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And digital books of today look, feel, and function almost identically to digital books of 10 years ago, when the Kindle launched. The digital reading and digital book startup ecosystem that briefly emerged in the early s has shriveled to a nubbin. Amazon won. Trounced, really. As of the end of , about 45 percent up from 37 percent in of all print sales and 83 percent of all ebook sales happen through Amazon channels.
There are few alternatives with meaningful mind- or market share, especially among digital books. Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. But the books made today, held in our hands, digital or print, are Future Books, unfuturistic and inert may they seem. Twenty years ago, what did you need to make a book on your own? You needed a pile of words, sure. But you also needed a mountain of cash. Assuming you could get your books printed, you needed a place to store them. You needed someone to ship them.
You needed a relationship with a distributor to get them into Barnes and Noble. And you needed a marketing budget to get them on that front table. To publish a digital book today, you still need the words, but you can skip many of the other steps. From a Pages or Microsoft Word document you can export an. For printed books, a slew of new funding, production, and distribution tools make creating and selling a physical artifact much easier. Blurb , Amazon , Lulu , Lightning Source , and Ingram Spark are just a few of the print-on-demand companies we all have access to. Many will handle sales—providing you with a web page to send potential readers to, managing the burdensome tasks of payments and shipping.
The improvement in print-on-demand quality in recent decades is astounding. The books look fabulous—with decent paper options, cover types, finishes. Professional photographers are even offering up monographs in collaboration with companies like Blurb. And Amazon will have the finished books on your doorstep the next day. Today, anyone with a bit of technological know-how and an internet connection can publish—offering digital or physical editions, on the same online retail shelves—alongside Alexander Chee, Rebecca Makkai, or Tom Clancy. This proliferation of new technology and services has altered author economics.
Almost half of author earnings now come from independently published books. For six years in the s I was an art director and producer of printed books with a small indie press and, let me tell you, there were no great models for pre-sales or raising capital. Then crowdfunding arrived.
10 Ridiculously Simple Marketing Tips (Artistic / Business Series)
Kickstarter launched in Kickstarter is not explicit patronage in the classical sense. At its worst, the platform produces products that feel chintzy and a bit scammy, an unholy union between QVC and SkyMall. I compiled everything I learned in that first campaign into a breakdown called " Kickstartup. This—capital without relinquishment of ownership—is where the latent potential of Kickstarter funding lies. I wrote that essay in just as crowdfunding was entering the mainstream.
Soon after, it seemed everyone was launching books. The book went on to sell over 1 million copies around the world. Rebel Girls has become a brand unto itself. Timbuktu was part of a wide-eyed first wave of tablet-focused digital-publishing upstarts that tumbled forth, frothy with venture capital. When Flipboard where I worked from to —which reimagined the beauty of print magazines in digital-first form—went live on the App Store, it proved so popular it had to turn off signups and create a waiting list, one of the first iPad apps to constrain access.
Amid this rush, Timbuktu Labs began winning awards for its magazine app, which was updated daily with new content. Despite the positive press, it never gained the necessary traction to become a sustainable business or justify taking on more capital. I invested a small amount in their angel round in And as an investor, I had a front-row seat: They tried. They really tried.
And so as a last-ditch effort, cofounders Favilli and Francesca Cavallo retreated to LA to rethink their business and life plans. It was there the idea for Rebel Girls was born, and a sustainable business was built around the opposite of an app: a physical book. In , The New York Times had 6.
By , that number had doubled. Companies like Mailchimp have been offering newsletter services for nearly two decades, but they were never as popular as they are now. In , users sent about 1 billion emails per day through Mailchimp, a 5,fold increase from , when the service handled only , emails a day. In response to this email explosion, the startup Substack launched in as a newsletter publishing and monetization platform. Charging for access can be an onerous task. Through the Substack system, though, a publisher can easily set up metered access to a newsletter for a subscription fee.
