by Gene-Michael Higney
In my moth-eaten opinion, writers interested in epublishing have to be ready to do the lion's share of promotion on their books. Epublishers don't want (or aren't able) to invest the necessary funds in extensively advertising their books, so writers have to become business-minded enough to take up the slack and put personal time and effort into making readers aware their book is out there.
Many epublishers don't have budgets for advertising. Often they're just starting to build a following, which takes time. Plus, they have the additional (and considerable) task of getting people interested in buying ebooks in the *first* place. Something the general public seems not entirely ready to do yet.
So to (hopefully) answer your question, I'd have to say that writers interested in the online market for their books, have to be ready and willing to take part in (and even initiate) the promotion of their work if they expect it to have any life and sales at all beyond family and friends.
I hope this doesn't sound like I am down on epublishing, because I'm not. But writers do need to face the fact that we can't do the isolated-writer-in-a-garret routine and expect our books to be noticed and bought.
With my own online books, if I let up on promoting them for even a short while, they disappear from people's radar. Unlike a book sitting on a bookstore shelf, which anyone browsing can happen onto, online books can only be browsed if people know the epublisher's online addy and go there for some reason. That's where promotion comes in. *Ongoing* promotion.
Writing a good book is only the beginning...
Online book publishers, and magazines (referred to zanily in Net-Speak as "'zines") are appearing (and disappearing) like politicians' promises, but an increasing number of them are proving quite durable enough for writers to place their work with. But after we publish our work, there comes the task of further expending considerable energy to promote (or in Net-Speak: promo) it as widely as we can.
The process goes something like this:
1) Writer writes something. Sends it to Online Publisher A.
2) Online Publisher A reads it, hates it/doesn't understand it/lets the cat whiddle on it, and rejects it.
3) Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have pulled the majority of your hair out of your head.
4) Online Publisher X or Y reads your masterpiece, loves it, sends you an acceptance letter/e-mail/contract.
5) You dance around the room frightening the cat/dog/goldfish.
6) Your masterpiece is edited and made available to whomever on the Net (Net-speak: surfer) wishes to purchase it.
7) Depending on how the masterpiece sells, you treat yourself to a yacht. Or a brand new box of Q-tips.
8) And that brings us to the cyberfly in the ointment.
After all, they may or may not have heard of the publisher, whose address is merely one of the katchillions out there in Net-Land.
The answer? Promo.
The publisher will no doubt put out some efforts to let people know our masterpieces have descended from the mind of the Muse for the edification and delight of readers everywhere. But publishers, like writers and liposuction, can only do so much.
Writers will want to help in the process of notifying and building up a potential readership. Now, not all of us are born with the genetic aptitude for promo, or even an intimate knowledge of the workings of the Net, so these suggestions of mine will be basic, ranging from the simple to the um… slightly less simple, so that even the least technical of us (meaning me -- because I am the least technical person among any crowd in which I find myself) can at least start to get the promo seltzer on their new project bubbling away.
If you are online, you probably have some form of e-mail provided for you by your server. (I don't know why they call them "servers" or "service providers". I have phoned them repeatedly to have my breakfast served to me in bed and have finally had to get up and make my own, so I ask you, what sort of "service" is that?!)
If you have e-mail, then you probably have a signature line (Net-Speak: "sig") which can be added to all your outgoing e-mails and replies. This is a great place to start your promo fizzing.
In our sig line, we simply put the information about our masterpiece. (Though not the masterpiece itself. Mustn't give away the cow when it's just the milk you want to sell.) For example, let's say our latest opus, Disciplining Your Kids Just For Fun, has been published by Spanquenslap Press. You will have been assigned an ISBN (a number identifying your book for sales purposes) and you would want to put that in the sig line, along with perhaps a blurb about what the book contains, or even a snappy quote from a critic. Folks can then get a taste of our work, and use the ISBN to order our magnum opus. How?
Easy. Put the address of the publisher in the sig also. Now I know that may sound like the "Duh" heard 'round the world, but you'd be surprised how many writers forget that important bit of info. Buyers need to know where to go to buy. So in our fictitious (I hope) case, we'd put in: www. SpanquenslapPress.com (or whatever the publisher's address might be). (Net-Speak: "eddress" or even "addy" -- which I know sounds like a spinster schoolmarm from an old Gunsmoke episode, but there's nothing I can do about that now.)
Just by inserting the above info into our sig, along with maybe a line about how you'd like your email correspondents to check out our Great American Whatsis, our every e-mail becomes transformed (like Clark Kent in a phone booth) into a tool for promo.
Everyone we e-mail is informed of our available tome and how to get it. This will at least start to carbonate interest and, hopefully, sales.
In addition to that basic use of e-mail, you might want to try building up a list of family, friends, and business contacts (more about them in a minute) (well, two minutes if you read slowly). Some writers even develop newsletters about their work, and by means of servers (remember them?) who offer free services in this regard, send them to anyone who subscribes.
If you have readings in local libraries or book signings, or are going in a for a root canal, you put it all in your newsletter and tell your growing list of fans what is happening with you.
