If Barnes and Nobles Closes, are Unknown Authors Screwed?

If you missed the news, New Republic has a new essay out on the impending doom of Barnes and Nobles https://newrepublic.com/article/133876/pulp-friction

There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.

If Barnes & Noble were to shut its doors, Amazon, independent bookstores, and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart would pick up some of the slack. But not all of it. Part of the reason is that book sales are driven by“showrooming,” the idea that most people don’t buy a book, either in print or electronically, unless they’ve seen it somewhere else—on a friend’s shelf, say, or in a bookstore. Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.

This happens a lot and B&N is still among us. Yet in the long run, they are clearing out space for book and selling more music and games. Borders did this, and look at where they are now.

Here’s the scary part for wanna-be trade-pubbed authors:

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.

So accoring to this author, if you’re unknown, sold poorly in the past, and not famous, you will soon be beyond screwed if B&N goes out. This is because no one, not even Amazon, can or will ever create a viable national print bookstore chain again in this country, unless there’s a sudden return to reading by the public.

It’s pretty clear that without B&N, traditional print publishers will lose a massive part of their appeal. Their two biggest appeals are: Marketing and distribution. Yes, they could still send to indie bookstores, but I have a feeling that few but the biggest authors will want to give away 85% of their revenue to someone who is nothing more than a big marketing agency and seller to small bookstores, especially since there are and will be other services that can do this more effectively for less. And marketing can be done with an agency.

I’m not saying publishers will be extinct if B&N goes under, but they will lose a huge incentive to query those agents for years to land one, and then wait more years to find a publisher (unless you’re one of the lottery winners who just has ‘it’ and can sail through the process in months). The downside is, how will most people be able to get their work out in an overcrowded marketplace?



Will Authors Quit Writing in 2016?

photo: Wikipedia       

That seems to be the prediction of Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords. Via his blog:

“Many indies and traditional publishers alike reported flat or lower sales in 2015. The go-go days of exponential ebook market growth of the early days (2008-2012) are over. As I shared in my November 2014 post, Things Get More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed, a key factor in the slowdown is an emerging equilibrium for consumption of print and ebook formats. Due to the law of large numbers, ebook sales growth (or declines) will begin to more closely mirror the overall market for all books. The book market is mature and is therefore a slow or no-growth industry.  Additionally, there’s an ever-increasing glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks that will never go “out of print.” These continuing factors paint a picture for a more competitive landscape for authors in 2016 and beyond. Every author will face more competition today and tomorrow than they faced yesterday. In addition to the factors I outlined above and in the “Things get more difficult” post, the growth of Kindle Unlimited presents a new existential threat to the industry (more on this in the next item).

 Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater ebook commoditization

Earlier this year I blogged how Amazon’s merchandising pages encourage Kindle customers to read books for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime subscription. Most of the publishing industry remains oblivious to the long term ramifications of Amazon’s strategy here (not a surprise, because despite Amazon operating with amazing transparency and predictability, most industry watchers and media still don’t understand Amazon’s long term self publishing strategy). The issue of immediate concern is that Amazon’s merchandising tactics discourage readers from purchasing single copy ebooks. Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. Amazon’s success with Kindle Unlimited, which now offers over 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors is going to gut the market for single copy sales at Amazon. It’ll be death by a thousand small cuts.  The pain will be felt by four publishing industry constituencies. In descending order of pain, and in order of who will feel it first, these constituencies include traditionally published authors and their publishers which I’ll consider as a single group; non-exclusive indie authors; Amazon-exclusive authors; and competing retailers.

Basically what Mark is saying is that selling single e-book copies, or even e-book bundles will soon become obsolete, replaced by subscription programs. The only question is whether the distributors assume an pool-sharing model (where money is collected and distributed equally among contributors as the distributor sees fit) or agency (where the contributor is paid for each book downloaded or read as an individual unit). If Mark’s prediction is accurate, and Amazon shifts more and more e-books into a subscription program, then you should know much much harder it will be for an indie author to make money. Especially since Amazon continues to dominate e-book sales. Read his post; it’s worth your time.

He also writes:

“During the early days of the indie ebook revolution, it was relatively easy for a quality writer to earn good income self-publishing low-priced ebooks. The market was doubling and tripling each year, readers hadn’t really seen 99 cent ebooks before, and everyone was happy.  As I mentioned in the “Ebook publishing gets more difficult from here” post, the exponential growth masked challenges that market’s maturation has now brought to light. Many indies who quit their days jobs to pursue writing full time will find they need to return to a “real” job in 2016, especially authors for whom writing is their sole source of income and they’re already feeling challenged to make the monthly rent. This means production will decline among the indie midlisters. As I’ve been telling the audiences for my ebook publishing workshops for the last seven years, if you want to make a lot of money publishing ebooks get a job at McDonalds instead. Publishing has always been a tough business. Witness the fact that most traditionally published authors must maintain day jobs. Ebook publishing is NOT the path to riches except for a very few authors. Yes, I’ve been pleased see the many Smashwords authors whose indie ebook earnings have allowed them to pay off mortgages, buy homes and save for retirement. These stories inspire me, yet we must remember these are the exceptions, not the rule. In 2015 I witnessed a growing desperation among many bestsellers, some of whom – I can imagine due to their prior successes with indie publishing – had might have changed their lifestyles or quit their day jobs. These authors are now feeling the financial and emotional pain of struggling to make ends meet. I hate to see this pain and anguish. As I’ve advised in the past, your prior success is no guarantee of future success. If you’re among the many Smashwords authors who’ve been blessed and have done well, or if you’re fortunate enough to sell well in the future, please bank that money when it comes. Pay off your debts and be conservative with your savings so you can build up your rainy day fund.”

No one has ever said publishing was easy, but I’ve noticed big-time indies are often more optimistic than the rest of us into the future of indie publishing, in terms of making serious money and not just doing it as a side-hobby. It’s easier to think earning money writing is easy and Amazon is great if you’re one of the lucky few to earn 6- or even 7- or 8- figures a year writing, just as a lot of the blockbuster best-sellers in the traditional system rarely complain about their publishers or support changes to the traditional publishing system that are needed. It’s a matter of whose bread is begin buttered by whom, I guess. I’d guess an author has maybe a 2% chance at best of earning enough money a year to sit around and write (and do writing-related activities) all day. That includes authors who could do that, but who choose to maintain other occupations, such as with non-fiction writers. And that’s just to pay bills; that’s not the lavish lifestyles some of them live.

