Will Traditional Ways of Selling Books be Effective in the Ebook Era?

I participated in a discussion with several authors the other night concerning ways of promoting our books. For once, I didn’t say much, just sat back and listened to their suggestions for getting book reviews, getting the publishing company recognized by RWA and MWA, getting their books in stores. What struck me was that these were all traditional ways of promoting books. There was not a single mention of online promotion, of alternate means of promoting.

I’m the first to admit that online promotion doesn’t sell many books if you’re an unknown, but to be honest, I never said that it did. For me, online promotion has always been about establishing an internet presence. What I know about marketing books can fit on the head of a pin and still leave room for a host of dancing angels, but I figured that once my books reached a certain critical mass of reviews, sales, and readers (fans?), momentum (via the linked nature of the internet) would cause sales to mushroom. Hasn’t happened, but that’s the theory, anyway.

On the other hand, do the traditional ways work? Or, more importantly, will the traditional ways of promotion continue to work as ebooks supplant print books? I never thought that would happen —  too many of us prefer the comfort of a print book —  but recently two bits of information made me rethink my bias. First, the day after Christmas, Barnes and Noble sold a million ebooks. Second, a recent poll found that college students don’t read books. I’m not sure all those people filling up their ebook readers are actually going to read the books they download, but the fact is, ebooks are selling.

Does it matter that our books aren’t in stores if people are going to buy ebooks? Does it matter that we don’t have offline reviews if people will have to go online to buy the books? Does it matter that we don’t have book signings if there are no print books to sign? Perhaps I’m looking too far ahead. Perhaps print books won’t disappear until long after we’re moldering in our graves, but the ebook era is approaching faster than we imagined. We need to find news ways of promoting to meet the challenge. Oddly enough, blog tours are already so prevalent as to be almost useless. But what’s beyond book signings, reviews in magazines, bookstores? What’s beyond blogging, Twittering, Facebooking? That’s what we need to be considering.

Authors Who Reject Publishers

There’s been a lot of talk recently about traditionally published novelists rejecting their publishers and releasing their books themselves. I can see that these novelists don’t like making a pittance on their books, but it seems churlish to dump the very people that made them a success. Without the publicity departments of those publishing houses behind them, there is little chance that these authors would have ever attained their current popularity. If you are one among millions of unknown writers trying to sell your book to an unaware reading public, it doesn’t matter if your book is stellar. It cannot shine without readers.

Many authors have the idea that wonderful books will always find a readership. Once that might have been true, but in today’s book world, where anyone with a computer and bit of time on their hands can write a novel (sometimes in only a few weeks, including editing — yikes) the sheer numbers of available books can keep even a great book from rising above the flotsam.

Interestingly enough, only a couple of these once traditionally published authors wrote truly original novels. If the rest had to make their own way in the ocean of ebooks and self-published books, they would have not have found much of a readership. The major publishers want what I call blue-jeans books — books that are made from the same fabric as all the others in a genre but with a slightly different styling. They don’t want anything too original because it is hard to sell. (I had several editors tell me they loved Light Bringer, my latest novel, which will be released by Second Wind Publishing this March, but they turned it down because they didn’t know how to sell it.) The blue jeans quality that makes books acceptable to editors of major publishing houses is the very quality that makes them unremarkable in the self-publishing or independent publishing world.

I don’t have much use for the traditional publishers, so I don’t really care that these authors are shunning them, but it does give new writers a false idea of can be accomplished by going it alone. The very fact that these authors are dumping their publishers is news. Publicity, in other words. And it’s only newsworthy because readers know their names. And readers know their names because the authors had the benefit of a big corporation’s publicity department.

I might have been unaware of the situation, but one of these authors contacted me via Goodreads, asking me to be part of a promotional effort. He wrote that he’d send me (along with hundreds of others) an ebook if I promised to write a review and post it on a given date. I turned him down. I don’t like his books, and I don’t like being told when to post a review. Not that I would — I still have not learned the art of reviewing books. And if I did do reviews, I’d post reviews of books released by small, independent publishers. The point is, he sent me the ebook anyway. A story about vampires. Sheesh. Still doing the old blue-jeans dance.

I purposely did not mention any names in this bloggery since I don’t want to help promote the authors. And anyway, it doesn’t matter who they are. I certainly don’t care, and there’s a chance in the not-too-distant future no one else will either.