Thursday, January 15, 2015

IN PRAISE OF OLDER NOVELISTS

It seems as if 2015 will be the year we join forces, so to speak, with the AARP, since the ages of our authors range from 50 (when one is first able to join the American Association For Retired People) to 92 (when one is, to use a sports metaphor, in triple sudden death overtime).

We never consider the age of the novelists we publish, only the merits of the 5,000 submissions we receive each year. Yet the average age of the writers we will be publishing is 67.38 years, and one can only speculate on the causes for this.  
Over the years we’ve often published writers in their mid-seventies (like two novels by Daniel Klein, The History of Now (the Silver medal finalist for ForeWord Magazines’ Book of the Year in 2010), and last year Nothing Serious. And then there were 12 novels written by the great Southern writer Berry Fleming (some reprints, but two others newly minted when he was turning 90 years old—Captain Bennett’s Folly and Who Dwelt by a Churchyard: both award-winning novels). Just two years ago we published Christopher Davis’ brilliant The Conduct of Saints, a historical novel taking place when Italy surrendered and the allies occupied Rome after World War ll. At the time “Kit” Davis turned 85.

But nothing prepared us for this year: three novelists in their 50s (Victoria Alexander, Baron Birtcher, and Margaret Vandenburg), six in their 60s (most eligible for Social Security), four in their 70s,  two in their 80’s (Erik Mauritzson and Paul Zimmer), and our 92 year old Norman Beim, whose gothic After Byron, comes out in May.
How to account for this? My theory is that there is not enough talent to draw from in the pool of writers under the age of 30, if one is interested in reading artfully constructed fiction. Several factors are involved here. One is that the wizardry of modern technology has trumped learning to use language creatively, winnowing many fishes and would-be-writers in the sea. Decades ago this group would read books or attempt to write: be it books, or diaries. Instead they grew up with electronic devices, and carry about their iPads, tweeting, and using Facebook instead.

Another factor is that newspapers are expiring, and in order to stay alive they are laying off staff, particularly reporters, replacing them with wire service reporters from the Associated Press and other wire services. Many writer’s we’ve encountered, and published, developed their writing skills by working as reporters on smaller newspapers, making first hand observations (later used in their fiction) and writing their columns. But this post-grad opportunity to learn the craft is vanishing as well.
In my day, not to have read and been inspired by Hemingway, Faulkner, Vidal, Steinbeck, Camus, Sartre and other literary giants was impossible. They were always featured in the news and always reviewed in the press. But today the featured writing and reviews cover not literary giants but best-seller giants like James Patterson and E.L. James and her 50 Shades of Grey books. And how many aspiring young writers try to emulate them, with the hope of gaining fame and fortune?

So again, I raise my glass to the best novelists: the older ones. And I hope you will share your thoughts about this as well.
If you go look at our 2015 catalog, you will see what’s coming out from these golden oldies in 2015.
Marty

Monday, November 24, 2014

THANKSGIVING


At the Frankfurt Book Fair this past October, I passed the Poisoned Pen Press booth and got into a conversation with Robert Rosenwald who, along with his wife Barbara Peters, started the press 17 years ago. We talked about how fortunate we were to still be in the game, able to publish exactly what we ourselves loved reading, without having to consult marketing people, or salesmen, or cater to some senior editor’s taste. In short, both of us enjoyed being able to find, publish, and promote good fiction that the five major conglomerates had little or no interest in.

I asked him about financing, given the fact that book publishing is such a marginal profession. “We’re starting our 37th year in 2015, and there have been times when we’ve barely kept our nose above water. Has it been that way for you, too?"

Robert paused, smiled, and said, “It’s the least expensive hobby I could possibly have!”


This is a line I will not forget, spoken with sincerity as well as humor, and a perfect way to give thanks during this Thanksgiving season.


Viewed in one way, publishing is not that different from politics, where major media attention is given to the big parties—democrats and republicans—while independents get scant attention. Just as politicians make passionate speeches trying to cloak themselves as both morally and socially responsible people (and many of them surely are), so do those in our industry. But if you can rise above their statements without becoming partisan, it’s easy to see contradictions, absurdities, and propaganda at work.


