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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Writing's On The Wall - Earl Staggs

I grew up with an image of what life was like for a writer. You wrote a good book and signed with an agent. The agent sold the book to a publisher. The publisher produced the book, placed it in bookstores, people bought it, you were a financial success, and you wrote more books.

Once I started writing, I found out it may have been that way at one time, but things had changed. A lot. Let’s blame it on the economy. People no longer had $25 or more to shell out for a book so they bought fewer of them. As a result, publishers had less profit coming in, so they produced fewer books. Bookstores were selling fewer books and many had to close their doors, particularly the smaller independent stores. Even the major chain bookstores found themselves in financial straits. Agents found it harder to sell books to publishers, so they signed fewer new writers. Writers found themselves with good manuscripts gathering dust with little chance of ever being published.

So the writing was on the wall. Being a published writer became difficult if not impossible. Self-publishing has always been an option, but with two major drawbacks. First of all, paying a printing company –- or “vanity press” -- to produce your book was expensive. Second, there was an unpleasant stigma attached to it. The feeling was that only bad writers with bad books went that route.

Suddenly, new writing appeared on the wall. A revolutionary concept appeared and everything changed. Digital printing. Books available via the Internet. You simply download them. Since there’s no printing, distributing, shipping or warehousing of physical books involved, the cost is minimal. Amazon introduced the Kindle electronic reader, Barnes & Noble brought out the Nook, Sony has one, and several others are out there. Books are selling for half or less what they used to, many as low as $2.99 or even 99 cents. Many books are free.

All this presents a new opportunity for writers. Self-publishing in the new world of ebooks is not the same as the old-fashioned form of self-publishing. Successful writers from the old school are doing it. Newer writers are publishing ebooks entirely on their own and have complete control over their work and their future. People who buy and read books are learning that excellent, well-written ebooks are available at low, low prices.

Writers, though, have a new challenge. Without traditional publishers providing advertising and promotion, and without bookstores shelving and selling your books, how does the buying public know about it? That falls directly on the writer. You’re entirely on your own, and now that it’s so easy to self-publish an ebook, there are thousands and thousands of them out there. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd. The challenge is daunting to say the least, but if you have a well-written book and are willing to put in the time and effort promoting it, it’s possible to rack up good sales numbers and make good money.

Fortunately, there are pioneers who have blazed the trail. Two of them, Joseph Konrad and Robert Walker, offer their experiences and freely give advice on how to go about it. Their blogs are easy to find, and are well worth reading. What it boils down to is this: Use the social avenues on the Internet to let the world know who you are and what you have to offer. There’s Facebook, Twitter, active groups filled with members who read what you write, and places like Goodreads where you can get involved, get to know people and, most important, let them get to know you.

I know some people will shake their heads and say, “I’m not good at promoting myself.” Fine. You don’t have to. You simply let people get to know you. How? Easy. You’ve been doing it all your life. You mix and mingle.

Think about the last time you started a new job or moved to a new neighborhood. You met new people, you got to know them, and they got to know you. It may have taken a while, but it happened. You eventually came to like some of the new people and dislike some. Some of them may have been too pushy, or maybe you had nothing in common with them. But with some of them, you hit it off. That’s the way it happens in real life. The same thing happens on the Internet. You’re not going to like someone who tries too hard to sell you something or the people who only talk about themselves. Don’t be one of those people. You’ll find people talking about their kids and grandkids. Nothing wrong with that. Talk about yours. Someone may mention a new recipe they discovered for meat loaf. Talk about that. Offer a favorite recipe of yours. Others will talk about TV shows and movies they liked or didn’t like. Join the discussion and give your own opinions. There will be some who talk about the kind of books they read and new authors they’ve discovered. Aha! There’s a golden opportunity to talk about your book. That’s how it goes. Getting to know new people and letting them get to know you. Once you’ve made new friends, you’ll be interested in what they do. That works both ways. They’ll be interested in what you do, and if what you do is write books, they’ll be interested if you don’t try to jam it down their throats. Mention it when an opportunity presents itself. If you receive a glowing review, talk about that. That’s no more offensive than bragging about your kids and grandkids. Put the information in your signature line. That’s not jamming it. It’s just there. (See mine down below.)

No one will know you exist or what you do or that you’ve written a fantastic book unless you get out there and mix and mingle. Yes, it takes time. A lot of time. But that’s the investment you have to make. After all, it’s all on you in this new world of digital publishing, and you can do it. Unless you’re a hermit and live in a remote cave, you’ve been meeting new people all your life, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. The only difference is now you’re doing it on the Internet.

