In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, today we are going to talk about something touchy and complicated. No, I am not going to tell you where babies come from.
Amazon. With Prime, you get free shipping.
The whole publishing paradigm makes me kinda twitch and we writers are often at the center of a lot of silly complaining. So I’d like to debunk some pretty myths we writers love to perpetuate.
It’s like that ex who we run into on Facebook and we get all nostalgic and remember all the loooove. But, if we took more than 30 seconds to think. Really THINK? We’d remember why we were combing Craig’s List for a hit man willing to be paid in unredeemed Starbucks gift cards to take that person OUT…O_o
Same situation. Let’s unpack this, shall we?
Fallacy #1—Old Books Are Awesome & We Should GO BACK
I just love the smell of old books. The feel of old paper. The nostalgia. I just miss browsing dusty shelves looking for a hidden treasure…
I can completely 1000% get on board with this. Books are foundational for any thriving society and the bedrock of any enduring culture. But this commentary does not belong in a business discussion about the publishing industry.
Because we (writers) are not being PAID off old dusty copies of our manuscripts unless we happen to be traveling the country selling them out of steamer trunks.
It’s a non sequitur.
In fact, and this is just ME. I will not buy books at secondhand stores or garage sales. And, if I do happen to buy a book this way and I like the title and I find out the book is still in print and the author who worked really, really hard to write that book can still be paid?
I buy a copy.
Often a digital copy to make sure that the writer got PAID for doing her job. It’s a professional courtesy.
Thing is, we have to be really, really careful that as artists we are not perpetuating the very behavior that pisses us off.
We like getting paid for our work. We work really really hard and expect (rightfully) that we should be rewarded for doing so.
Doctors work hard and they expect to get paid. No one gripes when the doctor gets paid. Heck, no one gripes when the UPS driver gets paid or the barista who makes the triple-shot espresso pumpkin soy cappuccino with half foam and vanilla sprinkles and does not commit MURDER gets paid.
Oh, but it is artsy and bohemian to rip writers off because old books are cool?
No. And again, let’s keep the debate clear here because I can already hear the blogs now, “Kristen Lamb hates old books!” No. Pay attention.
I love old books. Have stacks of them. Want to buy old copies of Moby Dick? Be my guest. I doubt Melville is counting on that Amazon royalty check to pay to upgrade his Scrivner or, I dunno, eat.
Want to support civilization? Buy old books. Want to support a writer and his/her family? Buy new ones or e-books.
I also get that paper is not going away, but what makes me a little cray-cray is why authors seem so resistant to e-books at all. I love e-books. First of all because I seriously DIG that giant old lady font.
How Kristen reads ALL her books…
Also, because that is another way readers can buy and consume my work. Want it on paper? Here. Audio? HERE. E-book? Here!
Heck, as writers, I think we should stand behind any kind of R&D that gets more stories into the hands of readers. I am 1000% behind Carrier Pigeon Technology, Smoke Signal Fiction, Books by Morse Code.
Granted, morally, I am on the fence about downloading my book directly into my readers’ brains, but hell the sci-fi folks can just run with that! If the royalties are fat enough? I’m game.
Heck, if there was good money behind me acting out my stories in interpretive dance?
I would so be there.
Who cares how readers get our books so long as we are being paid?
In case anyone was unclear? WE are the oldest profession 😉 .
And this “How Readers Get Our Books” dovetails into my next point…
Fallacy #2 Barnes & Noble Supports All Authors
The whole B&N drama? I am verklempt. Calm down and hear me out. I don’t think Barnes & Noble is as good or even as bad as we believe.
Do I believe B& N is the devil? Of course not. I love B&N. In fact, there was a time I had a loan shark who met me in the hardbacks to front me some Benjamins to keep pace with my habit.
I think competition is GOOD. It is necessary and vital and it keeps everyone playing nice-nice. I even wrote a long piece about the dangers of Amazon becoming a monopoly in case you are worried I am being too biased.
But, here is the deal. The second I write anything about how Amazon is doing something really brilliant, people love to jump all over Bezos for being predatory and helllooo?
Can we just go back about 15-20 years?
Barnes and Noble (and Borders) are almost singlehandedly responsible for wiping out the indie bookstore ecosystem. They deliberately placed megastores on every corner and willfully drove small bookstores out of business so I guess I am the only one who finds Borders extinction karmic and B&Ns current plight ironic.
Thing is, B&N reinvented the book industry and were rewarded for doing so. They got people really excited about bookstores again and it was bloody and brutal for the indies.