In publishing, the media covered Hachette’s big-name authors who complained that Amazon hurt their income before their dispute was settled. Yet there is no word from Hachette authors—or those of the other four major conglomerates—complaining that their publishers are hurting their income by only giving them 25% of
 e-book sales, rather than the 50% that so many independent publishers pay. 

Before the settlements with Amazon, the various Big Five publishers complained that Amazon was such a large and powerful bookseller that it put them at a distinct disadvantage. But now, as
Publishers Weekly reported in their November 17 issue, it seems that they are putting the screws to independent bookstores aided and abetted by their authors. All of them have been in the direct-to-consumer sales business for some time, offering titles online, through direct mail and at book fairs. But HarperCollins upped the ante this fall by giving authors a strong incentive to link their websites to the harpercollins.com website. When their books are sold directly through these links, the author will be credited with an additional 10% royalty rate, despite the fact that if this catches on with authors, neighborhood bookstores will be endangered, just as they are by Amazon supplying lower prices for printed books.

There’s nothing new in this, of course, for everyone and every business—from bookstores to authors to wholesalers to publishers, to newspapers, to magazines—has both a right and obligation to be profitable if they wish to stay afloat. But the righteous clamor coming out from all these competing segments of the industry can be deafening as each tries to rally public support to what they believe to
be righteous, even if they commit these same “crimes” against other groups in the book-biz.
 
So this is another thing we give thanks for: that we are
of this confounding and squabbling and fascinating business, but have the freedom not to be involved in these goings-on.

I welcome your response.

Marty

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

SEEKING THE TRUTH


Imagine, seeing a page one story in The New York Times on Friday, August 8, written by David Streitfeld, announcing that there would be a $104,000 ad that would be placed in the paper on Sunday, two days later, signed by 909 writers and bankrolled  by the wealthiest of the several best-selling  novelists.  At least that’s what Streitfeld reported.  When the ad appeared on August 10 it was listed as paid for by “Authors United, P.O Box of 4799, Santa Fe, NM, 87502.” There is no way of identifying who, in fact paid for it, or even if one of the Big Five conglomerates (if so, most likely Hachette)—who are waging a splendid PR campaign against Amazon—actually financed the ad. In any event, leading the charge against Amazon is Mr. Streitfeld.
The last time I blogged about Streitfeld on May 27 (Whose Afraid of Amazon. Com?) and June 3 (The Amazon-Hachette Controversy, Part Two) I commended him for being relatively honest for acknowledging that his anti-Amazon “reporting” was based on “rumors and hypotheses” even though the overall effect was damaging to Amazon and intoxicating for the big five conglomerate publishing cartels.

This time Streitfeld writes about how a letter composed by best-selling thriller writer Douglas Preston, a Hachette author, “spread through the “literary community” leading to this ad.” But this time he doesn’t even talk about rumors and hypothesis, but simply spills out disinformation.  For instance, there is no “literary community” per se, but only the conglomerate community whose positions he echoes. Having established our own reputation over the past 35 years as a leading literary press and knowing other small and independent presses who share our contrarian position, we are simply unaccounted for or ridiculed.
Streitfeld reports how Amazon, is rapidly transforming itself “into an empire that not  only sells culture but promotes it, too, while two paragraphs later he  reports that, according to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon may  lose 800 million in this quarter, wiping out profits for the past three years. Does anyone other than Streitfeld believe that “Empires” lose three years of profits in four months’ time?  I’m not bothering to read the Journal for who knows the accuracy of Steitfeld’s quote. Nor can I do anything more than point out the contradictions in Streitfeld’s claims or expect to transform Streitfeld from being a propagandist into a balanced or fair-minded, serious reporter. As I said in my last blog, (No Expectations), what Is, Is, and I can’t imagine this will ever happen.

