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Posts Tagged ‘book publishing’

Buy my books! (The gentle art of self-promotion)

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, US, work on June 16, 2014 at 12:43 am

By Caitlin Kelly

malled cover HIGH

Here’s an interesting discussion, from The New York Times Book Review, about whether or not authors should run around promoting themselves and their products books.

Here’s James Parker on why it’s such a bad idea:

She must explain herself. He must sell himself. To a gifted minority it comes naturally; to the rest, it really doesn’t. Hence the tremendous awkwardness that often attends these sorties into the national mind. Author photos, for example, are invariably ghastly: pouting, bedraggled or staring down with blazing eyes from the spire of genius, the author is basically saying (or trying to say): “Trust me. I’m worth it.” As for media appearances, any interview in which the author doesn’t swear uncontrollably or break into loud sobs must be considered a public relations triumph.

Having written two non-fiction books, one before the age of social media – “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”, published in 2004 — and Malled, in 2011, I’ve been around that block.

He’s right.

People who choose to write for a living generally prefer to withdraw into their own heads and work at their own pace.

If we were super-chatty extroverts, we would have gone into PR.

If we really loved having our photo taken or being witty in two-minute soundbites, we would have chosen a career in television. Trying to boil down nuance into seconds is difficult and scary as hell — and I’ve done a fair bit of television and radio promotion for my books, whether BBC radio and television, NPR or Al Jazeera America.

And “the public” can be brutal, (see: amazon “reviews”), ignorant and brutally ignorant of what it takes to even get a book commercially published. Authors often get asked to speak at someone’s lunch or alumni group or women’s club, unpaid.

Yet if your book sells poorly — fewer than 10,000 copies — your odds of an agent repping you, or any publisher touching  your next attempt shrivel very quickly.

So we feel compelled to sing and dance and do blog tours, even if that’s about as appealing as gum surgery.

Here’s Anna Holmes taking the opposite view:

Book promotion can offer a feeling of agency for authors trying to find their way in an industry that can seem otherwise fickle, opaque and unmeritocratic…

And the readers, really, are where it’s at. There’s nothing more rewarding than taking — or making — opportunities to connect with potential readers face to face or, thanks to the rise of the Internet, pixel to pixel. In fact, I consider book promotion as much of an obligation as proofreading a manuscript. Writing is, in itself, an act of engaging with others, of seeking connection over mere expression. If you were to put a book out into the world, which would you rather have — conversation or silence?

Holmes is being super-polite; “unmeritocratic” is Times-speak for:

How did that piece of shit ever find a publisher?!

I have two friends who head the publicity departments of two major American publishers. I love them as friends, but to hear their insiders’ view of this business is blood-chilling. One told me recently she read a proposal so incompetent she said, “Not a chance.”

Yet the house bought it for a lot of money, because the writer already has a huge following for her website — i.e. demand for her product.

I was intrigued when I started to follow writer Sarah Salway’s British blog, Writer in the Garden, and decided to follow her on Twitter — and read the bio’s of the many highly-accomplished UK writers she follows. Their self-presentation was almost uniformly witty and self-deprecating, a style I used to employ when I moved from Brit-inflected Canada to the U.S. — and to chest-thumping New York City, aka Braggarts ‘r us!

If you’re shy and quiet and reserved about your work here, hang it up kids, because you’re probably going to stay invisible and powerless.

In our noisy, crowded, you-only-get-six-seconds’-of-my-attention culture, introverts can have a tough time getting their books attention, reviews and sales.

I have to say, on balance, I side with Holmes. I’d rather initiate a convo with my readers than sit around waiting for someone to find my books.

Writing Books? Waste Of Time, Argues NYT Editor Bill Keller

In behavior, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on July 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm
This miniature of Jean Miélot (d. 1475) depict...

Image via Wikipedia

Nice.

Here’s the editor of The New York Times in this week’s Times Magazine on the utter folly of writing books:

So, why aren’t books dead yet? It helps that e-books are booming. Kindle and Nook have begun to refashion the economics of the medieval publishing industry: no trucks, no paper, no returns or remainders.

But that does not explain why writers write them. Writers write them for reasons that usually have a little to do with money and not as much to do with masochism as you might think. There is real satisfaction in a story deeply told, a case richly argued, a puzzle meticulously untangled. (Note the tense. When people say they love writing, they usually mean they love having written.) And it is still a credential, a trophy, a pathway to “Charlie Rose” and “Morning Joe,” to conferences and panels that Build Your Brand, to speaking fees and writing assignments.

His larger argument — an extended whine about losing his staff to the distraction of writing books instead of filling his pages — is that writing books (and we’re speaking here of non-fiction) is a waste of time because they don’t get reviewed, (or get trashed), don’t sell, don’t make money.

So, why exactly do we authors keep stepping up to the craps table, eyes agleam, a stack of chips clutched between our fingers?

