You Are Not Alone

Kristen Lamb’s blog this Friday tackled the all important subject of product and promotion.

For those not in the know Kristen is the self-appointed cheerleader of the e-publishing revolution and has made her name with her “best-selling book” We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media.

Kristen assures us, “My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books,” which can only be a good thing for us all.

Of course, it’s only free if you obtain a pirate copy of her book. To buy it on Amazon UK will set you back £14.99 for the dead-tree version and a whopping £5.70 for the e-book. Ouch!

It currently rates position 84,441 on Amazon UK, and 20,495 on Amazon.com, so not quite sure about the “best-selling” claim either (presumably it has been higher at some stage?).

“Leaves time to write more books”?  Wouldn’t that be just great? But this is the only book showing up on Amazon for Kristen, so none the wiser if it has worked for Kristen herself!

But Kristen certainly has her admirers, and you can count me among them.

No, not in that way! I meant, her book is well worth reading.

Kristen sets out to show us how to sell our work via the new social media platforms that are fundamental to the e-publishing revolution taking place all around us. And no question, this gal knows her stuff!

Her latest blog quotes that master of invention, Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

So are we, as writers, missing opportunities?

Damn right we are!

The e-publishing revolution is throwing opportunities at us like never before. And most of us don’t even see them fly by, let alone grab one or two.

Why is that?

Why are we, as writers ever hopeful of reaching a bigger market (or indeed a market at all!), still living in the twentieth century when it comes to our craft?

Why are so many of us still of the mindset that a book is only “properly” published when it’s on a shelf in Waterstone’s?

Do we regard the latest single or album from our favourite band as inferior in some way if it’s on a download rather than on a disk with a plastic case and a pretty cover? Of course not.

Yet e-publishing still has some kind of stigma attached in the eyes of many, as if it’s somehow a second-rate option.  A last resort because we can’t hack it in the real world. A modern version of vanity publishing.

Is that how you see it?

Well wake up and smell the coffee!

Gone are the days when a handful of agents, editors and publishers dictated what we could read by dictating who and what they would let be published in the first place, and who and what got the huge advertising budget and the centre plinth in the High Street stores.

Now almost anyone can e-publish almost anything and put it in the market-place. And it’s a market that is growing exponentially.

The UK Publishers Association reckon that one in twelve adults in Britain received an e-reader last Christmas and that there are now 6.5 million adults with them, equivalent to 13 per cent of the population. The sales figures are stunning: almost 10 million e-books sold in the UK since Christmas compared with about 17 million dead-tree books.

Yes, ten million e-books!

Was yours one of them? Or are you still on the fence? Still hankering after a real contract from a real publisher?

Get real!

Because make no-mistake: e-readers have arrived big time. And with the supermarket giants selling e-readers in store, including the almighty Kindle itself now in Tesco (for non-UK readers, Tesco is THE supermarket giant of UK retailing) the sales figures just quoted could pale into insignificance as this year progresses.

There has never been a better time to e-publish!

But of course, putting your treasured work online is one thing. But how do we get the almighty public to buy it? Surely that’s out of our hands?

No!

As Kristen says, “We can only control two things—product and platform.”

The product, of course, is our years of work at the keyboard. That’s not gonna change. Sorry. But we’re called writers for a reason!

The platform, by contrast… The platform is a whole new world of opportunity. If Thomas Edison were alive today you can be sure he’d be there making the most of it.

So why aren’t you?

Traditionally, a writer’s platform has been a small slot on a high-street bookshelf and the poor author doing a signing session in the local library.

Unless you’re a celebrity or an established best-seller, of course, and can get a space on the plinth and a big poster to promote your work.

But most of us aren’t celebrities or established best-sellers, and in the unlikely event we beat the odds and get an agent, then beat the odds again and find a publisher, we still have to beat even bigger odds and find customers.

Kristen notes (US figures – if anyone is aware of the UK equivalent please let me know!) that 93% of novels sell less than 1000 copies.

For a publisher who’s invested huge sums into getting your masterpiece out there, that’s a pitiful return. They’ve probably made a loss. They certainly won’t be breaking open the champagne.

For the agent, that’s fifteen per cent of next to nothing.

No wonder agents and publishers don’t rush to take on new and unproven authors.

For the writers themselves, the royalties probably won’t even cover the cost of sending off the manuscript in the first place.

So what went wrong?

Of course, it might be that the book is just so naff it didn’t deserve to succeed. But if so, what did the agent and publisher see in it to make them try it in the first place?

The fact is, most published books fail because to sell because no-one knows they exist!

Bottom line is, unless you’re Tom Clancy or Jordan, the publisher simply isn’t going throw millions at marketing your book. They’ve already taken a huge gamble just by getting it into print and in the shops.

And even if they do agree to publish your masterpiece you’ll have almost no say in the how, why, when or wherefore. Everything from cover image to cover price, launch date and font style, will be decided for you. They take your baby from you, in exchange for a contract and the remote prospect of fame and fortune, and then bring it up by their rules.

But if the book bombs, it’s your fault, not theirs. It’s like handing your baby to a stranger and hoping they look after her. And then getting blamed when she cries all night!

Yes, having a great story is half the battle.

But only half.

The other half is having a marketing strategy, or the world will pass you by, unaware you or your book exists. And once your mum, brother, aunt and best friend’s dog have bought their copies then for some reason sales start to dry up.

Of course, you can’t take a handful of e-books down to your local bookshop and put on the “local author” pleading-labrador eyes, or dish them out at your local market.

E-books have to be e-sold. It’s a whole new world!

And that’s where we come full circle to Kristen’s book and the advice therein.

“Good writing is essential, but social media is critical,” Kristen says, adding cautiously, that there is “is no social media magic that can make us best-sellers.”

Very true. Being a whiz on twitter, spending all day on Facebook and blogging yourself silly won’t guarantee you a single sale.

But it can make a huge difference to your book being noticed or not, and that’s the other half of the battle.

Kristen shows you how.

Give Kristen’s book a whirl, or at least visit her blog and get the free sample advice on offer there.

Join the tsunami that is the e-publishing revolution.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer!

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