Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Face in a Trailer

I have declared myself skeptical about the marketing value of book trailers, but I do confess to getting a thrill when the filmmaker decided to shoe-horn my face into this one. Photo courtesy of my lovely daughter, who managed to hold the camera steady during all my bossing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Aspects of the Novelist's Dilemma (6)

6. Book bloggers replace book pages.
There’s another group to whom the publisher still seems to matter, and that’s print and television journalists and book reviewers who need a way to decide what to report on. The imprint of a major publisher can be one shortcut to deciding whether a book is worthy of their review or coverage.
There’s no question that a news or feature story in a major national newspaper or a large local paper can (though won’t necessarily) spike book sales. For nonfiction writers in particular this may be a good argument for going with an established publisher. But novelists rarely receive what we used to call “off the book page publicity,” and when they do it’s usually because their novel is already selling in stratospheric numbers or they’re a living legend like Stephen King.
The poet Philip Levine once commented that when you’re an unknown writer and can’t afford to pay your rent, nobody gives you anything, but when you’re already established and no longer need the money, you start to win awards and stipends. Mainstream media coverage is a little like that for novelists. Usually you already have to be famous or unusually successful to get it. These unspoken rules apply as much to Simon & Schuster as they do to a self-published author.
The real action these days, it seems, is on the internet, whether it’s via social media or bloggers. Indeed, as the number of newspaper pages devoted to book reviews has fallen through the floor, the number of book reviewers online has exploded. But it turns out that these people don’t have quite the same biases as mainstream journalists do. In fact, they might respond to the list of self-published authors I provided below by saying, “I knew that.”
Dilemma: When you’re not already a famous novelist and book bloggers overwhelm mainstream media reviewers in numbers and impact, does it matter very much whether your publisher can open doors at the New York Times?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Let Me Be Clear

Today I happened to read two unrelated opinion pieces, one by Paul Krugman of the New York Times and the other by Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast, that use a similar phrase. As a rhetorical pivot, they write, respectively, "Just to be clear..." and “Let me be clear…”

It seems to me that this kind of construct has become increasingly common, and I have the sense that Krugman employs it a lot. The strange thing is that Krugman usually writes pretty clearly, in my view, at least in relation to his rather complex subject of macroeconomics and certainly with respect to his erudition. (Ph.D. and Nobel in economics and all that.) When he falls back on a phrase such as “just to be clear,” then, it’s not so much a cover for his lack of prior clarity as it is a sign that he may lack faith in the intelligence of his audience. Or maybe he’s just being defensive. Krugman, after all, has become a favorite whipping boy of conservatives.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aspects of the Novelist's Dilemma (5)

5. From shopworn to non-perishable products.
The other thing that’s different about digital books is that—presuming the content is not time-dependent—the book itself is no longer perishable.
In the old days (also known as two years ago), books, which were still mostly print, were perishable for two reasons. First, because the longer they sat on a bookstore shelf, the more they were handled and the less "new" they became. If they didn’t sell pretty quickly, they got shopworn, diminishing their value.
Second, due to limited shelf space, the selling cycle was relatively short—often for hardcover fiction only a few months.
But in the digital world shelf space is infinite and a book may look as fresh today as it did last year. Every day is a new chance for that product to sell, yet publishers, with limited resources, cannot aggressively promote a book forever. Well, maybe they could with a different business model, but they’re certainly not in the habit of doing so.
When bookstores were the main means of distributing fiction, access to that limited shelf space was a sine qua non for success. Thus established publishers could leverage their relationships with bookstores into market power. I was at Doubleday (though not personally involved, in this case) when that house put John Grisham on the map with a huge coordinated push into chains and independents. In those days, publishers could select a couple of books from their list and really get behind them. The strategies they used didn’t always succeed, but the odds of success were quite high for awhile.
Now publishers are stuck in a love-hate relationship with the biggest ebook distributor (Amazon, of course), while the second biggest (B&N) pants to catch up. Big publishers still have power in bookstores, but bookstores are a shrinking part of the equation for fiction. And they still have some power to get a book on the front page of the big bookselling websites, but for how much longer?
Dilemma: When digital shelf space is limitless and digital books are non-perishable, will mainstream publishers adjust their attention spans for promoting novelists long termor will authors have to do that themselves? If the author is in the marketing game for nine innings and the publisher is in it for one, does it make sense to be sharing revenue with that publisher for all nine innings?