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Posts Tagged ‘book selling’

Are books — and their readers — an endangered species?

In books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on January 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm

20131219120434By Caitlin Kelly

This recent piece in The New York Times makes sadly clear why the notion of producing a book — a dream for many — is becoming more of a fool’s errand:

Overall book sales have been anemic in recent years, declining 6 percent in the first half of 2013 alone. But the profits of publishers have remained largely intact; in the same period only one of what were then still the “big six” trade houses reported a decline on its bottom line. This is partly because of the higher margins on e-books. But it has also been achieved by publishers cutting costs, especially for mid-list titles.

The “mid-list” in trade publishing parlance is a bit like the middle class in American politics: Anything below it is rarely mentioned in polite company. It comprises pretty much all new titles that are not potential blockbusters. But it’s the space where interesting things happen in the book world, where the obscure or the offbeat can spring to prominence, where new writers can make their mark.

Budgets have been trimmed in various ways: Author advances, except for the biggest names, have slumped sharply since the 2008 financial crash, declining by more than half, according to one recent survey. It’s hard to imagine that the quality of manuscripts from writers who have been forced either to eat less or write faster isn’t deteriorating. Meanwhile, spending on editing and promotion has also been pared away.

As the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, both of which required national reporting, and as someone who would like to write more, I care a lot about whether new books get published, how much authors like me — yes, midlisters — get paid and when, and who, if anyone, will actually read our books.

malled cover HIGH

Without a book-seller to recommend my books or a reviewer to rave (one hopes!) about them, how will you — oh, elusive readers — find or choose us?

I gave up reading my “reviews” at amazon.com years ago as some ad hominem attacks were so nasty they left me shaking. I shudder to think how many potential readers I’ve lost thanks to the face-punches comments left there by people who take an unholy pleasure in savaging others.

Yes, be critical! Every ambitious writer needs to hear where we’ve failed to connect or persuade.

But don’t be vicious.

Professional reviewers know the difference between slicing with a scalpel and bludgeoning with a pick-axe. I’ve reviewed others’ books. I know the incredible trepidation with which any writer reads their reviews; one even wrote to me personally after I reviewed his book in The New York Times to take issue with my comments.

How do you decide which (if any!) books to read?

How many of you, as I still do, spend time in a favorite bookstore simply browsing covers and titles, old and new?

Do you briefly scan what’s on the front tables at your Barnes & Noble?

And did you know that the books there — some of them a decade old — arrive there not because B & N thinks they’re awesome but because publishers pay a fee to the bookstore for that placement?

With falling advances, writing is evermore dominated by people who don’t need it to earn a living: Tenured academics and celebrities spring to mind. For these groups, burnishing a résumé or marketing a brand is often as important as satisfying the reader.

This is a serious challenge for all but a tiny fraction of the truly fortunate — people whose combination of “platform” (i.e. millions of people eager to buy anything they write) and story attract a huge advance — like Allie Brosh, whose fantastic blog Hyperbole and a Half produced a book, published in October 2013, that is now a best-seller.

The rest of us will get an offer, after a few books, of anything from $15,000 to, (at best) $125 or $150,000, even that very rare, divided into four payments over two or three years; $12,000 or $8,000 or $5,000 a year is helpful, but no writer I know can live only on that income.

So we squeeze the important and reputation-building work of writing a book in between teaching others to write or bar-tending or cranking out copy on every other topic but that of our book, creating a competition between the work we hope will allow us to find new readers, terrific reviews, maybe an award or fellowship — and the work that puts gas in the car and food in the fridge.

We eke out excellence.

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Meeting Your Readers Face to Face

In behavior, blogging, books, business, work on August 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm
Michael Shellenberger

Author Michael Shellenberger at a D.C. bookstore. Image via Wikipedia

When your books start heading out into the wider world — bought (paid for!) by libraries, schools and civilians — it’s hard not to be intensely curious about just who these people are.

Four months ago today, my memoir “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published. To my relief, it is still selling very steadily nationwide.

It’s a thrill to know that some people are appreciating your skill and hard work and ideas — especially when you get “reviews” like the nastiest one (of many) so far at amazon.com that called me “bitter, pretentious and lazy, lazy, lazy.”

I recently read to/spoke with a small group — perhaps 15 or so — at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. Fun! A local blogger kind enough to feature me came out with his friends. They had lots of questions and comments, as several people had worked in retail themselves and had much to offer.