Having read the Times regularly for over 60 years, I’ve always considered them to  have high-standards for news reporting, yet I can’t recall a single news story based on a forthcoming ad—much less a page one story. It seems to me that Streitfeld damages the reputation the Times has for unbiased reporting.
I urge everyone reading this blog to also read Barry Eisler’s February 8th blog. Eisler, a highly respected and best- selling novelist himself, presents an even more damaging, gloves-off report on Streitfeld’s article. In it he deconstructs, with wit and constant examples, all the peculiar, biased, absurd and illogical constructs Streitfeld uses in order to make his case. He also suggests that readers write to Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at The New York Times to register their complaints.

What case does Streitfeld relentlessly try to make? That Amazon is a bully and the Big Five world-wide conglomerates are defenseless sheep, despite the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns Harper Collins; that CBS owns Simon & Shuster; that Penguin/Random House is also a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, based in Germany; that MacMillan is owned by another German publisher, Holtzbrinck; and that Hachette is owned by the French company Lagardere, and that these corporations are all powerful global media companies who own radio and television stations, magazines, newspapers and offices not only in America, but  throughout the world. Plus he tries to make the case that Amazon should be compelled to order and showcase their books when no other bookstore in in this country is compelled to do this, nor are other on-line retailers. And he ignores the fact that any reader can order copies from any bookstore without difficulty. Doesn’t Streitfeld realize that if he had his way it would put additional pressure on the survival of independent bookstores?
If I were a reporter covering the book industry rather than a publisher, I’d want to balance things out, not only having All the News That’s Fit to Print, but also far less of All the News Unfit to Print, and here are two questions I’d like to see addressed:

What came first in this story, the $104,000 ad or Streitfeld’s page one story, and who bankrolled the Authors United ad (even Douglas Preston, who was chosen to head Authors United, says he has no idea how that happened)?  And will anyone at the Times be interested in investigating that?

I invite your comments,

Marty

Friday, July 25, 2014

NO EXPECTATIONS!


Part I

Twenty years ago, at the  1994 American Booksellers Association meeting in Los Angeles, in our 18th year as publishers, we planned to do something to attract attention to some newly published authors of ours—many of whom were pretty good musicians—and for our press. John Okas, a gifted tenor saxophone player who lived in the Hamptons and wrote Routes, Jean Warmbold, a native of the Bay area, who wrote her first Sarah Calloway mystery, June Mail and had an aptitude for drumming, Pete McCormack, a young Canadian and good guitar player who wrote Shelby, and Bruce Ducker, who wrote Marital  Assets, hailed from Denver and was a gifted jazz piano player who played regular gigs (as well as being  a lawyer and a pilot) collectively decided to form a group. Then there was myself, who lived in Sag Harbor, played the alto sax and often jammed with John, who had already cut a CD.
We were going to challenge the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock & roll band whose members consisted of best-selling authors. They started their group two years earlier and for the days of the convention, dressed up and played nightly outside the convention floor. They consisted at that time of Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tang, and Barbara Kingsolver among other—aided and abetted by a couple of pros and, in later years other famous authors came in and out, including Scott Turow and Mitch Albom. They may have charged admission for some good cause (though on this point I’m only guessing, for I never watched them play). What I do know is that they were all wonderful writers and had a blast. They also had a sense of humor for on their own website they wrote this:  A write-up in the Washington Post described it as “the most heavily promoted musical debut since the Monkees.”  Hailed by critics as having “one of the world’s highest ratios of noise to talent,” the Remainders have no music videos, no record contract, no Grammy nominations—but do have over 159,000 hits on Google.”

On the other hand, none of us were famous—though all were talented writers. We felt we were a “people’s band,” set up on the convention floor near our stand, and played for the last hour of the Fair every day. We called ourselves No Expectations, and decided to play jazz standards. I doubt that anyone from the Rock Bottom Remainders came to hear us play either.

Day one, May 26, we had what was more rehearsal than  performance, since everyone had been practicing by themselves for a week or two—except for John and me— in different parts of North America, and our timing wasn’t the best. And we were sorry to hear that there were complaints from other exhibitors. On day two, the music improved, and there were no complaints. By day three we were in a groove and received many compliments.

Did we wind up having a best-seller come out of it? Certainly not, but I’m sure we had as good a time playing together as did the Remainders.


