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