At this point, I’m thinking the traditional publishing industry is in serious trouble. Strictly from a business point of view, I’d like to see certain things begin to happen. It bothers me, oddly enough, that I seem to be having more ‘success’ selling my ‘supported self-published,’ Print On Demand (POD) novels, Been Blued and Martian Blues, on my own, than the majority of ‘regular’ authors ever have. I would like to see every serious author succeed, and every well-written, interesting and/or entertaining book sell in large numbers. I also strongly believe that the personal freedoms we currently enjoy in the western world require the ongoing freedom of thought and print. Having said that, I also believe many books that get published are not deserving of the privilege; my reasoning is that most published titles sell less than a hundred copies, which cannot be justified from a business point of view.
To the purist writer who wants to get published, but believes marketing and publicity are crass ways of ‘defiling the art,’ I say, “Grow up! You want to be on the best-sellers list, how do you think books get there?” Why bother taking the time and effort, (not to mention the money,) to get your work into print if you’re going to turn around and ‘protect’ it from the public. I doubt this attitude is more than a way to be very snobbish, a way to behave as if the reader isn’t good enough.
Another foolish move is on the part of those who compile lists of authors, but almost always insist that self-published and POD authors are not welcome. The excuse I’ve run across in every case is that there are simply too many regular authors to list the self-published ones as well. If that was true, they wouldn’t want to list any authors. ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’ also applies to listing books: readers want more good books in their preferred genre, and they don’t care how it got published. That’s why Barnes & Noble lists ‘also bought’ items.
The main problem with traditional publishing is the sheer volume of books that never sell more than a hundred copies. Every smart business owner takes stock of his products and tries to eliminate the items that do not produce sales. This requires not just looking at the numbers, but making an attempt to figure out why some items sell and others don’t. Obviously, a book on making your own wagon wheels won’t have wide appeal for today’s markets. It belongs to a special niche, where it may indeed corner the market. Another words, product placement can make a huge difference. One of the first things managers do when sales slow down is to move the stock around.
Advertising is a tricky tool. You don’t want to spend too much time ‘preaching to the choir.’ (They’re already at least pretending to be convinced.) The old maxim, ‘a person convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still,’ applies to advertising. Effective marketing seeks out those who don’t yet know about your product, or haven’t located it yet, or wish to experiment with something they’ve heard about. Few others need to be targeted.
Self-published authors, by necessity, have an advantage in finding their audience. We don’t have a big name publishing house to do our promotional work for us, and few of us can afford even the cheapest marketing campaigns out there. An upcoming conference in New York, for example, is about six times what I can afford right now. In an attempt to look on the bright side, I told myself that by the time I could afford that, I wouldn’t need it anyway. Meanwhile, I’m still being forced to learn more and look further outside of my own comfort zone. Did you know you can do a very inexpensive ad campaign on Facebook? I didn’t, until a few weeks ago. How effective is it? I’ll let you know after it’s been ‘out there’ a while.
Selling large numbers of book requires a lot more than placing them on a shelf. Sure, people look for titles in the genre they prefer, but how do you push them out of their comfort zone to buy more? (By the way, I’m not buying the excuse that ‘there are simply too many books and not enough readers.’ What’s happening there is that readers are ‘voting’ and books that sell less than a hundred copies should have been ‘voted off the island,’ ie, not published, in the first place.) So far, it looks like major publishing has been a buckshot approach–fire ’em off in all directions and see which ones hit a buyer. But the buckshot doesn’t take good writing into account–sure, my books are science fiction, but with Been Blued, I tried to write a novel that would appeal to: scifi fans, romance readers, people looking for humor, and general interest readers who might want to ponder the ethical questions of things like cloning and the progress of technology. I did that because my idea of the buckshot approach is to fire several good things off in various directions at the same time. More ‘bang for the buck.’
I wonder if any big name publishers ever sit down and evaluate why some titles don’t sell. The second part of the equation is evaluating why some books DO sell more than a hundred copies. This is even more important, because it’s the bulk of the business. Customers are telling you by their purchases, what it is that they want more of. I can’t believe this information is being reviewed or acted on, since the ‘less than a hundred copies sold’ books keep getting published. Wouldn’t it be great to have bookstores filled with more than a quarter of the books people actually want?
Think about it the next time you’re in a bookstore. Once you find the section(s) that interests you, how many of the titles there catch your attention? Why so few? Surely it’s not because you already own most of them already. If you could afford it, how many would you buy that you don’t already own? Which ones would you ship back to the publisher for repulping? How many copies of those repose before you on the shelf? Wouldn’t it be great if there were more copies of the ones you do want? Maybe those authors decided to self-publish…
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly