C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Book Marketing: What I didn’t know about resistance to ebooks

I’ve been thinking about how to promote my books quite a bit. There was a lot I wasn’t sure about as I embarked on getting the word out. In the beginning, I didn’t know for sure if I even wanted hard copies of my book. I do want a printed book for Self-help for Stoners now (for various promotional experiments to be announced.) I didn’t know how hard it would be to ask friends to help spread the word. I didn’t know how difficult it would be to get friends to take the time to read and review the books and listen to my podcast. Even the people who care about me don’t necessarily care about my tales of suspense, comedy and magic realism.

I underestimated how loyal people are to the media they are used to. For instance, I know several people who want to support my work, but for one it has to be print only (I’m sure he’s not alone) and for another, she’ll have nothing to do with Amazon. She’s waiting for the Kobo version (so she’ll be waiting a long time unless she orders the print version straight from me.) I was getting a little down about that, but then Andrew, another kind fellow, said that though he’d prefer paper, failing that, he’d be ordering the ebooks anyway. Change happens, but not on my schedule.

And then there is traditional publishing’s inertia. It’s slowing, like a big ship that’s lost power but still has momentum in the Zeitgeist Sea. This afternoon I listened to the annual book recommendation show on CBC’s Cross Country Checkup. Dozens of callers recommended which books to buy for Christmas. Not a single ebook was in the mix. The CBC demographic either skews toward a generation that hasn’t bought its Kindles or iPads yet, or the resistance to the ebook revolution is so entrenched that we won’t see the CBC recommendations change until a cataclysmic shift, like Chapters closing its brick and mortar outlets. (For reasons I’ve already covered on this blog, that’s in the works, but it’s a process and won’t happen overnight. The change is as easy to predict as the contraction of HMV and the fall of Blockbuster, however.)

Another prejudice for us to overcome is the giggle factor. “Self-published?” (I covered that subject a week ago so I’ll not delve further into that.) But I face another giggle factor: my title is Self-help for Stoners, Stuff to Read When You’re High. An acquaintance saw my business card and said, “Stoner? You?” I replied that I had indulged. I also told him that many of my stories of suspense have elements of violence and murder. “The research for that…” I grinned, “well, let’s just say you’re worrying about the wrong thing, pal.”

I added that you didn’t have to be a stoner to enjoy my stories (though my standard joke is that anyone who is high is automatically a better audience…for anything.) Still, no sale there. He walked away worrying about my immortal soul and questioning what he thought he knew about me. (Answer: I’m complex. Like Batman. Okay?!)

In part, I chose Self-help for Stoners for cold and calculated strategic marketing reasons. It wasn’t just that it fit the book. Many titles might have fit the book. However, I had a short fiction collection (a difficult sell) that was a weird hybrid. I knew going in this would be a self-help book in the form of fiction. The fact that the book was inspired by two celebrity stoners to whom I dedicated the book also played a major role in my choice. For that collection I reached back to a non-MFA approved format: Amid the short stories and brain tickles, it’s kind of preachy. On purpose, it’s fiction that packs a point as well as a gut punch. Kind of like Vonnegut, it’s plot driven and yet there are forays into stories that invite the reader to introspection. It’s preachy in the same way The War of Art* is preachy: consciously and on purpose and without apology.

To the surprise of some, the book has nuance in that I do not advocate throughout for marijuana use for everyone. It’s not for everyone, but free speech and free thought and control over one’s own consciousness are things I do advocate throughout the book. This is a book that will have to find its audience or its audience will find it. However, I don’t regret the title. Collections of short fiction, and the weird hybrid this is, are a tough sell no matter how wonderful I think short stories are. They’re so tough, in fact, that I’m done with short fiction for a long time. The next books will all be novels. However, since stoners are a reading, identifiable market, I tailored many of the stories from Self-help for their enjoyment. (Yes, stoners are readers and are often an intellectual bunch. Don’t believe the hyped stereotype of a bunch of dumbasses blitzed on a beach. That’s alcohol.) My people will find me, either through my friends, my networks, social media or through my podcast of the same name. For any book to be successful, ultimately it will have to found through good reviews, excited readers and Google.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Choose your title carefully. In the long term, targeting an identifiable niche will help me. In the short term, it’s uphill slogging.

2. Get a good cover. We’re told we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but of course we do. I did my cover for a novelette (The Dangerous Kind). I liked the cover well enough because it was for a 10,000 word story I’d sell as a loss leader for 99 cents. In retrospect, I’d ask Kit Foster, my graphic designer, to do that cover now. I recognize the elements that go into a great cover but I can’t create one. I have no idea how Kit does his magic. I just know that I get a lot of compliments about how good the covers are for Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control.

3. Have a strategy. I named the book strategically, but perhaps more important, I named the podcast strategically, too: It has the same name. In the long run, I’ll probably find more people through the Self-help for Stoners podcast (delivered free and weekly through iTunes) than any other strategy I plan to use (except one.)

4. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be too shy, either. Keep asking for help spreading the word. Just be sure you give lots of positive content beside the occasional request for reviews, shares and assistance. It’s not begging when you’re giving more than you’re receiving. It’s quid pro quo, the basis of all civilization.

5. You noticed the end of point three and you wondered, “What’s that about?” What’s the ‘except one?’ The best strategy is to keep on writing the next book and the next and the next. Revise and edit the hell out of them. After about book five, you have a better shot at getting noticed.