Part II
There’s a line between Expectations and No Expectations that’s quite tricky. To quote the Buddha, “Desires are the cause of all conflicts. When you want something and cannot get it you become frustrated. Learning to be free from desires is learning how to stay peaceful.” In my shortened version, “Desire causes pain, End desire and lose unhappiness.” Or even more specifically, let me change the equation slightly to read that “There’s a difference between Hopefulness and No Expectations,” for I think this makes for a better balance. Still, it’s not always been easy for me to .walk that tightrope.

In our first 17 years, turning out 12 books a year, we published some very good writers, among them Berry Fleming, Marco Vassi, Richard Lortz, Harry Bloom, Clifford Irving, Halldor Laxness, Sandra Scofield, Larry Duberstein, Randall Silvis, Howard Owen, and Charles O’Neil, to name just a few. One was a Nobel Prize nominee, another a Nobel Prize winner, a third a National Book Award finalist, and three writers had their novels turned into successful films. There were a host of other lesser awards for these and other writers. Yet none of their novels were best-sellers in the United States either. 
During the next two decades (1994-2014), bringing our output up to 16 books a year, we’ve had even more critical success, paralleling a significant output of literary thrillers written by the likes of Leonard Rosen, Chris Knopf,  Domenic Stansberry, Jaden Terrell, Connie Dial, David Freed, Gwen Florio, J.J. Hensley, and a continuing output from Howard Owen. Over the last two years our thriller writers have been finalists or winners of every major mystery prize: two finalists for the Best First novel from the International Thriller Writers (Gwen Florio and J.J. Hensley), two finalists for the Shamus Award (Jaden Terrell and Gwen Florio), Chris Knopf, winner of the Nero Award, Howard Owen, winner of the Hammett Prize, an Edgar Award finalist in Len Rosen who also won the Macavity Award...with a lot of less well-known awards as well.

While no other publisher, on a book by book basis, has come anywhere near us prize-wise, and while we’ve been successful in selling lots of international rights, none of these book were best-sellers in the States either.

How does one account for this? The answer seems obvious to me. There is a marked imbalance between the five large international publishing cartels and a small independent press when it comes to print reviews in major metropolitan newspapers and in national magazines. In the past few years this absence of major coverage took me away from my tranquility and caused me to write critical blogs about all this—and  some unfair blogs to boot, for we are not in a position to tell individual critics or newspapers what to review or not review. Since we get about 5,000 submissions a year we only want to choose books we love. When the big print media has such restrictive and vanishing review space, why do critics review so many books they dislike?

But again, this is a critic’s choice, not ours to make, and as long as “Desire” ran through my blood, frustration ruled, along with a barbed tongue.

By and large my approach for the last couple of years has been to publish books with “Enthusiasm,” coupled with “No Expectations.”

If you stay the course in this wonderful and absurd world-of-books it’s not hard to come to some important conclusions: one being that most artful fiction often sells the fewest copies. Another coping device is keeping a sense of humor and turning disappointment into a positive thing. The best example I can think of is this: that our first and last full review in the Culture Section of The New York Times (the daily and Saturday review section) occurred in 1980, when Anatole Broyard glowingly reviewed Richard Lortz’s The Valdepenas. That was 34 years ago, and when I talk about this now I refer to  it as a record-setting performance with a certain perverse pride—akin to the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team losing 26 games in a row this past season, setting a National Basketball Association record.

Records do end, of course, and in the past year or so we’ve had some very satisfying interaction with some lovely critics at the Times. I won’t be unhappy when our losing streak runs out. But whenever it does, we will still have far surpassed that of the ‘76ers.

 
Marty

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

THE AMAZON-HACHETTE CONTROVERSY: PART TWO


After posting my last blog, WHO’S AFRAID OF AMAZON.COM?, on May 27, it immediately went viral, appearing on Business Insider, Forbes, Bloomberg News, and Yahoo Financial, and included interviews in Forbes and Business Insider, which gave me an opportunity to expand my comments. Amazon.com also posted it. The Cockeyed Pessimist received over 30,000 hits, I had countless email responses, and God knows how many others read it from these various sources. The Financial Times of London asked me to write an Op-Ed piece, which was published on June 2 and sent to their 300,000 subscribers.