David Boyle of the Society of Authors, based in the UK, writes:

“You worry a little, as an ebook author, that people might be sceptical that you have ever written anything. Or indeed whether all that writing exists in any real sense, since you can’t see it on your shelf. I mean, where is it? You can’t lend it, copy it or give it as a present. Yet bizarrely, online pirates seem capable of giving it away for free within days of it going on sale.

There are certainly advantages to writing the new generation of ebooks that are designed as such, rather than as reluctantly issued e-versions of printed books. They are often a convenient length – maybe a fifth or quarter as long as a traditional book, just long enough to read on a transatlantic flight or a train to Scotland. And they are priced low enough to sell widely. It is a marginal decision to buy a short book at £1.99 or £2.99. You might as well buy it as not.

an ebook writer, I’m only too aware of the problem flagged up by the Society of Authors, that the income of writers is still falling. I certainly agree that authors should get at least half the royalties on ebooks; the big publishers often fob them off with 25% or less. Well, I would say that.

Yet this is not primarily a difficulty with ebooks. It is a symptom of two more fundamental, linked problems. The competition watchdogs have allowedAmazon and the big supermarkets to strangle what had been a working business model. As a result, the remaining, desperately consolidated, mainstream publishers are trapped in a business model that works for nobody – except perhaps for the 5%, the mega-earning authors, who take 43% of all the money.”

Though Mr. Boyle says he will continue writing (and I assume working his financial services job while he writes on the side), no doubt many authors will come to the conclusion that yes, it’s really, really hard to earn a living from writing and the time spent writing could be better done doing other productive things.  I think his concern is more aimed at the Big Five traditional publishers, who are losing to Amazon and who don’t offer a good deal on e-book royalties to their writers. I can’t speak for smaller presses.

So writers of the world: How many of you will continue to write, and how many will decide the time spent writing just isn’t worth it anymore?

Seeking my Mr. or Mrs. Slave…ahem, Guest Bloggers

I am opening up my space to folks who would like to reach an audience of several hundred unique visitors per month, and have a passion for books. It’s very simple: You reach out to me, and tell me what you want to write about. If I like it, the post is yours for an available post day, which is typically Monday or Thursday.

If you are an author, and you want a review or a interview (author or character), you may message me. Unless I previously agreed to an interview or book review before September 1, I am seeking only children’s literature, or books written by kids. Books can have pictures, but they must be mostly text and targeted at an audience for 8+. Also, you must be 14 years old to request any review or interview. Otherwise, I need a parent’s permission first.

You are not required to offer me a reciprocated post, but if you do, I am more likely to take you up. So go ahead and send away- welcome to Bradan’s World!

bonus if you got the reference in the title. Post it here and let’s see who gets it first!

Do you Enter Writing Contests? Do You Hear Back?

I had submitted a few short stories for some contests earlier this year. Now I did submit one which was rejected by Highlights for Children, but that was not a contest. I got a message from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award saying my story “Palace of the “King” was not going to win. Granted, it was not even close to my best work, but I didn’t win.

I also submitted a story for the Baen Fantasy Adventure Awards. That one I thought was a lot better- still not my best, but a solid fantasy adventure story. Well, I never heard back from them, even though I was promised an answer by July 1. I was finally read to send an e-mail asking if they were going to let me know if I was picked, when I decided to DuckDuckGo them (think Google, but with a different search engine). Well, I found out who the finalists were. And no, I was not picked.

While I was not surprised I was rejected, I am annoyed I didn’t at least get a generic rejection letter like I get from most agents or contests, if not the mailed letter Highlights send out. I noticed the winners were well-known names in the Fantasy/Sci-fi writer’s community. I get it, I’m a Millennial and a newbie whose writing is terrible and who isn’t a “superstar” writer. But would it have hurt Baen to sent form rejection letters to us losers? I had ordered a cheap cover design, but then canceled, in case I was a finalist.

The only benefit is, I can now offer this story as a giveaway or as a package deal with the other short story, so buy 1 get 1 free. I’ll publish it soon.

I really want to hear from you: Do you enter contests? Do you ever win? If not, do you hear back?

can you guess where this is? Bonus points if you do.

Is writing being devalued?

Yes, if you ask Roxana Robinson, head of something called the Authors Guild, of which I am not a member. Heck, I’m not even sure how I would be eligible for this; I guess I need to sell a lot of copies when I finally do get published.

From the article:

“Writers are contributing to the fall in their incomes by penning free pieces for large companies in the hope that it will raise their profile and lead to book sales, Roxana Robinson, president of The Authors Guild, has told The Bookseller. She also said that Amazon was devaluing books and writing.

Robinson right, a novelist and short story writer who has also written a biography of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, has been president of The Authors Guild—the US equivalent of the Society of Authors—since March 2014. She said that “it is clear that writers’ incomes are declining”, claiming a drop in the number of people reading books and “struggles over royalty and prices” were among the reasons for lower incomes.

“Amazon discounting book prices means that there is a movement toward devaluing books,” she said. “And I think that has an impact on the way people look at writing. If Amazon keeps pricing e-books at very, very low prices, people start feeling, ‘well, actually, writing isn’t a valuable product’.”

But, she added, authors were not helping themselves by writing for free. “People write on Huffington Post, they write for Goodreads, they write for Medium.com: valuable sites owned by big tech companies that make a lot of money for those companies. Writers choose to write there for nothing and to provide content for nothing. That’s another issue, and that is something that writers are doing deliberately.”

Robinson said The Authors Guild would not advise any author to stop writing for publications, but argued that an article by an author on a website may not lead to book sales. “I don’t know that anyone has figures on sales that result from this kind of writing (for free),” she said. “Everyone says, ‘get your name out there’, but does that really translate to connecting to the hard mental presence of the book? We want writers to recognise what is happening, to be aware of this trend, that writers themselves are contributing to the idea that their writing doesn’t deserve to be paid for.”

