Wednesday, October 11, 2006

the year of living pimpishly


A month ago I said I'd be back with my feelings about my year of pimping and whoring.
For the past fifteen years I've said a writer can't sell her own books. That it's a waste of time and money and energy she could be using to write the next book.

Yes, maybe a few hundred UNITS will sell with a writer's push, but not the numbers you have to be able to sell in order to make a living in this business. That has to be done by the publisher. IMO. I'm not going to give actual print run figures, but with my first thriller I did absolutely nothing and the book made the USA Today list four weeks in a row because of strong publisher backing and a nice print run. I also think the book had broad appeal. As a single, unemployed mom at the time, I'm not ashamed to say this was something I deliberately went for. The book also had a cover with broad appeal. I was actually told to keep a very low profile, so even people in my local writing group didn't know I was writing under a pseudonym.



I had absolutely no network or support group. No one outside my immediate family knew my secret. No photo. Vague bio that actually called the book a debut thriller. True, but a bit deceptive. Unknown writer, unknown book. Success.

This year I pimped and whored to the extreme. Pale Immortal still ended up with a print run that was half the run of my last book - common with most writers in these sad, tough times. It had some publisher backing, plus a beautiful although somewhat confusing cover which I think might have kept it out of the hands of target readers. Fewer books means less exposure, so that alone muddies the pimping question. Pale Immortal wouldn't have had the broad readership of my first book, something else that's important. Easy to slot, easy to market. This book wasn't.

Print run pretty much determines success or failure unless something else comes into play such as a movie deal or oprah to give it a big boost from the outside. That's not to say a book with a large print run can't fail. It happens all the time. But in order to succeed, a fairly large print run is a necessity. It's all about numbers.

But my own personal feeling/guess is that blogging and self-promotion doesn't help sell many books. I think more people have heard of me, but I don't know if that necessarily translates to much in the way of book sales. Not that I'm trying to talk anybody out of buying my books. God no!!! And not that I don't appreciate my pimp squad!!! I love my pimps!! And loved the blog crawl!!! That was fun as hell. I'm just trying to step back and process everything in more of a bean counter way. And it could be it will take another year or so for me to have a more solid answer. I could even change my mind/opinion at some point in the future.

Hush - no self-promotion - USA Today list for 4 weeks, fairly big publisher backing.
Pale Immortal - promoted the hell out of it - great reviews, some publisher backing, no in-house excitement that I know of, average sales.

For myself the amount of time, energy, and money I put into promoting wasn't worth it.

That's not to say that blogging hasn't been great in a completely different and unexpected way. It's not about selling books but about being a part of a community. It was so weird and wonderful to go to Bouchercon and see SO MANY people I knew - all from blogging. When you finally meet a fellow blogger, there is no introductory phase because you already know the person fairly well.





That's SO NICE. So I will continue to blog for that reason. Because I enjoy the socialization. People will say they bought my book because of my blog. I know that's true, but I also think the circle is fairly small and when we're talking about the numbers it takes to make a book successful in the eyes of a publisher - I'm not sure blogging makes much of a dent. A writer needs to focus on writing something a publisher will sit up and back and get excited about. I managed to do that with Hush, but haven't been able to hit that moving target since then.

One more thing. I think blogging would have more long-term impact if careers were long-term. But if a book bombs, or sales are just so-so, a writer might have to reinvent herself and start over with a new name. And the typical reader doesn't keep up with these reinventions.

And another one more thing. Hush came out the year before 9/11. Within two years of 9/11 mass market paperback sales were down a total of... it was either 23 percent or 28. so far there has been no recovery.

47 comments:

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Very well thought out and reasoned. Sorry it didn't work out the way you had hoped, but I think you're right about needing that backing from the publisher. Bloggers and people who read blogs are a fairly limited group, and if you're going to get the sales the promotion needs to go out to a wider base of people. Though I believe that the writer can do some of that push, if the backing isn't there from the publisher it may not grab enough people's attention.

I get the sense that the business model is fairly backward, though I can understand why. Writer makes a product, sells the product to a publisher, publisher in turn sells that product to a bookstore, bookstore sells it to a consumer. But, if I understand it correctly, no (or very little) real money actually moves down the chain until the book is in the consumer's hands. The bookstore doesn't pay for what it doesn't sell, sending things back, so the publisher doesn't get paid for at least some of its print run, making it less likely that they'll do that same print run the next time.

