Windows into the Imagination

Friday, July 15, 2011

In the Ether: Of Publishing and Cabbages and Kings

As an author trying to break into the business, sales tracking is an important activity and one that can be encouraging or, I'm afraid in most cases, extremely depressing.

Face it, for every published writer out there, there are very few who even make a part-time living out of it. Most of us give up and satisfy ourselves that we, at least, are (that magical word) 'published.' To be fair, even being published is a gargantuan feat, and I'm not talking about being self-published.

That's not to knock the self-publishers (yes, I'm trying to be politically correct), but for me, if all you need to do is to fork out your own money to see your name on a book, then it loses its magic for me.

[To digress a bit…
What used to be dismissed with disdain as 'vanity' publishing is roaring forward with virtual claws unsheathed. I don't have anything against self-publishing. I do believe that there are problems inherent in it that need to be solved before it can overcome its tarnished image. If they can, then more power to them. I think they are one of the forces that is pushing change on an industry that has grown set in its ways and has steadily lost touch with the new generation of readers, both young and old. Just ask Borders how true that is...oh wait, they're gone now.]

Others sigh and tell everyone that we didn't do it for the money and that it's a thrill just to see ourselves in print, and they sink into the oblivion of wanna-bes that gave up once they reached the starting block and faced the dead silence of the reading public. I keep getting a vision of that scene in the second Mummy movie. The one at the very end where the brokenhearted villain lets go and allows himself to be dragged to his doom in a pit of flame and grabbing hands.

For the rest of us, we gird our loins and resign ourselves to the Mount Everest of all tasks, which for a writer whose craft is the purity of the written word, the selling of our souls to the monster of marketing and publicity.

Most writers are not geared for this most alien of tasks. We approach it with trepidation and the nervousness of a virgin on our wedding night, and with the hopes that we can get over that feeling of doing something dirty and shameful, and embrace, what we hope will be the exhilaration of being successful.

When I first entered this industry, it was more by luck than anything. Sort of like being struck by lightning. I had high hopes and that particular arrogance of the writer, a belief in my own writing ability.

I religiously followed the bestseller rankings on Amazon like any new acolyte and my little heart leapt with joy at every dip in the numbers. Like Sally Field, I had the delusion that…they like me, they really like me. Well, perhaps in Sally Field's case, it's actually true, but for bleary-eyed numbers watchers like myself, it was an education into a whole new world, the maze that is Amazon statistics, because no one knows what those numbers mean.

Which brings me to the reason why I wrote this post.

I learned early that while no one has an Amazon-numbers-translator, if the bestseller rank takes a huge dip, say from 2 million to 60,000 for print and 200,000 to 40,000 for Kindle, the likelihood is that one book has sold. Yes, one single, measly, glorious book is in someone's eager hands or screens and once they crack that first page, hopefully they will allow themselves to be drawn into your universe.

There's nothing quite like opening up your book's page on Amazon and finding a rave review from a complete stranger who for some inexplicable reason braved the thousands of pages of equally good books and found your needle in the haystack. I've really come to treasure those. Receiving a good review from a friend is great, but you never know if they're only doing it to support you. Getting one from someone who doesn't know you from someone on the street, that's priceless.

I've kept a close eye on those Amazon stats for my book and I've had a small dribble of sales since The Empire was released. (Novelrank has been an invaluable tool for that.)That's a dribble, not a trickle. A book here, a book there…but the last couple of months, it's become a steady dribble. I don't know if it's because my PR efforts have been paying off and/or word-of-mouth, that golden egg, is growing.

Which brings me to a key question. I learned the hard way that to be a successful author, 10% of the work is in writing the book, the rest is in publicity and marketing. This really begs the question, why aren't publishers, regardless of big or small presses, more invested in this most important of tasks? I mean, it's all fine and dandy to keep putting out new books. Editing, formatting and getting new books out to the buying public is an important part of publishing, but if the work of marketing and publicity is essential to the success of a book, shouldn't more effort be put into it?

It's like filling a cart with a ton of delicious produce and then hiring a mouse to pull the cart. It ain't gonna happen. All you will get is a cart full of tasty treats, rotting in the sun and the poor mouse updating its resume because it has better things to do with its time.

Marketing and publicity will always be one of the onerous tasks for any author. We can't get away from it. But what about it publishers? 10% and 90%, which number is bigger?


  1. Extremely well said Elizabeth, I couldn't agree more. :D

  2. Now, if only someone would listen...

    Thanks, Jack :)