Instant rejection

Yesterday, someone asked me if I had read any good books lately. It may be the first time that’s happened in a decade. The exchange that followed was revealing and educational for anyone thinking of selling a book.

I told her Comanche Moon was pretty good and her response: “That sounds like a western,” meaning she would never bother with a western. She didn’t have to see the cover or read a page or two. She heard the title and rejected the book immediately.

Even though I thought she might enjoy the book despite it being a western, I didn’t press the issue. Instead, I told her she might like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. This suggestion seemed to satisfy her and she said she would look it up and try an e-book sample.

No word as to whether she started reading Beautiful Ruins, but that’s not important. The lesson here is that a casual reader will reject your book in a heartbeat if there is the slightest chance it doesn’t fit their idea of what they want to read. A title or a cover can turn away a reader before they ever give a chance to the writing or the story. Readers have preconceived notions about what they want to buy and if an author doesn’t deliver the goods from start to finish, there will be no sale.

Who are the greatest writers of our day?

As an English Literature major in college, I studied many great writers of the past. The old writers were celebrities of sorts, or so the stories seemed to suggest. Everyone knew of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. What writers do we speak of today?

If someone asked me who the best writers of the 21st century are, I wouldn’t have an answer. Maybe that means writing is totally irrelevant in our world today. If asked, I think most people automatically mention the old writers as the best. Jane Austen is still a big name today, thanks to movies made of all her books. Do people actually still read her books or just know her name from the movies?

If I asked my niece or nephew, who are both in high school, whether Jane Austen was a good writer, they would both answer yes. If I asked whether they had read one of her books, they would both answer no. Around Christmas time I asked them if they were familiar with A Christmas Carol. They were, but only the movie. They had no interest in reading the book by Charles Dickens.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for fiction this year for writing The Underground Railroad. Is Colson Whitehead one of today’s great writers. Whitehead has a twitter page and six novels to his credit, according to a Google search. Do modern great writers have to have a twitter page? Must they write novels?

Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature last year. He doesn’t write novels. He falls loosely in the poet category, if you consider modern-day song writers the equivalent of ancient poets. Do poets still exist outside of songwriters?

These are some of the questions floating through my head on this Wednesday night. Who do you think are some of the 21st century’s greatest writers?

The Kindle Scout program

Today I discovered the Kindle Scout program, a system which allows amateur readers to read amateur works and decide which e-books are potentially publishable. This is not exactly how the system is described, but that’s exactly what it is. For the official description of “reader-powered” publishing, click here.

I sampled a couple of the books available and they were not worth recommending, but the Kindle Scout program is worth noticing. It marks a corporate embrace of a self-publishing world in which all the dirty work is done by the self-publishers for free. Somewhere an agent and perhaps an editor are looking for a new line of work, if they think reader-powered publishing stands a chance at success. Could the days of sending manuscripts to agents be ending?

What is an agent, but just a person with an opinion about a writer’s submission? Does an agent really know which books will be a big hit? Maybe the really good agents do, but what about those worker-bee agents who are essentially glorified readers, combing the desert for the next Harry Potter?

Maybe I’m way off base. Having only met one agent in my life, perhaps the publishing world doesn’t work the way I think it does. Still, the Kindle people appear to be pushing the future of publishing to a new level. The idea may ultimately fail due to lack of readable content, but Amazon is powerful enough to take the chance.

As a reader, I am thirsty for some great writer to get my attention, but am I willing to wade through a bunch of random writing in hopes of finding something brilliant? Am I willing to become the worker-bee agent for free? No, I am not. So, who is?

What kind of person would be reading a submission of mine? Is it someone with a refined taste for modern literature, or a bored teenager seeking a few laughs?

Kindle Scout presents lots of questions, while forcing a modern reader and writer to ponder what the system is creating. Maybe I can submit a work to be read by “scouts” and at least know somebody gave it a chance. I can’t always know that about submissions to agents. Perhaps it is a good thing for submissions to be read by regular people instead of paid agents.

I guess the biggest conclusion I draw from exploring the Kindle Scout system is that Kindle is continuing to innovate in ways that other booksellers are not, making the survival of Kindle more likely than the survival of Nook or Kobo or iBooks. Kindle is turning into a bit of a writer’s community, much like WordPress, but for books that writers can theoretically sell for actual money.

 

 

 

What if word of mouth was all you had?

A writer can wake up each morning and ask the question: what should I write? Whatever the writer decides to write, the next question becomes: How will I get read?