It was a lively conversation, and  so satisfying to have a chance to share with people who care as much about this stuff as I do.

When you’re writing, hunched alone in your sweats over your umpteenth revision, it’s these moments I especially look forward to as my reward. Writing books is such a crapshoot. You pray you’ll find readers, and when you find enthusiastic ones and can see their faces and hear their reactions, it closes the loop between your initial private ideas and the act of publication.

I was especially touched there by the woman whose response to “Malled” was “Yayyyyyyyyy!” and told us she keeps telling friends to read it.

For some people, authors are a mysterious breed. Unless you hang out in those circles, you might never meet one, while our products keep pouring out in a hopeless Niagara, each of us trying in every possible way to claim your attention. Booksellers see a ragged parade of us, persistently cheerful in the face of even the tiniest tiny turn-out — sometime one person, sometimes none.

The bookseller at M & Q was relieved to find me relaxed, schmoozing the audience before we began. “Some writers are really high-strung,” he told me.

Why, yes they are. I once interviewed a famous women humorist whose work I had revered for years. Disaster. She was rude, abrupt and distinctly not funny in person.

See: illusions, shattered.

It’s even a real challenge finding venues to read and meet your readers. I’m not sufficiently high profile to read at any of the Manhattan Barnes & Noble stores, and couldn’t find a single store in the city to set up an event for me. I did one event here in the New York suburbs where I live — and one person came, a fellow blogger I know.

“Book tours” paid for by a publisher willing to send you around the country are only for the uber-successful. The rest of us call a few stores in whatever towns we’re about to visit, and hope to piggyback on their local and loyal buyers to come out and meet us. Even if no buyers appear, we sign some books, shake some hands and hope we leave a good-enough impression that the bookstore staff will talk up our book — only word of mouth makes a book truly successful.

Not ads, not reviews.

And we really need enthusiastic and knowledgable retailers to hand-sell our work, recommending it with enthusiasm even while thousands of our competitors line their shelves.

Have you ever gone to a reading to meet an author?

Was s/he what you expected in person?

Want To Write A Book? You Sure?

In blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, women, work on May 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  As the pushpushpushpushpush of book promotion and marketing for “Malled’ My Unintentional Career in Retail” continues — today offering interviews with two Canadian newspapers, a photo for my local newspaper and a radio interview — time for a reality check on the reality of book-writing.

Yes, this photo is of me, summer 2010 — mid-revisions!

Writing a book, for me, is a tremendous joy. I love having months to think long and hard about what I am trying to say and how. I love doing interviews for background and a better understanding of my subject, and reading entire books — ten for this one, on low-wage labor, retail and management — to make sure my individual impressions aren’t overly personal and limited.

But, having just attended the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in Manhattan, I also appreciated listening to the comfort and wisdom of more experienced friends who have published five or six or eight books.

They all know the giddy excitement of signing that contract with your publisher, getting the manuscript in and accepted, publication date — and the anxiety over reviews. Will you get any? How will you handle the savage ones?

Writing and promoting your book(s) is an extraordinary process. It can also be an emotional roller-coaster.

At a dinner table after the conference, four of us — who had never before met — brainstormed how one of us, a fellow Canadian, might best introduce his non-fiction book, The Erotic Engine, into the American market.

Three of us: a education specialist from Vermont, a home decor writer from Florida and I all gave it our best efforts, all while eating some great Italian food.

I love and live for this sort of generosity and camaraderie. At the conference, when I went up to panelist Kathleen Flinn, whose memoir of attending cooking school in Paris, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” was one of my favorites, she was excited to meet me. (!) She’d heard about Malled, as had many people at the conference.

Becoming a published author and climbing the many necessary steps along the way: finding an agent, writing a proposal, finding a publisher, writing, revising and then tirelessly marketing and promoting it, is a little like joining the military.

Really want to write and sell your book? Drop and give me twenty, soldier!

Whatever branch of service — cookbooks, YA, memoir, biography, history — we earn those stripes! We all experience many of the same issues and challenges and — like veterans of battle — know that we all know intimately what others only fantasize about.

Writing books means joining a long ladder of success, with many rungs.

Some books become huge best-sellers, leaving the rest of us gnashing our teeth in envy. Others become films or television series. Many find their own niche, buzzing along through social media and word of mouth.

