Wednesday, March 08, 2006
What's Working for the Scribes of the Revolution?
Via BookLust, Hadas Leviner's photos of these gorgeous towers of books from The Israel Museum's Beauty and the Book exhibition.
Online P.R. megaphones, viral marketing, serials, e-Readers with downloadable content, Print-on-Demand, blooks? What, if anything's, working for fiction authors trying to get read?
Starting backwards, blooks are blog entries which get edited (we hope) and collected and perhaps paired with images before being printed in hardcopy as books. Lulu.com is one place to do this, and others are also listed in this Times article via Grumpy Old Bookman. But also spreading today are online serialized novels which may later- the author must hope- get picked up for hardcopy publication such as the one Publisher's Lunch recently announced:
Starting next week, Slate will serialize an online novel, being written and posted in "real time," by Walter Kirn. Portions of THE UNBINDING, "a dark comedy set in the near future, is a compilation of "found documents"-online diary entries, e-mails, surveillance reports," will appear about twice week, through June. Kirn retains print rights.
An e-innovator, Stephen King posted downloadable story installments of The Plant online in 2000, but not enough people (75% target) contributed the dollar per chapter he intially requested, so he changed his terms, and finally the experiment was halted after 6 chapters. The Slashdot article's author, Jon Katz, also notes:
Lost in the Net hysteria is the fact that non-virtual books are a powerful technology themselves. They are easy to buy, and don't require tech support, batteries or upgrades. You can read them in toto, anywhere you want, even when the power goes out, and they are impervious to viruses and other tech bugs. They can be passed along to others and last a long time. Those are strong selling points.
SIDETRACK ON E-READERS: I'd add that in addition to robustness, the problem of illustrations hasn't ever been well-handled, and many of us care about covers and pictures and font choices as part of the overall experience. A $400 book reader is significantly less lendable and sharable (totally unsuitable for bookcrossing). And with the traditional book form, unlike most modern electronic technology, even partial destruction doesn't cripple the function. Torn covers and smudged pages don't impact a book's essential utility, and even major destruction can be easily augmented from another copy without diminshing either one- photocopy, tape, and the intellectual content is largely restored.
We're remastering the earliest audio tapes to make sure we don't lose the content to the media's limitations, and you'll have trouble finding a working player for your thirty year-old 8-tracks, but we're still reading papyri from 5 millenia ago. Attempting overthrow of such a tenacious and beautiful technology, especially for the developing world, is a lousy idea. But augmentation, well, that's something different. For example, I'd love for doctors in remote locations to have a gigantic, updated medical library right in their hands. For extensive reference in a small package, the e-reader is a brilliant idea. But without the tangible, varied, and evocative aesthetics of real books, e-readers won't be communicating via their spines and covers, triggering conversations on the train or in the office, and they won't serve as items of decor or collection or artistic craftsmanship. SIDETRACK ENDED.
Much more recently, also via GOB, I came across this story of the author Bill Liversidge who actually offers an award for people providing reviews of blooks, including but not necessarily his own. He now calls his online-launched novel "the most expensive book ever written."
Via Miss Snark, this author, understandably masking her identity as POD-dy Mouth, made a year-long project of reading tons of POD books to establish their general quality or lack of same. Read her detailed stats here, and reviews, too, if you're braver.
Another of the new trends uses online networking mainly as a promotional tool for a traditional book. Here, I'll mention Tobias Buckell, who I met at the Pajamas Media launch, who was that day leveraging the opportunity to find every futurist and/or scifi fan as a potential reviewer for his book Crystal Rain. I was not asked, but I'm choosing to believe it was because of the punyness of the SOS soapbox (I wasn't with Bookspot then) rather then any intrinsic unworthiness.
To his credit and with much attention and energy I'm sure, he built his own blog up to 1,000+ readers/day, and the kind words and crosslinking from bigger sites must help sales, too. He also posts excerpts online, but I believe for a debut, Tor must be thrilled that he's getting so much positive attention. After joining Bookspot, site admin Damon said that although he'd never heard of Buckell, many of the reviewers had been interested in being assigned the book and he didn't know why. Because this promotion was happening in varied, not purely scifi/fantasy sites, Damon probably wouldn't have seen all the instances. As an interested spectator, I saw a ton of friendly mentions and believe this will pay off for him (if the story supports it) in royalties, foreign rights, and future book deals.
There seems to be an ever-growing list of not-yet famous authors who are blogging about their experiences with publishing. It's a service to other authors and of interest to existing fans, but must also provide warm, acquainted feelings for potential readers. It does for me. Or perhaps, instead of running your own site, you might use AmazonConnect like this guy to build your audience and link to your other work.
Oh, it's not electronic, but what about the humble bookseller who can be responsible for suggesting (hand selling) heaps of titles that he or she likes from authors they like. The Independent's advice in this, as in all interpersonal interactions even faceless electronic ones, is BE NICE.
Some of these strategies will work for some of those authors using them, and it's an undoubted boon for people who are most mobile in electrons for purposes of networking and promotion. Still, I think the eye of the electronic needle is as small as the old-fashioned one after all, and although niches get easier to find, it's the content and the fates that will make big successes not the format.
As for me? I'm going to keep doing whatever writing makes the most sense to me at the moment, become involved in whatever revolution seems like the most fun for the long haul, pray for the blessings of luck and talent, and Tx to Bonnie, give myself a Virtual High Five.