One thing I like to do, and my strange friends more or less expect it of me, is when I am e-mailed a joke or hear a funny story, I will pass it on to those who I think will enjoy it. Along with these jokes, I include my current promo information. If I have a story up and available to be read at an online zine, I put it into my sig line and send copies of the whole thing (plus the joke, of course) to my friends. This way, they get a chuckle (I hope) and are also kept up on my latest humor or horror piece.
No matter what you write about, or what your interests are, there is probably a newsgroup out there made up of people who share those interests. Check with your server (ideally while it is fixing you a snack) for the names of newsgroups available to you. Check out the ones which involve the subject you've written about, then go to the online newsgroup and visit it for a while. (Net-Speak: "lurk".)
Yes, I know saying that you are "lurking" sounds vaguely sinister, not to say outright "Gothic". But I didn't make up these terms.
Anyway, go to the newsgroups and "lurk" for a while.
Read the messages other people are posting, and the replies they get. When you are familiar with a topic or feel you want to jump into the conversation, do so by introducing yourself to the group. When you do, and read their responses to your message, you can share with them about your available book (mostly via the sig line at first, unless they ask you questions and want to know more).
The more you get involved with newsgroups, the more likely you are to "meet" people with similar interests who enjoy discussing them and may be very willing to see what you've contributed to the subject. Supposing you've written the final word on the subject of The Social Infrastructure Of The Marabuntu Ant. You could then go to the newsgroup, alt.marabuntu.ant, and join in on the lively and stimulating discussions in your chosen field. Other posters in the group will see in your sig line that you have enriched the world's burning desire to know more about the little devils and will rush off (we hope) to buy your book.
Remember, though, while it can be an investment of time, you should get involved personally with the newsgroups sharing your interests. Newsgroups hate it when new posters (Net-Speak: "newbies") show up just to bomb them with advertisements for books, knitted submarine covers, or used nuclear weapons, and then just disappear again. Stick around; you're bound to meet some great folks, who, when they see you are creative, charming and intelligent (you are, aren't you?) they will be interested in what you have to say, as well as what you have written.
Along the same lines would be the Chat Rooms and Writer's Circles, usually found as "links" on sites throughout the Web. Here you can talk (well, type) in real time, back and forth, with folks who share your f-ant-asies, and tell them about your Marabuntu masterpiece.
3. A Reading
I know that sounds like something a psychic does with a client's palm, but readings are also done by writers. For example, you can work out an arrangement with your publisher to provide you with disks containing your book (or CDs or bound copies if your book is available in Print On Demand format, etc), and you can arrange to do a reading at your local library.
You might want to create interesting flyers announcing the event, and distribute them; of course you'll probably invite your family and friends too, unless the sight of them will frighten the other guests or the horses. Bring a laptop if you have one available, or use the library's computer to demonstrate what your online book looks like, and after you read a portion of it (not an extremely long portion, of course, unless you've told everyone to bring their sleeping bags), show anyone interested how they can order it for their very own.
Many local bookstores are interested in promoting local authors (that's us!) and by meeting with the appropriate person there, you can set up a similar reading and booksigning at their store. If you've published a book online (Net-Speak: "ebook"), you will probably be signing a CD or the paper inside of a disk's plastic jacket, but the main thing is: you'll be signing, and attracting interest in your book.
If you live near a college with a radio station, you can notify them of the advent of your book, and let them know you are available for interviews. (And anything else for which you might be available, but keep it relatively legal, okay?) Radio stations, even local television stations (public access stations too), may accept announcements from you regarding your book, even if only because ebooks are still enough of a novelty that people will want to know about them. And you'll be the expert!
All the above suggestions, with a little modification, can apply if you have published a short story or journalistic article in an online or print zine. Announce to all and sundry that your article is up in AntFancy zine at suchandsuch.com, and ask everyone you know to check it out and give you their feedback.
3. Web Pages
There are many places on the net that offer free (well…) space where you can create your own web page. This can be a lot of fun (especially if you have someone who knows how to do funny pictures and graphics etc, and to whom you can offer scads of money (or a romantic dinner) to liven up your page with them.
But all the bells and whistles aren't as important as just having a page where (by putting its address in your sig line of course) you can send people who want to read more about where they can find your work.
By setting up a web page, you can write informally for visitors about your work, what's out, what's coming out, whatever you want. By going to your site, people find out a little more about you. Some writers put extensive photos of themselves (in my case, not a good idea, since I've got a mug that could stop a sun dial). Your imagination (and the amount of web space the "host" allows) are your only limits.
4. Odds And Ends
If you or any of your friends are gifted in the graphic arts (unlike myself, who is unable to draw a straight line even with a ruler and three buff assistants), you might want to brainstorm over clever ways to get your book noticed. For example, create bookmarks with your book's title logo or art on them and give them to the libraries or bookstores you visit.
If your book is about ceramics, you may want to make vivid examples of your handiwork to give people a chance at "hand's on" contact. (Do not, however, allow me within ten feet of said ceramics. I am, among my many other failings, rather clumsy, and I confess to being a serious threat to the well-being of delicate objects.) Anything that might tie in with the content of your book can be a fertile field for… um… fertilizing.
Any or all of the above suggestions are, as I said earlier, quite basic, and by starting out with them, you will doubtless discover many other intriguing possibilities for setting a-fizzle the promo seltzer for your work.
And I wish you the best of luck!