Almost every writer or artist I know has a newsletter. One way to understand this boom is that as social media has siloed off chunks of the open web, sucking up attention, the energy that was once put into blogging has now shifted to email. Robin Sloan, in a recent—of course— email newsletter , lays it out thusly:.
In addition to sending several email newsletters, I subscribe to many, and I talk about them a lot; you might have heard me say this at some point or seen me type it but I think any artist or scholar or person-in-the-world today, if they don't have one already, needs to start an email list immediately. Because we simply cannot trust the social networks, or any centralized commercial platform, with these cliques and crews most vital to our lives, these bands of fellow-travelers who are—who must be—the first to hear about all good things.
Email is definitely not ideal, but it is: decentralized, reliable, and not going anywhere—and more and more, those feel like quasi-magical properties. We recognize we largely own the mailing lists; they are portable, can be printed out, stored in a safe; they are not governed by unknowable algorithmic tomfoolery. I maintain an email newsletter with more than 10, recipients, and I treat it as the most direct, most intimate, most valuable connection to my audience.
In hard economic terms, when I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for Koya Bound , each time I sent out a newsletter, I had roughly 10, more backer-dollars within an hour.
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That first Rebel Girls test email went to 25 recipients; the list snowballed in size and excitement over the six months leading up to the Kickstarter campaign. This exemplifies the amplification voodoo of a platform like Kickstarter: When someone backs a project, it broadcasts the news to their friends, creating a network effect. The bigger the network, the more powerful the effect.
Kickstarter, with more than 15 million patrons, has the biggest network effect game in town. That also makes it a powerful online marketing force for independent authors and publishers. Taiwan-based Ben Thompson publishes a newsletter called Stratechery. He later said his subscriptions generate times what he made in Could it be? He called it the 1, True Fans theory of market building. Now the payments and funding and production pieces are in place to allow someone—given 1, fervent and supportive fans—to reliably publish for fun and profit. Folks like Ben Thompson are effectively writing books.
And so in a strange way, Stratechery in paid newsletter form is as much a Future Book as a bounded Kindle edition. Email is a boring, simple, old technology. Unlike followers or social media subscribers, email has yet to be usurped by algorithms. The first email was sent in by Ray Tomlinson. Unlike followers or social media subscribers, email has yet to be usurped by algorithms for the most part; Gmail does a little bit of sorting now. Social media, however, is not predictable. Algorithms and product functionality have all the stability of rolling magma as companies refine how they engage, and extract value from, users.
This means an investment in social media can go belly up in a few years. Take author Teju Cole, for example. His use of Twitter was both delicate and brilliant. Writing literary fiction? Then enchant us with the power of your style. They average just six words. Her paragraphs are typically no longer than five lines and often just one line. If you aspire to Literature you can ramble on forever. Tempe is lovable, scatty, attractive—and flawed. Her IQ is supposed to be off the radar, but she often acts like a child.
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In his teens, he ran with gangs. He has a drug-addict daughter and bad memories. He lives with demons. In her two protagonists, Reichs presents idealized versions of her own target readers , female and male. Do the same. Give them someone to talk to—a person they trust but occasionally spat with. Ryan frowned.
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When Ryan is out of reach, Tempe talks to her cat, Birdie. Foil characters also furnish sub-plots. Get them into troubles of their own. Make them victims. A devilish plot to steal the Amish treasure is foiled by a kick-ass ninja nun who must sacrifice her vows and virtue to save the man she loves. Or something like that. It points to a web of atrocious crimes, long concealed.
She plays amateur sleuth, interferes with police investigations and predictably comes close to losing her life and job. In every story. However, Reichs does have a unique voice. Another may die soon. The next morning our confidence was blown to hell. Reichs is manically inventive in her language and frisky in her rhythms. She writes like a happy kitten. Cornwell is grim and stealthy in her pace, like a cold-minded panther. Voice cannot be forced. Let yours develop by itself.
