Requests for Publicity

I have been meaning for some time to post a proper review policy on this blog (which would basically say, “No, I will not review your book, don’t waste your time asking.”). The main reason I haven’t done so is that I suspect the requests I get for reviews are mainly from people who have just bought a list of addresses to spam and therefore would not read the policy before approaching me.

Pro tip: if you do buy a list of addresses, check it for duplicates. You may find that the price you paid per address is much higher than you thought. Also the people you email are much less likely to be sympathetic if they get several copies of your request.

And talking about pro tips, if you are a reputable organization in the publishing business, you really shouldn’t be sending out email to online magazines asking them to run free advertising for you when those magazines have advertising rates posted on their sites. And if you are targeting fiction magazines you should probably check that you do actually approach fiction magazines and not others. I’m not naming names because this appears to have been an action by an over-zealous intern, but interns do need to be watched.

Jim Hines on Ebook Marketing

A couple of days ago SFWA published an interesting article about ebook publishing by Jim Hines. I have a few issues with some of the terminology Jim uses — Amazon is a retailer, not a publisher, so if you create an ebook and sell through them you are not “published” by Amazon and you don’t get “royalties” from them, you are self-publishing — but it is a very interesting article all the same.

Basically Jim tried self-publishing some of his backlist as ebooks retailing through Amazon and B&N. In the course of 2 months he sold 37 books for a total income of $75. That’s not a viable business. What went wrong? Well partly Jim acknowledges that the choice of book was poor, but mainly it is a question of marketing.

Here’s the problem. It is all very well having your book available on Amazon, but with millions of other books also available, how is anyone going to find it, let alone buy it? There are things you can do. Good covers, good associated blurb, having more than one book available: all these help. But even so the haystack in which you are trying to get your needle noticed is very large indeed.

This is a problem for anyone trying to sell ebooks. How do you get your wares noticed? It is a problem that bugged me when I was thinking about setting up Wizard’s Tower. That’s one reason why I have Salon Futura: it gives me an opportunity once a month to tell a lot of people about new books. It is also why the bookstore sells books by other publishers. The more good material I have there, the more people will visit and the more chance I’ll have of selling my own books. But that’s probably not enough.

The good news is that December looks like having twice the turnover of November. The bad news is that still means little over £100 in sales which, given the generous terms I’m giving other publishers, is less than half what I need just to cover the hosting costs.

Yesterday Neil Clarke tweeted to ask people where they found out about good ebooks to buy (because he wants to sell books too). I didn’t see many responses, but one person mentioned “blogs and the front page of Amazon”. The Amazon reference isn’t as daft as it seems, because they do recommendations, but even so it illustrates the point. Left to their own devices, people will buy from Amazon. They will only buy from elsewhere if people blog or tweet or whatever about those other places. So I’m very grateful to Hal Duncan and Ekaterina Sedia for pointing people at my store. I’d like other people to do so as well, but there’s a limit to how often you can bug people and at least one person has already decided I’m being too pushy.

It is, however, a feedback thing. If you don’t sell many books, people won’t bother to sell through your store and you’ll sell even fewer. If you do have good sales, more people will want to sell through your store, more people will talk about it, and the more you will sell. Getting that positive feedback loop going is a skill. Over the next few months I’ll find out whether I have it.

And just in case you have forgotten, all Prime ebooks are on sale at the bookstore through to the end of the year.

Hugos in the News

One of the things I love about helping maintain the official Hugo Awards web site is seeing all of the links come in when major announcements are posted. This year we’ve been mentioned in a bunch of major news outlets, including:

I can claim credit for some of that, but Rob Sawyer is way better than I am at PR.

We’ve also had links come in from Japan, Poland, Brazil, Sweden, Spain and Finland.

Many nominees have been blogging excitedly, including the folks doing PR for the Star Trek film, who sadly note that no Trek movie has won a Hugo.

I am, of course, ridiculously happy to see the logo being used so widely.

A Specialist Market?