But now that another business has come along that is finally mean and lean enough to hit back comes along? I am not all, “Poor B&N.”
I have popcorn and Red Vines.
Genuine competition is good for them. They can either lay there and take it or they can use the pushback to reinvent the bookstore again. Markets aren’t supposed to remain static. And last I checked, their top officers get paid pretty well to figure this stuff out 😉 .
Barnes & Noble is not good for most authors, lest we forget how they were able to get those rock-bottom prices that drove most of the indies out of business. They thrive off selling in volume and the only authors who are fairly guaranteed to sell in volume are already household names.
Nothing personal. It’s business.
So when Amazon comes along and its business is not driven by a scattergun approach and instead is driven off authentic interest as reflected in genuine buying habits?
We writers might want to take notice.
Yes, as I predicted, Amazon would need a brick-and-mortar store to sell its own imprints, but this is also good news for traditionally published authors who are new with lower print runs or whose last name doesn’t rhyme with Patterson.
Fallacy #3 Social Media is a Dismal Failure
I’ve had a few comments regarding how so many authors ran to social media and they simply aren’t seeing any of that social media activity translate into sales. Thing is? Yep. Social media is not direct marketing, though the two are often confused.
See, in direct marketing, we can measure. We can put out an ad, measure click rates and see how many clicks led to a purchase. We can send out so many fliers and then measure quantitatively how many of those later translated into sales.
We can measure how many
morons individuals were sent an e-mail telling them they had inherited $100,000,000 from some relative they never knew they had in Guana against how many deposits we get of $5000 to spring that “inheritance” from customs.
This gives us our ROI (return on investment). How many e-mails sent in comparison to how much cash is sent via Western Union.
Why it has been so vexing for marketers is they try to treat social media the same way as mass marketing…and they can’t. Because if we do social media correctly (keeping it social) there is no way to quantify it.
It becomes too obvious we are mixing social and market norms and that creeps people the hell out.
Market Norms are when a prostitute expects money in return for *wink wink nod nod* “favors.”
Social Norms are when a wife does those same “favors” for her beloved husband out of love because getting paid for it would be seriously strange.
That seems obvious, right?
But what if wife has a wonderful and romantic evening with her husband, but then before he leaves for work, asks him to fill out an on-line survey rating how he enjoyed his night and tells him that when he completes his survey, he will be texted a code that he can then redeem for free pancakes?
Yes, I just took that to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL of weird.
But y’all see what I mean when I say that you just can’t sneak that stuff in there! We SEE it. We can tell when we are being manipulated on social media and that is why this stuff cannot be directly measured and quantified.
Word of Mouth is Vital…But Can’t Be Measured
Zuckerberg didn’t invent social media. Social media has always been around. It was just called “word of mouth.” It was also the only thing next to a good book that ever sold books.
The only difference, was that until Web 2.0, it was almost impossible to ignite word of mouth on any level of magnitude. But to think we can measure and control it? Not happening.
As far as authors not seeing any “direct translation into sales”? I can tell you why. They are the same people we likely had to run off #MyWANA with digital pitchforks for book spam.
There are no shortcuts. Period.
Write good books. Work really hard. Make friends and enjoy yourself and hopefully it will pay off. It may not, but think of it this way?
Twenty years ago we could have all gone to our graves without ever getting to hold a copy of our own work in our hands. At least today we get a shot, and that is a heck of a lot more than countless writers in the past ever got.
E-books might take away from that nice quaint little shop on the corner (the ones not razed by B&N), but that little shop on the corner only had room for a handful of authors.
And, Amazon IS looking to reinvent that little shop on the corner. Algorithms, love them or hate them, will make it possible for independent bookstores to thrive since they can stock smartly, and less waste means more profit.
E-books have made it possible for countless writers to finally be paid to do what they love. My opinion? Every digital copy downloaded, should come with the sound of a link of iron breaking…one more link from the day job. You are setting a WRITER FREE!
B&N is great, but again, only helping so many of our brothers and sisters in the inky trenches. I want to help MORE!
Social media. Do it. Don’t do it. If you do it, please at least do it well. Don’t feed us spam and then b$#@ when we don’t want to consume it & reward laziness.
I hope you all will embrace that we live in a great time and we get to make the future better for ourselves and writers to come. Ditch the old and embrace the new.
Do you love that you at least get to HOLD your book? Would you be willing to act out your novel in interpretive dance if the pay was right? Are you for more ways to get stories into hands of readers? Carrier hamsters? Nah, plague always a concern. Hmmm. I’ll give the ideas over to you guys.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.