Okay, here’s the rub: She is not completely wrong, but she writes from a different position than the rest of us.

Where she’s right: Digital content has basically been devalued to zero. The top selling mobile games are all free. How many people actually pay for music? You can stream free via Pandora or Spotifly, or just listen on YouTube. Sure, artists make some money, but not a lot.

A lot of this is because since anyone can get in, everyone can get in. And as the polar opposite in sports, where once an owner decided to pay top dollar for the best athletes and thus drove up the athlete’s salary, the moment some people decided to give away freebies because they were in a position too, people began to expect it. Woe be that writer who wants to make even a dollar off his/her work, when most of the public doesn’t mind paying $5 for a Starbucks grande latte. So in the sense that it’s become harder to make a living, let alone money, I think she’s on to something.

She is also correct that sites like Wattpad, Goodreads, Medium, etc., make money by essentially getting people to post free stuff, without being more supportive of indie authors who want to earn an honest buck selling their work (Wattpad is particularly unhelpful). While it does build exposure for some, it encourages people to expect to never pay for anything, because if you see all stories as merely words on a screen, and not anything with meaning to you, then it’s easy to just read free books. Look at all the folks who only ever go to the free-book section to download work.

However, suggesting that it’s bad to post free content to build a following is nuts. What am I doing now? How about your blogs, which I follow and read from time to time? How about Kboards, or Goodreads, or Wattpad, or any other place? The big advantage of these sites is that they allow anyone, even those without a “platform”, to get one. How can one get a platform if one isn’t already famous or well-connected? These sites, and the entire concept of self-publishing, do just that. It isn’t like I have a published op-ed column in a national digital newspaper with tens of thousands of views per article. So what to do if Oprah doesn’t know your cell by heart, or Bill O’Reilly can’t announce in on his show? Only via social media can some of us reach an audience.

The big question for anyone who writers, whether indie or trad-pubbed, is this: Will the market for paid books at least hold steady, or will we turn into the music industry, where a few megastars make tens of millions from sales of everything, while most indies struggle since no one wants to pay for their music?*
*I have bought indie albums before, so don’t blame me.
B&B: I enjoy reading posts from other bloggers, so don’t be a stranger, follow my blog and I will follow back! I also like featuring authors here. If you have a book and you’d like me to interview you, just message me and we’ll talk.

Follow-up Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work.

There’s a blogger named Delilah at Whimsydark.com who apparently got a lot of interest in a controversial blogpost. As she correctly noted, people do not visit blogs for self-help or for improvement. Folks want juicy controversy, which explains the multi-billion dollar gossip industry. Which is why it’s much easier to criticize pirating and get emotional over how evil and vile the “Big Five” and Amazon are, because the more radical one is, the more hits one gets. That’s the reality of our internet lifestyle.

So below is her controversial post, and my thoughts. Pay attention, class. School is in session. You can call me the professor.

Note: I am a subscriber to Delilah’s blog. I think this is worth checking out.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work.

April 13, 2015

Let’s talk about marketing, shall we?

It’s 2012. I’m sitting at a table in the front of the room, a microphone poised to capture my every word. At this local writing conference, I am considered a rock star. Everyone in the audience wants what I have–a three-book contract with a traditional publishing company. Their eyes are hungry, their pens poised over notebooks. We take a question from the crowd.

“How do I build a platform and make money with my blog?” a woman asks.

“Build a time machine and go back to 2005 and start your blog then,” I say.

Because it’s the truth. In this oversaturated market, the only ways to build a following and profit from it are to have been around for 5-10 years already or to already be famous. The woman sits down, unhappy with my answer. But no one else on the panel has a better one. Because there is no easy answer, no secret to building a following.

Scary, right?

It scares me, too.

From the very beginning of my writing career, I’ve been told that publishers want a writer to have a brand, a platform, a blog, a built-in army of fans. But that was 2009, and now it’s 2015, and that doesn’t work anymore. Book blogs become paid services, giveaways become chum pits, conference-goers dump purses full of business cards out in the trash to make room for more free books that they won’t read. It is virtually impossible to get your blog seen or your book discovered. We are glutted with information, and yet our answer to “How do I get people to buy my book?” is social media marketing, which is basically throwing more information out into the void.


B&B note: Yes, there are far too many websites and far too many distractions. This is why I say there will never be another Harry Potter book again- it’s not about whether HP is the greatest book series ever written. Even if hypothetically someone wrote books as good as that, you have far more distractions and competition than Harry Potter did in the late 1990s, when the first books came out. So if you though kids like me (I was a kid in the late 1990s) were distracted with Playstation and Nintendo64, now add social media, free games, free apps, Netflix, bing-watching television, and the glut of free stuff on the net, combined with the threat of piracy, and a struggling economy, and now you see why it’s so hard for anyone to pay attention, especially to books. Plus, the number of new children declines as the birth rate declines, meaning in 30 years, barring a sudden revival in baby-making, there won’t be enough kids to make children’s book publishing profitable. AND an increasing number of young people can’t read, thanks to an inept public education system.

1. Because Twitter doesn’t sell books.

It is a sad fact that if every one of my Twitter followers–which is 9,631, as of this post– bought my next book, HIT would hit the New York Times bestseller list. BOOM. Easy. One success like that helps an author with every stage of their career, raising their advances, giving them more bargaining power, and lending them a sort of street cred that even my grouchy Luddite grandfather understands and respects. Looking at my sales numbers, my followers are not following me for the purpose of buying my next book, and that’s totally okay. They’re probably there for my brownie recipes and #badscarystories. But the point is that whatever a publisher sees when checking my Klout score doesn’t necessarily translate into book sales. Whatever form of alchemy causes a person to click BUY IT NOW runs deeper than simply hearing the message every two hours as if the author is an insane cuckoo clock.

B&B: The free twitter services aren’t bad, but how many people do you know go to Twitter to buy books?