That blog was written in response to a business article in The New York Times written by David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy, which seemed to contradict the reality of our own experiences with Amazon. No sense repeating them here—all you need do is go back to that previous blog to follow the argument. One of the things I’ve learned since then is that over 85% of the small and independent publishers who responded to my blog had the exact same experiences with Amazon that I had and shared my viewpoint.


It also appears that Streitfeld and Eddy have dug in on their position, for they continue to present a mixture of hypothesis and  rumor (which, to their credit, they report as such), but also adding dollops of innuendo by painting Amazon as the villain in the dispute with Hachette and the other four publishing conglomerates. These huge multi-national corporations may be filled with fears and uncertainties, but the reporters ignore the fact that there are over 3,000 publishers in the US (according to a recent report in Literary Market Place).  What works for the Big Five does not necessarily work for the other 2,995 of us, any more than the richest 1% of our population represent what the other 99% of us desire.  In fact, Amazon has provided huge benefits and advantages to small, independent publishers, unprecedented in my 35 years as a publisher.


On May 30, two separate articles appeared in the Times. They cite “rumors” that Amazon is willing to alienate customers because it is selling Kindle titles at too low a price and are willing to lose money in the process. In a second article Hachette author Michael Gladwell was interviewed, who by his own account has earned millions of dollars for his books and goes on to describes Amazon—along with his publisher –as “partners.” He wonders why his partner Amazon, who must also have earned millions from his book would abandon him by not taking pre-orders well ahead of publication date for his next book.


I know that Amazon won’t take pre-orders from us unless we can ship books within the time frame of expected delivery.  Perhaps they have a different deal with the Big Five, but I’m not privy to their negotiations. What I do know is that the Department of Justice ordered that discussions between Hachette and Amazon be held   in private, without commentary from either side. Still, in one of Streitfeld’s postings his final line was “An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.”  He didn’t refer to the DOJ injunction, which also applies to Hachette, leaving the impression that Amazon alone is intentionally hiding something dishonorable. 


I’ve read that another Hachette millionaire author stated that pre-orders from Amazon help determine print runs. I do know that pre-orders of books, before knowing how many copies are destined to be sold, puts an impossible burden on all publishers, since this is the only industry that sells on consignment, allowing bookstores (and Amazon is an on-line bookstore) and wholesalers to return books for full credit, and most publishers—large and small—receive returns of 20% to 80%.  Nonetheless, it’s been a blessing to be able to address media reporting that not only seems one-sided, but is doubtlessly bringing great joy to the Big Five’s well-staffed PR departments. 


I can also tell you that on-line journalists and bloggers have been generally far more supportive of my views than most print journalists. But change seems to be coming in print, too. On the OP-ED page of the New York Times on Saturday, May 31, Bob Kohn, who represented the Big Five and failed to win their case when the Justice Department found them guilty of collusion was at it again, writing a difficult to follow screed, How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon,  while the columnist Joe Nocera  dismissed all of this as nonsense in a beautifully  rational, and balanced way in his article, Amazon’s ‘Bullying’ Tactics, which I’d urge you to read.

What all this does is get a conversation going where everyone can have their say, not just the privileged few.


Marty

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WHO'S AFRAID OF AMAZON.COM

Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor,  NY


On May 24, The New York Times ran a page one story “As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish.”  In their alarmist zeal reporters David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy conjure the dreadful threat that Amazon has inflicted upon the “literary world,” causing a kerfuffle of rage and fear as exemplified by a dispute between the electronic superstore and one of the most robust publishers in the Western World. Their first paragraph states “Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before.” Their second paragraph states that “The literary community is fearful and outraged—and practically begging for government intervention.” They then cite three publishers, none of which I would consider great examples of the “literary” community—or even the larger community of book publishers to prove their thesis. 