A distinctive Voice will help you build a fan base. Readers will either hate it or love it. Her Voice offends me. Unless you get them right, you can forget about advertising, social networking, blog tours, Goodreads Giveaways, clever tricks for gaming Amazon, and all the other voodoo sold by by book promotion gurus. Get these things right and, whether or not your book is great, it has a serious chance of becoming a bestseller. What experiences have you had in getting your book to market? What triumphs or heartaches? Share them with us in a comment below.
He was a successful commercial author for 42 years and was a regular, much-loved contributor to WTD. He died unexpectedly in Either usage is permissible. The usage is governed by cadence not by precept. Most helpful piece, John, some uncomfortable truths. Just completed my fifth book, second in my first series, but only two books total on Amazon at the moment. I might retouch a few with the above tips in mind, to take advantage of that magic number. Lovely to run into you again.
Congratulations, Belinda, on finishing five novels. This is a really great article, and really helpful to get me thinking deeper about my own stories! So many great points to remember. I always love your post, but I think this was one of the most informative ones. I do appreciate the time you take helping new writers who are just beginning their journeys.
My name is Mary M. Mann Hooker and I am wondering if M. Hooker or some combination of my name would do well as the signature. Of course, this would not denote male or female writer. Would that be a problem for a potential reader? Glad you liked it, Mary. Yes, M Hooker should work.
Joanna Penn uses the name J F Penn for her novels, to differentiate them from her non-fiction work written under Joanna Penn. A series title using Evil sounds great. I opened an author account, and my books are advertised on Amazon. Is it woth it? You did very well to get so many sales in just one area, Jacques. It suggests your book has great potential. The Golden Rule is: test slow. Test cheap. Budget only what you can afford to lose.
And never run more than one ad in a given period. The only ads that reliably make a profit, it seems, are those at BookBub. Test small! On the verge of completion of my novel, your tips inspired me to revisit my work and I could set many things right. You have my salute and a lot of good writer karma. Would the above count as enough to have produced my own original voice? Or must I still write five novels before I can successfully market? Those are fabulous credentials, Katharine! At Amazon, only sales count. Only sales count. Focus on getting great sales for your first book s and the Amazon algorithms will notice you.
John, I really enjoyed this article, your ever present whit and the wide circle from which you pitch your posts never fail to impress me. So to point the arrow at say the literary side only, would chase away more than half of your readers. Therefore, I enjoyed the article. I am very … um, loose if you get my drift afa writing and reading is concerned. This advice served me well throughout my life. He told me never to be scarred of anything, not to count myself as either too high or too low where reading matter is concerned, but always to read with a pencil in hand.
Only to take notes and learn from either good or bad writing. By myself I quickly arrived at never allowing any author to bore me. Not in a commercially written story, and even less in a literary book. And if these two things can be gathered into one book, how much more rewarding. His Shibumi is one of my all time favourites. His writing is not so literary that you have to stop reading to get back into life. His concept of the anti-hero really thrilled me.
The small man. Not that his main characters were small, And thanks for providing the real name: Rodney William Whitaker. By the way, is he still alive? Or rather; did he only write 5 books? And I am so happy to see your hates expressed so gently. And yes, they are mine too, esp Elmore, what a facetious name that is; it prevented me from ever reading a single one of his books.
Where as years ago I waded through some Harold Robins-going-nowhere-but fortunately- fast … And then I found people like Ondaatje who could mesmerize me with language and story and plot and slow passages and sound and colour and smells and memorable characters. My all time favourite is a forgotten UK author Charles Morgan.
Thanks for this reminder about the other side of writing without which no writer can ever become one; the little foxes that spoil the vines on the road of becoming a bestseller author. Nice to see you here, Engemi. Of course, the idea is not new. Thanks for a great post with really good tips. I am currently writing a series and your tips will come in handy! What do you think about my name, Margaret Nystrom? I would love a suggestion from you for a pen name. Subject to your genre, how about truncating your first name eg. Or Blaze Nystrom?
