Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thoughts on Marketing, and the Crisis Du Jour

I put this entry off too long tonight, so I won't do the first subject in any depth right now. But here's the short version. I've been thinking about that nice, nearly indisputable form letter from DAW. It's true: publishing a first novel by an unknown writer is a risky proposition from a commercial point of view. Very few people, of any, go into a bookstore looking for a book they've never heard of by an author they've never heard of. In the fantasy market especially, they mostly look for more books in the series from someone whose work they already know.

So how does one get that first book in the series out into the stores? and once it's there, how does one ensure its success, so that publication of the next three books by that author is economically feasible?

Dunno, really. But I've been playing around with some ideas. They mostly involve marketing and self-promotion. Most of you have probably long-since realized that I've been making concerted "branding" efforts for years, putting the name of my fictional country, Mâvarin, in almost all my screen names and blog titles, commissioning portraits of my major characters, plugging the books at and generally mentioning Rani and his friends at almost every opportunity. I sometimes wonder whether you folks get sick of reading about these books and characters that Tor and DAW and a handful of agents apparently find less than compelling. But your comments on the subject are always encouraging, so I carry on.

But is it enough? Well, enough for what? It's clearly enough to get friends and some regular readers of this blog interested in reading the books when and if they are published. It's just as clearly not enough to establish an undeniably large reader base, to get Mâvarin off of everyone's maps of the obscure and risky, and into guidebooks to popular destinations.

I keep thinking of John Scalzi, and what he did to get his fiction into the literary marketplace. He posted a novel online as shareware, and it worked: people sent money for fictional content that we freely available online. Eventually Patrick Nielsen Hayden signed him to a contract, and Scalzi became an award-winning novelist, with four novels in print (excluding the limited edition reprint of that first novel), and more on the way.

Could I really do something like that? Could I convince agents and editors that the Mâvarin books are commercially viable, on the basis of online marketing efforts and a large ready-made fan base? Is there a way for me to develop my online readership to the extent that such a claim would actually be true?

I'm not sure, but I kind of doubt it. The Outpost is currently averaging just under a hundred readers a day, and my fiction blog is getting about six a day, mostly people accidentally landing there based on fairly unrelated search strings. If I made a point of commenting to lots of other blogs, I would probably build the readership, but not to the extent that would impress a publisher or agent. Scalzi has been blogging a long, long time, and has many thousands of daily readers. I don't have that kind of time to spend on blog-jogging any more, and even if I did it wouldn't land me among A-list bloggers anytime soon.

But are there things I can do to improve my visibility and make the Mâvarin books more attractive to agents and publishers? Yeah, probably. I'll have to think about it some more.

We had a minor crisis today with Tuffy. She somehow managed to pull open one of her surgical sites. The vet's office said to bring her in, either right away on an emergency basis or on Monday morning. Well, you know what's happening on Monday morning: I start my new job. So John is going to work tomorrow so that he can take Tuffy to the vet on Monday.

Meanwhile, We needed to cover up and protect that open wound, which she had been licking. After three trips to Walgreen's and much frustration, John managed to bandage her as shown above, without it falling off seconds later. Tuffy isn't thrilled, but she's not trying to escape from it, either.

Poor doggie.



Becky said...

If you decide your books fit a young adult niche, I think creating a presence on MySpace and trying to build an audience there is the way to go. Post chapters in the MySpace blog space, make friends with a few high profile people and go from there. Just a thought. :-)

bea said...

Like you said, Scalzi already had a high readership before he started publishing... future fans of his books. Good luck with the new job on Monday, and I hope Tuffy is okay. Poor puppy! Don't give up on book idea/publishing dilemma. I don't have answers, not my forte, but someone will have a suggestion. Keep forging ahead. bea