2. Because Facebook hides posts for blackmail purposes.

Back in 2007, Facebook was beautiful in its simplicity. You posted something to your personal page or your Fan/Author/Brand page, and everyone who was your Friend or Follower saw it. Since then, however, Facebook has recognized the error of allowing us to speak to our friends for free, and now, of my 1836 Fans, only 3-10% see any given post on the Author page that they have chosen to follow for the express purpose of reading my posts. If I pay $20, I could bump that number up to 30%. I would have better luck randomly mailing postcards to strangers. No matter what I say or how beautifully I say it, my message doesn’t reach the people who have asked to hear it.

B&B: Score one for Delilah! Little to people know that Facebook actually makes you pay TWICE to get everyone possible to see it. This is due to their algorithm changes, which affect who can see your posts. They do this because they can.

3. Because people aren’t on Instagram to find new books.

I got on Instagram hoping to reach people who prefer beautiful images. As an artist, I love setting up shots, tweaking the exposure, and using filters. But let’s be honest. Seeing a beautiful photo of my book sitting on my orange sweater beside a Pop-Tart isn’t going to make you go buy that book. Even if you judge a book by its cover, Instagram isn’t how people shop for great reads. I get more <3’s when I take pictures of Earl the donkey rubbing his adorable nose on my butt, but I haven’t yet figured out how to monetize that.

B&B: Instagram is the one social media site I don’t use, because I don’t know how to integrate it with my platform yet. I can see the value, but yes- people who go there are not looking to buy books. Same with Pinterest, Facebook, and lots of other places.

4. Because tumblr is not a spectator sport.

I tumbl. I love tumbling. But at 37, I’m practically a corpse over there. I’m not so much part of a vibrant, changing, sharing community as I’m on the sidelines, occasionally curating and adding value but never wanting to be pushy or intrude on the young adult readers I hope to one day call fans. To be honest, inserting myself into convos on tumblr makes me feel like Matthew McConnaughy in Dazed and Confused, when he was the skeever hitting on high school girls. I don’t need to be following or addressing teens, but I do want to be around if they’re looking for me. In a non-creepy way. That mostly involves retumbling my Instagram pics.

B&B: Scratch that, I use WordPress, not Tumblr. Or Snapchat. Or Keek. Or Vine.  Or YikYak. Or a lot of what teens use today. Whoa.

5. Because book reviews are not a place for the author.

I firmly, 100% believe that anyone has a right to express their feelings about my books in any way that they want, and that’s one of many reasons why I’ve removed myself from the realm of reviews. Reading bad reviews makes me feel horrible, and reading good reviews makes me feel creepy and embarrassed. I’m too shy to reach out and ask someone to read or review my book, and approaching book bloggers online out of nowhere feels awkward. Nothing makes me as happy as learning that someone liked one of my books, but I can’t go looking for that information. I turned off my Google Alerts forever after a Goodreads review made me uglycry.

B&B: Agreed that relying on book reviews, good or bad, is dumb. You will live and die emotionally on people who just want to complain, or only say nice things, no matter how shallow their post looks. Having said that, I don’t think I would object to blogpost after blogpost praising my writing and legions of people buying my books.

6. Because I hate newsletters and hashtag parties too much to inflict them on anyone else.

Seriously. I get so many of these invites from strangers and promoters and people who met me once at a con and now want me to retweet them every hour, and I can’t. Y’all, I just can’t. I can’t go to your book launch party in California. I can’t spend an hour when I could be writing just popping in to a virtual party to ask questions and give away $20 worth of my books to your followers. I don’t want to do anything “virtual” that involves ending every post with a hashtag. I have never signed up for a newsletter, so why do I get so many of them (me: :(, she doesn’t subscribe to my blog?!) ? And when I unsubscribe, why do they keep on showing up? Do not even get me started on people who add me to Facebook groups without asking. I will see you in hell.

B&B:  The problem is, there are just so many sites with book readers and writers, you have to tour everywhere and it’s overwhelming just to think about, let alone visit. And many folks hang out in one site, so you’re missing readers.


Are you seeing the thread here?

Social media is PUSHING.

B&B: Yup. And bragging about your unexceptional life to strangers, just to get a sliver of attention.

And today’s reader doesn’t buy things because the author pushed them.

As a reader, I want a book to pull me.

When I see a book’s name pop up again and again among people I trust, I want to read it.

When the cover is beautiful and the hook is compelling, I want to read it.

When I meet the author and they are gracious and kind and insightful, I want to read it.

When I listen in on a panel and like what I hear, I want to read it.

When I chat with someone on Twitter, and they make me laugh and add value to my life, I start to think that their book might add value, too.

None of those things are pushy.

None of them happen *to* me, uninvited.

I don’t want to be the object that is acted upon. I want to be the subject that makes a conscious decision, that feels a twinge of curiosity and discovers something amazing. I want to be the person who acts, not the person who is acted upon. I don’t want to be badgered and nagged and wheedled and urged and threatened and cajoled and whined at.

B&B: Okay, this is where I have a slight disagreement with Delilah. This is how advertising works. If GEICO was unsuccessful in getting people to sign up because of all their tv/radio/magazine/newspaper/social media ads, would they keep doing it? Of course not. The reality is, people need to be reminded over and over again. I just sat through 2 hours from a local radio station on advertising, and why I should buy ads with them and I can tell you how this works.

Would fishing be fun if the fish jumped out of the ocean and smacked you in the face?


And that’s what a lot of social media by authors is starting to look like, to feel like: being smacked in the face, repeatedly, by hundreds of fish. Being pushed. Being assaulted and yelled at and chased. Being manipulated and prodded and possibly tricked.

That’s not how you earn readers and friends. Literature is not a #teamfollowback sport. B&B: Tell that to the lit agents and publishers, who count the number if twitter/instagram followers you have before they decide to sign you to anything. And then expect that they expect you will push your followers to buy your books.

Books and social media are both about making a genuine connection.

So if you’re a writer who worries as much as I do about online marketing, the best advice I can give you is to chill out and write the next book. To focus your energy on the one thing that’s in your control: writing the best book you possibly can. Focus on editing each sentence to make it sing. Focus on helping your publisher craft a great hook and fabulous cover copy.

