What’s the deal with trunk material?

Dean Wesley Smith has this great analogy of perishable produce that he uses to describe how traditional publishers view the products that we writers create. His point is that publishers believe there is a time stamp on books and after awhile they become stale and no longer marketable. This is a fascinating notion when you consider that so many of the best stories are those that were handed down through the generations—or retreads on William Shakespeare’s plot lines—which were probably retreads on Cicero’s or someone else’s. The point is, most authors that I know (moi, for instance) totally bought into the whole my-book-as-rotting-fruit concept. If you shopped your manuscript for longer than two years, you’d start to get rejections based on the belief that the book was now “trunk material” which, I believe, alludes to the likelihood that it has been molding in a trunk in the attic (kind of like “Confederacy of Dunces,”)  and so, of course, is not as good as something fresh and new. (Mind you, by the time publishers get around to editing and publishing your book, it seems to me even the freshest manuscript could then qualify as being trunk material by the agents and publishers’ own definition but perhaps that’s just the inherent irony of a complicated, confusing (IMHO) business and therefore completely lost to me.)

Anyhoo, laying to rest the notion of trunk material is another victory that must be claimed by the Indie Author. When I published the first mystery in my Provençal mystery series, this manuscript—which was at one point represented by John Grisham’s agent and thrown out for a bidding war among the Big Ten (at that time) and ultimately failed to find a home—was riddled with so many dated references that I despaired at ever having the time to tweak it into the modern age. (It is 140K words.) Not only did multiple plot points depend on my heroine using phone booths and doing things in an airport that today (post 911) would not be do-able, it was written in a heavily descriptive style that was more popular in the nineties than it is today, leaning more toward PD James and Elizabeth George-style exposition. But, in typical Indie style, I threw it up there anyway, priced it at a buck so nobody would be too pissed at having purchased a story written way back in the early nineties and directed my focus to my fresh stuff—written with NCIS precision and iPhones and texting galore.

I’m sure you can guess how the end of this little story goes. My ancient manuscript, dusted off from the bowels of the trunk it had been sleeping in for the last twenty years sells very well. It was always a good story—complete with dated marker comps and nary a mention of cellphones anywhere. When I read reviews on it, I always look to see if anyone mentions being distracted by how old this story is and so far no one has. They talk about the emotion of relating to the heroine, of the anger at the hero for failing to act quickly enough, of the sadness of the murder and of the pleasure of feeling like they had been transported to Paris.

Nobody even noticed it was trunk material.

I’d send this post to my ex-agent (one of many) to let him know that it all worked out in spite of his crap advice about the manuscript being “too old” (a year after I’d signed with him) but I’m sure even he’s figured out by now that the world has changed. If he’s still employed, hopefully he changed with it, (although not as a resource for authors, I trust.)

We not only have cellphones now, we writers also have a brand new dose of self respect that begins with making decisions based on what we know in our hearts to be true. And that is: a good story is a good story. And it’ll be a good story twenty, forty, a hundred years from now.

No matter what anyone tells you.

How Social Media Helps Sell Books

Let me say right from the get-go that I’m grateful for all the other indie writers out there who publicly reveal mistakes they made so that I can try to avoid them, who suggest positive outcomes they think they created (or when they attribute to luck certain results that seem to have “just happened”) so I can attempt to emulate them, and who even make educated guesses not based on personal experience because I might not have thought of it, myself! A week or two ago, Romance Author Merry Farmer shared an experience of how having the first book in her romance series go free helped the other book in the series sell and then the first book, too, when it went back to full price. This isn’t a Kindle Select story, so everyone who has a series can benefit from learning from her experience.

My own little sharing tale began when I published my book Fear of Falling in March 2012 to practically nonexistent sales. I tweeted, I made it free, I discounted, I racked up a slew of very good reviews–mostly fours and fives–and I placed in a prominent fiction contest which allowed me to plaster a very attractive gold medallion on the cover–and still the book did not sell. And then, because while I think social media is worthless for many things (like promoting your book) but is pretty darn wonderful for making friends and learning from people, I read a terrific post from Dean Wesley Smith that changed everything for me. While I must admit to having re-read the post at least four times (I knew there was wisdom there specific to me but it wasn’t obvious at the first reading what it was), it finally clicked which toe I had, effectively, blown off with Fear of Falling, and what kind of surgery would be necessary. While I’d  cranked up the size of my name on the second stab at a cover design,  the positioning of my genre was a muddle, my sales copy was flat (and ME a copywriter!), the cover–although professionally done–was selling the wrong story to the wrong reader.

