Category archive: Indie Publishing
There have always been vultures in the publishing world. Phoney agents charging “reading fees” to consider your novel for representation are a classic example. One of these agents actually listed a skill on his website as “tug boat captain.” This agent could never have sold anyone’s novel to a legitimate publisher, but I bet after collecting his reading fee, he’d have been happy to recommend unsuspecting authors to equally unqualified editors and book doctors.
No, New Adult is not fresh porn. It’s fiction aimed at a very specific age group, 18-25 years old, people who are too old for Young Adult but are still reading for fun and adventure. Many of this age group are fighting their way through university, establishing careers and courting mates. It’s that fantastic time when your whole life is ahead of you and anything is possible.
I was ahead of the curve and I blew it. Six months before Amanda Hocking and John Locke stunned the publishing world by selling millions of self-pubbed eBooks, I predicted this would happen. In fact, I’d hoped it would happen to me. I knew that there would be a small window when not too many authors would choose the less traditional route of indie-publishing. They would still be busy adding their manuscripts to the slush pile. I wanted to be one of the first through the indie-publishing gate. All those avid readers with their new Kindles would turn to my economically priced eBook and give it a try instead of paying ten bucks for a traditionally published book.
World Fantasy Convention in Toronto was sparklingly well organized, and I had a great time, but I was surprised to hear these two words popping up repeatedly: flux and chaos. I first noticed them during the eBooks panel, which was packed.
I attended this panel expecting to hear the usual: eBooks are evil, they’re a fad, we need traditional publishers as “gatekeepers,” a paternalistic and condescending concept. Instead, I heard industry professionals state that eBooks are here to stay, and that the publishing industry is in a state of flux and chaos. One of the panelists expressed the desire to leap ten years into the future so that he could again live in a stable world, although I did get the impression that he would’ve been even happier to jump twenty years into the past.
But what really caught my attention was what Betsy Mitchell, a former Del Rey editor, thought of the eBook revolution. To my utter astonishment she stated that this is a wonderful and exciting time for writers and readers. She expressed delight that cross genre work that would never have been accepted by the rigid guidelines of most publishing houses was now getting out and finding audiences and success thanks to eBooks.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. An industry pro I’ve long respected and admired says she loves the eBook revolution. This is a huge change over two years ago, when the vitriol expressed by most authors and editors over the mere existence of eBooks, let alone the impudence of indie-authors to by-pass the publishing industry and its sanctified gatekeepers, was way over the top when opinions were expressed at all. Indeed, I attended the Ad-Astra eBook panel in 2010 and found that only three of the five panelists and four audience members even bothered to attend. And if that wasn’t an indictment of eBooks, two of the panelists spoke with concern about who the gatekeepers would be in this new electronic format.
The words flux and chaos continued to pop up throughout the weekend, especially at a panel on the future of cover art. Several great illustrators on the panel all expressed concern about their future in a market that is in a state of flux and chaos. A couple of them say they are looking for alternate sources of revenue since the traditional publishers are commissioning less and less cover art. When I asked near the end of the panel if any indie-pubbers had contacted them for cover art, the moderator dismissed me out of hand, stating that a whole new panel would be required to deal with that question. He added that self-pubbers have “no idea how to commission cover art.” Perhaps that was his way of saying I couldn’t afford him. To which I respond: the publishing world is in a state of flux and chaos. You can resist it or profit from it. Educate us. There are more covers out there than ever. There is opportunity.
I have a confession to make: I’m not as big a Pearl Jam fan as my wife, or at least I wasn’t until I went to Missoula, Montana. I liked their music before, and I thought they were talented, but I wasn’t a dedicated fan. I didn’t go looking on iTunes for their music.
But excellent marketing changed all that. I’m a lousy marketer, but here’s what I learned in Missoula:
Lesson One: Love what you do. Pearl Jam loves to play music, especially when in the presence their fans. I know that sounds obvious, but friends still speak bitterly of an R.E.M. concert they attended during which the band made it plain that being up on stage was a nuisance that had to be gotten through as quickly as possible, like painting a bedroom or mowing a lawn. Perhaps they were just too exhausted from all the touring. I bet they lost fans at that concert.
Pearl Jam’s performance in Missoula was the opposite. They were having a blast, as if they had just made it to the big time, as if touring was a new adventure. They played their music excellently, better live than even their studio recorded songs. By the end I had changed from a lukewarm fan to a dedicated fan. I want to go to another concert to hear songs they didn’t play in Missoula. I want to buy more of their music.
Lesson Two: Be dedicated to your fans. Pearl Jam runs a fan club, the Ten Club, and those fans pay to be members and get perks, not freebies, but perks, like early access to ticket sales and discounted merch. In Susan’s case, they had a lottery for good seats in Missoula, and she was one of the lucky winners. We still had to pay for the seats, which weren’t expensive, and we had a great view of the stage. We felt special.
Lesson Three: Market to your fans. Pearl Jam marketed the Missoula concert first to their Ten Club members, and they sold the tickets in pairs. We needed I.D. to pick up these tickets at the Will Call, so the scalpers were totally knee-capped. I met people from all over America and Canada, and many were like Susan and I, one rabid fan, and one lukewarm–soon to be rabid–fan. Not only did this increase their fan base, but at the concert they were surrounded by an exceptionally receptive audience. The local newspaper, the Missoulian, described it as a 6000-voice-strong sing along. Dedicated fans know all the words.
But the band was also fair and reserved a block of seats that had to be purchased in person, so that people from Missoula could also attend the biggest event in town that weekend. Once in the Adams Center, which is on the University of Montana campus, they were very likely converted from curious onlookers to music purchasing fans, which explains why a band that just celebrated its twentieth anniversary has fans that weren’t born when Pearl Jam performed their first concert.
Lesson Four: Reward Your Fans: The lights came up and the band played on, rewarding us with several more songs. Eddie tossed tambourines into the crowd, but not randomly. He chose each recipient with care. One man in a wheelchair couldn’t possibly compete for one, so Eddie talked to a closer fan, tossed him the coveted tambourine, which he in turn tossed high up the seats to the man in the wheelchair. But Eddie wasn’t done. He called to the go-between fan and followed up with one for him, a reward for being cool and giving up the tambourine as requested even though he had briefly held it. I loved it. The crowd loved it.
How will I apply all these lessons to marketing my novels? I’m still working on that, and I’m open to suggestions, but the biggest lesson I take from that concert is to be genuine. None of this felt contrived or engineered. It just was. That’s what makes it great.