Things that piqued my interest last week...
Again, In-Store Publishing
About a thousand years ago in digital time (i.e., around 2000), a company called Sprout produced a stir by partnering with Borders and a consortium of independent booksellers to initiate an in-store publishing program, using Sprout's print on demand equpiment to print and bind books while customers waited.
In 2004, a company called InstaBook installed its digital printing machinery in a bookstore in Ridgewood, N.J. With 10,000 digitized titles available for printing, as well as the capacity to produce bound books from author-provided disks, InstaBook offered booksellers the option of turning themselves into bookseller-publishers.
Well, the Sprout deals fell through, and Bookends' special website for its InstaBook service is defunct--but the in-store publishing idea refuses to die. According to last Monday's Publisher's Lunch, Ingram recently presented an experimental program that would make it possible for ABA member bookstores to set up their own in-store publishing services. "The vision is that independent stores can serve as 'niche publishers focused on regional and local interests,' leveraging relationships within their communities and using their expertise to identify public domain material appropriate for reprint. Conceivably, stores can also offer their own 'self-publishing' services to patrons looking for a place to launch and sell their manuscripts."
Maybe the third time will be the charm--although I can only imagine the headaches for stores beseiged by their own self-published authors begging for shelf space.
Every writer is looking for a magic bullet, Internet self-promotionwise. New paradigms for self-promotion arise a regular basis, and are hailed as the Next Big Thing--until the Next Next Big Thing comes along. First, author websites promised to revolutionize the mechanics of self-promotion. Then came blogs. Then came plogs (remember plogs? I didn't think so). Then came social networking sites, free book downloads, and book trailers...each holding out the hope that it, at last, would prove to be the Holy Grail of self-promo, the Shangri-La of author marketing, the One Ring of Internet publicity--the ultimate, single strategy that would finally, provably work.
Unfortunately, even as older strategies prove not to be magic bullets after all, newer strategies don't supplant them--they merely expand the field of self-promotional activity, adding to the burden of non-writing tasks that writers must fit into their schedules. If you don't know what works, you've got to do it all, right?
Maybe not. If, like me, your Facebook fatigue is triggered by the mere idea of setting up a page (not to mention maintaining it)...take heart. According to this article in The Register, people are getting bored with social networking. Apparently, "Bebo, MySpace and Facebook all took double-digit percentage hits in the last months of 2007. December could perhaps be forgiven as a seasonal blip when people see their real friends and family, but the trend was already south."
So maybe by the time my next book is published, social networking will have become a self-promo has-been, and I won't have to feel guilty about not wanting to deal with it.
The Publishing Tortoise
One of the things that seems to drive writers toward self- or vanity-publishing is frustration over commercial publishers' long lead times. Between book acquisition and book publication, a year, a year and a half, or even two years can elapse. Impatient authors often don't see why they should have to wait that long. Many take the delay as yet another indication that the "traditional" industry is moribund--a sign, like the five-mile turning radius of a cruise ship, of Big Publishing's juggernaut-like inertia and inefficiency.
In fact, there are very good reasons for publishers to take their time bringing books to market--among them the need for careful editing, effective cover art, pre-publication reviews--and, as discussed in this recent article in the New York Times, the vital importance of generating word-of-mouth excitement well in advance of the publication date.
"While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display...In the meantime, the publisher’s publicity department tries to persuade magazine editors and television producers to feature the book or its author around the publication date, often giving elaborate lunches and parties months in advance to drum up interest."
One of the most basic misapprehensions of would-be self-publishers, and also of the amateur publishers I discussed in my last post, is that it's what you do after a book goes on the market that generates volume sales. But in the increasingly competitive world of publishing, books must be sold long before the public can actually buy them. For most books, post-publication publicity is effective only if it can build on a platform already established by careful pre-publication marketing.
Have you ever, in moments of block or frustration, wished for a pen that would write your book for you? Well, this one almost does.