Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Publishers Be Crazy...Or Desperate

I just read this article about, a new joint venture being launched later this summer by Hachette Book Group, Penguin USA and Simon & Schuster. Per the article:

The site intends to provide information for all things literary: suggestions on what books to buy, reviews of books, excerpts from books and news about authors. Visitors will also be able to buy books directly from the site or from other retailers and write recommendations and reviews for other readers.

The publishers — Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group — hope the site will become a catch-all destination for readers in the way that music lovers visit for reviews and information.

A couple of sentences further down, you'll read:

“There’s a frustration with book consumers that there’s no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “We need to try to recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment, but which we don’t believe is currently happening online.”

There are three problems with Ms. Reidy's statements.

First, there is NOT "a frustration with book consumers that there's no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors," because in fact, there are several sites that offer one-stop shopping for author/book information. Perhaps Ms. Reidy just hasn't heard of such obscure, underground sites as,,, and

Second, nobody needs to "recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment," because for the average consumer, discovery of new books NO LONGER HAPPENS IN THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. Once again, it's Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari and LibraryThing to the rescue here, not to mention genre-specific online communities like
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and format- and device- specific online communities like Kindle Nation Daily.

Third, Ms. Reidy and her compatriots don't "believe [this is] currently happening online." Why not?! How is it possible that publishers are THAT FAR out of touch with book buyers? I'll tell you how: traditionally, publishers have viewed booksellers as their customers, and book-buyers as the customers of booksellers. They have little to no idea what's bouncing around in the head and life of the typical consumer, because they haven't had to know those things to run their business at any time in the past---past being the operative word there.

So these three major publishers are sinking massive amounts of time, effort and money into a huge new initiative that I think just about any typical book-buying consumer on the street could tell you today is destined to fail. And how do you suppose they'll be financing this new initiative? Certainly not by reducing the prices of their books, or signing more new, unproven authors, or keeping books on physical shelves longer to give them a better chance of catching on, or giving individual authors more marketing money.

I'm sure the publishers would say this initiative is all about supporting their authors and marketing books in a cost-effective way, so kudos to them for good intentions. But while they may know book and author marketing today is all about author platform, they clearly don't understand that author platform is all about community, and community is about making personal connections and feeling like you're part of a movement. Which do you think a fan of Stephen King would rather visit: Stephen King's personal site and online community of fans, or the obviously corporate umbrella site, content will necessarily be vetted and vanilla, so as not to hurt the corporate images and reputations of its backers and to avoid offending any site visitors. Anyone who wants the raw, unfiltered version of musings from their favorite authors and opinions of others in those authors' communities won't bother with when they can get the straight scoop right from the horses' mouths elsewhere.

I hate to sound so negative and dump all over publishers like this, because it's a good thing that they're finally willing to try something new. But at this point, they face the same problem Microsoft did with its Zune MP3 player: Apple got there first with the iPod, and they did it very well. If you're going to enter the marketplace with a new product for which the demand has already been fulfilled by someone else (or several someone elses), then your product has to be so incredibly, amazingly compelling that consumers will feel they're missing out by not switching to it. Microsoft tried it with the Zune; I think by now we can all agree they failed to capture enough of the MP3 player market to even make Apple break a sweat. And Microsoft has decades of experience with technology and marketing direct to consumers.

So gets an A for effort, but a goose egg for vision and sustainability.

Publishers: maybe you're looking at this all wrong. Maybe instead of trying to supplant the Amazons, Goodreads and Shelfaris of the world, you should be looking for ways to leverage what those sites and communities are already doing, and doing very well: crowdsourcing.

Let them tell you what the readers want to see in print and ebook forms. Listen to consumer complaints about ebook release windows and pricing, and respond accordingly. Switch to POD book production so you can offer a much wider variety of titles at a much lower cost; grousing about the lack of variety and fresh, new voices from mainstream pub is so common as to be a pastime in reader communities. Stop chasing after blockbusters and start tuning into the pre-existing discovery network to locate your new literary stars. Keep your ears to the ground for breakout indie authors, and sign them, knowing they're already proven commodities. Get and keep a bead on technologies consumers are excited about (color ebooks, interactive book apps, etc.) and invest in those technologies.

Your role as arbiters of taste and gatekeepers is a thing of the past, and the position of Reader Community Leader has already been filled. Own it. Restructure your businesses and legacy thought patterns to embrace this new reality. Now, your role is to find out what consumers want in print books, ebooks and emerging media technologies, and give it to them. Period.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Better Work It, Girl (or Guy)

I haven't posted anything here in a mighty long time, and you may be wondering what's up with that. I could just say I'm busy, which would be true, but that doesn't do justice to the question. Particularly since I'm supposed to be some kind of expert on author platform and whatnot, and as everyone who knows anything about author platform knows, neglect is a platform killer. Well, that's more or less true. But this blog isn't the only piece of my platform puzzle, and there's a bigger elephant in the room anyway: making a living. I'm sure most of you are hosting this same pachyderm yourselves, struggling mightily to get off the day job treadmill and shift all your focus and energy to writing-related pursuits.