It strikes me as largely self defeating for the publisher. If they promoted more, they might sell more. But I can understand the reasons behind the decision. Spend the money, and the money might not come back. Don't spend the money, and if it does well that's more profit.

And then there's the problem, like you said, of paperback sales being down and not having recovered. If nothing else, 9/11 has built the careers of many an economist trying to second guess people and where they're going to spend their money. I have to wonder where all that cash is going now. From what I understand a lot of smaller bookstores are moving business books and erotica more than they're moving just about anything else. I have to wonder what that says about the American psyche.

Excellent point about readers not keeping up with reinventions of an author. With the decline of the midlist it strikes me that what a writer is really selling is, not her books, but her name. Not vouching for anyone else, obviously, but unless I'm reading an author I'm not familiar with, I tend to look toward a writer's name rather than their works when looking for something to read.

I don't know what your next one is going to be titled, but I don't have to. I'm looking for Anne Frasier, not "Pale Immortal 2: Electric Boogaloo". I know that the story is going to enjoyable. Whether I'm your "target" audience, or not, I'm not sure. I'm not sure that the publisher knows what the target audience is. Do you?

Readers are a fickle bunch. We're asking them to spend their money on an entertainment that can take hours, days or even weeks to read, depending on nothing we can control. At least a movie is over in 2 hours. And as an audience member, there's nothing to do but sit back and let it roll over you. Reading requires a lot of work on the reader's part.

I know I had a point in here somewhere, but I started rambling somewhere around sentence two. Anyway, keep blogging. If it weren't for that I wouldn't have met you (even if it's only been virtually), and I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here, getting to know this thin slice of who you are, and getting introduced to your work.

And keep writing books. You're a fantastic story teller. Maybe Anne Frasier needs a different house, editor, etc. One that will take more chances on someone who has a solid career behind her and a proven track record, even if it's not DaVinci numbers.

Susan Flemming said...

You know Anne, I'm actually kind of relieved to hear this. I've read so such about... you've got to have a blog, you need to build a readership or your book will fail... you've got to promote the hell out of yourself or you're not serious about your writing career and other variations along the same theme.

And I'm relieved to hear that it isn't necessarily true because I've discovered that blogging on a daily basis or even every other day just isn't my thing. And doing a mega book tour ala JA Konrath... well... I can only begin to imagine how emotionally draining that would be for me.

The only thing I could see myself really enjoying would be going into schools. I had a blast doing that when our kids were little. And someday if one (or more) of my picture books is published, I can see myself really enjoying doing that again.

The fantasy novel I'm working on isn't written for children so what kind of promotion would work for it, I haven't got a clue.

All the PR stuff writers are "supposed" to do to promote themselves, I just don't think I'm cut out for most of it.

bekbek said...

How did he know you were going to call it Electric Boogaloo?!

Kelly Parra said...

It's a bummer this didn't work out. And even more so your distribution was cut. I agree that blogging is like a small community and more social--for me anyway! haha. There are very few bloggers who have such great impact. But just know that you did the best you could and that counts for something. I think that's all writers can do...the best they are capable of. =)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

It's funny you should post about this. I was just reading Janet Evanovich's book on writing the other day, while standing in the book store, and under the PUBLICITY section she pretty much says you should be concentrating on the next book and let the publisher worry about publicity.

Granted, she doesn't really need to worry about it, but she was giving advice to first time novelists. Her feeling seemed to be that you can publicize like crazy but it won't make much of a dent. As the writer, you just don't have the time or the ability to push yourself like the publisher can.

Sound familiar?

angie said...

Dude, I'd RUN to buy a book called Pale Immortal 2: Electric Boogaloo. But that's just me. :o)

There are so many variables (as you've pointed out), it's hard to say what works & what doesn't. That old saw about only half of the promo works, but you can't figure out which half is annoying but accurate. Having said that, I've never quite understood why blogging is supposed to be this fab promotional tool. On the other hand, it didn't really hurt your sales, did it?

