Doldrums, and a question

Can it have been a month since the last post?

Oh, yes.  The holidays, perhaps the handiest excuse for inactivity.

My question to myself has been sitting there, sitting there, day after day:  Self publish or traditional?

In favor of traditional publishing:  It’s traditional.  People have been making a living at it for pushing 600 years (not counting the monks working the vellum).  Somebody out there knows the many-more-than a few hundred people I could contact by myself.  Somebody knows how the business is done.  Right?

Well, maybe not.  I see randomness, chaos and poorly executed fundamental practices.

So, self-publish, right?

Umm … maybe.  Amazon’s out there throwing business models on the wall to see if they stick.  One can self publish, hard copy publish, audio-book publish, get reviews from other writers, offer up completed books for reviews … all on Amazon.  I think of Amazon as an avuncular alligator, happily consuming writers’ products as long as market share keeps rising.  As self publishing flattens, as it reportedly has, does the alligator tear off your arm for a snack?  (Pardon my mutilation of metaphor.)

Dunno.  A couple more contests coming up.  More queries.  Freshen up the platform (Ugh!) Who knows?  Soon, I may get writing again.

Click-thru, Substance and Internet Marketing

So, let me ask (rhetorically), would you put the pictured cover on a book? ‘Sell … Like Wildfire,’ emblazoned (pardon me) over a book of matches? After several years of  devastating wildfires set by arsonists? And would you name your website startawildfire.com?

Apparently, the desire for a cool, attention-grabbing, clever cover trumps … umm … thought process.Wildfire

I am sure that I will be thrust into the black hole of crotchety old guys by Internet savvy folks and, in particular, Internet marketers. After all, the brave new world seems to be driven by click-thru activity rather than substance.

I got an e-mail advertising a ‘free download’ on book marketing.  That interests me, so I punched through to a page that wanted me to sign up for info on a self-publishing house. No free download. Intrigued, I e-mailed the publisher. Several days later, I got the appropriate web address and clicked on the ‘article.’ It turned out to be a book chapter. Presumably, I would read the chapter and buy the book.

So, the net result is a plus for the marketing database (several click-throughs).  They didn’t really lie. The only down side I see for the marketer is bitter experience tells me those hyper-energetic, hair-on-fire promotional efforts are usually a thin coat of paint covering lack of substance. Oh, and there is the fact that the slightly misleading but relatively harmless come-on is the only data I have to go on when and if I self-publish. That doesn’t convert to very many future click-throughs.

Publishing, a Disturbing Article, and The Maginot Line

This morning, I’ve been thinking about platform (oops … Platform), the Maginot Line and an article I just read by Michael Wolff, “How book biz dug its own Amazon grave.”

If you’re a writer like I am, you probably fall into one of two camps: (1) Published, or at least agented; or (2) still hopeful. I am in the still hopeful group, and I am watching the evolution of the publishing industry closely. Of course, I’m on the outside, guessing at what’s going on, trying to decide whether to continue to bust my hump trying for representation or just self-publish. The scary part is that it’s clear that publishing is changing, but it’s not clear how a writer is going survive and prosper in the brave new world of heightened technology.

Business strategists intone the phrase ‘creative destruction’ to describe radical change to an industry, often driven by technology. They say it with such relish and optimism. Fine, if you’re a business strategist … but as a person at the nexus of the destruction wondering what to do, not so much fun.

Wolff’s article reminded me, a former coattail member of the community of business strategists, of Michael Porter, who began writing brilliantly about competitive strategy thirty years ago. In a competitive environment (this is loosely paraphrasing Porter from memory, always dangerous), businesses attempt to erect barriers to entry … tools of the trade and well-kept trucks for tradesmen, patents and software for tech companies, the enormous capital investment in a power plant for utilities … to compete effectively and protect their bottom line. A corollary is that the bigger the barriers to entry a business erects, the more invested it gets in maintaining those barriers.

Even a few years ago, publishing businesses controlled the production and distribution of books, pretty much from inception through production to the retail seller. That control has been taken away at both ends of the chain of production and distribution … many retail sellers have been driven out of business, and the publishing mechanics that formerly meant only publishers could print the end product have changed dramatically. It would take brilliant perspicacity and firm resolve to drive out of the ditch the industry is in. With that thought in The Maginot linemind, consider the Maginot Line, that WWII barrier erected by France to make absolutely sure Germans would never march onto French soil again. That was the line the Luftwaffe flew over. The scary takeaway for the publishing industry is that the noise in the sky is Amazon and Print on Demand technology flying over (soon, apparently, with drones). My question is: What happens to the lowly writer drudge? Yes, I hear the warm air being blown on The New Internet Marketing, but it’s not clear to me what a writer is to do the reach his potential readers.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing

Shouting PersonTo self-publish or not?  It’s a question every writer faces these days, and it’s a hard one to answer.  Like the American West in the heady days of the great land rush, there’s promise, great promise.  It’s just that there are so many organizations promising so much that it’s hard to sort the wheat from the … let’s be polite … chaff.

If you write and you’re like me (which is to say, a writer with a book often cited as, ‘Wow!  Really good.’ and thirty or so rejections from agents), you’re going to have to answer that question.

I’ve mentioned several books I like on writing.  Here’s one I really like on self-publishing:  The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, by Mark Levine.  It’s a nuts-and-bolts guide to the practical issues you will need to deal with if you self publish.