Chain Mail is a telephone tag by email round-robin interview session with authors from the Book View Cafe writers collective. Images are links, connecting to biographical information about an author or more information on their current work. Additional information can be found on the contributors page.
Amazing Stories: . Production and self-promotion/marketing seem to be the two big bugaboos for authors who are trying to work within the current reality and still make a living. Most authors are not big self-promoters, and most authors don’t want to sit down for a few hours of copyediting, proofing and layout AFTER spending a day writing. How do you go about managing this disconnect?
We find that authors come in all sizes and have all kinds of different skill sets. Some of us love the techie stuff — ebook formatting, web site design. Others like the social side and are natural communicators. Some have worked as editors for NY publishers. Some have worked as graphic artists. This is where a co-op excels — if you need a job, done be it editing, a second reader, formatting, cover design, or PR advice — all you have to do is ask and they will come.
Personally I enjoy formatting ebooks. I was a designer/programmer in a previous life and don’t see it as a chore. So I swap my skills in return for editorial advice.
Another advantage of being in a co-op is sharing knowledge. There’s a lot of dubious marketing advice out there and even the professionals are not that sure what works and what doesn’t. Some believe it’s all down to social media, and advise authors to blog and tweet and like and friend everyone in sight. Which can be an enormous time sink.
We take a different view. With the huge improvement in sales reporting that you can now get from the likes of Amazon and B&N, it’s much easier to evaluate which marketing strategies work and which don’t. So we experiment, and report back to the membership. Then experiment some more. This way we help each other avoid the time sinks that show little return and concentrate our effort in the areas that work. And, often, those areas don’t take up a lot of time at all.
Oh, sing it, Chris! The co-op model is the only way I could possibly get into e pub. And the other fun thing is, you can dip a toe into areas you haven’t tried before. You want to get better at formatting? Now’s your moment! I have been wandering into cover art, which I have always observed with a jaundiced eye from the author’s point of view.
And as to PR: it is difficult to announce to the world that your new novel is the hottest thing since Dickens. But if associates and fellow BVCers do it, it is much more convincing. Furthermore, there are too many places these days. No one person can be a presence in all the possible venues for announcing a book. But, with a group, we can divide the labor. Somebody can be Speaker to Smashwords while others rattle the bars over at Goodreads.com.
Speaking about PR, book promotion, and community, the key has always been offering something of value. Way before electronic publishing, we all knew writers who alienated everyone by continuous, obnoxious self-promotion. You might be able to strong-arm a few strangers, plus your doting aunts and long-suffering siblings, into buying your book, but pretty soon, everyone else will flee when they see you (modern version: UnFollow or deFriend) if all you ever do is pressure them. If the book is less than stellar — and let’s face it, most such books are pretty awful — then that news will spread like wildfire. To a lesser extent, this also applies to uncritically promoting anyone else’s work.
The alternative is to share cool ideas — why this book is a great read or what nifty things you discovered while researching it, or a thoughtful discussion of someone else’s work. That then provides a context for mentioning your own, but in a way that gives readers a reason to seek it out. It also lends to the creation of communities, groups of people who come together — whether in person or over the ’net. We share, we discuss, we get to know one another, we witness one another’s disappointments and cheer their triumphs. These groups are themselves connected to other communities, and make possible the word-of-mouth that is the best form of publicity.
The current demands of promotion would be overwhelming without fellow writers at Book View Café, Backlist eBooks, SF-FFWs plus a few tech-savvy individuals who are always happy to share their expertise with others. I literally had to run away from the Internet last summer — went somewhere to write that required a 30 minute drive to the Internet, and found myself rested and 75 pages further by the end of the visit. It would have been even better numbers but my laptop died and I was waiting on another one. My longhand is slow! Finding a good niche for your own interests and things you want to share makes modern promotion interesting and do-able. I read whenever I can, so reviewing was a natural thing for me. The trick was learning to post my reviews widely, and use my name so people could find more of my reviews. I prefer a conversation, so Goodreads, Live Journal and oddly Twitter interest me and are enlightening. Facebook is becoming unmanageable, and is turning into a way station rather than a destination. Tools can maximize your time — bitly’s ability to tell me which links are clicked on teaches me how to craft enticing posts.