Mostly I just really enjoy blogging & have really gotten a kick out of getting to know some great people - even if i haven't had a chance to meet everyone in the real world yet. So...sorry it wasn't the smashing success, but very happy to hear you're not planning on pulling up stakes. um, yeah. That all I gots to say here.

anne frasier said...

stephen, thanks for the insightful comments. publishers are having a tough time, and i totally sympathize with them. i think a lot of what is going on now is born out of desperation.

as far as a target audience -- this book didn't have one. or rather it kept shifting. i really like to write to a target audience, which is what i did with hush. i was asked to target women with the next book, and make it quite a bit softer. that book didn't do as well. Pale Immortal was originally written for an almost young adult audience 15 - 21 or so. i'd wanted to write for that group for a long time so i was fine with that plan. originally most of the story belonged to the teenager. then the market shifted and vampire romances were hitting the times and romance readers became a blurry target even though it's not a romance.

and i should have specified that the paperback original world is a different world. it's all about print runs and velocity of sales. fast, fast, fast. the cover is pretty much what sells the book to the masses because paperbacks are rarely reviewed or promoted. a book that goes from hardcover to paperback has a much, much longer life and the paperback reprint sells because of the hardcover reviews and exposure.

anne frasier said...

susan, i'm glad to bring some relief into your world! i know people will argue about my position on this -- i've been attacked for my viewpoint in the past, but this is how it looks to me from here. i love joe, but he and i are polar opposites when it comes to this subject. we should be on a panel together and talk about self-promotion! that might actually be a panel i'd like to be on.

anne frasier said...

bekbek -- oh my god!! the secret is out!! damn that stephen blackmoore!!!

anne frasier said...

kelly, i'm definitely glad i tried the heavy self-promotion because i can now be fairly satisfied with my conclusion.
i don't regret it for that reason alone. and the blogging. it got me blogging!

anne frasier said...

rob, that's good to hear. sometimes i feel pretty alone in my viewpoint. i think writers don't want to know that they really have very little control of what happens to a book once it's written. for me there's a certain amount of peace that comes with that realization.

anne frasier said...

angie, yeah, i might have to start calling the sequel that. :D i now think of blogging as a nice way to vent and a nice way to hang out and get to know people. writing takes place in such isolation, and blogging kind of brings the world into my house. i like it too much.

bekbek said...

You say, "A writer needs to focus on writing something a publisher will sit up and back and get excited about."

And I can't help but see this in comparison with motion picture.

Studios make what investors sit up and back and get excited about. The trouble is, investors are excited about making money of an investment, not making a great movie or even just a good movie or even just a movie that lots of people want to see.

And distributors, likewise.

And if the movie isn't available for lots of people to see, lots of people don't see it, and investors don't make their money.

Pfffffft. Meanwhile, it's hard to get the money to make a really great film, and lots of young filmmakers work as bartenders.

Bill Cameron said...

I contrast your experience with the Konrath approach, and confess to befuddlement, but between your experience and what Janet Evanovich said, I do feel a little measure of relief about my own inexperience.

But in thinking about Konrath, I'm reminded of something a former boss in the graphic design biz always said. "We're not designing for consumers, we're designing for the channel." Our product designs had to convince a single buyer in an office somewhere to order the product in question. If we failed there, the consumer would never have a chance to buy the product anyway.

So when Joe Konrath travels to 500 bookstores in 60 days, he's not selling books to readers. He's selling himself to his channel, which is the marketing and sales department at his publisher. That strikes me as really smart, if also a helluva lot of work that has nothing to do with writing at all.

So what does the blogging and the public appearances do for us as writers selling books? Maybe not much at the cash register or the Amazon One-Click button. But what it might do is convince our publishers to make our print run larger, which further incites them to do more to promote the books up and down the chain.

I have no idea if the pimp squad and your blog will get you a better print run for PI:EB, but I would imagine it's part of the overall picture. "Anne is pimping her book hard and we like that, so we'll up the ante on our end." Maybe.

Jeff said...

Here is what I think.

1. Most readers have favorite authors whose work they buy regardless of the promotion involved. (The writers fan base)
2. Publisher backing is very important. A huge push.
3. A story has to have wide appeal. Small targets equal small audience and lower sales. imo
4. Book cover and title need to be eye-catching to the average book browser.
5. Where the book is placed in the bookstore is important. If the book is a thriller, but gets placed in the horror section, many potential buyers will never see it.
6. Self-promotion is fine, but has a limited impact on the total number of books sold.
No new revelations here, but thought I'd offer my two cents worth.
Oh, and blogging is fun and a nice way to meet friends with like-minded interests. And yes, it is addicting.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow Anne. It just goes to show how hard it is to make it in this business. I mean, I know I won't make bestseller lists because I have a small publisher. I likely won't even get reviewed a lot of places for the same reason. And without people out there networking and schmoozing and talking up your book on your behalf - the people who're supposed to know how to do this - it's very tough to make a go of it.

