Your Book Is on Backorder?

In days gone by–in other words, about a decade ago–an author could expect to have a given book run for a few years, if that long, and then disappear. The only exceptions were books that the publisher decided to make into bestsellers. Soon enough, though, the only place to find many books were used bookstores.

But now that these are widely available:

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no, wait, I meant these:

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and the like–yes, now that so many are carrying around devices that can store books by the thousands or even more, if they’re willing to have their books stored by someone else–someone who is making lists of everything you buy and read–where was I going with this?

Ah, the point I’m making is that now that books are widely available in digital form, there’s no reason for anything to go out of “print.” Books can be stored in hard drives for transfer at any time, and with print-on-demand becoming respectable, even paper copies can be cranked out whenever anybody wants one.

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But with every new thing comes a new set of problems. In those days of auld lang syne, authors like Dan Brown and E. L. James mercifully disappeared after a momentary flash in the pan. But now, literary zombies can continue sucking the brains of their readers forever. Or am I talking about vampires? At any rate, mindless soul-sucking creatures that don’t die in the light, but glow a faint hue of sparkly and whose dialogue wouldn’t challenge the abilities of the New York telephone directory to thrill will be with us until we’re all living in Panem and don’t have time to read anyway. This means that every time readers go looking for a book, there will be many more than there were the last time.

So what’s an author to do? Leading a revolution to ban all books but the ones I write is one option. But that’s not likely to go over too well, especially since we authors are a cantankerous lot, and readers have the annoying habit of wanting a diversity of styles, genre, and subject matter.

Given the changes in technology and the field of publishing, I’ve reached the following conclusions:

1. Publishers must change or die.

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Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, as the writing on the wall declared. Publishers have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. They don’t promote books, except those by authors who are already famous. They are stuck in a world in which a book had to be handed from one person to the next, instead of being copied in an instant. Their business models treat books like boxes of cereal, when in fact books are today more like Internet memes.

2. Authors must produce quality work.

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Yes, I know that lots of bad books get cranked out, many of them given away. But I hope that the reading public will come to its senses and realize that spending a little money for something that’s been well written and then edited is worth the expense.

3. Books must be promoted in new ways.

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You can’t rely on putting ads in magazines and on librarians recommending your book. Eyeballs are on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs (such as this one with its many viewers like you), and other places that Charles Dickens never imagined when he sold novels in serial form. No one’s waiting at the docks for the next chapter to arrive from England.

But there is good news. The cost of all this digital publishing and marketing is low. Time and talent are the keys these days. So what’s the secret?

One thing is to exploit the fact that searching for what you want is as easy as putting something on-line. That is, searching is easy if the thing you want is tagged with enough terms that make finding it possible. If I want a book about the Sahara desert, yours just so happens to be about that, you’d better indicate that your book covers sand, the desert, the Sahara, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Mogambo, a guy named Dirk Pitt, and some rivers that have been dry a long time. No matter how tangential, tag it. Even throw in Dirk Benedict if you figure it will help.

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Another thing is to get yourself on popular websites that allow comments with linking to more of you and make a name for yourself. I’ve found The Huffington Post to be a good place to practice this, especially since I can work in the occasional link to my blogs in what I say there.

Oh, but you want more, don’t you? Recall how I said it was cheap? That doesn’t mean free. I also said it takes time and talent, and that is for sale. My company, Oghma Creative Media, has a plan for you, a plan designed to make promotion successful and a whole lot easier.

Or you can just buy my books. That’s cheaper.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing and Oghma Creative Media.

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5 thoughts on “Your Book Is on Backorder?

  1. Mark Crist

    Hi Greg,
    I have encountered another novel way of making a living at writing. There is a libertarian newsletter run by author L. Neil Smith that actually lets you pay the individual writers after you’ve read their work. Talk about confidence in the system….

    Reply
  2. Flying Junior

    The problem is in getting oneself distinguished from the herd.

    As it always has been. If we could all just find the time to write something of lasting value none of us would have the time to read very much of the body of published literature. You can’t seriously be suggesting that the only reason that we remember the sonnets of Shakespeare is by virtue of the fact that he was a working author of plays performed at the Globe? Granted his themes were not always original. However all great artists stand upon the shoulders of those who came before them.

    I don’t own a Kindle, nor does my fiction-loving wife. I have a library card. Right now, I have ten books checked out and seventeen more on pending holds. I will grant that most of the time when I find something less than ten years old, it has been suggested to me by the librarian. However I have quite often researched a title or biography and found a book less than five years old. It seems to me that the finest books usually make it to print somehow or another. There is a well-known series, now almost thirty years old, called The Best American Short Stories 1985, 1986… Perhaps I am taking a play from the 1950s. But it seems to me that one way for an author to make himself or herself known is to be published in a prominent periodical, shall we say something like The New Yorker. As far as which books are selected to become best-sellers, I would imagine that in this respect, the publishing business still remains much purer than the music industry. Most of the books that I encounter at the library have a certain integrity or importance. Another important avenue towards fame for any aspiring author is, of course, through recognition by one’s academic peers. Have you ever heard of the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea held annually by the Point Loma Nazarene University? The University of California also hosts many literary events for budding authors which are subsequently available by podcast or on UCTV.

    Hard cover paper books simply feel better at the table, in a chair, on the train or in bed than any other other type of reading device. I enjoy turning the pages and marking the place. Personally, I prefer smaller books which lay flat with ease. There is much to find irksome in an anthology which is too extensive to fit handily in one’s hand or at the breakfast table. It seems that important works by Tolstoy and others which by necessity contain more than six hundred pages are of a special type of binding which makes them easier to handle.

    Reply
    1. Greg Camp Post author

      You and I like the older style, but the world is shifting. A hardback book is my preference too.

      But what you said about the New Yorker illustrates my point. That magazine primarily publishes only established authors. There was a time when new writers could get fiction accepted there, but those days are gone. The same is true about lots of other publications. That’s why we’re having to find new ways.

      Reply

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