Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wild West Bookselling

Thought provoking entry this morning on The Kill Zone blog, about the decline – nay, the disappearance – of brick and mortar bookstores and what that means to writers.

Physical stores have always been where people discovered books, even in the last few years when Amazon and other online merchants took over as the prime place people buy them.Which of course is a big part of why bookstores are disappearing.

I love bookstores, but as a writer, that model works against the newcomer. It was always the publisher that determined where they were going to put the big bucks in marketing and getting people to get excited about a new release, a new author, and the publishers put all their emphasis on the top of the list. Midlist and lower had to fend for themselves.

When Cap'n Slappy (my friend and pirate partner Mark Summers) and I got our two books published by actual publishers, we were surprised by how little the publisher did to sell them. Pirattitude did better than they expected – it ended up going into seven printings – but that was mostly because they expected so little from it in the first place. I often wondered why they bothered. There was a marketer assigned to the book, but she did almost nothing that we ever saw. We couldn't even get her to respond to emails. My then-agent Scott said unless you sell 50,000 copies, she wouldn't even return your call or email to tell you there was nothing she could do for you. I figured if I could sell 50,000 copies, who needed her? For our second book, The Pirate Life, the publisher put even less effort into selling than the first publisher had.

So with bookstores fading as the place to discover authors, that's actually a good thing for writers. It's no longer the publisher's prerogative to decide what is worth the reader's time. In its place is a sort of Wild West, ruled by the fastest gunslinger, or in our case, the author who can capture the reader's attention and sell their work on its merits. Quality and output are the gold standard. If you write a good book and can produce consistently, you can build trust with readers who will follow your effort and spread word of mouth.

What does that mean for us? Discipline, mostly. Write good books and be active in building your platform, then keep faith with the reader that every time you have a new book to sell they'll be happy they bought your book. (Which of course means, have more than one good book to sell them.) It's a reminder that, however you think of writing, getting people to read you takes work.

Anyway, there's some interesting food for thought.

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