The writing’s on the wall for those of us who write. It’s a whole new world and we have to adapt if we want to take advantage of what digital publishing has to offer. Otherwise, we might as well put our computers away, find an empty wall somewhere, and write on that.

Earl Staggs

SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS not available for $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other ereaders.

Here’s one for free: Read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer” at earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

16 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Earl,

Everything you've said is true. I still like getting my work in hardcover print by a publisher, but things are changing so rapidly. The e-book revolution has become a significant force in communication.

Jacqueline Seewald
THE TRUTH SLEUTH--new hardcover release
STACY'S SONG--available in all e-book platforms

Shirley said...

I LOVE reading on my Kindle. I love the new technology. However, for HOW TO books, there's nothing like the real paper book.

Earl, you mentioned Goodreads. I'm working on that, but not sure how it really helps to market. Can you give some insight on that?

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I think the writing is not on the wall but actually on a dry erase board. Everybody is jumping on the e-books bandwagon but the way technology changes, the fact that you do not own the book but only license it, etc are issues that are going to be increasingly important.

Also important is the growing backlash from readers about their being no way to find good books and that so much of what they discover is garbage. Beyond the fact that a large percentage of the reading public will never convert to e-readers, a significant part of the audience is also coming to the opinion that e-books are the same as vanity publish/self publishing, etc. and are therefore bad.

Time will tell if e-books as currently constructed will be something substantial or end up being a technological flash like 8 track tapes.

Kevin

Shirley said...

Good points, Kevin. However, I've read several books on the Kindle that I would never have found in a bookstore. It definitely gives you a wider variety.

The same can be said for the online bookstores for paper books, also, I suppose. But having so many at your disposal is great. Plus, it's easier to read more than one book at a time.

Fran said...

Enjoyed your comments, Earl. Thanks!

One comment, perhaps correction, though:

You say "SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS not available for $2.99" -- I'm assuming you mean NOW available?

Jan Christensen said...

I agree, Earl. The writing's on the wall, and on the Kindle and on the Nook . . . Learning new marketing skills may be the hardest part for some of us, after learning how to put our stuff in correct form for digital readers.
We can still hedge our bets and get our stories and novels both on ereaders and in paper editions using publishers like CreateSpace, though. Right now, I think that's the way to go.

Jan Christensen
www.janchristensen.com

Sharon said...

Thanks for sharing your info with us.

Earl Staggs said...

Hi, Jacqueline. I think most of us, as readers, still like the feel of a real book in our hands. As writers, we also love seeing our work as printed books. With the ebook revolution, I think the smart thing is to offer both. That's my plan.

Earl Staggs said...

Kevin, I'm not sure I follow you on "only license it." I agree with you, tho, about readers being able to separate the wheat from the chaff with so many ebooks coming out. I think that problem will be solved in natural course. Readers will find reviewers they can trust. I think that will be the gatekeeping feature in the future. Know any good reviewers who can be trusted, Kevin. ;-)

Shirley said...

Thanks for joining us, Earl. Great comments. I can't wait to download your book.

Kaye George said...

I like the dry-erase board comment. However, if you decline DRM when you publish, Kindle cannot take your book back. Or if you own another e-reader, like a Sony, you actually DO own the book. I'd sure like to see more of this!

Thanks for bringing Earl here, and Earl, thanks for the post!

Earl Staggs said...

Oh, Fran, thank you so much. I don’t know how that happened, but I definitely meant “now” instead of “not.” Where’s a good proofreader when you need one?

Earl Staggs said...

Shirley, I've heard good comments from other writers about networking on Goodreads. I've joined but haven't gotten active yet. I want to have my collection of short stories available as a print book before I do. How about we hook up in a week or three and talk about it? I hope to have experience with it by then.

Earl Staggs said...

Ant Jan, we’re thinking alike, as usual. My short story collection is already up on Kindle and Smashword, and it will be out in print soon via CreateSpace. Assuming I’m able to figure out the formatting, of course. It’s a daunting task, for sure, but so is writing a book in the first place. If we can do that, we can do this.

Earl Staggs said...

Hi, Kaye George! I'm glad you stopped by, but don't praise anything Kevin says. He gets swell-headed and becomes a real PIA. A cute one, but still. . .

I may see you in Georgetown next weel.

Kaye George said...

That would be awesome, Earl!!! I didn't know that about Kevin. I'll watch it after this.