Take It Or Leave It

Things have been quiet on Wild West Thursdays here for a while, mostly because I had my head down to finish The Highlander’s Curse. This week, though, that book is published and I’m home from RWA National. I realized that I have a number of WWT draft posts sitting here which have never been published. Here’s the first one as we re-start the discussions about the changing publishing industry.

I had an interesting discussion with Chris Almeida at our Writers Making Connections event in the spring. She noted that my industry experience in traditional publishing must help a lot in my going indie. I had to think about it for a minute, because it was a counter-intuitive conclusion. Traditional publishing is very different from indie publishing. There are a lot of assumptions I’ve learned that don’t really apply in this publishing environment. All the same, there are things I’ve learned that are useful. I thought we’d take a stab at defining what we can carry forward and what should be left behind. Some of these are sayings frequently repeated, while others are over-arching concepts and not quite so punchy.

• “Romance sells itself”
That was never really true, and it still isn’t true. It remains a fact, though, that romance readers are the most ravenous readers and the most loyal readers. It also remains true that romance books sales are a huge proportion of the new book market. Most digital portals list romance as their best-selling genre, and say that their bestselling authors are romance authors. Many also acknowledge that romance authors are the most innovative in this digital market. Mark Coker said at RWA National last week that the best practices for digital publishing that are evolving are a direct result of the work of indie romance authors. So, romance doesn’t sell itself, but a whole lot of variables come together to make romance the powerhouse of this digital book market, just as it was dominant in mass market.

• “Front list sells backlist”
The idea here is that a new release sparks interest and visibility for an author with other available titles. In traditional publishing, the sales team would sell in copies of backlist titles to support the front list (i.e. new) release. In digital, the backlist is beautifully linked by the portal, and some portals actually will suggest backlist titles by the same author to consumers who buy a front list title. This one still works, but I think its effect is somewhat diluted. Any title can surge to the visibility of front list at any given time, so the sales of backlist titles tend to remain at a more constant rate than the spike and drop that was typical of paperback sales. That’s a result of availability – digital is always available.

• “Audience is built one reader at a time”
Delivering good content and consistent content is still the cornerstone of an author’s success. This is one thing that has not changed and (I suspect) never will.

• Linked series build readership
This appears to be a more vehement trend in digital than in print – and it’s pretty strong in print. We all love to read about families and siblings, and keep track of all the characters whose stories we have read before. Linked series are huge in digital, perhaps because they lead to impulse shopping. If you’ve read my medieval The Beauty Bride, there are two more books and a short story in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series, then two more siblings’ stories published in the True Love Brides series, then the stories of the forebears of the family in the Rogues of Ravensmuir. When The Beauty Bride is on sale, I see sales increase for all of those titles, in direct proportion to how closely they are linked to TBB. The boxed sets are particularly popular with readers who are catching up. Digital also lends itself to shorter content – many authors are publishing novellas and shorts in between longer books in a series, to keep readers up to date on the character’s doings. I think that’s a terrific idea.

• The cover is part of the marketing and promotion budget for a book, and may consume all of that budget for a midlist or debut release.
Traditionally, the cover is the one thing that every potential reader sees. They might not see ads in magazines or hear radio ads. They might miss reviews and endcap displays or blog tours. But they all see the cover of the book before they purchase it, so the cover is the most important piece of marketing that exists for any given book. A publishing house will always spend money on creating a cover for a book, and often will use the entire marketing budget on it. The cover is even more critical to building sales in digital, because the cover has to communicate the tone of the book, the sensuality, the genre and subgenre, and be consistent with the author’s branding – and it has to do all that when it’s two inches high in thumbnail.

• If at first you don’t succeed, start again.
This one is really interesting. I’m referring to the established practice in traditional publishing of giving an established author a new chance in the market by branding that author’s work with a different name. This can happen because the author is moving into a new subgenre, particularly if it’s into a market niche that the publisher doesn’t feel her established readers will follow. It can also be suggested when an author’s sales are not as good as the house would like—rather than trying to build sales up again, they might find it easier to start over again with a new author name, as if the author was a debut author. (Surely you all know that all “debut authors” are not really debut authors, don’t you?) This strategy is seeing so much action in our new publishing environment that we’re going to talk about it separately next Thursday.

Did I miss anything? What other sayings and realities from the marketing of traditional print books do you see carrying forward – or not – to indie digital publishing?