I still don't understand why publishers put out material they won't get behind. Isn't it to their advantage to publish books they believe in and are enthusiastic about instead of just publishing volume? I know that an author who sells well ends up taking a bigger percentage as sales pass certain markers, but seriously, you invest less on cover design, on setting the print run, on websites (if the publisher looks after it - some do) and you have one author to promote instead of three.

I just don't get it, I guess. But I'm thankful for the small publishers, because it seems to be harder to persuade the mainstream guys to take chances on innovative work.

And I want to see less of the same-old same-old and more that's new and fresh.

I am glad you'll keep blogging!

anne frasier said...

bekbek, i think there is a big similarity between books and the movie biz. but i think there's a bigger one between books and the music biz. maybe it just looks that way to me because i'm more familiar with struggling musicians -- but i'm constantly struck by the similarity.

anne frasier said...

"I have no idea if the pimp squad and your blog will get you a better print run for PI:EB, but I would imagine it's part of the overall picture. "Anne is pimping her book hard and we like that, so we'll up the ante on our end." Maybe."

bill, my efforts had zero impact in-house. zero. that's where the print run and orders originate. yes, the books have to be ordered, but those orders are largely based on the push the book gets in-house. if there is no campaign, buyers are much less likely to buy. now a smaller publisher might take notice of such things. in fact, i think they do.

anne frasier said...

jeff -- amen all the way around!!

Bill Cameron said...

That's too bad, Anne.

What an odd, irrational business this seems to be.

fucyuy

anne frasier said...

fucyuy


LOL!!

Bill Cameron said...

Um, that "fucyuy" was my word verification for that last postt. I wondered why it didn't work. It was sorta appropriate, though, but it was a variation on what I was thinking in regards to your publisher and your print run and support!

anne frasier said...

bill, it was perfect! :D

anne frasier said...

sandra, it will be really interesting to see how these small presses do over the years. it reminds me of the late eighties when so many independent record labels started up and so much good music came out of that. but then the big guys bought out the small labels and it's almost back to how it was. but there were 10 good years in there. i keep thinking the same thing is going to happen with books. it's actually kind of exciting when you look at it from that perspective.

11:11 AM

anne frasier said...

i do want to add that i'm in no way putting blame on the publishing house. this is just the way things are. they can't back every single book they publish. they have to pick and choose, and when times are really tough they are going to pick the safest books. they can't afford to risk money on something they're unsure of.

this is more a reflection of the times where things like war and politics are impacting reading tastes.

bekbek said...

Agreed with what Jeff said, when I was a serious reader I bought the next anything by more than a handful of different authors. Didn't matter about the print run, the cover art, the personal appearances, nothing.

Now the fan base can order the book from Amazon, so if the print run is less than impressive and the local bookstore doesn't carry the book, it's okay, right?

Except most readers browse where there are books, and not so much where there are keyboards and shopping carts.

The positive side (I'm a glass half empty person, but I'm always prepared to refill!) is that I think you're right about the small publishers. Things are going to shift at some point. Right now, a buyer can save himself a lot of time by just buying from the big catalogs, with the rep that provides lots of perks. But when his clientelle can't find any of the things they really want when browsing in his store, he's going to start paying more attention to the smaller catalogs.

I hope.

Then again, maybe your next book will come out on Blackberry.

anne frasier said...

bekbek, amazon is certainly good for making books easy to find and buy, but those hugely important early sales that take place in the first two weeks of a book's release are pretty much driven by impulse. when i have a book i want to get, i usually don't rush out and get it. it might be on my list for MONTHS. i will eventually buy it, but not right away.

idependent bookstores are going to be the small presses friend. becauses the big houses require a mininum book order of something like 150 copies (combined titles) before they will ship. many indies can't order often with that kind of restriction. small presses are much kinder. i'm not even sure they have a minimum.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"Isn't it to their advantage to publish books they believe in and are enthusiastic about instead of just publishing volume?"

I think yes and no. On the one hand, everyone wants to back the winning horse.

On the other hand, time and experience has shown that no one really knows how to pick the winning horse.

So if you get a bunch of horses out there and one of them wins big, it pays for the rest of the horses that are just paying for themselves or paying not quite as much as everyone would like.

Or you just end up with a bunch of horses milling around on the lawn eating the azaleas and crapping all over the garden gnomes.

I think I broke a metaphor. Sorry.

word verification: hushvoo

It's the ancient Chinese art of quietly killing your opponent so as not to disturb the librarian.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"damn that stephen blackmoore!!!"

