Books

Random blogging: twits, selling thyself, digital/print, and many etceteras

I hope you will visit and enjoy the pretty at dusk old city picture on my author’s homepage. (It could be my favorite city: Bratislava.) It looks like this, and the link to it is above on the right.

My new author homepage

It took me a while to figure out how to access the “statistics” section on this site, but after finding it, I noticed that 34 people have visited since the site went up. Unless it counts my visits, and in that case maybe four or five of you had a look. Thank you all half-dozen, or all 34, depending.

Speaking of big numbers: Got my first royalty check for Blossom yesterday: $12.02. That was for the print edition (thankfully the digital versions are doing much better), and I think it must represent two books. (Thanks to you two book readers.)

That induces a thought: These days the digital versions of my work outsell the print versions in truly significant numbers. One might wonder if it is worth much effort making print versions at all? Well, yes, they do look pretty nice on their special “these are my books” shelf, and it isn’t as easy to show your guests a Kindle or iPad or Nook and say “Yes, I have some books inside there,” as it is to stand at your bookshelf where their lined up pretty spines are quite decorative, not to mention tangible evidence that you have indeed published some books.

(That’s a good way to answer the perennial question — Oh, you’re a writer? What have you written? All you have to do is point at the shelf. Then you don’t have to give a dumb answer to each dumb question of what you do: “Oh, I haven’t heard of it.” So you see? There is some value in the real thing, the tangible book in itself.)

Which leads to wondering about publishing: No wonder traditional print publishers are locking the doors and dimming the lights. If my experience is common now — digital editions vastly outselling print — how are they going to stay in business? Unless they begin using their digital sales to subsidize print. That is essentially what I am doing now with B&B Books. I have almost no costs publishing POD print editions via B&B Books, no inventory to maintain, no staff to employ. The digital versions are how I make a (meager) living, and the print editions decorate my shelf and help me prove that I do indeed have a job, more or less.

This is probably the future for writers and publishers. It is almost the now.

What self-publishers do not have is an established, built-in, marketing and promotion system. Farming this out is astonishingly expensive — a mediocre publicist will charge you at least five grand. Therefore the rise of and proliferation of people in creative fields using “social media,” which is free but for the time-effort, is obviously the best (or is it the only?) viable option.

So I twit.

The sign of the ubiquitous twat

This is a good logo. It represents what twitting feels like to me: birds chattering on a drooping wire. I’m not trying to piss anybody off here, but probably will. Franzen is right about Twits. But Franzen doesn’t need it. I do. Franzen’s work does not rush directly over the cliff of oblivion, mine does. In spite of how often embarrassing it is, I twit because it is one of the few free avenues unknown artists have to get even a shred of name recognition for their work. The five or six or eight or twenty Twitterers who are tempted to read something of mine because I twitted about breakfast or the weather are that many more readers I would never otherwise attract … and maybe they have friends … ? So I gird my loins and try to find little bitty trivial things I can put in a little twat.

The other social media I use is Facebook, and for the same reason.

Do you really? Come on.

Although FB seems to have more uses than Twittering. You can see lots of pictures, some of them stimulating, and the flagrant way some people make utter fools of themselves on FB is on-going reinforcement of the belief that the vast bulk of the human population is really, sadly, dumb as a rock. Although the wacky politics on display can be pretty damn scary for the few people still capable of forming logical thought patters. Regardless, I have no facts to support this, but I do believe that 90% of my books sales can be traced back to Facebook. So I use the hell of it.

Then there is setting up and maintaing one’s own author webpage. I think mine is pretty, and it was entertaining (and sometimes maddeningly frustrating) to set it up. Does it sell books? Maybe a couple. Here’s the rule, if you need an author’s webpage for name recognition and to attract readers, it will probably do neither. If you are already a recognized literary name with gobs of readers, it also isn’t going to make much difference, except a bit of personal flattery. (Franzen, for example, does not need an author webpage; I don’t know if he has one, I haven’t looked.)

Hey! That's me!

Blogging seems to me a reasonably effective way to find your audience. It is also a productive way for a writer to spend time in Cyberspace. It’s writing. Most literary bloggers work hard at getting their posts right, because they reflect on their overall literary talent. Someone who writes dull or mediocre blog posts is likely to also write dull or mediocre stories. I have seen countless blogs that did not induce me to seek out that writers work. The salvation is, I have come across a few (countable using only my fingers) that happily did send me to that writer’s work.

Finally, since I brought him up by example — Jonathan Franzen. I had no idea this writer had such vicious, vehement enemies until I started Twittering. Whoa! I was mystified. I have read three of Franzen’s novels and a book of essays. He’s a damn good writer, I read his books avidly, and I look forward to whatever he writes next. I do think most literary awards (most artistic awards of any kind) have inexplicable conditions and dubious origins, but I certainly never begrudge those who win them; even, if maybe especially, those who win and then disdain them (Wood Allen playing clarinet in a bar during the Oscars leaps to mind).