Spend your energy and time being kind to your colleagues, thanking your publishing team, and making new friends with no expectation that you will eventually use them to claw your way to the top. Before you Friend another writer on Facebook, make sure it’s because you legitimately want to know them better and be part of their life and not because you’re planning on sending them an Event invitation or a link to your book. If they’re smart enough to write a great book, they’re smart enough to see through that ploy.

Because here’s the secret: None of us know what we’re doing, but we’re all trying our asses off. We are all hungry.

I went to a panel on How to Write a Bestseller at the RWA conference and asked the two speakers what was the number one contributor to their making the jump from midlist to bestseller, and they both looked very uncomfortable and said, “We just kept on writing.” They couldn’t point to a single marketing-related action. They sure as hell didn’t say, “We sent a lot of auto-DMs on Twitter with our book links in them.”

The recipe seems to be GREAT BOOK + HARD WORK + TIME + LUCK.

And the writer can only control three of those things.

B&B Conclusion: Apparently, she  followed up with a post saying she got 50,000 hits on it, but still didn’t sell any books. It’s easier to ‘like’ something online than give money. Speaking of, I liked her synopsis, so I need to be reminded over and over and over to check her book out.

In all seriousness that is all author’s challenge. Why did Twilight sell better than every other vampire romance novel series everywhere? Why Hunger Games but not another dystopia? Why this thriller but not that one? As Delilah noted, no one really knows. Great writing and a great cover help a lot, but it’s luck. Some authors understand this, others do not. But yes, writing lots and lots means EVENTUALLY you might have something people want to pay for.

So my advice: Go forth and write what seems best to you. Promote it, and consider a great book trailer and great giveaways. And if you crack the 1,000 barrier, you get an A from Professor B&B.

The (Book Publishing) Industry has 39 problems. And they are…

photo: wikipedia.org

There was a great article from Digital Music News’s Paul Resnikoff published September 2014 about the troubles the music industry is having. After reading it I realized some of their tips could substitute terms related to “music” for terms related to “books”. Thus I have chosen a few top points using this substitution. This is just a fun read and something to think about as you chug along in your day.

Read the original article here. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re a music fan. Bold letter means I changed the words from the original into my version. (Artist and author are used interchangeably here)

1. The book publishing industry is failing.  Across the board, artists are experiencing serious problems monetizing their audio/print releases.

2. Major Publishing house revenues have been declining for more than 10 years, and they continue to decline precipitously year-over-year.  This has dismantled the traditional publishing system, once the most reliable form of artist financing.

3. Digital formats continue to grow, but not enough to overcome broader declines in physical books.

4. Even worse, the evolution of formats keeps pushing the value of the book downward. Free-books and the subscription model pay less than downloads (or for free-books not at all); downloads paid less than print versions sold independently.  And the next thing after subscriptions will probably be even worse.

5. There is little evidence to suggest that this downfall is being made up by touring, merchandising, or other non-writing activities.

6. The subscription model is rapidly becoming the dominant form of book consumption.  It also pays artists the worst of any formats before it.

7. Post-book, authors and publishers have failed to establish a lucrative, reliable bundle to monetize their writing (for all but a very few select authors).

8. Most consumers now attribute very little value to the book itself (if they ever did), and most consumption (through YouTube book trailers, bundled subscriptions, and the advent of free-books) happens at little-to-zero cost to the reader.

9. A generally uncertain economic climate only adds to consumer resistance against paying for books (plus the sad reality that a high percentage of our population suffers from illiteracy, which makes them unable and uninterested in reading unless we do something about this tragic problem).

10. Payouts to authors are not only hard to figure out, they are almost universally low and cannibalistic towards other, more lucrative formats.  Which is why many authors choose to self-publish at least some of their books (mostly e-books), because they conclude that 70% from Amazon at $2.99 per e-book beats 25% at $6.99 per e-book.

11. E-book downloads remain more lucrative for artists (and publishers), despite rhetoric indicating otherwise.

12. It’s harder than ever for a newer artist to get noticed.

13. The artist has greater and more direct access to fans than ever before in history. Unfortunately,so do millions of other artists.

14. Indeed, the typical reader is flooded with books, not to mention videos, games, Netflix, and porn, all of which makes it extremely difficult to win and retain the attention of future fans.

15. This also puts pressure on the artist to shorten the release cycle, and pump out content at a quick pace.

16. Facebook is now charging artists to reach their own fans, a move it defends as necessary given massive increases in Facebook posts that are overwhelming users (original author’s opinion, not mine, but still noteworthy).

17. All of which sort of makes the Facebook ‘Like’ a necessary win, but a difficult victory to celebrate.

18. Approximately 90% of all authors cannot make a living wage off of their writing, based on stats gleaned from Digital Book World.

19. Most artists are overwhelmed with tasks that go far beyond making music.  That includes everything from Tweeting fans, updating Facebook pages, managing metadata, uploading content, interpreting data, managing Kickstarter campaigns, and figuring out online sales strategies.

20. Classical literature and overall reading efforts continue to struggle, thanks to a continuing problem invigorating younger audiences to read a book.

21. Authors are increasingly giving away free-books, in the hopes of getting paid work down the line.

22. Information overload and massive media fragmentation have made it very difficult for book fans to even notice releases exist — even if they are dedicated fans.

23. Traditional bookstores have largely imploded, with holdouts like Barnes and Nobles on the verge of becoming a relic of an earlier era.

24. Either way, the biggest releases always go to the biggest brick-n-mortar stores: Target, Best Buy, or Wal-Mart.

25. Yet these larger, ‘big box’ retailers are accelerating the downward spiral in book sales, both by dramatically reducing shelf space and by pushing pricing aggressively downwards. This is happening even though older demographics are often still receptive to the print format.

26. Major publishers, once the most reliable form of financing for new and established authors, are now a fraction of their former selves.

27. And thanks to heavy financial pressures, the creative process at major publishers has become increasingly formulaic (ever wonder why so many bestsellers look like a repackaging of a previous bestseller?), overly refined, and often unsatisfying to the artists involved.