I hear this more than you actually might think. Though it's usually much more strongly worded.

word verification: fkata

Similar to hushvoo, but Japanese. Also a really bad Eighties ninja flick with Casper VanDien

anne frasier said...

stephen, that's it exactly. books editors and publishers love have bombed, and books they may not even care for do well. they don't know. the only half-solid gauge they have is what HAS sold for them, which is how so many cookie cutter books come to exist.

hushvoo and fkata --

"Similar to hushvoo, but Japanese. Also a really bad Eighties ninja flick with Casper VanDien"

LOL!

and see!! HUSHvoo! i keep saying word verification draws from the post. that is so weird!

kevhex

Bill Cameron said...

I've actually had HUSHVOO before! I thought the Word Verifications were infinite! Oh, my dashed dreams...

anne frasier said...

bill: oh my god!!

i still swear word verification is trying to tell me something.

jason evans said...

How about a blogger book count? I think I've bought about 10 copies of your books so far. But for your blog, those sales would not have occurred. Anyone else?

I have no doubt that you're right about a small return on the investment of time. Somehow I just like the feel of action about it though. Like you're not going to take the print run spiral lying down.

OMG, my word verifcation is "urabzeb." I'm a busy bee? Why thank you!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"urabzeb"

No, Jason, you've got it wrong. Urabzeb is an ancient Hittite wheat god. I think he also doubles as the god of freshly shaved beards.

This is bad. If the Great Old Ones are trying to come through with Blogger's word verification, we're all screwed.

anne frasier said...

jason, but sometimes i like to take things lying down! it's much more comfortable! but really, i think you hit on why writers work so hard to promote -- they want to feel in control of something that's for the most part out of their control. we're taught that the harder we work the more success we'll have. but that's not the way it is when you're dealing with a creative product. we've already done the work.


and about the busy bee: blogger KNOWS you. really KNOWS you.

anne frasier said...

stephen,

yes, we're fucked.

jason evans said...

Stephen, I am laughing my ass off right now! That was genius.

The only way I know to save our civilization is to brew the wheat under a new moon and go Amish.

Don't worry, I'm on it.

anne frasier said...

:D

jason evans said...

Your picture inspired me. Can we be "droogs" next time instead of pimps?

anne frasier said...

jason, but then you'd have to beat people up and make them read my books. hmmm....

anne frasier said...

jason, did you say you bought TEN????

wish i had a pair of google eyes right now. :O

jason evans said...

Anne, before you hug me (or take out a restraining order), I meant 10 overall. I have a copy of each title for myself, then I know I bought one or two copies of Before I Wake as gifts, and several copies of PI.

As for droogs, yes, exactly. I see us spreading out in a Barnes & Noble and putting our arms around random patrons. "Hello, me good devotchka. I got an idea in me gulliver that you was going to viddy this book of me droog, Annie Anne. It's touched with loads of the ultraviolence."

anne frasier said...

jason, oops. f*ingers to mouth.* can a restraining order be cancelled? ;)

people always want to know what scares me. or name the scariest movie. clockwork orange always scares me. never really thought of that until right now.

Hulles said...

I was doing just fine until I read that the Great Old Ones might be coming through. That seems like a good reason to not quit smoking. Iä! Iä! Shub Niggurath! (If I remember my HPL correctly.) Or are the Great Old Ones Hendrix and Joplin, e.g.? I wouldn't mind Jimi popping through on my word verification.

Anne, I really like your community. This was a very interesting post and an enlightening and entertaining comment gallery. I really hope you continue to do it bloggy style.

anne frasier said...

hmmm.... wiki says: "Shub-Niggurath, often associated with the phrase "The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young", is a fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft."

;)

hulles, thanks for visiting and commenting! this IS a great community of smart, funny, nice people. and new people are always welcome!!




bloggy style....

heh!

Tami said...

Wow, I go on vacation for 4 days and you've changed your avatar a couple of times in the process! I feel so out of date! :)

Great post and great insight into the business Anne. I think it takes something crazy like Joe going on tour for two months to really make an impact. It might not be the books he sells right then at those signings, but the booksellers that will now push his books to their customers.

Before coming to your blog, I had read Hush and Play Dead. Since then I've bought Sleep Tight and Before I Wake and of course PI due to this blog.

I'm glad to hear you'll continue blogging because I can't imagine not coming here and seeing new posts! Keep blogging!

anne frasier said...

hi tami! yes, the avatar became hugely important -- especially since i'm supposed to be writing. :D
i agree that it takes something huge like joe is doing for it to work. for me it's a little like climbing to the top of a mountain only to find another mountain.