Category Archives: Publishing today

Seeking serendipity

Apple Blossom Vodkatini 
based on Serendipity Green Apple Sorbet

VISIBILITY and curation are the two big buzzwords of book publishing today. I cannot see myself writing on visibility in this column so let’s talk curation.

Whatever way you slice it, when it comes to books, curation means book reviews.
Book reviews can take many forms. A news story saying the Fifty Shades of Grey trio have sold 40 million is a review telling the reader the series is most popular. Similarly a news report on a book winning a significant literary award  is a review telling readers  professional judges have declared this book a fine work, indeed.
At the other end of the scale, an author tweeting the assessment their own novel  is brilliant is a review, probably not effective as an impetus to sales, but a review.
Curation as a prod to buying a book is what both authors and readers want.
A reader wants a critic they can trust.  An author wants a kind reviewer and on the internet they usually get one, with kindness beyond the call of  fair assessment.
Many readers have a healthy suspicion of internet book reviews. As an exercise, compare the film reviews onRotten Tomatoes. Assessments of the general public are markedly more positive than those of professional critics. The number of first-time authors gathering four and five-star internet reviews are astounding. Few reviewers refer to typos or plot flaws which abound in many books not professionally edited.
Reasons for these glowing reviews include politeness to strangers;  friends submitting reviews and cognitive dissonance where the book buyer wants to reaffirm the shrewdness of their purchasing decision.
Producing informed objective curation was a thorny problem before the explosion of ebooks.
I have never worked on a newspaper with professional book reviewers. Instead the literary editor, if there was one, or the chief of staff or a general editor if there was not, would hand out books  to journalists on the understanding the critic would read them in their own time and the only payment was keeping the book.
This hit-and-miss system was one of the most disheartening facts of literary life for mid-list authors who, if they were lucky enough to achieve a review, it was likely to be from an unqualified critic.
On the internet, I would suggest the most valued (by readers) reviews  and the most valuable (to authors) are those on book-lover sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari.
I quit Shelfari  because I was miffed at continual rebukes for my trying to promote my own books.
I see now that I was in the wrong. It would be a tragedy if Shelfari or Goodreads were subverted by us author-trolls. The most effective way an author can gain a loyal following is by serendipity, happenstance, the good fortune to be noticed by an influential critic, usually an informed amateur.
One strategy for a writer is to hop off the relentless promotional treadmill of trying to manufacture the one-book wonder.  The more books you have out there, the better odds of attracting serendipity.
Another ploy is to be more creative in seducing serendipity than by endless tweets and Facebook posts.
A third is to seek the guidance of readers as to how they came by a book which they found a minor treasure. 
A fourth is to use a big word like serendipity in your blog on the basis that only confirmed readers will understand what the hell you are talking about. That’s the strategy I am going for, here. 
 Send me your thoughts on seeking or finding serendipity.

Today’s musical vignette is a serendipitous offshoot of our most  recent selection of Johnny Cash performing the standard, 16 tons.
Wiki tells us the song is about mine “workers (who) were not paid cash (but) with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged for only goods sold at the company store’’.

The message of the song is easily translated: workers will rise up in violence unless they receive wage justice. Check out how the elite of two countries, the U.S. and Russia, get off on a song which is basically against them.
I love both these versions of 16 Tons and I can see why the elites did too. But I love even more the exquisite irony of the former cold warriors culturally united. These back to back videos are a rare treat when you savour the audience reactions.

And the Archangel Michael Ascended to Hachette Heaven

THE trouble with conventional wisdom is by the time it becomes widespread it is passé.
Take the old saw that a mainstream publisher will never pick up a self-published author. Not true now.

Now it was certainly true when self-publishers were largely restricted to print and the heritage publishers hated the upstart, though largely ineffectual, competition.
Their sales agents would warn bookshops that any book printed on 80gsm bond was written by an indie The irony was that 80gsm bond  was much superior to the cheaper paper the mainstream publishers used. In other words, if a novel is on quality paper it has to be shite.
Five or 10 years ago, every aspiring writer knew self-publishing was the death knell for securing an agent or mainstream publisher. By now it is conventional wisdom and deadest wrong.
Most are sick of hearing about Amanda Hocking so let’s try the name Michael J. Sullivan.
Last year, Michael got picked up by the Hachette; ooh, that’s gotta hurt. But no, Michael was signed for a six-figure sum. Every indie seems to be picked up for  six-figures. This is not illuminating for us wannabees as it could be anywhere from $100,000 to $999,999. I hope for Michael’’s sake, it was the latter but I suspect not.

I sold 70,000 books (across five titles) of my Riyria Revelations – you owe me for that plug, Mick – from April 2009 – August 2011 before signing with Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group) re-released my six books as a trilogy consisting of Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron – more debt, Mick.

I am not sure what Michael sold his books for but that is 30,000 copies a year he flogged, a bloody good effort.
The interesting thing is Michael insists on making a good case for not accepting the offer.

Self-published authors are just as professional as those published traditionally, and did not choose this route because they couldn’t get signed by a “real” publisher (most did actually, Mick or the got the arse from the Big Six) Self-publishing in 2012 offers authors a compelling option, and many have either not submitted their work or have turned down lucrative contracts with six-figure advances because they want to self-publish.

I do not know how many of the many have turned down six figures; I would suggest it is few. Michael’s next take on publishing today is spot on.

There are many professional self-published authors, employing the same quality and techniques as a traditional publisher. On average, they actually outperform their traditionally published counterparts.

This is undoubtedly true. In Australia, the print-run of a new author is 3000 copies and few sell 1000. Of course this is in a collapsed period of time. Two months, if you are lucky, and it is off to the remainder bin for you.
Michael says indie sales of 5000 a year make the Big Six – soon to be Five – stand up and take notice.
No longer any need to play eeny, meeny, miny, moe with the slush pile for the big publishers. No need to pick a winner; the stats are there. The problem for the big publishers is what do they have to allow their Michael J. Sullivan to outperform the next Michael J. Sullivan.
Their marketing models of  on-site marketing at bookshops with limited advertising and review support are dead in the internet waters. Where do they go from here?

Here is our song.