You folks probably don't need me to tell you how the whole marketing/retail/publicity angle of noveldom bears very little resemblence to a) the idealistic perception of a "quality=success" formula, and b) fairness.

It's a lottery. And it's fixed. For first time authors (yo), or those writing tricksy fiction which falls a little beyond clearly defined genre boundaries (double-yo), or those whose work is absolutely NOT intended for the safe, comfortable, oh-please-god-don't-challenge-us Mainstream (triple-yo), your chances of getting a big noisy marketing campaign are slightly lower than JFK showing-up alive and well in a Yeti commune in Tibet. That's a fact.

Depressing though it may be, I will never see my debut novel splashed on the side of London buses, clogging-up posters on the Underground, or being discussed ad-nauseum on the fecking Richard and Judy show (US readers: imagine if Oprah was white, alcoholic, braindead, and married to a living personification of the word "smug", presenting a daily show about Any Old Dross. That's the current literary trend-setter in the UK. Huzzah). So short of waiting for reviewers to recognise the novel's obvious brilliance (gulp), I'm left with the Internet as a way of drumming-up interest pre-publication.

Don't worry, I'm not going to use this as an extended advert for my own book. What I WOULD like to ask is whether any of you have an experience or advice in this field. My publishers and I have spent many hours discussing this stuff. It seems that "blog-force" can be a truly powerful thing: just look at the success of bands like The Arctic Monkeys, or movies like Snakes on a Plane - neither of which would've done as well as they have were it not for the huge 'net interest they created, which gave them the momentum to roll-on into the "real-world" mainstream.

But novels aren't quite the same, are they? It's one thing to invite people to listen to a 3 minute single and expect them to endorse the entire album, or to let them jigger-about with movie clips and script excerpts. But novels? I mean... for me half the joy of a novel is its portability: the organic sense of holding something in your hands and reading, be it in a park, in the bath, on the lav or in bed. You can't do the same if you're dragging your computer about with you.

Nonetheless, my publishers (and I) feel that modernisation has to start somewhere. To the best of our knowledge no one (certainly not in the UK, and certainly not any of the "big" publishers) are using the Internet cleverly enough yet. There's this reliance on library hardbacks as a cultural inroad, which nobody ever buys and which very rarely make any money.

So our scheme is simply this: after weeks of building-up interest in odd corners of the Internet - MySpace, blogs, etc etc - we're unveiling a website dedicated to the novel, which will allow visitors to read it for free. In chunks, that is, with a fresh section becoming available every two weeks, and the option to buy the hardback at any stage (at a discount). At the end of the period the book is taken down from the site, then the paperback becomes available 6 weeks later.

The idea (as I understand it) is to simply allow people to get buzzing about the book. If anyone has the patience and cheapskate-dedication to read the whole thing for free, good for them: it's a loss leader we're prepared to endure if it generates a bit of conversation on the 'net. And in the mean time people have always got the option to get fed-up of reading the bloody thing on their screen, and hit the "buy hardback" icon instead.

This ENTIRE thing is intended to allow us, ultimately, to approach the retailers with the paperback and say: "Hey, yeah, we know it's a debut author, we know it's a tricky genre book, but it's created aaaaaaall this Internet interest. You can't afford NOT to stock it..."

...which all sounds fine and clever and sneaky on paper.

But will it work? Have any of you had similar experiences? Any glowing or doom-filled thoughts on this unusual method of marketing? Any marketing stories of your own? Etc etc.

One of the greatest shocks I've had since becoming an "author" - that still sounds so pompous to me! - was that the actually writing-the-book-bit is far from being the whole story. You've also got to be part-publicist, part-schmoozer, part-marketing-guru, part-blah blah blah. It's maddening!


(For the record, the ball starts rolling here: It's All About The Money )

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All good points, but I think (and I stress that this is the publisher's scheme, so I might be getting it wrong) that they're all covered.

The sample chapters aren't up yet, because the site hasn't gone live (thus the countdown).

The scheme (as I understand it) would be to release each chapter free of charge long, long before the book arrives in stores. And yes, if you arrive in the third week (say) then chapters 1 and 2 are still there. At the end of the staggered release (throughout which punters can buy the hardback via the website, if they want) the entire book is therefore available, but only for 1 or 2 weeks. It's then taken down.

6 weeks later the paperback arrives in shops.

So I think all the potential troubles you highlighted are covered... but I happilly concede it might cause store-visiting buyers a bit of irritating if they're told they could've got the thing for free if they'd been 6 weeks quicker.
I wasn't really worried about the people in the store - but that reading a sample chapter on your site would be like reading one in the store except that I'd have the distraction of knowing I could come back in a couple of weeks and then a couple weeks after that or just time my visit for the last installment... See, it's silly, but something as trivial as that might keep me from ordering the book. Still, that's just me. It is good that your publisher is interested in doing SOMETHING to support your book.

I do wonder who the target audience would be, however. I mean, who reads books online? I'm sure people do, but what's the demographic? Younger people are more likely to be online, but older people are more likely to buy books, no?
I think you have a wise publisher. And Sandra is right about getting to the various discussion lists around, such as Dorothyl and 4MA. Since I have zero interest in YouTube, I hope that isn't the wave of the future, but I've heard even well-established authors say their sales jumped after having a YouTube bit.

The quandary is to decide who your target readership is. I sense in what you've posted here that your publisher is also dealing with this matter. Most likely, the publisher believes in you enough to gamble on the new approach you've jointly arrived at, and I'm impressed by that. Stop worrying and start visiting those discussion sites on the internet. It's good you're here -- it's an ideal place to start!
I think your approach is a good thing, Simon, and a way to clue into a market that is changing every second. It sounds trite, now, but as writers, we are in a deadly competition with things that move a hell of a lot faster than turning the pages of a 300 page novel. The good news is that folks seem still to like books, enjoy holding them in their hands, and prefer getting a whiff of paper and ink rather than a cold little e-folder--I totally agree with you there. But our hold is precarious.