It’s a process. It doesn’t tend to happen quickly until a critical mass of forays— failing, learning and winning— are traveled through. I’m on my journey and these are exciting times at Ex Parte Press. Last week, I finally got the print formatting done for Self-help for Stoners by calling in the cavalry (thanks to Jeff Bennington). This weekend my graphic designer (the inimitable Kit of KitFosterDesign.com) and I finalized the cover for the paper book. Kit even put a new logo together for me (pictured above right). Some things are coming together, but a lot more is not. It’s a learning experience. Some day I’ll look back and say these scary times were the most exciting.


*And by Thor and all that’s holy, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read The War of Art yet, do!

Filed under: Books, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, Rejection, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

11 Responses

  1. Reena Jacobs says:

    One of the things it took me to realize, is not everyone I know is a reader. The women/girls in my family are huge readers. We devour books. The guys… not so much. And when I married my husband, I found out his family hardly ever picks up a book. totally blew my mind. What kind of freakazoid family did I marry into?

    Even those family members and friends who do read for fun, don’t all have eReaders or the desire to read on their computer or other device. Not only that, I come from a small family and keep few friends.

    I think it’s important to go beyond the small inner network and work on the bigger crowd… the mass market. 🙂 I haven’t mastered the type of marketing schemes needed, but I have found it’s important to target readers. I know it sounds obvious, but I see so many authors marketing to other authors that I don’t think writers *REALLY* get it.

    True marketing is about reaching people you don’t know… not just friends, families, and other writers. True, the inner circle can be helpful for those initial sales, but if their circles are your circles, a writer can exhaust the reach rather quickly.

  2. Chazz says:

    Agreed on just marketing to other writers, though we should support each other when and how we can. Marketing to a wider audience is part of the reason I started up the reader site (allthatchazz.com) and the podcast. (I’ll get on Stitcher soon, which should extend my reach quite a bit beyond iTunes.)

    Yeah, I don’t understand non-readers, either, though sadly, I just head a report that said children like reading less than they did 10 years ago. (!)

    • Reena Jacobs says:

      I’m all for writer support. 🙂 Though I’m a big reader and imagine other writers are also, I don’t look to them to read my works. Of course if they do, I’m all for that. Instead, I see writers as a huge community resources where we encourage, exchange information, and promote one another’s work. Kind of like the buddy system.

      As for children, the world has changed with all the gadgets. When I was younger, we spent A LOT of time outside. We had one Ninetindo with 1 player games to share amongst 5 children. To make matters worse, my dad set a silly rule where each kid had 1 hour worth of play time. Imagine waiting 4 hours for your turn. haha And if you weren’t there for your turn, you missed out.

      These days most families have a personal computer or laptop per person, multiple TVs in the house and plenty of game consoles. Got to catch kids before electronics turn into the only form of entertainment.

  3. […] Book Marketing: What I didn’t know about resistance to ebooks (chazzwrites.wordpress.com) […]

  4. I am Muga2 says:

    More trad writers getting on the e-book bandwagon.

    My wife who is a fanatical reader has just gotten a NOOK but still reads paper editions almost exclusively. She brought me a copy of a new book (paper) she just received to show me the list of “Other Books” by the author. The author is Michael Connelly and at the end of his long list of other titles is a section called, “E-books” under which he lists 2 new books.

    But, you’re right, it took a long time for me to get my wife to take the step to e-books. At first it was an absolute “NO!” to the idea. Then gradually she started to listen to what I was saying and seeing the book stores closing around us was the final straw.

    The price problem is the trad publishers are still in command of many of the best selling authors and are insisting on higher e-book prices, for reasons we all know of. I would guess that after people get used to the e-book in hand they will realize that the prices should be much lower, even for the top selling authors. That the cost of putting out a million e-books is a bit less than putting out paper books, as my wife’s second biggest reading decision maker ($$) realization kicked in, she finally succumbed to the NOOK.

    • Reena Jacobs says:

      It’s taken me some time to buy into the value of digital books. I’ve had my kindle for a year, maybe two (I’m not so good at keeping track of time these days. When I first acquired one, I never expected to prefer digital reads over print. And when I realized digital reads were just as expensive as print, I was sure my kindle was going to find its own place on the shelf.
      I love my shelves overflowing with books. When people visit our office and look at the books, I experience a sense of pride. “Yes. I’ve read about 90% of the books on these shelves.” “Of course I have reading suggestions for you. Here… you can borrow this one.” My own personal library. 😀
      Aesthetics are great, but more and more, I’m coming to love the digital copies. I also review books and have been doing so for a couple of years now. Prior to my kindle, I took notes in tablets. I have so many tablets, I have a hard time keeping track of what’s in what. I just purchased another one because I forgot to bring one with me on a trip yesterday. With my kindle, my notes are always in one place. I just have to make sure I don’t misplace the kindle. haha
      I also like the privacy the kindle offers me. In church, I listen to the sermon and follow along with the bible loaded on my kindle… or am I reading something naughty?
      As far as price goes, traditional publishers are thick-skulled when it comes price gouging. So, I tend to steer clear of their digital books and opt for the sometimes less expensive print book. Even though taking notes is more of a hassle, at least I have a new wall piece when I’m done… plus I can share it with friends.
      Great news though! Some traditional publishers (not necessarily the big six), are taking heed and pricing digital books at a more reasonable price. I just picked up a kindle book for under $5 from a popular author last week, or maybe it was two weeks ago (you know me and time).
      I don’t know if it’s a principle thing with big publishers these days or what, but I get the impression their piece of the digital pie is dwindling a bit day by day.

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  9. Marcie Brock says:

    This is a great commentary on your process – and offers thoughtful ideas for other self-publishers to contemplate. Knowing your audience – and more important, how they read – is so important. Was very interested to hear about the Christmas book recommendations not including any eBooks. We keep hearing that printed books are going away – but I suspect we will be straddling both formats for quite some time.

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