I’ve just been reading an interesting essay on Fingertips, a web site that specializes in music recommendation. The author, Jeremy Schlosberg, has been thinking about the way musicians such as Amanda Palmer operate in the new digital world and Kevin Kelly’s famous “1,000 True Fans” post. Although this is presented as a music issue, it is relevant to writers as well.

The basic idea of Kelly’s post was that if an artist can find 1,000 “true fans” who are willing to pay him or her $100 a year, that’s enough to live off. It is a “long tail” type idea. Schlosberg’s concern is that by focusing on finding these super-fans, musicians will isolate themselves from a wider market, and potentially find themselves trapped into having to provide the sort of art their fans want (that’s a very simplistic version – read the whole thing to get all of the issues). Obviously the same is potentially true of writers.

While I understand the concern, my gut feel is that Schlosberg is wrong. And the reason I feel that way is because I believe it is a mistake to think of these super-fans in isolation from the wider music-listening (or book-reading) audience. You can’t separate the two. Indeed, my own view is that you are only likely to be able to get 1,000 super-fans if the total audience for your work is at least 100,000 people. It goes back to the basic Internet rule that if you put up a work with a “donate” button, only 1% of the people who consume that work (read it, listen to it, use it if is software) will be prepared to pay for it.

It may well be that some writers can become like, to use Schlosberg’s example, jazz musicians, and be supported only by a small and devoted group of fans. But for most writers I’m pretty sure they’ll only get fans prepared to give them money if there’s a much larger group of fans who read them and don’t pay. The existence of these super-fans is predicated on the existence of casual fans.

Facebook Spam

I’ve just taken the unusual (for me) step of de-friending someone on Facebook. Why? Because said person has been sending out “suggest you become a fan of” invitations for the same person once a week for over a month. The writer he wants me to become a fan of has a different name, but I suspect it is his pen name. In any case, if someone ignores a fan request once, they are not likely to take you up on it a second time, and absolutely not on the 5th. It just gets annoying. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, sensible marketing.

Amazon, The Niche Killer?

One of the useful things about online bookstores such as Amazon is that they stock just about everything. Even if a book is no longer in print, they will put you in touch with a second-hand dealer who has a copy. Advocates of “long tail” marketing tend to claim that this means Amazon is good for market niches, because every book has the same access to the market.

Well that might be true, but Amazon also makes the whole world one big market, and it provides recommendations. What does that mean? It means that it encourages everyone to buy the same books, the same films, the same music, as everyone else. Tom Slee explains the mechanics of the process. There will doubtless be some who will nit-pick the experiment, and claim that disproves the findings, but as far as I’m concerned it sounds very logical. If you concentrate all transactions in a single market then you are bound to produce convergence of taste.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you can’t sell niche interests online. The ease of communication is still a good thing. But you won’t be able to rely on Amazon to do the selling for you.

Busy Overnight

I’m delighted to see so much activity in comments on the Worldcon post overnight. Hopefully that will continue today. However, there is one thing that I wanted to raise. Many of the people commenting are still stuck in binary thinking, which in this case means the following:

Worldcon must stay exactly as it is. If any changes are made then Worldcon will become exactly like Dragon*Con or ComicCon (and the world will end).

This is silly. Few things life are either/or in that way. For Worldcon to survive it must have its own identity, distinct from that of other major conventions. In marketing speak, it needs a mission statement and it needs to know what its core values are. Hopefully I will have a post up about that today, but I want to run it past Kevin first and he’s asleep right now. In the meantime, please keep talking.

How Publishers See Worldcon

My following up of Google Alerts on the Seattle bid collapse led me to an author blog where I found this:

My publisher and publicists urged me to go to ComiCon instead this year–the media exposure is much better there and they have some control that they don’t have at WorldCon. The publishers are treated as vendors at San Diego Comicon so they can bring in writers for signings and push for ads and exposure in the program–they’re giving the con money, after all. WorldCon doesn’t have that structure that allows the publishers to push like that.