In today’s modern world there are more options than ever for getting read. A writer can start a blog and perhaps generate a few readers. A writer can post their work to social media and beg their friends and acquaintances for a moment of their time. A writer can save the morning composition and collect it as part of a future book, in which might be their ticket to stardom and riches. 

What if there were no publishing houses with advertising and marketing at their disposal? What if you were left with one method of promotion and that was word of mouth? 

Advertising professionals are little more than carnival barkers pulling a fast one on the consumer, saying anything to make a fool part with his money. Yet, they are a necessary part of the entertainment world. Without them, consumers wouldn’t know what exists. 

Professional marketers and advertiswers are often good at their jobs and their methods are effective, but pretend for a minute that the world of advertising doesn’t exist. All that exists are writers and readers and the only way to get read is through word of mouth, perhaps the most honest form of advertising.

Would you choose to write something different today? 

Best laid plans

Most of us have at least heard of Lonesome Dove, a western novel turned TV movie years ago. I occasionally read from the book and just ran across a quote worth sharing. One of the main characters named Woodrow Call offers the following thought on making plans:

“Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.”

As much as I try not to plan things out too much, I fall into that trap a lot, so the quote served as a great reminder to me to take life one day at a time. It applies to all walks of life, but can easily apply to the life of a writer. There is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring writers, but in the end a writer just needs to write and see where the effort leads.

 

 

Is browsing in bookstores still a relevant source of sales?

If your town is similar to mine, few bookstores exist. As far as corporate chains, or large, recognizable book-selling brands go there is only one such store in my town. In the past few years, I’ve set foot in that store twice, both around the holidays, in search of gifts for family members. 

So, if my patterns are similar in any way to the masses, which I would guess they are, few people browse in bookstores anymore. I’ve read reports that print books made a comeback in recent years, that people are choosing to hold a real book in their hands over a tablet, but are they going to the bookstore to purchase those books? If print books are really making a comeback, will we see bookstores make a comeback? 

This is an important question for aspiring writers, because one has to decide if potential readers are going to find their book in a real bookstore. If a writer decides he or she won’t find a large number of potential readers within a bookstore, that means the readers will more likely find an author’s writings online or in a digital bookstore. If you wrote a book in the past decade, there is little to no chance I have seen it in a bookstore. 

If you wanted to get my attention and sell me a book, you would need another advertising vehicle. I can’t remember the last time I saw an advertisement for a book, but I see plenty of ads for movies that say, “based on the book.” I’ll admit to reading a few of those. The only other way I come across books is by browsing online or by recommendation from friends.

I can count recommendations from friends on one hand without using all five fingers and not one of those recommendations led to a book I liked. The only book I liked in the past decade from browsing a bestseller list was Gone Girl. I’ve struck out with so many books using the browsing method that I am unlikely to keep browsing, so where does that leave me as a reader?

I see plenty of blogs advertising books written by independent publishers, but not one has convinced me to buy their book. Unfortunately, if you are trying to sell your book with a blog or social-media account, you come across as amateur and nobody wants to buy a book from an amateur. 

As a reader, I am often left reading classics that have passed the test of time and are known to be good reads. That way I don’t waste my time on some random book. The independent modern writer is not reaching me, the modern reader, with books of print or electonic variety. 

I don’t know what that means for the modern writer, but it is possible that the traditional idea of a book is dying, even though readers are supposedly returning to print books. Give me all the stats you like, I see no evidence in my daily life of people going into bookstores or talking about the latest Kindle read. 

An afternoon of samples

Sometimes I make up my mind to read a book without sampling the book at all. This happened recently with Dragon Teeth, a posthumous novel from Michael Chrichton. The problem is, sometimes I get half way through these books and become bored, so I skip to the end and find out what happens and them move on with my life.

This method of fast-forwarding happened with Dragon Teeth, so this afternoon I vowed to read some samples of new books in hopes that one would grab me. Straight from the bestseller list, I downloaded e-book samples of The Buried Giant, A Dance of Dragons and The Wedding.

While none of these books were particularly poor reading experiences, none of them made me want to buy the book, which brings me back to a lesson I’ve had to relearn many times: Not every book is for everyone.

As a writer, it’s easy to sit down and try to think of a book that the whole world will love, but that’s impossible. Everyone has different tastes.

My search for a sample I can’t put down will continue and I’ll let you know if I find one. Have you ever read a sample that grabbed your attention and prompted a purchase? How often do you buy a book without sampling and has that ever worked out well?