Some just…die.

Do you hope to write a book? What do you hope to do with it?

What steps are you taking to get there?

Promoting Your New Book: What It Really Takes

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on April 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

My second non-fiction book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio) was published April 14. Yay!

But as every author knows — and every would-be author must learn — I’ve been working on promoting it long before the manuscript was finished and accepted for publication, in September 2010.

Today, (for which I’m grateful), it’s two radio interviews — Phoenix and D.C. — and a New York Times interview. Yesterday it was the Brian Lehrer Show and Tuesday was an hour of live radio with the legendary Diane Rehm, who has two million listeners.

(All of these are archived on their websites.)

Sleep? Sleep?

Here are some of the many things I’ve been doing to help get the word out, from local attention and events in my little town of 10,000 north of New York City to reviews and blog posts about it in Australia, Ireland, Canada and Holland:

Registered the domain name malledthebook.com and hired my longtime web designer to create a website for the book. He updates its press and media page almost daily with new audio, reviews and clips.

Created a Facebook page. Please visit and like it!

Signed up at HARO, a three-times-daily website heavily used by 5,000 reporters worldwide seeking sources/experts to interview and quote. (This works only for non-fiction writers, but well worth it. I snagged a Wall Street Journal blogger this way.)

Began blogging in July 2009 for True/Slant, a website (later bought by Forbes,) with a final monthly audience of 10,000 visitors and 239 subscribers

Began blogging at opensalon.com in September 2010

Began blogging here at wordpress in August 2010

Reached out to every single person I interviewed for the book to let them know the book’s publication date, asking them to tweet, blog and mention it on all their social networks and tell their family, friends and colleagues

I visit LinkedIn once a week to answer as many questions as possible, using my book title as my professional signature

I tweet about retail, the subject of my book

I started targeting colleges, universities and community colleges, locally and elsewhere, that teach retailing to see if I might give a guest lecture and sell books; three have said yes, so far

I reached out to the Canadian consulate in New York, (I’m Canadian), and asked them to mention the book in their newsletter and on their website and to create an event for me

I did the same with the University of Toronto, my alma mater; I’m speaking there May 28 at 10:00 a.m. Come visit!

I contacted local businesses and asked some of of them to keep a stack of my book’s postcard on their desks and counters

A local coffee shop — which has more than 2,000 Facebook friends — is letting me do a reading there

A local reading non-profit group where I volunteered is holding an event for me in their space and inviting their friends and fellow volunteers

I contacted a local indie film center to see if we could schedule a film night linked to my book’s themes of shopping, low-wage labor or working retail

I attended the two-day 15,000 person National Retail Federation annual conference in Manhattan and took two people to help me walk the entire floor for two days to hand out postcards and gather potential contacts for speaking, consulting, writing and book sales

I did a brief video for NRF while there extolling retail as a possible career

I collected contact information at the conference from several professors of retailing who might use the book as a text or have me guest lecture or speak

I contacted a Canadian retail blogger attending NRF who did a long video interview with me which will go up on YouTube and who blogged about me twice

I met another high-profile retail blogger for coffee, (while in her Canadian city on family business)

I asked my publisher to give me 5,000 postcards with the book’s cover on one side, a great blurb on the other, and a description of the book and my contact information on the back; I use them instead of a business card now, have used them for book party invitations and hand them to anyone who might find it useful

I’ve written — without pay — several guest blog posts at sites with far more readers than I have, like the Guide to Literary Agents (they approached me) and the Harvard Business Review blog (ditto)

I read dozens of blogs every single day to find sites and posts where I can leave a useful comment

I called a local language school teaching foreign students — who all shop like crazy in Manhattan! — and asked if I could come and talk; they said yes

I called a local independent bookstore and asked if I could do an event there; yes

I reached out to an editor I know at a regional magazine and they did a Q & A with me

I wrote, for pay, an essay for my alumni magazine about working retail

I contacted a local freelancer who profiled me for a local monthly newspaper

I contacted a local radio talk show host who is giving me an hour of air-time

And that’s not even the half of it…

So far, I’ve lined up more than 14 speaking events, several well-paid, like the closing keynote for the retailcustomerexperience conference this summer. I’m always looking for more!

What sorts of things have you done to successfully promote your book(s)?

Any great blogs or websites we should know about?

I’ll give a copy of my book to the person who offers the best suggestion!


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