As far as this literary publisher is concerned this article is poppycock. It starts with the assumption that Amazon is bad and gathers meagre material to prove its point. The last time I checked, Literary Market Place listed over 2,000 book publishers in the United States. Yet Streitfeld and Eddy quote only one independent publisher in paragraph three (Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House) saying, about Amazon, “How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it?“

Who are the other publishers that are crying out? Hachette, the fourth largest of the five conglomerate publishers (who together, through all their more than a hundred imprints sell  85% percent of the books sold to the general public in America). Eddy and Streitfeld then makes passing reference to a third publisher, Bonnier, based in Germany, known primarily for publishing magazines throughout the Western world and far fewer books. As for the outpouring of social media they cite two of Hachette’s best-selling writers:  James Patterson, a writing factory, who, in 2013, “wrote” 13 Alex Cross thrillers alone, using numerous co-writers, which is why one out of five hardcover books sold bears his name. Though he reportedly earned $80 million dollars last year, he described the confrontation between Amazon and Hachette as “a war.“ The other social media complaint about Amazon came from Nina Laden, who writes and illustrates children’s books.


And what is this all about? Disagreements between Amazon and Hachette plus one independent press over Amazon’s electronic pricing of their books; this dispute resulting in Amazon’s not posting hardcover books coming out by their leading authors this summer and fall. Even Eddy and Streitfeld concede that it has nothing to do with actual books being sold, but that Hachette and Melville want more of the electronic pie, and if they can’t get it howl and rage about it. Hats off to a PR coup for the people who managed to get the Times reporters to serve up this poorly researched and badly distorted piece. From my point of view, Amazon is the very best thing any small independent press could ask for, while the scariest thing is how The New York Times allowed this unchecked article to appear. Mistakes happen, I suppose, for this is one news story not “Fit to Print”—just a one sided expose that only exposes poor journalism.


In truth, everyone wants more of the pie. We’ve been publishing literary fiction for 35 years, and in the past found that the chain bookstores took few if any of our titles, that distributors like Ingram demanded bigger discounts from us than they charged the conglomerates, or that despite winning more literary awards per title than any other publisher in America we could not match the print review coverage afforded to authors of the five big conglomerates. But we’re not calling these other organizations Mafia inspired or asking for government intervention. Surely one  must come to recognize that all these companies are—and should be—free to set their own terms based on their bottom-lines, and publishers like Hachette might consider tempering their  complaints about Amazon’s discrimination or restraint of trade. Jeff Bezos didn’t create Amazon for Hachette, and Hachette isn’t forced to use Amazon for distribution. What is Amazon anyway, other than an incredibly successful on-line store that sells almost every product  one can think of.


I give Amazon a four star review for not only their efficiency and  work they do, but for leveling the playing field, and here are the four reasons why.
1)    When you send orders to a store, distributor or wholesaler, publishers can count on returns of 20 to 80%. If Amazon orders books (which they do in increasingly larger numbers) it’s rare to get more than one or two percent returned. They are masters at this and consequently enable us to cut-down on our print runs.

2)    Amazon makes it easy to post reviews of our books, whether they are online or print reviews. Nor is there any discrimination, space-wise, between the coverage we get for individual titles or Hachette gets. Additionally, when one of our books is ordered, they list other titles of ours that might be of interest, proving themselves to be great marketers.

3)    Earnings from Kindle sales are excellent as both publisher and author find more profit (especially when we, as publishers, split eBook income on a 50:50 basis with our writers) with virtually no production costs. I've heard that most of the bigger houses don’t do this, writing contracts giving most authors only 25% of electronic income. Perhaps some of the authors complaining about Amazon on social media, would be better served if they complained to their publishers, like Melville or Hachette, if they are not getting 50% of this pie.

4)    Amazon generally pays us within 30 days, with wire transfers to our bank.  Nobody else in the industry come anywhere close to them  and enables us to keep up with printing costs and salaries.
I always have a lingering suspicion that when one of the large publishing cartels complains they are being treated unfairly by Amazon, it’s probably good for most all of the smaller, independent presses. When the Times allows a poorly researched, inaccurate anti-Amazon screed to appear, it makes me want to stand up for Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and present a very different point of view which I hope will balance out what I consider blatant propaganda. And I would encourage other publishers who feel similarly to email me and speak out as well.

