Tag: publishing

The art of selling stories

What’s the first question someone invariably asks when you tell them you are reading a great book?

“What’s it about?”

If you say it’s about good vs. evil battling it out in outer space and they aren’t interested in that kind of thing, they will shrug their shoulders and never bother reading. People make up their mind very quickly about whether they are willing to buy a story.

Once I was at work and I told a woman I work with that I had an idea for a story. I said I was writing about a woman who meets her soul mate, but is already married to someone else. Within the next couple of days, different women around the office were asking me about the book and saying they thought it sounded good, yet that one-sentence premise was all they knew about it.

I asked the women what they would do in that situation and each one said she would stay with her husband. I didn’t realize until much later that I was basically planning to write Bridges of Madison County, which makes me think about the difficulty in selling old stories.

Movies like Casablanca or books like the Invisible Man probably aren’t making much money at this moment and it isn’t because they aren’t any good. It’s because they aren’t front and center in our minds.

People don’t read books because they are well written and they don’t watch movies because they are artistically shot. Take the two following cases as proof:

The seven-year old son of a man I know was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt the other day. I asked him if he was a Star Wars fan.

“Not really,” he said. “But I’ll watch it anyway.”

I just finished watching a movie called Passengers, which was made in the past year and frankly wasn’t impressive. I watched it anyway, because the premise intrigued me and I was in a tired mood and needed to relax.

In both cases, the consumer would gladly watch a better movie, but would also be willing to settle for a mediocre one. Now I understand how so many bad books and movies get made. The public doesn’t demand good.

If I told that kid he could watch a great classic movie from 1956 or the latest Marvel superhero movie, he would probably choose the latter. Premise and freshness trumps depth of content when selling a story.

 

 

 

Keep blogging, even though it won’t sell your book

That was the theme of an article I read last week. Blogging will not sell your book at all, wrote a female author, not even if your blog is read by thousands and thousands of people.

This female author had a real, published book for sale and her widely read blog post led to one or two sales of the book and that’s it, she wrote. Yet, she insists that blogging is still a good thing. Blogging gets your writing and your name out into the world and keeps both on your readers’ mind, so when the reader runs across your book someday, they know who you are.

Last year, I read a blurb from a literary agent who said the first thing he does when he gets a submission is Google the prospective author’s name. If they don’t have an online presence in place, he won’t even read the submission.

I guess the lesson to take from both of these tidbits of information is that modern writers better be online in some form.

Do you need an editor?

I completed 23 percent of that book I mentioned the other day and could go no further. I gave it a two-star review on Goodreads and in the process ran across an interesting review from another Goodreads user who also gave two stars.

Her review said the book started strong, but became repetitive and slow moving, which she thought could have been fixed by an editor. I agreed completely with her assessment and it forced the question: do all writers need an editor?

An editor of mine at a newspaper I worked for used to say everyone needs an editor. She didn’t say it to me directly in a scolding sort of way; she just said it out loud when circumstances called for it. While there were rare occasions in which she wouldn’t change a word of my stories for the paper, she more often changed them for the better. A few times, she changed them for the worse, but only a few times. Overall, my work was better for having an editor.

So, if I had to give advice to anyone thinking of publishing a book, I would tell them to get an editor. They don’t help with spelling and grammar as much as they help with analyzing the feel and flow of a work.

From what I understand, self-publishers can hire decent editors. Does anyone out there have a good editor they can recommend?

 

The greatest compliment

I usually don’t get past the first page or two of most books, so the greatest compliment I can give any book is to finish it. I sample a lot of books and it’s a pretty decent compliment if I pass the first chapter. I found a random book yesterday that lured me beyond the nine percent mark on Kindle. The book is Deadly Messengers by Susan May.

I plunged right in without reading any blurbs and found the general writing style to my liking and the story intriguing enough. I will continue reading it today and see how far I get. The beauty of reading on Kindle Unlimited is I can quit the book anytime.

If I make it all the way through, I may even take a stab at writing a short review for this blog. I promise to keep it short to increase the odds that you will finish it.

 

Funny thing about bestseller lists

Consumers of entertainment love lists, like the Billboard Top 10, the top hits of the weekend box office, or the New York Times Bestseller List. The big difference between the first two lists and the third list is the honest, realistic sample size available.

If you see a list of the top 10 songs, it is reasonable to assume a music fan will have listened to all 10 songs and formed opinions about each. A moviegoer could easily watch three to five of the top 10 movies over a one-month stretch, but books require a significantly greater time commitment, meaning a reader might only read one book on a bestseller list before the list has completely changed.

The rest of the books on the list become irrelevant and vanish, like old blog posts. I remember back around Thanksgiving, everywhere I browsed for books I kept seeing the new book from Bruce Springsteen. His memoir Born to Run was all over the bestseller list for a couple of months. What list is it on now? Does anyone even remember that Springsteen wrote a book?

In a way, entertainment brokers’ lists resemble slow-moving social-media feeds. We glance over them the way we would glance over our Facebook page, reading only the posts that interest us and forgetting the others forever. Of course, there is only so much time in a day, so how many 70,000-word posts are really getting read?

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.

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.