Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More thoughts on publishing

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of - and probably participated in - my attempt to construct a top-class marketing pitch for my novel A Half Life of One. I'm pretty sure I've now got the best Query Letter and Synopsis that money can - or in this case didn't - buy. I'm also pretty sure from the feedback I've had over the last year that the book isn't a total clunker. Quite a few people have read and enjoyed it over the past year via my other blog. Judging by the stats there around 1-2 people a week read the book in its online form. Let's say 50-100 readers a year. Not quite a bestseller then.

The question I find myself wondering about now is: how much greater will the readership be if the book is picked up by a traditional or paper-based publisher? One thousand more readers a year? Two thousand? Twenty thousand?

Judged by the following two examples, the answer might be, not much.

Gerard Jones is famous - perhaps notorious is a better description - for his website "Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing". After many rejections, Gerard finally had his book "Ginny Good" published in April 2004. The book was favourably reviewed in the Guardian and a number of other publications. In October 2006 he received his royalty statement. In the previous six months he had sold 24 copies (one of them, incidentally, to me). Becoming a published author hasn't yet made his fortune it seems.

A couple of months back I had a conversation with one of the blogosphere's top literary bloggers. A true A-lister. She receives in excess of 900 hits a day, sometimes much more. A few months ago she published a novel which she has promoted on her blog. The book is also available as a free download. This book too has received a number of favourable reviews, including one in one of America's top broadsheets. Six months after publication she had sold 34 copies.

Maybe getting published won't be the answer to all my prayers after all.


  1. Daddy Radic, aka Father Felony4:06 pm

    Depressing numbers. However, I truly believe that it's not 'favorable reviews' and a 'blogsite' (with self-promotion), etcetera, that sells books. There's something else...call it word of mouth, if you will, or the nimbus of divinity, or luck, or the tipping point, or viral marketing...whatever, it's there. And you can't control it or make it happen. It just does.

    All that to say this: publish! It might go, it might not. Either way you had nothing to do with it. You're kind of like Odysseus -- at the mercy of the gods.

  2. Hi daddy,
    Actually since I wrote that post this morning I've discovered that Roger Morris has just received his first royalty statement from Macmillan New Writing. In the first quarter of his novel's release he sold 1804 copies which is much more encouraging. I guess it helps to have a big powerful marketing machine behind you.

  3. So what does drive you guys, then? Is it the act of writing, of getting the endorsement of publication as chosen by an independent judge (the publisher)? Number of readers?

    I'm curious as to what makes you lot (writers) tick. I never think of myself as a writer, but in the almost-year since I've had a blog, I've noted writer-like tendencies in myself -- spell-checking my posts, wondering if anyone will comment, etc. What is going on here? Well, you guys (Pundy, JTA, Minx and co) are the experts. (Don't know you so well, Daddy, but probably you are too -- would not be hard to be more expert than me on this topic at any rate).

  4. Maxine, that's a real deep question, one I'll need to think about. I'll make it the subject of my next post I think and then everyone else can have their say.

  5. You're right, Bill. The answer, if there is one, is promotion, and good agents now try to get the publisher to commit to a promo budget in the sale contract. Unfortunately, for first novels, this will be minimal, at best, and almost always comes with a concomitant promise by the author to help out--to hit the road and sell the book, at bookshops, on radio, and, for the blindingly lucky, on television. The publisher will pay for ads, and perhaps make media arrangements, arrange for favorable display space, and provide review copies--but only if they feel it's worth it. For first novels, it usually isn't.

    The underlying problem is inflation. Population inflation. I'll bet there are more writers working now than there were British citizens in, say, Dickens' time, and more in Dickens' time than citizens during Chaucer's.

    What's needed is a virus that would kill writers selectively, or, a bit more demanding, bad writers. Clear the field a little. A lot. Not only would publishing be easier, but you would probably win the Nobel Peace prize, and be able to retire and write full-time.

    Until then, the ponly answer is promotion, because the same factors apply to selling books as apply to anything else--people have to know about the product you're offering before they can bestir themselves to seek it out and pay for it.

    I'd work on the virus, though...

  6. Jeez, jta, that's a pretty devastating analysis of the current publishing situation, but I must confess it feels accurate to me.

    I don't entirely agree with your remedy though. I'm going to work on the antidote BEFORE I start work on the virus. Just in case.

  7. I've just stumbled across an interview with Donald Maas, a top US Agent who thinks that publicity, book tours, publishers' hype etc aren't what sells a book. Instead he believes: "Only one thing can explain it: word of mouth. What generates word of mouth? Only one thing: great storytelling. That's the one thing you can't buy and the one thing that publishers, booksellers and critics can't take away from you".

    Great storytelling. Maybe that's the answer after all.

  8. Anonymous6:02 pm

    Bit drastic jta, wickedly funny and probably needed too!
    Quite a while ago, a discussion in the staff room led to eight people reading The Da Vinci Code, eight people who probably hadn't picked up a book for years.
    Word of mouth is good, it put a few more quid in Dan Brown's pocket, but did they enjoy it? Fuck knows and does he care?

    What makes me tick Maxine? What makes me write? Think of it like a fur ball. Got to get it out and down on paper, after that it is beyond my control!

  9. Questions: What is the critical mass of the nucleus of original readers to set the word-of-mouth chain reaction off?

    What might catalyse the reaction?

    Word-of-mouth is necessary for any book, but is it sufficient?

    Can't we just kill most of the writers?

  10. Evening Bill.

    Bit late in on this one I expect, but:

    a) Would it be more wonderful to own a fully-produced version of your novel that only sold 11 copies


    b) To continue your fearless and admirable plodding-onwards, publisherless, agentless, without ever quite receiving the break you require and deserve?

    I think -- and call me a pleb if so fitting -- that perhaps your time here has been on marketing AHLOO (snappy acronym isn't it?) 'for the love' rather than as a career move. I also think you might earn just enough from your mentioned businnesses to not quite worry about paying the bills with a bestseller. But of course my two points up there are probably common-sensical, and I might well be wazzled.


  11. Anonymous12:32 am

    Wazzled you may be dear Matt, but you is talking the talk!
    I have just acquired a fully formed novel and happy to say that it is just edging past the 11 mark but it is not the numbers that count. The pleasure is pure. Seeing all those words, my words, captured between the covers is more than I had hoped for, prayed for!
    Pund, you may just have to adjust your prayer a bit. What is it you want? Only you had better hurry because jta is about to get to critical mass!

    btw crystal ball say that common people are now fed up with being fed the mainstream pap on supermarket shelves and will come looking in the outer limits for small gems.


  12. Righto Minx, I've been lurking at Skint seeing your book come to fruition since its inception. In theory I should've attended your launch, given that

    a) I live in Cardiff
    b) I'm writing
    c) I work in independent publishing.

    But I didn't, for which I am sorry.
    If I get some spare cash I'll pick up a copy, promise.

    Businesses was quite the typo, my apologies.

  13. Hi Matthew,
    definitely would be more wonderful to own even 1 copy of a "proper" novel, but it's probably not going to happen is it. I'm still trying, of course. But I think I'll end up self-publishing eventually.

    My time here, "for love, rather than a career move"? I'd do anything to become a published writer and change careers. But right now I'm trapped in my business and unpublished. Not good but entirely my fault.

    I'd rather be wazzled than addled.

  14. Minx, rest assured we're all sharing in your happiness. Enjoy it, you've earned it.