Here is the book that launched in March. It looks like what I thought it was: women’s fiction. (Turns out that’s only part of what it is and maybe not the best part.) I threw this cover to the left up on my Facebook pages where I have a great group of writers hanging around and got some opinions that basically said, “Yeah, you’re good! Love it but why not add more color?”  So I created the one to the right with the woman’s face staring reflectively off into middle distance as she contemplated her fears and the world ending etc. After a month of, like five sales, I started listening to my husband when he said: “Ditch the woman’s face and the type face. It looks too literary.” Fine. I’m flexible. I hired a designer to re-do my type and my next cover looked like the one below. It was so much better especially with the cool little “L” falling, but since I was still skating down the wrong side of the wrong genre, it wasn’t going to matter. I gave  a bunch of the books away to reviewers and started getting positive reviews. Because I didn’t know who my reader for this book really was, and because I took all the sex and the profanity out of it, I targeted a Christian audience. That worked up to a point but, really, just because my main protagonist thinks more about God when the world “ends” really didn’t make it Christian fiction. (You see how confused I was?) When a friend of mine in New Zealand read it, he told me he was absolutely surprised that he ended up liking it because he thought it was about how to overcome fears with horses! Now this was in May and I should have known RIGHT THEN that I was all backward with the marketing of the thing. But, I’m stubborn and I liked the cover (that I’d paid for) and there was my husband (and how I hate it when he’s right!) saying it looks like a horseback riding manual or some kind of toffy literary fiction. “But if you read the reviews they say stuff like ‘page turner’ and ‘had me on the edge of my seat,’ ” I would say. And still the sales didn’t happen. I wrote two other books in the meanwhile, totally annoyed that this great little book about a modern woman battling to keep her family alive in a post-apocalyptic dystopic rural society wasn’t attracting any readers! And then two important things happened.  I read Dean’s post. I cogitated. I wondered. I looked at Fear of Falling on its Amazon page and I glanced down and saw all the books underneath it that other readers looked at or bought after looking at mine. And they all had flashes or explosions or bomb dust or ruined cities on the cover. And I looked at mine. Hmmmmm.

All of a sudden, it was clear that the damn title was all wrong. I immediately changed it from Fear of Falling to Free Falling. And yes, I did it because I didn’t want to lose the value I’d paid for with the cool little wonky “L” that my graphic artist had created but also because I knew as soon as I did it that it worked. Fear of Falling said it was a nonfiction book and we were going to discuss your fears.

The horse on the cover said we were going to deal with your fears about falling. Free Falling said–what happens in this book is out of control.  I republished the book across all sites–and Createspace, too, and showed it to my husband and he nodded and said: “Now, put a mushroom cloud on the horizon, and you’re done.” What? Are you kidding? Talk about heavy handed! No way! I re-wrote the blurb and description across all sites. I repositioned the genre, killed the Christian fic slant and added sci-fi and even YA (hell, it has no sex or cussing, and a hero kid in it, why not?)  Then three days later, just for fun, just to see, I checked out istock.com for a mushroom cloud, dropped it into the cover’s indesign file and ghosted it back a tad…you know, just to see.

In 36 hours it had sold 20 books.

In 72 hours, it had sold 50 books. It went from a baseline Amazon ranking of 265,000 in the paid Kindle store to 40,000 and then 15,000.

In three days.

I was wrong, the cover was way wrong, the blurb was wrong, the genre was wrong, the damn title of the book was wrong. And because I’m an Indie, I can figure out what to do by accessing my online colleagues and advisers through social media. I can then sit down at my computer and make it right. So I’m passing this little case study on to you as living proof that (well, that Dean and my husband are both very wise men) but also that sometimes tweaking and changing and learning are all a part of the epublishing experience.