I enjoy watching how other writers use the Internet to connect to their readers. Sherwood Smith has built a huge community of fans over years of essay conversations at Live Journal and other venues. She did this in snippets of time, on her breaks at work, and it’s an impressive achievement. All this through her own curiosity and interest in discussing things with other interesting people. John Scalzi has turned a diary into an art form, promoting his own work heavily, yet in a fun manner, and also supporting other writers, artists and nonprofit causes. I find that so much of the Internet destroys my concentration, so I’m using their example and trying to find my own footing in the flood of information!
I have always promoted my books because I learned from Romance Writers of America (RWA) the business of being a writer and the importance of taking control of my career back in the early 1990s when e-books were still a fond daydream. Now the publishing world is changing at the speed of light and many traditional publishers are moving at the speed of the giant three toed tree sloth. If I want control of my career, I need to do a lot more on my own. Instead of cringing in the corner, crying (tried it, doesn’t do a bit of good) I embraced the co-op model of the Book View Café from the beginning.
The reasons I cringed and cried was because there was so much about life on the internet I couldn’t or wouldn’t do and I didn’t know who to ask to teach me. Now I have a wonderful co-op of people in a similar situation more than willing to teach me what I can learn and learn from me what I have to teach. I have fallen into the role of editor and I manage to put my detail oriented self into maintaining the catalog. Other people take over the tech roles and PR and graphics that I suck at.
In the past 4 years we’ve tried new fiction, free, everyday on the site. We’ve tried the heavy blasting of social media with our press releases. Each worked for a time but have evolved. With the wonders of the internet we can now engage our readers in conversations through blogs, twitter, facebook, live journal, whatever suits our style. Others in the co op pick up the slack on the other media. We are in a position to look at the changing wants and needs of our readers at the speed of DSL or cable modem and offer them more of what they want. We know that today the readers want engagement with the author and the book where my publicist in NY is still tied to press releases and advance reading copies to a select few reviewers.
I like the idea of engaging my readers and giving them a vested interest in my books. I also like the idea of having an entire team of back ups to help me evolve with the business.
I’m your classic introvert, so I’m glad to be part of a co-op where I can contribute minor tech skills in ebook creation and web page maintenance while observing and learning from my colleagues. I’m in awe of the range of talent, abilities, and knowledge at BVC.
I completely suck at promoting my own work, but if I’m engaged with someone else’s work, I can get out there and tell everybody this stuff is great. A co-op lets me do this while also getting my own work promoted by colleagues who can do it better than I ever could. In return I do whatever needs doing for the group. I’ve done copyediting and proofreading, I’ve participated in anthologies, and lately I’ve been the New-Member Coordinator (paying forward all the wonderful and generous help I got when I came in to the co-op).
The new publishing landscape has lost track of the part where money flows to the author. So much of what authors are expected to do these days requires expenditure out of pocket. A co-op offers a solution. The investment of time and energy is not trivial, but the return (and the sense of community and consensus) is huge. It’s well worth it for me.
I agree with the others above who talk about the advantages of the co-op model. BVC is indeed a godsend, and enables us to put out high quality ebooks through teamwork. Deborah touched on something I think is important, though. We have to remember that the writing comes first. BVC is a great place to experiment with promotional possibilities, but the absolute best promotion is to have a lot of good work available to the public. In other words, the best thing a writer can do for his/her career is to write more, and write well.
Book View Café authors handle the burden of production and promotion by outsourcing it to like-minded authors in a non-hierarchical publishing cooperative. Since we’re all volunteers, and operating in an abundant gift economy of many and varied publishing talents, Marx’s ideal of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” works very well for us.