28. Instead of enjoying some theoretical resurgence, indie publishers are mostly getting squeezed by devalued and declining books, piracy, and far greater leverage from authors themselves (who can skip small presses if they want).

29. Established publishing companies often overpay their executives by a wild margin, despite massive and ongoing losses.

30. Very little innovation now comes from inside the industry.  Instead, it is now dictated by alternative-industry players like Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and the entire indie author industry.

31. A large percentage of book fans are frustrated with high prices for hardcover, softcover, and e-books from traditional publishers.

32. The average consumer reads less than five books a year. (kids books are, however, making a comeback)

33. Traditional bestsellers lists tend to have the same 14 authors in heavy rotation, with mind-numbing regularity and lots of Caucasian faces (despite the increasing global diversity in literature).

34. Even worse, a lot of readers don’t seem to mind (wait for your dystopian society novel about a boy vampire who goes to a school for people like him, all while trying to fight the evil Lord Waldemart, and only finding the Ring of Power and destroying it can save them from having our boy hero having to fight in an arena of sexy vampires who fight to the death. And of course, a romance angle is involved. Soon to be #1 in the world!).  Which means very few books actually get into rotation and discovery becomes harder.

35. Book fans have access to more books than ever, but are often completely overwhelmed.  This often results is less interest in authors that aren’t heavily promoted, already established, or somehow ‘viral’.

36. The Long Tail was mostly a fantasy, and so is the concept that great writing naturally finds its audience.  Buried gems remain buried in the digital era, while the most successful artists still seem to be those with the best backing and money.

37. Writing conferences are often expensive, both in terms of time and money.

38.Writing conferences are sometimes held in far away, difficult-to-reach places, and last for days.  Which also means that conferences can be giant distractions from work that needs to get done back at your office (since it’s unlikely you make enough money to be a full-time author or writer to go to a conference whenever you want).

39. Even worse, DRM has become an artist-unfriendly loophole for every author and publisher.

So what do you think should be added/deleted? Which point on this list do you think is most/least accurate?

Interview with my Fangirls

My fangirls were going to interview me on Thursday but they were so excited by Conference Championship Week on ESPN they forgot to do it on Thursday, so they got it in today prior to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 6pm.

I appreciate all my supporters so I am glad to repost this transcript from our phone interview.

Background: Kiki and Gemma run the popular job boards website lartfries.com. The site helps connect Liberal Arts majors to job opportunities with their BA degrees (as opposed to making my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee). I met them three months ago and showed them the draft of one of my newest books, with a publishing announcement to be made in July (pending my publisher’s response). They became such great fans they made it their second job to tell everyone about my book so by the time it gets released I’ll have a decent-sized following to begin promoting it. They have a weekly podcast called K & J Minute Magic.”

Transcript has only modified spelling errors or uses of grammar.

KIKI: Hey Sam, thanks so much for doing this!

ME: no problem.

KIKI: so we’ll start off with the first question: Where did you get the awesome idea for this book?

ME: (laughing) From the manatees living in a giant tank in my parent’s basement…but seriously, a lot of them come from everyday ideas. My secret is that I combine multiple ideas which make sense but are done in such a way that it’s almost impossible for my exact idea to have been done before. You know the saying how every idea’s been done before? That’s true to a basic element, but when you add these different elements together you end up with a unique story people can rally around.

As for this particular one…I like satire and comedy, but also book which really reflect the way we look at our world. I hope when the announcement comes people will be interested in this concept because it’s relatable. It’s not your everyday story or even your typical magic/wizard/dragon novel. It isn’t your typical mystery or young adult dystopia with vampires, etc. But it’s something I expect people to really connect with and feel like they learned something from.

GEMMA: Following up on that, I have to say, your writing style is kind of…different (laughter). It’s easy to read but it doesn’t look like most novels I’ve ever seen before. Not as heavy on the narration or adjectives but you don’t like to miss details. Tell us more about it.

ME: Well, Gemma, you’re right. My writing style isn’t the kind which wins literary awards. It’s not because it sucks or anything, but because I am not much of a “prose” writer. Sometime during the 1950s and 1960s there was an academic focus where literature was supposed to change from the really long-winded narratives like you see in work by Charles Dickens or Herman Melville or even in Stephen King novels. The idea was to shorten books and “get to the point.” What I call prose, however, is not this: I mean that there’s a particular writing style favored by literary types, like when you see “so and so remembered her days as a young child, playing in the grass…etc.” Or when characters or narrators spend a lot of time reflecting upon society or some issue in the book. I find it boring and I want to move on. Yet I find this is the most common style in a lot of literature I read, whether for teens or adults.

Another problem is, if I don’t write the topics the critics find interesting, they aren’t going to be interested. which book do you think is going to be more popular: A book about a young boy who marches in Selma and gets sprayed by a fire hose, or a young boy who runs around throwing ninja stars at people who complain about our country being screwed by the politicians, while they do nothing to stop these politicos? By this description the first one is a “superior” novel. But we ought to actually read the books before judging. How do you know the second one may not be better? Personally, I think I’d be more interested in book 2, but then again, I don’t give out awards.

GEMMA: So you’ve never won any awards or been published professionally before?

ME: (laughing) No awards for fiction writing. I have been published before, but as a journalist, communications director, and as a columnist. Never as a fiction writer. Not even in one of those little-known e-zines with the $10 honorary payments. Heck, not even on a site for no money. Someday, maybe.

KIKI: How do you find time to write while holding down a full-time job?

ME: It’s not easy, and those of us who work for a living know once you dedicate a large portion of your day to working and living, the motivation to start writing drops. Especially my job, which requires a lot of time in front of a computer screen or on a mobile device. The last thing I want to do most days is come home and sit in front of another screen to write 2-3 or more hours a day.

Realistically I probably get about 2 hours a day during the week, maybe 3 on weekends. In terms of word count, I’d say I average 1500-2000 words a day. Some days I get very little done. Some days I go “in the zone” and can go to 5000 or 6000 words. But those are the exception, not the rule.