And sometimes even if you take the long way round to get where you’re going, if you meet the right people along the way, you can still get there in plenty of time.

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

I think this is a great line for those of us obsessed with trying to control our creative products  as we steer our way through life. The perfect is the enemy of the good. How could trying for perfection end up creating imperfection? I think the line is really a warning against going to extremes. Obviously, perfection is pretty extreme. I mean, it’s perfection! Some would say perfection is so extreme as to be unobtainable. I’m not talking about formatting issues or typos in your epub doc (although surely one might strive for perfection in that case?) but I get it. Trying to make things perfect can keep you from moving on and doing other things as important or even more important.

It’s easy to see this principle in play when I’m in the process of obsessively tweaking or twiddling with a paragraph in a book I’m writing. If I believe that book sales lie not in social media prowess (as I do) but rather in having available a fat inventory of awesome books, then making  any paragraph “perfect” is a barrier to what I say I want: mega book sales. Because I don’t write literary PD-James-type fiction, a belabored but beautifully descriptive paragraph of a country lane that brings tears to your eyes is not going to get me where I want to go—writing my kind of books, women’s lit and thrillers, quickly. But I’m a writer so I can get sidetracked into the aforementioned paragraph tweaking until my afternoon is gone and the day’s word count not even touched.

Okay, so I believe that less is more in the writing  department but I definitely believe that more available books are more in the book sales department. By that I mean it makes more sense for me as a genre writer to knock out a great fast-paced book and move on to the next one than it does to try to get any book I’m writing “perfect,” which I don’t believe I can do anyway. Once you accept that basic tenet, it’s just a quick step to applying it to our trickiest project of all which is knowing when your book marketing efforts are taking up too much of your time because trust me that is one endeavor you will never get perfect no matter how many books you read about it or how many hours in your day you dedicate to it. As with writing, you need to know when to step away from the keyboard and let it go for the day.

Like anything in life, I think it comes down to asking yourself the question: what do I want out of all this? Do I want to write literature or tell a good story? Do I want to sell lots of books to average-Joe readers or do I want a write-up in the New York Review of Books that I can frame? Do I want 10,000 Twitter pals or ten emails from people who have read my book?

Personally, I don’t have to be JK Rowling famous. I just need enough readers who like my kind of books to allow me to make a living doing what I love.

Now that doesn’t seem too extreme, does it?

Does What We Do as Authors Really Matter?

Today’s post is another contributing chapter in the Social Media saga as it pertains to authors trying to flog books to the millions of as-yet unaware readers “out there.” If you will direct your attention to Exhibit A—the chart you see here was pinched from a recent Romance Writers of America article. (The article had a whole bunch of other interesting facts and stats you might want to check out.) While it’s true that Romance readers are different from other genre readers, there’s an argument to be made that how they decide on what book to read next is not terribly different from how other readers decide.

As you can see, if this chart is correct, a whole lot of effort is being made by myself and my fellow-authors in areas that prospective readers are not very interested. In fact, the only area with a remote interest shown is that of our websites and even then it’s less than 50%. Personally, after you wince your way through the big long blue bars, you have to discount the red bars, too. Because let’s face it, if you have to convince people first to do whatever the thing is over and above looking at your book, it might as well be a blue bar. For example, on the one that says “saw a promotional book trailer and bought the full book,” if 23% said “not done but some interest,” what does “some interest” mean? I think it means now you have to convince them or interest them in watching the damn trailer before you can lure them into your web to peek inside the book. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through before they start to consider whether or not they want to read your book. In fact, the only portion of this chart that we need to be looking at is the purple part and, except for the author’s website (even so, barely 40%) the rest of these activities look like, if not a waste of time then at the very least something that takes you away from writing.

Again, that’s just me and if you know me at all, you know I lean in the direction of lazy. So what do you think? Is the chart shocking? Do you still believe? Are dreams really not about ROI? Love to hear your take…

Is it Vanity to be Indie?