Or even Blaze Steel? John, once more a great post with wonderful advice. Many thanks, Penny. To read a blog to get out of the bog sounds like a metaphor. I learned the definition of bog on the streets, in the pages of The Replacement Bridesmaid by Laurie Ralston, to be exact.
Thank you Dr J. Apparently, not. Must have leaned on a button. Sorry for casting aspersions. The plot worthy of the reader is a crucial aspect of a novel, as this post asserts,. I think the plot also has to be worthy of the writing for a satisfying novel to emerge. I heartily recommend Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, a stylistic genius. The structure is badly flawed — he wrote the novel in a hurry to capitalize on the success of his brilliant The House Of Silk — but the twist in the last chapter just blows you away.
I posted a lengthy comment, saying thank you for a really useful post, and I commented on the lure of a character who defies the aging process and returns us to our treasured youth, as Kinsey Millhone does, but it disappeared. Have I been blacklisted? Just too senile? Fret not, Linda. The comment thread software here is eccentric. A day later and it pops back again! Patience, patience…. Yes, John, I know how true all of these points are. Or am I talking rubbish? Or just being too hopeful? Good point, Mick. If we develop our own Voice and follow it thereafter, are we being formulaic?
Nothing wrong with being formulaic. To their mutual joy. He knows me better than I do. Headlights move along the embankment like bright insect eyes, the Charles River rippling darkly.
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Across the Harvard Bridge the city of Boston is a glittery barrier separating the earthbound empires of business and education. I check my watch and reach for my coffee — black, no sweetener — as distant footsteps sound in the corridor of my bullet-shaped building. Literary now means look how much stuff I can cram into a simple paragraph. Hemingway is rolling over in his grave. Minimalist, bare, rich in ambiguity perhaps yet leaving the reader to do all the work.
We must remember that Hemingway evolved his style in the same period and milieu as Picasso, the Cubists and other minimalists. It found its most absurd expression in Gertrude Stein unreadable and, later, in Elmore Leonard ditto. Am I old-fashioned in preferring the Edwardian flock-wallpaper style of fiction? Florid, rich in sensory description and unashamedly verbose?
Thank you, Dr. This post makes me want to write a novel! When I began to read that particular series, I was the same age as the character. I have aged twenty -odd years, but Kinsey has not, so when I read her latest exploits, I am time travelling. Those were the days! Ah, the idioms of yesteryear! I remember well the era of mini-skirts, stockings, bell bottomed trousers and kipper ties. But just a reference to them in the last novels of Rex Stout, circa , puts me all in a flutter. Carpe diem….
Is this an example of dumbing down? Granted the points about technology are apt but I think the cover illustration does most of the work. Course, to be classically me I have to argue that it is easier to one finger tap a short title than a long but even better to abbreviate. That way fans stick out from ignorant old style folk. G of T for example. And DA.
How about these titles, Renee? Amongst other things, you reminded me to cull my waffle — I love my sub. Now, I must get back to churning out my series — thank goodness we have an extra hour this weekend. Great to see you here too, Zara. What would the old-time classic authors have done without it? G K Chesterton is all waffle but every word is a joy. You simply need to ask yourself: do I really want to be a best-selling Amazon author?
Amazingly, not every author does. Yeoman, thank you for this post. Every time i see your name come across my email box, my lips curl up in a smile. I loved this piece. It gives me energy. So informative. I was being facetious, Ohita. But have you noticed that once an author hits a winning streak their subsequent novels all seem the same?
Their readers would be annoyed by something radically different. The UK author Dick Francis wrote the same novel several times. An ordinary, decent, reclusive man — once a jockey — finds his friends threatened by criminals. He must become a hero to rescue them. Job done, he slinks modestly back into the shadows. Readers knew what to expect. But they kept buying his books. Hi, John. I found the post very interesting and i will surely use the advice that i have read here. My love for writing is very important and valuable to me, and when i write i love letting my imagination drive me to where it takes me and dont stop until.
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I love writing fiction, and published one book.