I think it's critical to exploit every available contemporary avenue to sell our work. Look at advertising for everyday retail goods--stuff we use everyday. We still use the same stuff as we did ten years ago, but the ways we evaluate our purchases are more sophisticated. Whole generations go online first to check things out before buying them--I'm in my forties, but even I do this. And I expect that, to reach people my own age and younger in order to tell them about my book, I'll have to reach them where they are. As a side note--I also anticipate dramatic changes in the industry in the next few years. If we're not on board, or anticipating currently unidentifiable change, we fall by the wayside.

I'll second and third the notion here that publishers are way, way behind the curve. I had to make it a point of my current contract that my novel would have mention of my website on the cover. And no, there was no suggestion that my publisher--neither here nor in the UK--would support me in any way with that site. We're really on our own out here. (I do have a trailer on my site with stills and no pesky quotes.) All that stuff about paying for placement is so true. But Sandra is dead-on about word-of-mouth. I'm only at the ARC stage right now, but, in six months, I plan to visit far more reading groups than empty bookstores!

I think you're on the right track, Simon. When the work is good, word will spread and the money will follow. Keep us posted about where to find your work. Good luck! I'll friend you now!

I
Oooo--I followed the link. Great page! I want more!
After reading Steven Torres' post just now, I followed the link too, and it came right up. But when I tried to return to Crimespace I got knocked off IE. (Internet Explorer).

You might want some technical people to look into what's going on there.

Also, FWIW, I think what you have there so far is too much of a tease for serious readers. We who read a lot of crime novels want the whole thing or a good idea of it, and little bits and pieces are more irritating than appetite-whetting. If you see what I mean.
Cory Doctorow (Canadian journalist, SF author, and charter member of BoingBoing) generally releases his books online as they are published in print. (See the books section of his blog for details: http://www.craphound.com/index.php?cat=5) He has found it not only doesn't hurt sales, it helps them. He doesn't dribble chapters out, though, nor does he remove them. His publisher is Tor, an imprint (or is it a house?) belonging to St. Martin's, so hardly an off-the-wall small press full of wildly unconventional ideas.

I have to say, I can't read serialized fiction. I want it all, NOW! And trying to send a friend a link to content that meanwhile disappears would frustrate me. Hard to share the word when the stuff disappears.

So far as I have been able to determine, every time a publisher has let people read books online for free,
sales have gone up. I'm not sure of individual titles, but that appears to be true in aggregate. Amazon "search inside," Google Book Search, the National Academies Press, and individuals like Lawrence Lessig have all reported it works. Discovery is the hard part - the sale, once someone is interested, is not nearly so hard.

Then again, for all the angst in the RIAA about criminal behavior, and their relentless pursuit of college students (they are now collecting large "settlements" from students in exchange for not suing them, a practice that is pretty close to blackmail) the evidence seems to point not to illegal file sharing as the perpetrator so much as the music industry itself. Too bad the publishing industry doesn't respond differently. The real threat (if you want to call it that) facing publishers isn't that people might pirate online books, but that they can buy used books so cheaply and efficiently, thanks to Internet listing and sales.
GALLEY CAT has some recent reports on reactions among SF writers to the idea of giving books away free on the internet in order to promote them. The word "scabs" appears, though the rationale isn't entirely clear to me. Apparently SF writers believe that they compete against each other. You might find their take interesting.
I also don't like to do much reading on the computer. Let's face it, I spend most of my day there already. I prefer to take a book to bed with me.
I think Sandra implied a gentle warning about DorothyL. You must be pleasant and complimentary there at all times and to everyone or bad things happen. But it is a large list so maybe the advertising is useful.
Promotion on line via video book trailers and through book sites for readers etc., would seem to me to be ideal for an independent author denied exposure in the media. It's just a variation of what an author with a large publishing firm would be expected to do. If you don't promote you die no matter how 'big name' an author you may be. This applies outside the world of books as well. I have found the use of videos to be most effective although I admit that there are many out there that are dire. The technical facilities for producing them are a breeze. They just need imagination.
Cheers,
Brian
Great site, very offbeat! As a reader, I agree with other posters that it's preferable to offer just one sample chapter online; that way people feel more inclined to make the decision to buy there and then, based on what they have read, whereas if they wait for more chapters to be available, chances are people are more likely to forget the book/site/title.
Simon, who is this outside-the-box-thinking publisher of yours? I couldn't find them on your MySpace.
Hodder Headline (the imprint is "Headline Review" - they do James Patterson and Neil Gaiman's stuff, amongst others). There's no reference to them on the MySpace page just yet because - for better or worse - we're keeping things a little mysterious: maintaining the conceit that Michael Point is a real person and irritating the hell out of everyone on the "friends" list with How-To-Dispose-Of-A-Corpse stylee bulletins. Most people have guessed the truth, obviously, but it's entertaining to receive worried emails from those who haven't. I've already been booted off Gumtree.com (a London-based advertising website) for essentially soliciting the services of a paid killer. It's all good fun. ;)

The latest bit of subversive guerilla-style advertising is to leave postcards and flyers in the toilets of all the grottiest pubs in Camden, Hoxton and Soho, bearing the legend: "Everyone needs someone Dealt With once in a while. Contact Michael Point for all your Troubleshooting Needs..." with the myspace URL and the holding page.

There's always the chance we'll get in trouble for this sort of bad-taste stuff, but in a morbid sort of way, I kind of hope we will. "No such thing as bad publicity", and all that. ;)

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