The leaves were changing, the barbecue was spicy, the air was nippy. It was the perfect October day for an outdoor literary festival up in the mountains. Whenever I attend or present at a writers conference or book festival, I always leave with a smile on my face at having met so many awesome writers and readers (the gas that makes us go!) This particular weekend was no different. But what was different, was the fact that I met no less than twenty authors talking, unhappily, about their publishers. What was different about it, was that almost all of these disgruntled writers were referring to their indie publishers.

Okay, most of us Indies know the drill of publishing to Amazon or Smashwords. It can be a pain in the ass and often takes forever to get it perfect, but it is NOT, as I’m always reading all over the net and can personally attest to, rocket science. So when I heard author after author complain about their publishers saying it took three and four months to put their books up on Amazon, I was astonished. Furthermore, every one of these authors was giving 50% or more of their e-book royalties to their publishers—their indie publishers. What the heck was going on? Did the slimy agents and trad publishers shimmy out of their traditional publisher’s costumes and come to the ball dressed as Indie? Is it just irresistible the idea of taking advantage of the clueless author? Again?

Additionally, every one of these Indie authors was selling copies of their print-on-demand books for well over $15. For a paperback!! When I gave a wandering bookstore owner at the festival a few copies of my book, Toujours Dead, to sell on consignment, she couldn’t believe I was selling them at the literary festival for $7 a piece. I shrugged. “I make a profit on them,” I said.   How? Easy. My Indie publisher (who happens to be ME) does not charge me $10 a book after paying for full production on a print-on-demand book. Before Createspace, Amazon’s print-on-demand arm, made it easier to make a profit on the per-book cost of producing a title, I always produced my print-on-demand books through Lightning Source (LSI). It involved a more expensive setup and skillset, but I come from a marketing/production background, so that was no problem. I decided to ALSO publish my books with Createspace  because Amazon had made Lightning Source books harder to access through them (with ridiculously long shipping times) and I wanted to remove as many barriers as possible for those readers interested in my books. But I also needed to be able to buy cheap copies for myself to sell (which I could  do better thru LSI).  With the new changes implemented at Createspace earlier this year, the per-book cost to produce these titles in print-on-demand is now cheaper than using Lightning Source so I probably will just continue with Createspace.  Toujours Dead, for example, cost me 4.27 through LSI for every copy I bought. If I was selling my books from a booth at a conference, $7 was a nice retail price for me, and I could even go cheaper if I wanted to and still make a profit. Now that the same book cost virtually the same to produce thru Createspace ($4.45) and without the $70 setup fee (plus every change I make after the proof is another $35), I’ll likely never go back to LSI. Note: A few of the authors who had discovered Createspace were happy with the quality and the cost of their books, but one admitted he got a little over his head and said he had to “upgrade” to get the help he needed. When he did, the price shot up like the Titan 1 booster rocket on a clear day.

Okay, but back to our poor, hapless authors, the ones who were totally enjoying their day until they met up with me. They had shelled out over $1,000, some of them, to get a print-on-demand book made—and that didn’t even include the cover design! (Except for one or two, the covers were generally awful, about what you’d expect from a writer who’s an expert at writing but less so with the whole design thing. Unfortunately, these covers had all been created by their so-called publishers.) Then the authors bought copies of their own book at prices that made it prohibitive to re-sell them!

In more than a couple cases, I was told by happy authors (at least they were happy until they talked to me) that putting their books up on any of the online distributor sites like Smashwords or Amazon cost extra! I told at least five writers that it was free to publish a book on Amazon. One of them actually blurted out: “You lie!”

Bottom line: be careful out there! It’s not just the agents and the trad publishers who want a piece of you…sometimes it’s the indie publisher. If you’re going to make this work as a business model, you need to be savvy, snug with your money, and know upfront exactly what you want. To that end, I met a sweet old guy at the festival with cute but, in my mind, largely unmarketable stories about talking hedgehogs and sheepdogs. His publisher, who had a booth near mine, referred to her business as a “hybrid publishing” model, NOT a vanity press, she stressed to me (three times.) This old fellow had paid his “hybrid” publisher $1,200 and received 50% royalties, on his print and e-books.  Am I being too cynical? Is there such a thing as a hybrid publisher? Or is this really a subsidy press by another name? In any case, I can’t remember seeing a happier soul. He spent a beautiful autumn day sitting in front of a sign that said “Author Will Sign” talking to people and chatting with “his publisher,” a pretty young woman who fussed over him as if he were Stephen King. That’s why I say, it depends on what you want out of the experience. Personally, I believe that gentleman was enjoying every penny of his experience. And good for him!

