This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Talking to the Rotary Club About Publishing

            This week the program chair of the Rotary Club asked me if I could give a talk on self-publishing in the digital age at one of the December meetings. I’d love to tell you I was asked because I’m an internationally recognized authority on the subject, but the reality is that I’m someone they know who has done it, and I’m generally willing to give a talk.
            Actually, one of the points I would make in such a talk is that I don’t believe there are any true experts in that field. There certainly are people who know a considerable amount about some aspect or another, but digital self-publishing is so new, and the options so many and bewildering that no one could really grasp it all. Nor have there been sufficient time and verifiable results for anyone to really know with any degree of certainty what’s most likely to work.

The Known Knowns

            There probably are two things that can be reasonably stipulated. The first is that digital self-publishing has given authors a more cost-effective and return-probable way of publishing their own work. The second is that the internet gives everyone a chance, albeit a longshot, at making a new book known to a wide audience and getting it purchased by enough people to make the effort worthwhile.
            In the old days (less than 10 years ago), self-publishing was a mug’s game. The author had to pay a printer thousands of dollars up front to run off a few thousand copies of a book, then drive to every bookstore for miles around, begging them to take a couple of copies on consignment, then try to keep track of all the books. Not one person in a hundred thousand came out ahead.
            Now there are outfits like Amazon that can process a word document into an e-book in minutes and sell that book around the world, or can format it as a print book and print copies only as ordered, saving the author a huge up-front cost. Game-changer is too mild a word for this development.
            Of course before anyone buys that book, they have to know about it and have a reason to seek it out. If it’s a book about a specific subject, say model railroads, with a number of core enthusiasts, internet searches can generate sales. For a general mystery novel like my book, The McHenry Inheritance, it’s not so easy.

The Unknown Unknowns

            It’s pretty much a given now that an author has to create a web site for his book, and do a video as well. The next question becomes how to drive people to the web site and video. I have been working with an excellent social-media guru on this subject and received some valuable pointers. Still, at the end of the day a lot of it comes down to persistence and experimentation.
            An author trying to promote his or her own book has such a smorgasbord of choices that it’s intimidating. I could easily be working 16 hours a day on book promotion (if I didn’t have a day job) and still not be doing everything I could. Nor would I really know whether the things I was doing were the things I should have been doing. A spectacularly big reaction tells you you’re doing something right, but no reaction simply means maybe. Maybe you tweeted a couple of hours too early. Maybe everybody was simply too busy to see what you put out today. You just don’t know. At this point, I figure all I can do is keep trying, keep analyzing, and pray for luck.