State of Independents

green-apple-books
Our local indie bookstore in the Richmond

This past Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day, and so of course we made our way over to our local indie bookstore, Green Apple Books, to spend some time and a bit more money than normal.  Sure, we go there at least once a month anyway, but it’s always fun to join in the celebration.  [And to be honest, I’ve kind of given up on Record Store Day, which was a few weeks previous, as it’s become more a Come Buy Our Overpriced RSD Collectibles Day for me, but I digress.]

A and I will always find a reason to head there to browse the shelves.  They have a stellar collection of all kinds of new and used titles, and if they don’t have it, they’re more than happy to order it for you.  A lot of the music bios I’ve read over the last six or seven years have come from that store, in fact, as has most of A’s history books.  And as I’ve mentioned before, they sell e-books on their website via Kobo, as well as ordering self-published books through CreateSpace…which means this store carries my trilogy!

Which brings me to a conversation A and I had earlier today when we were out for a walk around the neighborhood.  One of our internet friends had tweeted her concern about the state of e-books, having read an article somewhere online about how Kids These Days are leaning towards Good Old Fashioned Paper Books or something of the sort, and I replied saying that e-books really weren’t dying a horrible death at all.  It was just stabilizing.  Having followed Publishers Weekly on this very subject for a good couple of years now, I think I can say that with conviction.

We got to talking about how, just like the music business, the excitement and shininess of having a new platform in which to enjoy something has leveled off.  Just like CDs, just like mp3s, e-books have matured as they’ve become more prevalent.  Sidetracking ideas and not-quite-successful failsafes (like DRM) have slowly faded into the background.  You don’t need to buy a Nook when you can download an app (and on your tablet, PC, or phone at that) instead.  And for every person who swears by physical books and loves them like children, there’s another person who swears by e-books because they save a hell of a lot of space.  [And like music: I used to be a physical-copy purist and my collection took up a sizeable chunk of a room in my parents’ basement, but it’s now 99% digital and takes all of one external drive the size of an index card.]

This is partly why I don’t take sales too seriously.  Sales teams are there to push the latest toy into your hands…as well as push the latest version of the toy you already have.  They’re there to say This Version Is Better.

Which is all well and good, when the thing your selling is constantly evolving.  Back in the 90s, with computers getting smaller and stronger, CDs being more durable and travelworthy, and so on, Sales had their work cut out for them.

Nowadays, I think the reading public is at a point where they’re just as happy reading a book as they are reading something on their tablet.  The product excitement wore off some time ago; they just want to enjoy the actual text at this point.  Which means that if you look at the sales graphs just for e-books alone, they’ve sort of leveled off, maybe gone down a bit.  But if you take book sales as a whole — books, e-books, audiobooks, and everything in between — it’s still a pretty stable and vibrant business.  It might not be skyrocketing the way Sales wants it to, but it’s moving at a damn healthy walking pace.

When we lost Borders Books & Music a few years back, and now that we’ve also lost a number of Barnes & Noble storefronts, there’s a justified worry that there’s no available bookstores in a lot of towns and cities.  Some of them had gotten run out of town by those two chains, others had simply given up.  Or didn’t bother.

But I’m starting to see a return to that, really.  The ‘big box’ stores are indeed becoming a thing of the past, for multiple reasons:  internet shopping, unrealistic sales forecasts, and even a small resurgence of small stores.  Some companies aren’t quite sure how to handle that, but others are finding new ways to make it work; some are even flourishing.  The Bay Area is blessed to have a high number of independent book stores and small local chains (such as Copperfield’s and Books Inc), so this area is more of an exception than the norm, but I’ve heard tell — again, via Publishers Weekly — that that’s slowly turning around.

Viva independents! 🙂

On Self-Publishing: Doing the Backstage Work – Self-Publicity in Social Media

This may or may not be how I enter Spare Oom.
This may or may not be what happens when I enter Spare Oom.

I’ve said it before, I suck at sales.  Or more to the point, I suck at it if I’m to sell something I don’t have much interest in. Furniture? A new car? Real estate? Monster truck rallies? Yeah, they’re fine and all, but if I’m not truly excited about them, I doubt I could talk you into into them.  On the other hand, I will shamlessly foist upon you the latest album I think is absolutely brilliant [This week: Tamaryn’s Cranekiss is pretty high up there], or a book I’d recently read and want everyone else to read as well [Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which totally did deserve that Hugo].

But what about my own work?  Well, I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’m doing this at a professional level.  I’ve proudly shown off artwork and photography on my Tumblr and elsewhere, but my writing?  Totally new to me.  I don’t even have a solid and mapped-out ‘business model’ — in fact, I twitch whenever I hear business-speak like that.  Like my writing, I’m definitely a pantser.  I go with what works for me.

And lately, that’s taken all kinds of odd and unexpected avenues.  I’ll see other writers taking steps in social media and elsewhere, and I’ll think about whether it would work for me.  More to the point, I think of it this way:  if this particular kind of self-promotion got me to take a look at the product, even if for just a few moments, then maybe it’s a style I could try out myself.

Promoting yourself using social media is tricky, because there’s an extremely thin line between promoting yourself and just spamming your friends’ feeds. You don’t want to oversaturate yourself; the more annoyingly prevalent the advertisement, the more people are just going to skim over it, or worse, muting or unfollowing you.

Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.
Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.

On Twitter, there are a few ways you can circumvent that.  One is to mention it in your profile.  Another is to use a Pinned tweet.  You can create your own little mini-ad in just 140 characters.  Mine says the following:

A Division of Souls, coming 9/3/15!
All formats available at Smashwords!
[Smashwords link, plus embedded cover]

A blipvert of sorts, one you’ll see immediately if you happen to visit my personal Twitter page because it’s pinned up at the top.  I’ve only had it up for 3 days, but I’ve already made 156 impressions as of today.  That’s not too bad for starters. Nowhere near the thousands of hits some writers get, but hey, it’s pretty good for someone brand spanking new to this gig.  And note that I made sure to mention that all formats are available at Smashwords.  This will ensure that anyone, regardless of which e-reader they use, can come on over and download it.

You’d probably want to follow suit on other social media channels as well.  It’s visible, but it’s not obtrusive, and that’s the balance you want to strive for.  I’ve seen others do daily tweet ads, which is fine, because they only do it once a day.

Another Twitter idea, one I just saw someone else use this morning, is kind of a neat twist on the “shop local” idea.  There are many brick-and-mortar bookstores out there who work alongside Kobo to sell ebooks at their website, and this writer had come up with a brilliant idea:  publicize the book and the local store at the same time!  She aimed the tweet at the San Francisco area, mentioned her book was available at this store (complete with link), and made sure to mention the store using their Twitter handle, including the “@”.  That last part was genius: you’re not only getting others to check out the store’s twitter feed, you’re getting whoever is manning that store’s feed will see it as well, and may end up retweeting you.  I followed suit sometime after, mentioning Books Inc and Green Apple Books, two of my favorite local book shops.  I was duly retweeted!  Wins all around!

If anything, I’ve heard all kinds of responses to the question of how to self-promote on social media.  Some swear by tweetstorms, others by following anyone and everyone who uses the #amwriting hashtag, others still by picking and choosing when and where to insinuate your promotion.  Overall, though, the most common response I’ve heard is, go with what works for you.  Be creative and have fun with it!  But most importantly, remember to keep it balanced!