Love to hear what you think or some of your experiences on the conference/festival trail!

Downton Abbey Meets Invercargill

I just finished reading a great slice-of-life memoir a from a friend of mine in New Zealand. I lived in New Zealand from 1984 to 1986 and will always have a special place in my heart for that magical country “down under.” But what I’m loving about my friend’s memoir, The Boltons of the Little Boltons, is that it is a remembrance of the period of time in my friend’s life when he and his wife decided to move to the UK to become domestic servants to a wealthy, titled, English couple. They were successful writers in NZ who decided to have a Downton Abbey adventure (about twenty years before Julian Fellowes got his brainstorm.)

Like in the States, there is no class system in New Zealand so my friends, who are educated, well-travelled and professional people, had many significant adjustments and singular experiences (which, also, as it turned out, was brilliant material for a book!) I am loving the book and find myself so envious of their experience. Their children were grown and out of the nest when they had their adventure but, even so, England is a long, long way from New Zealand and their entire world.

As I read, I marvel at, not only their bravery (after all they are both intrepid and had lived in other parts of the world for extended periods of time so it wasn’t too much of a jolt for them in that way) but at their flexibility. It’s hard, after a certain age, to accept a wide range of inconveniences, which, I think, travel largely is. You have to be okay with strange beds, strange foods, lack of security in routine or routes, and a general fare of continual, relentless, surprise. When I was younger, that was the very thing I loved about travel—the not knowing, the surprises. Now, not so much. I hate how I’m so damn happy to crawl back into my own bed after a trip. Or how ecstatic I am to see the pets and the garden.

As it happens, I was a newlywed living in the Cotswolds while my Kiwi friends were being cooks and housemaids in London in 1991. They came down to our little cottage in Compton Abdale to see us—since a visit to either Atlanta or Auckland was harder to come by—and they told some of their “Upstairs-Downstairs” tales then. Actually, I might’ve been at a good age to do something similar, but just then I wasn’t “where they were.” They were empty nesters and I had yet to put the first egg in mine. Plus, I had just married and was keen to set up house and see the sights from that particular voyage first.

I think that’s the marvelous thing about memoirs—the re-living of a special time—a time that can never come again—can actually transport you in ways that no DC10 or Euro-rail system can. And if you write—or are lucky enough to share a memorable time with someone who does—you can recreate that time and go back there in vivid detail and living color over and over again. And when you do, inevitably you’ll meet and get to know all over again the most amazing people: not just loved ones who are no longer with us, but someone else who is no longer with us—your younger self.

Are Amazon’s Five-Star Reviews the Road to Success?

I have a friend whose grown daughter teaches drama for preschoolers in DC.  I asked how she ended up doing that when all we’d ever heard about Casey for years was how she was going to be an actress. (She was gorgeous, sang, danced, went to Tisch at NYU, performed at Disney World every summer, and made it to off-off Broadway.) Her mother said Casey came to the point where she finally knew her big break probably wasn’t going to happen. (She was at the point where “ingénue” didn’t fit any more and she was now skating very close to the point where the go-be-a-wife-and-mother option was almost off the table, too.) So she bailed. Her mother said: “Casey never had that fire in her belly that you need to make it in a very competitive business. She didn’t have that stab-your-bestfriend, sleep-with-whomever, step-on-whomever, do-whatever you-need-to-do-to-make-it-happen mindset.” I think about Casey sometimes when I’m looking at some young, fresh faced actress (who isn’t related to someone famous.) I wonder how nice they are or did they have to kill someone to get their present measure of fame?

I bring this up because there is a thing that we authors believe (probably accurately) will help us in our quest to bestsellerdom (or at least a consistent fifty books sold a month). That is the Five-Star Amazon Review.

