Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Breeding Talent

The main problem with the new model in online publishing I've described in several recent posts is marketing. As it is in traditional publishing. If you're are a new or middle-list author the amount of your publisher's marketing budget you are likely to corner will be miniscule. Either in relative or absolute terms. As a result, your chances of becoming a bestseller are much reduced.

A similar problem exists with new-style publishing. Take my own experience. By and large I'm reliant on the website Free Novels Online to market my book A Half Life of One. Now, all I know about this site is that it is owned and run by Jennifer L. Armstrong and that it started up in July 1999. I've no idea how Jennifer promotes the site, how many of a staff she has in the marketing department and what her marketing budget is. But here's my best guess. In her spare time. None. Zero. In other words she does it all herself out of the goodness of her heart. Okay, there is a bit of enlightened self-interest here because she also promotes three of her own books at the same time. All the same, she certainly gets my vote of thanks for a remarkable example of public spiritedness.

Notwithstanding Jennifer's valiant efforts I do think this part of the marketing function of the new publishing paradigm could be improved upon with a bit of investment in some professional marketing. The question is, where should the money come from? It strikes me that there are three possible sources:

1 The authors who will benefit from exposure on the site. The site could be owned and operated by the authors for example or they could pay some sort of royalty.

2 Agents.

3 Publishers.

Why would agents/publishers want to invest money in a site which is in some ways in competition with them. Well, because e-publishing and traditional publishing needn't be a zero-sum game. Think about it. Publishers are one of the few industries that develop new products and sell them without any real market research. In effect what they do is toss a handful of dust into the air and hope that some of it comes down as gold.

Try this scenario. A traditional publisher gets hold of - or develops - a site like Free Novels Online. The site is still free for anyone to post their novel to it in return for granting the publisher the first option on their book. The publisher then treats the site as a combination nursery/training ground and a test marketing arena. An online slush pile if you like with the public as readers. The publisher puts some decent money and marketing muscle into the site to make sure it gets plenty of visitors. The publisher then sits back and monitors "sales" of the free novels they are promoting. Those that sell well they convert into conventional books. Everybody wins.

I don't know if this model already exists. I'm sure it could be improved upon.

I'm equally sure that it is an opportunity waiting to happen.


  1. Look, I know I said that blogging is good for getting things off your chest and letting your creativity flow but this is ridiculous! Have you been up all night thinking up this more than interesting scenario? Have a whiskey, lie down for a while and then talk to someone who knows. Sounds as if you've got something here and we should all start shouting about it. Pass it on until it gets to the 'people on high', someone will listen!!

  2. It is rather a good idea, isn't it? And funnily enough it did come to me when I was supposed to be sleeping.

    And, yes, you and me are living in a parallel universe because I've already e-mailed the G.O.B. about it. It'll be interesting to see what he makes of the idea, if anything.

  3. It is a good idea. I hope it's not too good for the mindless muddle that is present-day publishing. I'm not saying what gets published is all bad--quite the contrary. Across the board, there's probably a smaller percentage of truly bad books coming out today than ever. But the business doesn't work to anyone's benefit--it's like a bunch of blindfolded drunks doing aerobics in a pitch-black room. You can't realistically hope for any good out of the effort; you're extremely fortunate even to survive.

  4. Don't burst the beautiful bubbles jta, we're all allowed to dream. And that's all I'm going to say on the matter, I've got a fantastic novel to finish

  5. Sorry, Minx, but if you ignore reality it will certainly sink its teeth into your ass. Not that any given writer can't be successful. You can, if you have a good ms and you find an agent who believes in it and a publisher willing to take a shot. You'll get your advance and see your pride and joy (briefly) at the bookseller's, as always. But it's not likely your publisher will make much on the venture, and it's not likely that more established writers' work will make enough to subsidize newer writers or niche titles--not while the pub business is set up as it is presently. Ask the Publishing Contrarian about the "returns policy." Ask yourself how a book like the last Harry Potter could have been a break-even proposition for the publisher. Though I'm sure JK Rowling made out fine, it defies reason that there waasn't massive profit on that book. It was presold, to a huge, worldwide audience. That kind of book used to finance the new, untested, wild, unorthodox and arcane writing we've been pleased to call "literature." If we don't do some thnking about it, it's going to die.

    That's why we need folks like Pundy willing to think out of the box.

  6. Well said, you're forgiven

  7. You're kidding surely? I find it hard enough to read a book and I can read one of those anywhere. Who is going to sit hour after hour reading a novel on a small tv screen? Not the millions of people that buy books.

    Writers should really try and see it from a readers point of view. With the thousands of books that they have choose from in the average shop how are they to know what is good or not? We should all be aiming to write something that people want to read. Look at The Time Travellers Wife, The Da Vinci Code, or Harry Potter. People want to read them and people want to buy them.

    There are too many people who think that just because they can type a few words into a computer they think they are writers. It's bollocks. They should have there fingers cut off. By all means write something but don't take it personally if no-one gives a shit after.

  8. Oh dear, what can one say to that? I'll hold the noose Pundy and you can kick the box!

  9. But, Gav, reading online is great--it gives you somewhere to bugger off to when you're supposed to be doing proper work. And there's still time to spend all your money at the bookstore. What more could you ask?

    As for your other point, I have to agree. No one should be allowed to write anything but mass-market schlock. Amputation of fingers is too good for the bastards who don't.

    It's true that deciding what's good and what isn't can be tricky, but it's a lot easier if you first extract your head from your colon, difficult and unaccustomed as that might be.

  10. I think I love you jta!!!

  11. Viktor Janis6:41 pm

    "Who is going to sit hour after hour reading a novel on a small tv screen?"
    Good question, Gav. The point is: you don't have to read it from a TV screen. Actually, you can download it to your PDA (like mine Tungsten E2, for instance). And then you can read it virtually anywhere. Like on a bus, in a supermarket queue, in a bed (it has got a backlight display, which comes really handy when your wife wants to sleep and switches off the main light.) What's more: I live in Prague and if I order books from Amazon, it takes ages for them to arrive. Whereas if I buy them as e-books, I can have them straightaway. Or download the for free (note to Pundy: PDF is a dreadful format for PDA users, give us Microsoft word any day, pretty please.)

  12. Hi Viktor

    I didn't know that PDAs were PDF unfriendly. I'll have a look at putting up a Word version of my book that you can download in one go.

    The problem might be that the book was originally written in Word but when you paste it into your blog you lose a certain amount of the formatting. Paragraphs and indents don't seem to come out the way they are written so I might have to reformat the whole book (again).

  13. Viktor Janis12:03 am

    You don't have to bother because of me, Pundy - I have already copypasted all the 19 chapters into one Word file (yes, I am determined to read it :-)).
    It could be useful for other PDA users, though. The trouble with PDF files is that they are way too big, cumbersome, have to be viewed in some kind of Acrobat reader (I have uninstalled mine from PDA almost immediately after purchase) and cannot be converted to any other format.
    Anyway, don't worry about formatting too much - PDA users are used to losing it (and italics and bolds).