Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our own worst enemies

Vicki’s post from yesterday got me thinking: how did it all come to this?

Publishers have most of their authors over a barrel. It seems it's always been that way, too. I know for a fact that Edgar Allan Poe complained about his publisher. I’ve actually seen one of the letters, kept in said publisher’s safe for over 100 years. In this case it was a very pathetic plea of “Where’s my money?”

I suppose it should be comforting to share something so much in common with one of the world’s great writers. I bet if I would have had the opportunity to see the rest of his correspondence which was also in the safe, I would have read about “damned promotional junkets, readings and personal appearances”.

The vast majority of us ink-stained wretches write because we need to...we have to. There’s just something in us wanting to hold that book in our hands, that book with our name on it and our story between its covers. And because of that compulsion, we will do whatever is needed to have it all happen.

I’ll say it myself. I’m one of them.

With my seventh and eighth books coming out in the next year, I know that I won’t make any money out of it. Oh, money will come in all right. Publishers are generally pretty honest people who pay attention to their contractual obligations. But very much as every one of us does, I’ll turn around and shovel my hard-earned royalties in to the insatiable maw of the promotional machine, doing what I can to get the word out to sell a few more books. Like Vicki I’ve driven long distances to sell a half dozen books. Heck, together Vicki and I have driven long distances to sell a half dozen books! I once got talked into driving to Ottawa (a five hour trip from Toronto) to a library gig that included playing a half-hour concert with another author, a reading, a Q&A and then sold maybe eight books. After all that, I drove back to Toronto and arrived home at three a.m.

I know my horror stories are no different from anyone else’s. In fact it makes good conversational fodder when we authors gather in hotel bars at conferences and conventions. There’s almost always oneupmanship on the topic of book touring horror stories.

It’s getting worse, too. Even authors who sell pretty well (and I’m talking about US sales on the order of 50,000) are being told by their publishers that they’ll have to get out and promote their books — on their own dime. The publishers just don’t have much in the way of promotional budget for any but their most sure-thing, best-selling authors. Not many of those non-best-selling authors will walk, either. They just suck it up, fork over the dollars and hit the road.

It’s sort of sad being a writing junkie. That next fix is there every time the box of the new book arrives at our door. As long as we’re getting that fix every so often, we’ll just close our eyes, take a deep breath and do what’s needed.


John R Corrigan said...

Point taken. It brings me back to my question regarding online promotion. Who is doing it? And how? Has to be more cost-effective.

Rick Blechta said...

Put simply, John, I don't believe it can hurt — and that's a positive thing. Any kind of "real life" promotion costs money and hiring a publicist always comes with the caveat that they can't guarantee any results. The good thing about online promotion is that most of the time it only costs the author time. Some say that time is money, but even with standard promo, the author needs to put in some time whether it be for interviews, signings, readings, so that's a bit of a red herring in this case.

Personally, I'm more than willing to put in the time to do online promoting because I'm not taking money out of my pocket to do it — usually.

The real issue with online promo is tracking its effectiveness, isn't it? Is it working? How well? What's working and how well?

Maybe we could all weigh in on what we're doing with online promo and how we're doing it.

Who's first?

Cathy Astolfo said...

So very true, Rick! And no one but the junkie can really understand why we do it.

Rick Blechta said...

I suppose if we all banded together and demanded that some promotional sanity be put back in our industry, publishers would have to listen. But there are some of us out there who would do anything in order to get published who would happily break ranks in order to get to the front of the line.

Hannah Dennison said...

Honestly ... I'm on the fence about how effective online promotion really is. Yes - I do it but somewhat half-heartedly. Maybe it's a psychological thing. Meeting readers in the flesh is always so wonderful - yet doing blog tours or social media stuff ... sometimes I feel as if I am writing into a black hole.
I'm trying to move with the times though and embrace it all.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for weighing in Hannah. You're first, so you get the prize: a wee dram of your favourite single malt (or whatever tipple you prefer) the next time we meet.

My feeling is that you can't do any promotion half-heartedly. That's almost as bad as not doing it at all.

Case in point: here we are doing this blog. Why? Because we hope it will get the word out about our writing. Is it effective? I don't know. I do track how many people read what I post. Sometimes it makes me feel as if I'm doing some good; other times I feel more like I'm probably talking to myself.

Thing is, if someone comments on a piece I've written, I need to respond quickly. It could lead to a good conversation, a connection being forged and maybe, just maybe, some of my books getting sold.

Same thing with a website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Thing is, we have to work with the tools at our disposal. That video interview for The Mark I did a few months ago has generated over 700 viewings (go to my website, anyone, if you want to see it). Did it sell any books? I don't know, but I hope so. It also cost me absolutely nothing but my time to do it.

I also look at it another way, I got a chance to practise my skills at being interviewed. Next time, I'll be better. And maybe that interview will go viral and I'll suddenly jump onto the best sellers list and get a movie deal.

And that turns it all back to the ultimate reason we write: to tell stories. I just made up a fairy tale ending, didn't I?

Thanks for your thoughts. Always appreciated!

Donis Casey said...

I've done more online promotion for this book than possibly for the previous four books together, and for the same reason as you - it only costs my time. A lot of time. I told a friend that I do a tremendous amount of writing lately, but not on a new book, on guest blogs and forums. And does it do any good? Who knows? I didn't know if the conferences and travel boosted sales that much, either, but at least they get you out of the house.

Rick Blechta said...

They get you out of the house, but at what cost? That has to be weighed, doesn't it? I love getting out and meeting people, but I also work for a living and if I'm out at a book store, even signing 100 books for the store doesn't pay me for the time I'm not working and collecting money for that work. It's not even close.

Today, I put up my usual notice on Facebook for my blog posting. A former high school classmate has asked where she can buy my books (thanks, Carol!). Let's say she buys three of them. For the amount of time it took me to put up that notice (maybe 2 minutes), I may have sold a few books. Maybe another person or two read my post today and decide to give a read to one of my books. In both cases, I sold books I wouldn't have and for not very much time expended and next to no money.

I'd say that's a good deal.

Hannah Dennison said...

i'm so excited about the wee dram. WHEN will we meet? Where?

And 700 is really good. Yet - as you say - how will we ever know how effective it is?

Charlotte Hinger said...

On-line is part of the new reality. Budget cuts and unreasonable workloads are creating havoc in nearly all occupations. Every job has a certain quotient of "donkey work," and blatant self-promotion is our form of this.

If you don't have a sense of humor, rent one. It's the only way you'll stay sane. As to effectiveness, yes, I honestly believe on-line BSP creates more sales.

Charlotte Hinger

Rick Blechta said...

Charlotte, obviously I believe you're correct. And a sense of humour is definitely a plus. One should never get too up or too down, either.

One thing no one has mentioned (including me) is that with social media promotion the author doesn't have to wait around for someone else to do something. You can do it anytime you want. That's obviously a very good thing. If something happens, you can tell people about it right away, not wait for some promo person somewhere to put out a press release. With social media, promotion is in the author's hands. How much else in the publishing industry is?

I also think another key is to do it consistently, keep your name out there — but not to the point of obnoxiousness. I know several authors who have stepped over that line. What you want to aim for is creating a dialogue with readers. That's good for everyone and it certainly makes it more enjoyable for everyone involved.

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Well Rick, it is the same for the music "business". We do it because we have to. The music anyway, and writing is the same. For promotion musicians just give it away, online off line, just to get the next gig. But please all of you writing, it does not always fall on deaf ears. If it were not for you,my life would not have the glorious trips through space and time with te adventure you provide. thanks Rick i do appreciate your work. Too bad it's so uch like being a musician.