For me, you, and anyone else who's trying to keep the elephant in peanuts and mud baths, it's all about multiple income streams. It's the exceptional author who sells enough books to earn a decent living on that alone. The rest of us need to hustle, ALL THE TIME.

Revenue Stream #1: Book Sales
It seems like new stories surface almost daily about this or that indie author earning tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars a month on his or her self-published books. Many of them are only releasing ebook editions, reducing their upfront publishing and distribution expenses to virtually nil. Volume---having lots of books in print---is one of the major keys to success here, since anyone who likes one of your books is sure to seek out the rest of your work. Pricing is another critical consideration, since plenty of readers are willing to take a chance on a new author at bargain prices but may balk at the same book just a buck or two higher. If you've got a body of work that includes ten or more finished, polished works, by all means get them ALL out there in at least ebook formats as soon as possible and bask in the rays of volume sales.

But if you're like me, you've got maybe one or two pieces that are ready for primetime and a whole mess o' stuff that needs varying levels of editing, formatting, or revision. Even so, it's worth prioritizing your stuff and, if you can get any of your stuff ready for publication in a matter of hours or days, publishing what you can. Every title you have out there is a potential revenue stream, and also acts as a cross-promotional tool for the rest of your published works. Which is why I finally cleared my decks long enough to release Shorts, a collection of my short works---something I'd had on my to-do list for months, but which always seemed to be pushed aside by more pressing tasks. Like my freelance work, for example.

Revenue Stream #2: Consulting, Services
Now that many of us have crested the learning curve when it comes to self-publishing in ebook and print formats, given enough experience and training, quite a few of us are in a position to guide and instruct our peers who are just starting out, or even to provide formatting, ebook conversion, consulting or other services on a fee basis. I've been providing author services for about 8 months now, and with the current groundswell of interest in self-publishing, it's no surprise that demand for my services far outstrips my availability. This is a good problem for any freelancer to have, but there's a major downside too: no time to work on my own projects.

It was always difficult for me to justify spending time working on my own stuff when I could be using it to earn money instead. And then there's the issue of burnout; as a freelancer it's very easy to get caught in the trap of working too much. With no set workday schedule or corporate framework, and the trunk of that darned elephant constantly poking around your desk and wondering where its next peanut is coming from, taking time off always seems risky. You find yourself working days, nights, and weekends too. Not good for you, or for your clients.

I just got out of this trap myself last month, when I decided to impose a set work schedule on myself which includes giving myself weekends off. I'm not gonna lie, I still work nights sometimes if I've had a particularly hectic, low-productivity day. And I'll still shift work to the weekends if I need to take days off during the week due to illness or something else, but the important thing is that I'm setting boundaries.

I've also tried to shut that darned elephant up by taking on the role of General Manager for Windwalker Media, the publishing and media company that runs the Kindle Nation Daily family of sites and regularly releases ebooks on topics related to ebooks, ereaders and the current and possible future state of publishing and digital media. I'm now a dedicated resource for WM for a set number of hours each month, which is a welcome arrangement in terms of providing me with some predictability while still leaving me with enough free hours each month to take on some freelance jobs or work on my own writing projects. But it's also keeping me busy.

Revenue Stream #3: Sites, Webinars, Online Classes
Most of you know I'm the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat, which is a job with daily demands on my time and attention. At times I've seriously considered passing the reins for the site on to someone else, since it doesn't really earn me anything once expenses for site and content maintenance are factored in. But it's a labor of love, and it does help to keep me and my books in the public eye, however indirectly.

I've finally completed the 16-month process of getting all the lesson content posted to Publetariat Vault University, where Zoe Winters and I offer monthly lessons in self-publishing and author platform on a subscription basis. Since a number of people have requested it, I have it on my to-do list to create bundled 'paks' of related lessons for sale, as an alternative to the monthly subscription format. Again, between maintaining Publetariat, meeting my WM responsibilities and hitting my clients' deadlines for freelance work, it's a struggle for me to find the time for this. But I know that once I get those lesson paks posted they will form another new revenue stream, so I've got to find a way to make it happen.

I recently authored and presented a Writer's Digest University webinar on the keys to self-publishing success, and also authored an online course for WDU: Successful Self Publishing, which is all about the business side of being a self-publisher: setting goals, creating a project plan and schedule, figuring out what you can do yourself and what would be better left to the pros, and so on.

Authoring the course and webinar materials took quite a lot of time and effort, and the compensation was fair but far from lush. But I knew these would be priceless opportunities to keep myself and my book (The Indie Author Guide) front and center with self-publishers. WD really wanted to offer a webinar and course like the ones I created for them, and if I hadn't signed on to do them, another author would have. Sometimes prioritizing is more about maintaining your toe hold than it is about expansion, or immediate monetary rewards.

Do The Hustle
So yes, I have been most dreadfully neglecting my blog, and haven't updated my author website in months, either. But hopefully you can now understand why, and maybe pick up a few ideas for generating and working your own indie author revenue streams.