The oft-discussed and little-known point is how much time social media eats into writing. By the time I think about my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn posts, I’ve already had to think about what I will do with YouTube, Pinterest, and Snapchat (to reach teens). Many authors hate social media- you read their thoughts on writer’s boards or at workshops. They want to write and often point out big-names who didn’t need social media to succeed. My response is, ‘they are the exception to the rule. Plus almost all of them, minus a small number of indies, had more publishing help marketing than you or I do.’ But it is time-consuming, that’s for sure.

GEMMA: How old were you when you first got interested in writing?

ME: My first “book” was written in kindergarten. I would write on construction paper and draw picture. Most chapters were as short as three words or as long as maybe fifteen. They were things like “I like school” or “Sports are fun. Soccer is my favorite sport.” I think I got the idea that I was going to be able to catch Isaac Asimov and the hundreds of books he’s had published. Probably too late for that dream, but my love of writing never diminished. Over time, it got stronger.

Kiki: Who was your favorite writer growing up, and why?

ME: Tough question. I can’t say there’s a “favorite”, but I enjoyed the Encyclopedia Brown books. I also like Hardy Boys and Goosebumps. I guess I would go with R.L. Stine, since I read more of his books than I did of anyone else’s. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were good writers I liked too. They have very strong styles. I also liked Ender’s Game a lot but I didn’t read that until I was older.

I’m not counting graphic novels or manga, but I was (and still am) a fan of Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Worst, 300, and comic books. Batman was my favorite superhero since he got around with gadgets and didn’t rely on super speed or strength to get by.

GEMMA: I know we’re running out of time but I wanted to address authors of color. As someone who comes from a diverse background, do you honestly feel it’s easy to make it if your name doesn’t rhyme with “Patterson” or “Brown”?

ME: Yes it’s possible, but that is one thing I noticed is tough to ignore. Unlike music, athletics, or actors, it’s tough to think of a big-name Fiction writer who is Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American/American Indian/Native Person (I have a tough time deciding what’s the appropriate non-tribal term for someone who’s ancestry can be traced to what we now call the U.S.A. Disclosure, I have ancestry also dating back to pre-Chrisopher Columbus ‘New World’.

KIKI: Oh wow.

ME: It’s true, though it wasn’t America where my ancestors are from. Anyways, it is tough. You always have to wonder if the literature world is ready for a big-name named “Desean” or “Henrique” or “Carlos” or something like that. America is changing, and I suspect down the road people of color will be more represented in literature. But that’s down the road. Today I expect more Anglicized names to dominate the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers list. Not that that’s bad, mind you, but I can completely see why non-White people may be discouraged from thinking they could become a bestselling author. This is a great topic I’m passionate about and I’ll be happy to discuss the next time you interview me.

KIKI: And we will definitely have you back on. Thanks so much for talking to us! We hope to talk to you again soon.

ME: thank you both for having me on.

(audio is not available at this time)

I just found the secret to making the bestsellers list! All you need is

$50 or more to take one or more Writer’s Digest course(s) on writing a breakout novel: (what, were you expecting something else?)

Write A Breakout Novel in 2015

THIS will be the year you get published! You’ll write the story that launches your career and lands on the bestsellers list. With advice, tools, and hands-on exercises from bestselling authors and agents, this bundle will walk you through the key elements of writing an unforgettable story that is sure to get published in today’s literary marketplace.

Learn the foolproof, time-tested strategies for writing a page-turner readers can’t put down!

Believe it or not, there are essential components of stories that show up again and again in bestselling novels. Learn these building block and you’ll be well on your way to completing your breakout novel in 2015!

(I suppose you could just read the bestsellers in your genre but that will take too much time.)

If that doesn’t help enough you can get some great tutorials:


12-Month Membership – All Tutorials
BEST VALUE Gain access to all writing tutorials for an entire year. Watch every video whenever you like, as often as you would like . . . and be the first to watch the new tutorial we post each week! Your subscription will automatically renew after 12 months if you do not cancel.
Just want to try it to see if you like it? Test it for $25 for one month.

Mastering Description & Setting

Format: Bundle

Many writers struggle with finding a happy medium for descriptive details. Either they have too much detail and lose the reader’s attention or not enough and leave readers confused. In this value pack, you’ll find instruction from literary agents, hands-on exercises from authors and examples from bestsellers on properly developing the description and setting of your novel. You’ll learn the keys to strong plot development, world building and writing characters readers relate to.

It can be difficult to discern which details of your novel are working and which aren’t. You may be getting rejected but are unsure exactly what the problem is (B&B note: Your ‘platform’ probably isn’t big enough yet to guarantee 5,000 immediate sales). This kit walks writers through the process of writing their setting, point of view, plot, and characters in an engaging way that excites agents and keeps readers entertained from start to finish.

Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting
EBOOKMake your stories come alive on the page. In this reference book, you’ll find instruction on mastering the aspects of description and setting in your writing with hands-on exercises that allow you to incorporate lessons into your own work.
Word Painting Revised Edition
EBOOKWriting nonfiction is an art much like painting. The words you choose to describe your nonfiction story have to illustrate the vision you have in your mind and capture the attention of readers. Learn how to develop their senses and powers of observation to uncover the rich, evocative words that accurately portray the mind’s images–and apply these descriptions to characters, settings, point of view, and more.
The Three Essential Building Blocks of Your Novel: Who, What, and Where
ONDEMAND WEBINARIn this OnDemand Webinar, literary agent Roseanne Wells explores the crucial areas of character, plot and settling to show how they fit together and how you can ensure yours are working for your story. If your work is getting rejected, you may be using plot, characters and settings that just aren’t working for your novel.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 1
ONDEMAND WEBINARAn overdose of detail stops a reader, just as a deficiency causes reader confusion. But proper use of World Building keeps the reader in the moment of the story and compelled to keep reading, regardless of genre. Learn how to think of world building as a strategy to tell a descriptive story.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 2
ONDEMAND WEBINARReaders appreciate knowing where they are in a story. That’s where world building comes in. In this online tutorial, learn how to properly convey era and place in your writing to keep the reader intrigued from beginning to end.
Description and Setting
WRITERS DIGEST UNIVERSITY COURSEWriting a novel can be overwhelming—especially if you are new to writing. Build your writing skills and challenge your creativity with this online writing workshop. You’ll learn the elements on how to write setting and description from Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting.There is no instructor for this workshop. You will not receive feedback on assignments. You may review the lessons and exercises on your own schedule.
Format Bundle

