Monday, June 25, 2007

Publishing Moving in New Directions

From time to time author forums feature grumbling about the industry and what should change to make it better. However, the complaints often run in tandem with criticisms when publishers do try something new, or when a new player steps on the scene, especially if they do things differently.

An example was recent discussion about SLIP AND FALL, a book by Nick Santora published by and available exclusively at Borders. I’m personally not surprised by moves such as this, and today comes word that the book made the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list in its first week out.

I did find it interesting that the choice by Borders to publish a book and sell it exclusively raised questions for people. You won’t find me saying anything here I didn’t say on the thread already – you’ll find me saying less. But the idea that booksellers have ever been neutral, or impartial, is wrong. Especially in the US the books that end up prominently displayed have been pushed by publishers who’ve paid for them to be there. What difference does it really make if a publisher is also a bookseller and they push their own book? Poisoned Pen Press does it.

Now, in the case of Poisoned Pen Press, their books are also available at other bookstores. Borders could do that as well. They have (obviously) decided that it would be best to handle sales exclusively. And it appears that this may have been a good decision. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if they decide to do this again before we’ll really know.

This news comes at the same time as news about a bookseller with a mission. He intends to sell 1001 copies of a book before it’s released through hand sales and word of mouth in the hopes that it will generate interest from a US publisher.

The article is fascinating, and one any author, bookseller, publisher, booklover should consider reading. The author, Papernick, a 36-year-old Toronto native, said that after his book of short stories was published and then favorably reviewed in The New York Times, he thought success would take care of itself. It didn't. Now he's convinced that today's authors have to be more proactive in promoting their work, finding imaginative ways to rise above the crowd.
"Being a writer is only partially about being an artist. It's also about being a salesman, if you want people to read it," Papernick said.

Welcome to the new world order of selling books and getting published.

And what’s really interesting to me is a comment from someone recently about a publisher assessing an author’s marketing strategy and considering publishing them based solely on that. I’ve seen this with a few publishers I’ve looked at – a requirement to submit a marketing plan along with your manuscript.

I have to say that I find that part of it sad. A lot of authors are focused more on selling than writing, more on profile than prose. And I still look to my list of greats – Bruen, Lippman, McDermid, Pelecanos, Rankin – who honed their craft and focused on the quality of the books… which explains to me why they’ve achieved the success they have. The work speaks for itself.

I do think that if someone proves they can sell then certainly a publisher should pick them up. There’s clearly a market for their work. (I also think that aspiring authors should be careful when assessing their options, because some equate the success of one author with the publisher instead of the author. Particularly with very small, new publishers, the success of an author depends on their own marketing strategy. A lot of us are on our own.)

Honestly, I applaud the efforts of the bookstore and the author to raise his profile. I’ll be watching to see what happens.

The thing I note about these two stories is that both of them involve more hands-on involvement from booksellers. For those who dismiss the significance of booksellers and the importance of having people who move books by recommendations this is proof that skilled sales people who actually read books and interact with their clientele can make a significant impact on the success of a book.

Now, the reality is, there’s nothing that a small publisher can do to compete with the clout a large publisher has in the business. But publishers such as Poisoned Pen Press have taken a proactive approach to putting good books into the market and have gained a lot of respect within the industry. Proof that (some) booksellers not only know how to sell books, they know how to produce books that sell. And perhaps the evidence needed to remind those in the business that the way forward is to keep your finger on the pulse of readers and understand their interests, and publish accordingly.

And perhaps all of this is proof that – like it or not – new authors should take marketing courses. However, what this author, Papernick, is doing is actually teaming up with someone who knows how to sell.

Perhaps proof that closer partnerships between authors and publishers and booksellers are the most effective way to sell books.

I honestly don’t know. The real proof will be if Papernick gets picked up by a US publisher. Meanwhile, the armchair critics can sit back, watch it unfold and commentate.

And in other news, the Bearded Liberation Front fights discrimination one contest at a time.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice analysis.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Patti - I find all of this fascinating.

DCNoir said...

Sandra: I agree, this was a *very interesting piece* Thanks for sharing. I completely agree with what you have to say about writers such as Rankin, Pelecanos and others. Keep up the great work!
-Rob Tiffey

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey Rob! Have you joined the blog world? Cool. Good to see you here. (Maybe you should use your writing name?)

And this is definitely intriguing. I am curious to see how it will unfold. Of course, no need for us to talk Pelecanos and Rankin in public, is there? Speaking of which, there's something I need to mail to you...

DCNoir said...

Hi Sandra,
A tad slow to the Blog world much reading to keep up on. Thanks again for sharing. :)
Rob Lord

Anonymous said...

I've struggled with this whole thing of having to be a writer and promoting your book. Even at this early stage I've had to assess my strengths in terms of promotion and think up strategies to present in the situation of a still nebulous book deal. It's something I resented, but now I accept as a fact. This is where the blog world has been so helpful to learn about this whole topic through blog posts like yours or being subjected to people who do things I find a turn off.