-Marty

shepard@thepermanentpress.com


Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor,  NY

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

CHRIS KNOPF HAS ADVICE FOR WRITERS SEEKING MORE SALES AS THE COCKEYED PESSIMIST OPENS ITS BLOG TO OUR PARTNER.

When asked the difference between sales and marketing, I usually say that sales are something you do face to face, like the Fuller Brush man showing up at a person’s door and showing his wares.  Or a stock broker passing along a tip, leading to a million dollar investment. No matter the scale, the exchange is intimate and personal.  Marketing is what you do when the number of people you need to reach is too large to afford a one-on-one engagement.  So you have to call upon intermediaries to convey your selling story, and many times, complete the sale.  Though not always.  Often, the sale occurs at another place and time. So how do you know if your efforts through intermediaries are actually responsible for the ultimate sale?  Short answer to a big question:  You don’t.

In theory, then, the more you can have your marketing resemble the intimacy, and presumably the effectiveness, of a one-on-one sale, the better.  Right?  Not necessarily.

If that were true, we wouldn’t have advertising and publicity, all marketing would be delivered through what we call “direct”, such as direct mail and infomercials. But it turns out that most people don’t actually like to be sold directly.  They’d rather come to their buying decisions without the pressure and confrontation inherent in a direct sales pitch, and by extension, a direct marketing appeal.  They don’t call it junk mail for nothing.

So what we’re stuck with, if we want to sell a product or service, is to find a mixture of direct selling and indirect marketing (also known as branding) that exploits the advantages of both in a balanced and mutually reinforcing way. 

This is why the advent of digital communications has the world of sales and marketing in a tizzy. For the first time in history, it’s possible to combine the transactional power of direct sales/marketing with the indirect benefits of agreeable engagement (in other words branding) in a single medium.    

Meet Amazon. They sell everything these days, but they got their start selling books, and now they’re really, really good at it. 

Whether or not physical book stores will ever disappear (I don’t think they will, but that’s another essay) or Amazon perpetuates its hegemony, digital marketing is where the action is.  So, while authors may decry the fact that promoting their books now largely falls on their shoulders (even major best sellers – ask them how many miles they log a year and how many talks they give), we’ve never had more ways to manage the task, giving us at least a fighting chance when competing with the rich, powerful and established. 

You can find lots of advice on how to do this online and in physical books, but let me offer here a broader perspective.  When one of our own, William Gibson, popularized the term “cyberspace” in the 1980s, I wonder if he knew how accurately he was predicting the future.  When you go online, whether it’s on a desktop or laptop computer, or mobile device, you are entering a world that is different from the one we live in offline in one crucial way.  Everything in cyberspace is connected.  Intimately, immediately, accessibly and permanently.

So when authors ask me if it’s worth writing a blog I say, Yes.  Send out emails?  Yes.  Start an online newsletter?  Yes.  Get on review sites?  Yes.  Reviewer blogs?  Yes.  Launch a website, get on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, join online discussion groups, get reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Library Thing, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Is it possible to do all these things, well, and write books and hold down your day job?  No.  Nonetheless, the more online things you can do the better, because of another concept in our business known as “integrated marketing”.  It’s a bit of a misnomer, but the idea is that a message is amplified considerably by appearing in different media channels.  So, if people see the Geico gecko on a billboard, on TV, in a print ad or a rich media banner ad, the ultimate impact is greater than the sum of the individual messages.  Likewise, if you’re in a blog, write a blog, get reviewed by your local paper, score a reading at a regional writers conference (that puts out an online newsletter), rack up reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, optimize your website with keywords connected to your book’s theme, etc., the sum total is greater than appearing in any individual outlet could possibly achieve.

Because in cyberspace, everything is connected.  And the connectors are these clever little things that roam the Internet like voracious bacterium called Google Bots.  They feed on semantic relationships and your job is to make a feast out of you as a writer and the books you write.   

More to come.  

Chris      chrisknopf@mintz-hoke.com

P.S. For the latest Permanent Press updates check out our
May 2014 Newsletter