I don’t have a dog in this fight, either way, and I look at this Franzen hysteria with reasonable objectivity, and I say that to me it looks a whole lot like whining jealousy. It is not flattering to the whiners.

Yes, I know he has made public remarks that some people, some categories of people, find offensive. But Franzen belongs to a miles-long list of artists with a public following (we never hear about the dumb comments made by unknowns, obviously) who are opinionated and unhesitant expressing their opinions. No point in wasting space making the list, we all know who they are, and in their number we will find every single major novelist over the last 200 years. Every one of them. So let’s be fair. Franzen pisses you off. Fine, just in fairness admit that every major writer you’ve ever known about also pisses you off.

(In the name of fairness, I think Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher make comments in kind, and if one is condemned, so should both. Although socially and politically I disagree with Limbaugh entirely and find myself in nearly universal agreement with Maher. But if  calling a woman a slut is objectionable, then so is calling a woman a cunt.)

My inability to write anything new and hopeful this morning has been assuaged. Thank you blog, for turning on the spigot.

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7 replies »

  1. You don’t care what Franzen thinks, but there is an entire social media industry directed at being pissed about what he thinks or says. There are entire Twit sites devoted to Franzen hatred. I, by the way, also have no interest in what Franzen thinks, I just care about what he writes.

    This is the problem, as I tried to point out in this post. There are limited ways an author can sell his books — in the old days, that was the publisher’s job, but these ain’t the old days. These are the choices, I think. A writer can elect to try to place the work with a traditional publisher, and if or until that happens, the work remains sterile in the computer. A writer can self-publish, then face the marketing dilemma which may leave the work just as sterile as the unpublished writer’s, or be one’s own marketing machine and hope to garner readers in steadily growing numbers. Or do nothing and leave it in the hands of the gods.

    If an unknown writer wants to find an audience, short of paying a gigantic amount of money to get someone to do it for you, nothing much remains but using social media. It is in that regard and that regard alone I use it.

    I am not particularly embarrassed for me (although I will admit to a degree of that), but I am more embarrassed by a lot of what I find there. Embarrassed for them. I know I am using it as a marketing tool, so if I am not marketing, why bother? I am often, though, really deeply embarrassed by some of the twits I come across, even after winnowing down my “following” list by about 75%. I did the same thing with Facebook. I have so many “friends” writing horrific or dumb or embarrassing (to them) things, that I did a major culling of the “friends” list.

    But then … I am also that way cutting my own marketing throat. Right?

    • Yes, twits for different reasons. My “friends” really are my friends, they are not a group of people with whom I have no other contact, who exist only as a twit name; ditto FB friends. My need for a “community” plays itself out in the real world, not Cyberspace. I am the opposite of an Internet user like you. mi chiquita. I make a living, such as it is, from my writing, and without the force of traditional publishing’s media/marketing machinery, I have no choice but to do it myself. I maintain a presence on the most prominent social networking sites because it is not only the best but the most realistic chance I have to find readers for my books. If I were not a writer, if I had no books, it is unlikely I would use social media on the Internet.

      Re. finding great links. Jesus, the Internet offers me a trillion links (and at least 20 of them might be great) every hour. It’s like having a trillion friends, you just aren’t going to be able to give all of them the attention real friendship requires; rather, for me, 5 or 6 or 8 air-breathing friends I can sit across a table from, or walk a city street with are going to get my attention, and whatever attention I would give to the trillions of Internet friends is time away from the air-breathing ones.

      So yes, my dear Rose, I am there to promo, promo, promo. Otherwise, I’d rather go have a glass of wine down the street with one of my friends.

  2. You all might enjoy Steve Weber’s book “Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors.” There’s no getting away from the fact that we have to market our books online. Arguably, it may be the only way to go in the future. If you do consider the e-book phenomenon — then you do have to plug into cyberspace to get to the e-book market. There’s a lot to know about the inner workings of places like Amazon and how we can make it work for us as authors. I have to balance that knowledge against the abyss into which I seem to fall when enmeshed in cyberspace. It eats up so much time! So, in my view, unless you’re writing just for yourself (which is perfectly fine), you do have to go where the readers are — in cyberspace!

    • I’ll have a look at it … I’m such a neophyte that anything can help.

      I have had traditional publishers doing this kind of thing for my books until the last two books. While I do prefer having someone else do it for me, fact is, they did so little than even if I just goofed around at it I would probably be more productive at marketing than my publishers were.

      But the saddest irony is, BookScan now determines exclusively what a publisher will take from previously published authors. The ironic part is that BookScan numbers are vastly more the responsibility (and the failures of) the publisher’s own sales and marketing departments than anything about the book itself, which they thought good enough to publish in the first place. So an author is being punished for something over which he or she had no control at all.

      Getting this control back at least means the author has no one but him (or her) self to blame.