For instance, my first book from Book View Café was proofread by Judith Tarr and formatted by Vonda N. McIntyre. Not long after, I was formatting books for Sherwood Smith and Julianne Lee. I’ve worked on publicity with Sue Lange and Chris Dolley, and have been helping Vonda, Linda Nagata, and Pati Nagle (and others) develop our new bookstore. Each of us in turn gives and receives what’s needed to bring our books to market, in a rhythm that feels to me very natural and unforced.
That’s not to say there are no rough spots. Practical anarchy is hard work. We’re still evolving; trial and error are the order of the day. But one skill every author has to have for success is the ability to listen, and it turns out that’s a really, really powerful business tool, as well. As an old Sicilian proverb has it: “Talk, you teach; listen, you learn,” which makes BVC a graduate course in publishing for all of us.
I love this from Chris: “There’s a lot of dubious marketing advice out there and even the professionals are not that sure what works and what doesn’t.”
That’s been the hardest part of the Internet experience. Every day there’s a new bauble to play with. And jumping ship from one media outlet to the next is no good. Kathi’s example with Sherwood is a case in point. LiveJournal is not necessarily the latest, hippest thing, but there’s a bustling community of people over there that have used it for quite some time and don’t necessarily need to go twitter, facebook, or tumble.
And I totally love this from Dave: “Practical anarchy is hard work.” I might start putting that in my signature. I never knew there was such a thing as practical anarchy, but I think that’s exactly what we’ve got here. It definitely works, but as the man said, it is hard.
Book production is a lot of fun for me. It is in fact a great excuse to avoid writing, because book production has now become legitimate work. Since I have a background in web design and development, with enough Photoshop skills to be dangerous, I had just the right skill set when the ebook revolution hit, and was able to put out most of my books on my own, in electronic and print formats, even before I came to BVC. This was actually a long-time dream for me. I remember back in the nineties, sighing over how I would love to be a publisher as well as a writer, and now I get to do that.
But promotion—I’m no good at that at all, which is why I’m so grateful for the creative minds at Book View Café, always looking for new and innovative means to get the word out on our books. So as others have said, that’s the way BVC handles the disconnect between writing and publishing: by sharing skills and helping out where needed.
I find blogging hard. I worry that I should have something to say. (I know, right?) On the other hand, Facebook was made for me—lots of very short interactions with a very large array of people. I can mimic wit in under 30 words, no problem. Haven’t got good with Twitter yet. But today I did a podcast interview with friends at FromPage2Screen Melissa Craig and Charity Parkerson and realized it was much, much more fun than a “blog tour.” Soon I’ll be doing one for Small Beer Press, to promote the new audiobook of my first novel.
What does this teach me? Do what you love doing and don’t do the other stuff. And try new stuff as it comes along. You never know.
Oh, and Book View Café is truly the bees knees. We have amazing depth of resources for experimenting with new marketing strategies, retesting formerly successful strategies, and always helping one another out “on the ground” … oo, lots of benefits.
I love maintaining a blog and I love blogging, though finding the time to do it is daunting. But other than that, I just want to write and write and write. I actively dislike the business side of writing and, though I don’t mind tweeting and blogging, self-promotion is for me, about as pleasant as a root canal, though I think I understand dentistry better than I do self-promotion.
The problem is, when I’m not with other writers talking about writing, I’m painfully shy and inept socially on top of it. I’d’ve made a great nun, were I Catholic. I enjoy sucking up information and spinning it out again in story form.
So Book View Café is a great organization for me. I can promote other writers’ stuff and do it without a qualm and I can play in the Word Press sand box to my heart’s content, and work at becoming a better writer instead of trying wrap my mind around something I really don’t know how to do.
Sadly, our time with Sue and Vonda, Dave, Linda, Pati and Maya, Brenda and Chris, Jennifer and Judith, Phyllis and Katharine and Deborah has come to an end.
I would like to thank each and every one of them for giving of their time and consideration; I sincerely hope that they receive some benefit from having participated – which means that you all reading this should now hightail it over to the Book View Cafe and get yourselves some fine readin!