Mindful of what happens when Neil complains about something, I’d ask you to bear in mind that Kat Richardson is probably only parroting back what the PR people at her publishers have said. The reason I am posting this is that I would like to hear comments from publishers (especially Random House). Do you really think that you are not treated like vendors at Worldcon? If so, what would you like to see changed? I have a sneaking suspicion that publisher PR people often don’t know what they can do at Worldcon because no one sells them on the convention, but the lack of a vendor membership probably doesn’t help.

By the way, I agree entirely about the media exposure being so much better at ComicCon. I think we can all agree on that.

The Effectiveness of Reviews

There is a Journal of Marketing Research. Who knew? I didn’t until today. But it does sound like an interesting publication. And the reason I have found out about it is that it has just published a paper on the effectiveness of online reviews. The question that the researchers asked was: given a bunch of recommendations from strangers, which ones are people more likely to believe? The results they got suggested that online recommenders are judged on:

  • their speed of response to queries;
  • the length of their opinions;
  • back-and-forth dialogue; and
  • a reputation for successfully answering others’ queries

This was more to do with asking questions such as “which software package should I buy” than book reviewing, but I suspect that it may be applicable.

Sadly the researchers didn’t study the effects of reviewers having a penchant for extended rants and inciting flame wars.

Progress of a Sort

I’m a sucker for online surveys. I figure that if I don’t give people feedback then their products will never get any better. The good news on this is that I’m seeing an increasing number of surveys that are looking to ensure that they get feedback from LGBT folks so that they can, if necessary, tailor products accordingly. The bad news is that these almost always assume that the terms “heterosexual”, “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” and “transgender” are mutually exclusive. Still a long way to go, I guess.

My Famous Friends

As regular readers will know, I have an interest in the sociology of the Internet. As someone who has been nominated for awards on the basis of her online writing, I should try to understand the medium in which I’m working. I was therefore fascinating to learn about a study which finds a strong correlation between watching reality TV and “promiscuous friending” on social network sites.

The idea here is that in an increasingly celebrity-obsessed society many people’s social networks contain a significant number of people that they have never met and who don’t know them, but rather are famous people who they have seen on TV, read about in celebrity magazines, and whose blogs they follow. This isn’t new. My grandmother got like this in her later years. She was prone to saying things like, “a friend of mine told me,” when a more accurate statement would have been, “a character on Coronation Street said.”

This also relates to something I’ve been saying for some time about reviewing. If you talk about book reviews online you’ll find a lot of people saying things like, “I don’t want to read reviews by some supposed expert I don’t know, I’d much rather get a recommendation from a friend.” But if people regard high-profile authors as their “friends”, then a recommendation from such a person will do a lot of good for a book. In terms of marketing, it will probably be far more valuable than anything someone like me might write.

Managing the Media

One of the things I have been doing today is learning more about media management. I got to attend a lecture by a media professional from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). While they clearly have their own issues, it was interesting to see how much of what they did was very much the same as what you have to do when selling a science fiction convention to the media. You have a story that you want to promote, and somehow you have to keep the journos on message because left to their own devices they will want to sensationalize things is the most embarrassing way possible.

On Blog Monetization

Browsing through GalleyCat this morning I was led to this long and interesting post about how to make money out of blogging. Although Steve Pavlina is essentially in the self-improvement business, which is home to a great deal of quackery, what he says is very sensible. In particular he’s right that those who are good at creating content are by no means always good at selling it, and if you want to make a success of being self-employed you have to be good at selling yourself (or very lucky, which may be more true in my case). On the other hand, selling yourself without having anything worth selling is an equally big mistake, and doubtless the one that leads to some of the bizarre query letters that La Gringa has been talking about.
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Pretty Good Odds

The indefatigable Simon Kavanagh has set up an entertaining little promotion for Iain Banks’ Matter in Facebook. It is a virtual event. Some people seem to have got kind of confused by this, but basically all you need to do is say you are attending, and write “I love The Culture” on the event’s wall, and you go into a draw for one of 10 signed and personalized copies of Matter. Currently there are just 32 people signed up, and a few of those appear to have missed the writing in the wall thing. I am watching with interest to see if the thing takes off.