In Stock

Retail: $324.95

Your price: $49.98

10 Elements of a Viable, Lucrative Novel in Today’s Market

Many writers are in the dark when it comes to the question of what makes one novel saleable and another novel a “pass” in today’s complex publishing arena. What makes agents and editors say “no” to so many submissions and “yes” to just a few? (B&B answer: a much bigger platform than you currently have, the right connections within the industry, or you manage to write the EXACT book agents and publishers are looking for at the moment). Is there a specific formula? (B&B: no, vampire love stories and YA thrillers are the rage, and this is apparently making a comeback. I’ll explain in Sunday’s post) Are the criteria different today from 10, 20, or 50 years ago? What effect does the rise of e-publishing have on how novels are published, selected, and promoted? (B&B answer: Sell at least 10,000 copies of your e-book and an agent might actually reach out to YOU to see if you would be willing to sell print rights to a larger imprint. This may actually be the way most authors get representation in the future.) In the end, does it just come down to quality, or are there other forces at work? (B&B: a million YouTube subscribers or Twitter or Instagram followers or a TV show or Hollywood film lead role helps A LOT more than you know. Get on it, grasshopper!) This tutorial answers these questions (and more!)—shedding light on the inner workings of the often baffling publishing process, insight into the kinds of stories agents and publishers are seeking, and commentary on the principles every writer must be aware of to succeed in a dynamic and exciting time of change in the publishing world.

This tutorial is taught by literary agent Jim McCarthy. Jim is also the vice president at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management where he has worked his entire professional life since he started as an intern back in 1999. Jim focuses on adult and young adult fiction across categories from cozy mysteries and paranormal romance to literary fiction and some deeply quirky comedies. He is a frequent guest at writers’ conferences nationwide has numerous clients who are New York Times bestsellers.

In this 73-minute tutorial video, you’ll discover:

  • What elements a novel needs to be considered saleable by agents and publishers today—such as memorable characters, a three-act structure, and more
  • Why great novels will always have a place in the literary landscape
  • How to give your novel a fair self-assessment through self-editing (quick point: everyone thinks their book is the next Greatest Book Ever. It’s understandable; our books are like our babies, only no diaper change needed)
  • Why people read novels, where they get them, and what makes them decide which ones to buy
  • How the criteria for a novel today compares with that of the past, and what can be expected as the industry continues to change

Having trouble world-building? Too many descriptions or too few? Let Writer’s Digest help you out.

Mastering Description & Setting

Format: Bundle

Many writers struggle with finding a happy medium for descriptive details. Either they have too much detail and lose the reader’s attention or not enough and leave readers confused. In this value pack, you’ll find instruction from literary agents, hands-on exercises from authors and examples from bestsellers on properly developing the description and setting of your novel. You’ll learn the keys to strong plot development, world building and writing characters readers relate to.

It can be difficult to discern which details of your novel are working and which aren’t. You may be getting rejected but are unsure exactly what the problem is. This kit walks writers through the process of writing their setting, point of view, plot, and characters in an engaging way that excites agents and keeps readers entertained from start to finish.

Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting
EBOOKMake your stories come alive on the page. In this reference book, you’ll find instruction on mastering the aspects of description and setting in your writing with hands-on exercises that allow you to incorporate lessons into your own work.
Word Painting Revised Edition
EBOOKWriting nonfiction is an art much like painting. The words you choose to describe your nonfiction story have to illustrate the vision you have in your mind and capture the attention of readers. Learn how to develop their senses and powers of observation to uncover the rich, evocative words that accurately portray the mind’s images–and apply these descriptions to characters, settings, point of view, and more.
The Three Essential Building Blocks of Your Novel: Who, What, and Where
ONDEMAND WEBINARIn this OnDemand Webinar, literary agent Roseanne Wells explores the crucial areas of character, plot and settling to show how they fit together and how you can ensure yours are working for your story. If your work is getting rejected, you may be using plot, characters and settings that just aren’t working for your novel.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 1
ONDEMAND WEBINARAn overdose of detail stops a reader, just as a deficiency causes reader confusion. But proper use of World Building keeps the reader in the moment of the story and compelled to keep reading, regardless of genre. Learn how to think of world building as a strategy to tell a descriptive story.
World Building: The Art of Including Era and Place in Your Writing, Part 2
ONDEMAND WEBINARReaders appreciate knowing where they are in a story. That’s where world building comes in. In this online tutorial, learn how to properly convey era and place in your writing to keep the reader intrigued from beginning to end.
Description and Setting
WRITERS DIGEST UNIVERSITY COURSEWriting a novel can be overwhelming—especially if you are new to writing. Build your writing skills and challenge your creativity with this online writing workshop. You’ll learn the elements on how to write setting and description from Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting.There is no instructor for this workshop. You will not receive feedback on assignments. You may review the lessons and exercises on your own schedule.
Format Bundle

In Stock

Retail: $324.95

Your price: $49.98

I am on the Writer’s Digest list (I bought a one-year membership last year when I first started getting involved in the whole book publishing business) so 95% of my e-mails from them look like what’s above. It is entirely up to you to decide if you should order a writer’s bundle to help you with things. Note that I am not counting essentials like editing, cover art, platform building, etc., which ARE things you need to get published, whether traditionally or self-pubbed. There are reasonable things to offer for a fee and then there’s just basic stuff no book can teach. You can hire a coach for a great athlete to make him/her better and more fit but if said athlete is simply not good enough to make it then no amount of X-treme coaching will turn that athlete into a superstar.

B&B advice: If you need to pay someone to tell you the basics of novel writing or storytelling, you really ought to find something else to do with your time.

B&B extra advice free of charge: How about sharing ideas at the Kboards site or just posting them here and I’ll review your blurb or plot outline free of charge. Seriously, I mean it! I won’t edit the book but blurbs? c’mon man, test me.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.