First, it’s amazing to me that we are still trying to directly control our sales numbers. We’re still trying to do the three-steps-to-amazing-book-sales thing because the alternative: writing the next awesome book while we’re waiting for success to happen doesn’t feel like it’s directly addressing the problem of low book sales. The key here is the word “direct.” Going back to the keyboard for another three months of labor isn’t directly affecting your book sales. It’s a slow, down-the-road kind of process. But we are a people who “want it NOW.” The idea that the best way to sell books is to write a great book in the first place and then turn around and write another one (all the while praying for one of them to “hit”) is just too passive to be believed, let alone lived.

We still want to believe we have direct control over obtaining book sales success. It’s just another demonstration of the fact that we can’t accept there’s not something we can do to ensure our success will happen. We’ve seen so many Disney movies, so we know how it all works out and if we have to help it along a little, like maybe lie or misrepresent the truth, well, since the happy ending is what we’re all aiming for, what does it matter?

When you’ve been fed a constant diet of “you can do it” and combine it with a national tendency not to put too many restraints on our desires or wants (witness our national obesity problem), you have a situation where cheating or lying can be justified in the process of achieving the Big Dream.

I know writing up a bunch of fake reviews for your pals to post on your books on Amazon isn’t treason or Sin with a capital “S,” but I do think it’s a little shameful. I know you can justify writing a glowing five-star review for yourself by thinking “if they would only give it a try I’m sure they’ll love it!” Plus, you know a lot of other writers are doing it, too, so it’s not unlike when you were in high school working your butt off to get A’s while the C students were cheating and pulling down the very same GPA. It wasn’t fair but climbing down into the hog pen with them wasn’t the solution then and it isn’t now.

I say, be passionate. Absolutely use that fire in your belly to write until the wee hours, push past exhaustion to make those deadlines, buck yourself up in the face of a few bad reviews, smile when your friends and family are condescending to you about being a writer—do what you can to keep your dream alive and keep your keyboard smoking. But have some self-restraint for pity’s sake. (And think about it: if you’re really asking your friends to do this, maybe there’s a reason why they don’t take you seriously as a “writer.”)

As Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer, said in an article in the November 2011 issue of the IBPA Independent:

“The currency of a five-star review is becoming devalued day by day…Focus on making your books as good as they can possibly be, in every way—better than they have to be, in fact (a part of the publishing process, over which, incidentally, you have 100% total control). Do that and the praise will be genuine and will come naturally. But, more important, your book will benefit from priceless word of mouth, which will build an enduring demand for the title. And that’s something the author of a mediocre book who’s resorted to fraudulent reviews can never hope to enjoy. For when real reviewers and real readers really read the real book, and speak the real truth, the jig’s up.”

Amen!

The Power Of “No”

I hear that the employees working at Apple stores are not able to use a certain word when dealing with their customers. (And no, it’s not “Microsoft.”) Those black-teed employees tasked to work the “Genius Bar,” which is almost exclusively the arena of Apple customers who have a problem, are particularly warned against using the word.

The word is “unfortunately.”

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like such a terrible word to be banned across 357 stores worldwide and it definitely takes some thought as to why that word.  I guess “unfortunately” is a banned word because it is not helpful and does not suggest a solution. It prefaces a re-stating of some problem or, worse, the prediction of a negative result for some problem. Any way you look at, stating the word “unfortunately” probably isn’t going to help anyone who is looking to have a problem solved.

If someone is forced to buckle down straightaway with the chore of solving a problem without wasting time recycling all the tiresome reasons as to WHY it’s a problem, and thereby getting into a negative mindset at the outset, I imagine that can only be a good thing. Plus, there is opportunity in the word “unfortunately.” Opportunity to discover something else that is an unhappy offshoot of the original problem, perhaps. Or opportunity to explore the possibility that there is no solution.

The fact is, once you start a sentence with “unfortunately,” no good can come of it. Your mind picks up the thread and fills in the rest of the sentence and it never ends well. Somehow Steve Jobs and his denizens realized this. I’m a big enough fan of most of the wonderful things that Mr. Jobs created in his perfect techno-world to pay attention to this at-first-quirky employers’ edict.

