not remember that being much different. I have always assumed that the average reader wants little challenge and most books worth reading require some work from the reader--a leap of faith, so thinking, so quality engagement. Very few really great books break into the best seller list...usually after they are optioned as movies...

Thank you for a wonderful post!