As author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, and a former reporter for three dailies, and a 20-year Times freelancer, a few reasons:

Writing books means a respite from the endless hustle of pitching ideas

Writing books means not cranking out endless articles of relative meaninglessness for as much freelance pay as offered in the 1970s

Writing books means fleeing the bizarre, tyrannical or petty demands of the worst editors

Writing books means finding and working with an experienced agent whose skill and enthusiasm will champion your work, not a revolving door of editors half your age

Writing books means reading and speaking with your audience face to face, finding out who actually reads your work and how they feel about it

Writing books means your success (or failure) is wholly yours, not the reflected glory and easier access to sources of working for a Big Name Organization

Writing books means finding a welcoming tribe of fellow authors, generally happy to share information about how they got there — a break from the elbow-in-the-eye competitiveness of writing for a daily newspaper

Writing books means, after months of thinking deeply and broadly about an issue or a person, you’ve thought it through enough to possibly offer something new, lively and provocative – – not “just the facts”

Writing books means having months to think, research, read, interview, write, edit, revise — not minutes or hours

Writing books means breaking as far away from the pack as possible, not running as fast as you can to keep up with it on Big Stories that are often, within weeks, forgotten

Writing books means taking an idea and exploring it from every angle your editor and publisher — and word length — will allow. Journalism these days simply does not offer anyone sufficient real estate to explore anything beyond, at most, 5,000-7,000 words, the length of a book chapter

Writing books means exploring an idea or person or issue about which we are passionate — getting paid to learn

Writing books can give you access to grants and fellowships to help you do the work

Writing books means sharing your ideas and passion with readers who care as much, or soon might thanks to you, about this stuff. Intellectual evangelism!

Writing books means creating and enjoying intense relationships with your agent, editor, publisher and publicists. While writing and revising remain intensely solitary work, the production and promotion of your work, relying on the skills, experience and enthusiasm of others, becomes a team sport

Writing books means creating new, and often astonishingly intimate, relationships with total strangers — your audience. It’s fantastic to open your email and read, as I have with Malled, “Your book bolsters me” or “Have you been sitting on my shoulder for the past 23 years?”

Writing books means finding new, unlikely and unexpected alliances. I interviewed a man in Canada for a guest blog for the Harvard Business Review. “I want to promote the hell out of your book,” he said after 10 minutes of conversation. And so he has, to his large and international network

Writing books places your books and ideas in libraries worldwide. Talk about a global economy!

Writing books, as Keller grudgingly admits, can create entirely new (and lucrative) opportunities for the lucky few. “Malled” (did I tell you this yet?) has been optioned by CBS as a possible 30-minute sitcom. That’s pretty cool.

The iPad's (and Kindle's) One Inherent Flaw

In business, Media on January 29, 2010 at 8:52 am
Books behind the bed

Image by zimpenfish via Flickr

Loss of connection.

Not connectivity. Connecting readers.

While many are thrilled at this new world, one in which nasty old paper artifacts like printed books, magazines and newspapers will disappear — and not a moment too soon! — here’s something that bothers me.

How many times, whether you’re 25 or 65, have you discovered a story, an idea, an author or a new friend because you saw what they were reading? Two nights ago, I was getting off the commuter train from Manhattan to my suburban town. I noticed a woman behind me reading “An American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld, a book that’s received rave reviews which I have yet to read.

“What do you think of it?” I asked, without preamble. “I really like it,” she replied.

“Have you read ‘Prep’?” She hadn’t, which led, as we shared the doorway ready to exit, to a brief conversation.

For me, there were multiple pleasures in this: two readers, two Sittenfeld fans trading notes, two neighbors having a quick conversation about work. All of it sparked by the visible physical presence of a book. I don’t know about you, but I’ve done this, and it’s happened to me worldwide, on planes and trains, in waiting rooms and airport lounges, anywhere someone is reading printed matter — or I am — a lively, enjoyable conversation has begun when two strangers realize they love the same thing.

Community.

This may seem trivial. It is deeply important to authors because books become best-sellers in one way: word of mouth. Not ads, not reviews, not book clubs. Word of mouth. And, as someone whose first book has been rendered invisible by its publisher thanks to print-on-demand (i.e. it is not sold any more in bookstores, only available by special order), a book that is not seen is a book that is not heard about, not loved, not argued over, not sold.

Re-play this recent scene with the young woman reading an iPad. There is no point of conversational entry. I can’t see what she’s reading, nor can anyone else. You can’t as we all have done, read over their shoulder, or, subway-typical, read the other side of whatever newspaper page might be held up in front of you.

Is this a loss or a gain?

Privacy. Anonymity. Facelessness. These are becoming the new hallmarks of people who read, thanks to the new ways in which they are reading.

I was given a Kindle for my birthday last June. I love almost every gift I reveive from my partner, but this one failed. I’ve barely looked at it since — and yesterday came home from our local library with half a dozen books, with more on order. As I write my new book, I’m also buying books for research, books I need to dog-ear, underline, Post-it note, photocopy for research. I need, and want, a physical object when I read. I already spend my bloody worklife attached to a screen. I want to flee!

And, as someone who also deeply values design, photography, even typefaces, the loss of the visual beauty of a printed book saddens me; I love the cover of my first book and look forward to seeing what the designers choose for my next one.

As someone who never leaves her home without at least 1-4 forms of printed reading material, who thrives on the pleasure of shared enthusiasm for a great story, idea or writer, these sexy new toys annoy me on another level.

Anyone who deeply values thoughtful reading looks forward, perhaps with some trepidation, to the first time they enter the home of a new friend or someone they have fallen in love with — what do they read? A quick glance (every journo’s trick, which is another reason why about 99% of celebrity interviews are held in restaurants) at someone’s bookshelves often reveals a great deal about their taste level, their ambitions, history, hopes and dreams.

If they don’t even have bookshelves, let alone stacks of magazines, that’s a warning sign for me. Are they addicted to sci-fi? Cookbooks? Self-help? History? Thrillers? An intellectual match, for some of us, is as much as crucial piece of “chemistry” as someone’s smile, smell or sense of humor.

If you’re deeply curious about their reading habits, what are you going to do — grab their iPad or Kindle and sneak a quick peek when they go to the bathroom?

If all books, magazines and newspapers disappear from their printed forms, if all we read is on our private, invisible, unshared electronic machines, have we lost anything valuable?

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