And, of course, like all great maxims, it works across  other arenas as well. A marriage proposal with the word “unfortunately” in it is not a good sign. A job offer that encompasses the word “unfortunately” is not a positive start either. When you are moving forward with your dreams—while it’s important not to be a total fool about what can and can’t happen—I  would say that using the word “unfortunately” during your planning period will aid in booby-trapping your efforts right out of the box. You have enough things working against you without your language working you over, too.

When I used to jump horses, my trainer would tell me that if I heard even the faintest whisper of a voice in my head as I lined up the jump leading to the coop suggesting my horse and I would not be able to make it over, then I should know that we wouldn’t, in all likelihood, successfully jump it.

She was right.

One thing I’ve learned is that little voice in your head has big power. So big, in fact that in addition to forbidding it to say certain words, there seems great equity in training it to say “you are awesome!” or “you can do it!” from time to time too. Especially if you can’t find anybody to cheer your cause,  why not pick up the pom-pom and start things off yourself? Get into the habit of carrying around your own cheering squad in your head and you never know where you may end up!

Not to take anything from the power of “no.” But just imagine the power of “yes.”

Is it the end of bookstores or the sound of one hand clapping?

I didn’t rejoice when Borders announced last fall that they were going belly up, but, at the time, I didn’t really care, either. I’d long since stopped buying even paperbacks there although it was still nice on an unhurried lunch hour to browse through their magazine shelves to flip through periodicals I never knew existed. Except for the odd gift here and there, I can’t remember buying a hardback book at any of the big box bookstores for at least five years. And since the advent of the affordable e-reader, I haven’t even bothered picking up a paperback book from Wal-Mart—not when it’s so much more convenient, not to mention cheaper, to download it to my Kindle. (Brick and mortar bookstores require climbing out of your bunny slippers and driving. Real-place bookstores require parking and standing in line. When I want the third book in the Hunger Games series, I want it NOW.)

So why does it feel, with the closing of this once warm and happy place (and oh! it always smelled so good inside!) like the world has turned its back on reading and literature—not just the method by which it was delivered to us? If anything, thanks to e-readers and smartphones, we’re all reading much more than before. We’re reading in line at movie theaters, in doctors’ offices, and even while waiting for traffic lights (well, maybe that’s just me).  Plus, now that there is no tell-tale cover of heaving bosoms or pre-teen sci-fi fantasy, no one can see what we’re reading either.

The sad, bare shelves aside, it wasn’t reading we were turning our backs on, even though that’s how it felt last fall when my husband and I picked over the rumble sale that was our neighborhood Borders store. What we really lost was the pleasure of browsing that the big bookstore afforded. Anchoring an outdoor string of Pottery Barns and Gaps, the Borders in our neighborhood was the only way we could turn a “trip to the mall” into a joint affair. Neither of us can manage to wander around Williams and Sonoma for an hour (as much as we like the place) but we could always get happily lost, coffee cup in hand, at Borders for much longer. (Plus, I could even leave him and go to J Crew and come back and he was still happy to be “out shopping” with me. Win-win.)

Reading is, by its nature, a solitary pleasure but the big box bookstores gave us a steady stream of coffee and plush chairs and brought other bibliophiles together. They surrounded us with all the lush colors of one magnificent book cover after another—in fact rows and rows and stacks and stacks of them—the objects of our mutual desire. It was such a lovely little world. And for awhile it didn’t matter that we weren’t actually buying anything. In fact, for years I stubbornly refused to pay $25 for a hardback book. I picked  them up, read the blurb copy, and photographed the gorgeous covers with my cellphone so that I could find them later either at the library or as an e-book. For me, the big bookstores—and the mom and pops for that matter—were about everything except actually purchasing the book. They were about fellowship, good coffee, relaxed browsing, and discovering new books.

I wonder, amid all the wondering of what the future of bookstores will be, if there might someday once again be a place to congregate—with coffee and plush chairs and other book lovers. Oh, that’s right…that’d be the Internet Book Clubs. And the coffee is chez vous and the plush chair is your living room couch. It’s just that, it seems to me, especially on top of the worry that my Boomer generation often confesses to about our children’s generation possibly having difficulty “connecting” in person, might this be another nail in the coffin of personal interaction?

