Back in the day, my favorite Girl Scout cookies were Thin Mints. I also liked Shortbreads, but remained favorably biased, too, toward the chocolate and vanilla sandwich kind. Today, I’m a fangirl of the kosher treats made by Gil’s Goodies (despite the fact that around the year 2000 Girl Scout cookies became kosher.)
Even though it’s been more than forty-five years since I’ve sold those formerly treif lovelies, the organization’s 2.6 million members continue to sell them. These days, however, their peddling reaches beyond door-to-door sales to include online ordering and the use of a special mobile app. In so many words, little girls are making dough on S’mores and Peanut Butter Patties by utilizing new instruments to sell them.
The product that I am currently pushing, my books, analogously, relies increasingly on convergent media for profit. More copies of most people’s titles are sold through Amazon.com, and through smaller, similar vendors, such as Kobo, Inktera, DriveThruFICTION, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords than through brick and mortar shops. As well, in this day and age, we authors participate in electronic book tours, in addition to, or instead of, driving around from city to city to sign printed copies of our works. The New York Times’ lists continue to have clout, but, at present, so, too, do reviews posted on Goodreads or on BookBub.
Any contemporary writer, who is serious about publicity, has, at least: a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and a YouTube channel. Marketing has become understood as being not the province of publishers, but of authors, and social media has become understood as central to such vending. Just as quality counted for little in yesteryear’s world pulp fiction, at this time, as long as someone is an ace promoter, writing quality counts even less.
Keep in mind that it used to be the case that selling fifty thousand copies made a book a hit. Nowadays, as author C. Hope Clark suggests in her weekly newsletter, FundsforWriters, in one of her “Message from the Editor” editorials, selling only five thousand copies of a title makes that title a bestseller. According to Hope; “[m]ore people are publishing than ever before[, t]he number of readers is not going up[, and t]he result being more books [are being sold to] the same, static number of people.”
Given those figures, publishers, whose eyes are on the bottom line, press their writers to embrace the hard sell, to emulate folks like Jacqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls. There are many anecdotes about what that Susann did to get tens of millions of copies of her 1960s title sold. Few pundits argue that Susann’s work was brilliant literature, but most critics agree that her book was brilliant business.
Essentially, as is true for other rhetorical situation, if a writer seeks sales, it’s not enough for him or her: to have something completed and contracted (forgetting, for a moment the modern appetite for bosh over substance), to have access to and knowledge of how to work within coordinated electronic channels (e.g. Facebook postings can be made to automatically show up on Twitter, Yahoo email addressed can be downloaded to LinkedIn accounts, and so on), or to desire to get the word out about his or he book. A writer also has to identify and learn about his or her target audience. Alternatively, and rarely successfully, an author can try to offer a book as mainstream.
Albeit, it is the case that works like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and like E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey have mass appeal. Frances Wilson explains in The New Statesman’s “When Harry met Fifty Shades; what makes a book popular?”[sic], that “[t]he books that sell by the shedload are those that return us to the narrative shapes of our childhood, to the plots that shaped us. Bestsellers, like myths and fairy tales, engage with readers on a primitive level. They don’t try to break the mould or dazzle the critics or perform any high-wire acts with style.”
In other words, any writer, who wants his or her creation to be the Thin Mints of the publishing industry, needs to: avoid scholarship, shun poetry, skip over one-act plays, and get busy writing fiction. Thereafter, that writer must select an audience niche and apply all of his or her efforts to flooding it with advertising, or, in a move that’s more chancy, aim their book’s marketing efforts at “the general public.”
Don’t forget that our culture demands entertainment and information, now, or better yet, five minutes ago, and wants those data to arrive in palatable, that is quick to read and effortless to understand, form. Today’s smartphones, PDAs, i.e. handheld PCs, wearables (body-borne computers) and the like encourage and enable consumers to be picky about which documents they want to consider, let alone read. Specifically is, even after completing the above mentioned tasks, would-be authors are anyway competing given the millions of novels made available annually. Namely, most books receive as much notice as do the puddle left by neighborhood dogs.
If folk are set on composing works, anyway, the best way for them to avoid disappointment is for them to figure out why they are writing. Like Girl Scouts hawking cookies, writers act for a variety of reasons. Some want badges (fame), some want to buildup troop coffers (fortune). Some are altruistic sorts who believe in acting for the greater good. Most have mixed motives.
As for me, I like to write. I like to share. I market my work because folks are willing to pay for it. Getting paid is nice. On balance, the money I make through book sales will not enable me to retire to the Maldives anytime soon.
See, I’m happy to be a midlist author. I create short story collections and novels (I’m truly fine with writing about two-headed, gelatinous wildebeests, lust and love in the Horseshoe Galaxy, and damsels that need no rescue), but I have also signed, and intend to continue to sign, contracts for (gasp): scholarly works, drama, poetry, and essays collections. I adore words. I adore people. I adore crafting words for people. I adore teaching people about words.
Simultaneously, I’m not a great fan of social media. Although I’ve made YouTube movies, have thousands of friends, respectively, on Facebook and on LinkedIn, contribute to internationally-recognized publications such as this one, and am otherwise actively promoting my confectionaries, I’d rather be writing than marketing.
If I ever want to become a bestseller, which is not a goal on my bucket list, I’d have to write less and advertise more. Fortunately, many of the Indie publishers with whom I work, are aware of Flipkart (India and Brazil have significant English-speaking populations), of The Book Depository (which, by the way, is owned by Amazon.com), and of Angus & Robertson.
Thus, I plan to keep my social media accounts active, to spend the greater portion of my time writing and rewriting manuscripts, and to enjoy variously-sourced cookies with my tea. I’ll keep boosting my books according to the new rule book, but won’t sacrifice my snack time.