Where Will You Be When the Dust Clears?

There’s an old joke where two guys are camping and they see a hungry bear and one guy starts lacing up his sneakers and his buddy says, “You don’t think you can outrun a bear do you?” and the other guy says, “I just need to outrun you.”

Seems to me this joke kind of describes where we are now as authors on the verge of being successful in this e-publishing enterprise.

I recently read “The Self E-Publishing Bubble” in The Guardian that made some predictions about epublishing and ebook authors that started to make me believe that if we authors want to avoid being the ones that get turned into bear sushi by the parameters of the new publishing industry, we have to be mindful about one particularly important directive: we have to not stop.  We have to not stop writing, not stop believing, not stop publishing. I hate to add my italics and boldface to all the sappy, soppy edicts out there that will tell you that persistence is the key, but sometimes the corny stuff is the truth.

Persistence is the key.

When I spoke at the North Georgia State College’s conference on e-publishing last fall, I admitted that there was some truth to the “tsumani of crap” that e-publishing was seen as by many bewildered readers. But at that time I had yet to see the glimmer of hope that that tidal wave might dissipate. In fact, nobody was talking about the glut of self-published books diminishing. We were all just trying to imagine literary mechanisms that might help readers wade through the enlarged reading inventory, like reviews they respected from their genre or, I don’t know, maybe something brand new that nobody’s ever heard of but is invented to handle this new world order of ours that nobody could’ve envisioned five years ago!

So the story—and I do hope you read it—quotes the NY Times saying a recent survey revealed that as a result of the supposed ease of e-publishing 82% of all Americans are now interested in writing a book. (Holy crap! You think we got a glutted market now!)

Only before we all go strangle ourselves with our USB patch cords, the writer, Ewan Morrison, goes on to say that the lack of sales (fewer than 100 a year for most writers) and dearth of positive feedback (This is not a business for overly sensitive souls) and the realization that you are, essentially, “writing for free” (OMG, I’m laughing here!) and general disrespect would prompt most new e-book authors to give up within a year and find another hobby. Especially if there was a day job involved.

“After a long year of trying to sell self-epublished books, attempting to self-promote on all available networking sites, and realising that they have been in competition with hundreds of thousands of newcomers just like them, the vast majority of the newly self-epublished authors discover that they have sold less than 100 books each. They then discover that this was in fact the business model of Amazon and other epub platforms in the first place: a model called “the long tail”. With five million new self-publishing authors selling 100 books each, Amazon has shifted 500m units. While each author – since they had to cut costs to 99p – has made only £99 after a year’s work. Disillusionment sets in as they realise that they were sold an idea of success which could, by definition, not possibly be extended to all who were willing to take part.”

Add to the above an accepted formula for success in indie publishing (and it’s one that I believe in) that says inventory is key to making money, and you have even more reason to believe that most new writers will quit. Creating an inventory means you need to write a lot and fairly constantly (you certainly do if you want to build any kind of library of work while you’re still young enough to enjoy the profits outside the nursing home). Doing this with little to no money up front (“spec” we used to call it in advertising), when you’re exhausted from working a day job, probably a family demanding your attention and God knows what else a normal life requires of you, is going to be too much for most people.

Which is good news for YOU. Because YOU won’t give up when the rest of them do. Right? Because for every soldier who falls to the wayside, that is one less book in your genre you need to compete with. It’s one step nearer to the overworked reviewer choosing to smile on your book (if it’s good), and one degree closer to the reader discovering you. It stands to reason if the pile of available books is even a little smaller, your chance of being found is a little greater.

The interesting thing about all this—the thing that nobody is writing about—also happens to be the fly in the soup of the Guardian story and that is the fact that most writers that I know of (wait for it!) aren’t in it for the money. I mean it would be nice. What a dream, to get paid to write stories? But bottom line, you know you’re going to write anyway, no matter what.

And that is precisely why, when it’s all said and done and the dust has cleared and when e-publishing and Amazon and readers and trad publishing and all of them have done what they’re going to do and evolved where they will, YOU will be on the other side of it, quietly building that inventory, writing stories and publishing books for years and years to come.

I honestly cannot think of a better way to live my life.