The first season of Stranger Things took me by surprise. Literally. My friend introduced me to it and, seven hours later, I was still sitting on the couch. The second season of Strangers Things failed to captivate me in the same way.
But one episode was particularly egregious: the Stranger Things Chicago episode. It’s bad. Really bad.
But it’s bad for a reason: Netflix is starting to experiment with the data about how people watch TV, not just what they watch. The Chicago episode, the seasonal setting, and the disorienting tonal shifts of the season are prime examples of how new TV shows are being created.
The battle has been going on for years now: traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. For fantasy and sci-fi, romance and young adult, a million different options are available to those brave enough to try.
And whether you decide to traditionally publish or self-publish, getting your book discovered is a problem. Amazon has weird algorithms. Goodreads has merciless reviewers. Bookbub promotions can be effective, but hard to attain.
But good things can happen to good books. Alec Hutson is proof. Hutson, author of the fantasy novel The Crimson Queen (December 2016), decided to self-publish after a frustrating year of trying and waiting and trying some more to get agents to read the book.
In just five months, the book has 800+ ratings on GoodReads. He’s seen spikes of 100+ book sales overnight. And he’s out-earned any advance that agents could promise him.
When my friend gave me a copy of The Crimson Queen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s hard to find a good fantasy book. Especially in the world of self-publishing. But it was a great book. Far better than the absolutely dreadful Queen of the Tearling, which can be found recommended in New Yorker blogs and National Bestseller lists alike. It’s rated higher, too.
So how did Hutson break though? What was his journey to becoming a self-published author? I recently had an email interview with him to find out.
My first novel, Blest, was published last year in March. It wasn’t traditionally published, but it wasn’t traditionally self-published, either. I worked with Alloy Entertainment to outline and write the book. It’s been an interesting process, because we’re also working with the Powered by Amazon team.
Powered by Amazon takes book marketing to a new level. As a marketer myself, it’s been really interesting to see how the team has promoted Blest. Especially since I’ve been studying how books are being marketed for a few years now.
At #FutureBook16, a conference based in London, authors, agents, publishers, and others converged to discuss the future of the book. Or, really, the future of publishing.
Spoiler: the industry doesn’t think it’s that bright. In his keynote, Tim Healy Hutchinson Hachette UK said that the book market is in “secular decline.”
The entire industry is shaking, reeling, seizing up. I’ve talked about the failure of the book industry to adapt to digital marketing strategies.
One statistic that I saw passing through the Twittersphere really leapt out at me:
In online searches, 60% of all book searches are deliberate.
A few weeks ago, a journalist met the President. The journalist was a blogger who took photographs and talked to people. He’s also the author of The New York Times bestseller, “Humans of New York.” His name is Brandon Stanton and, in late January, he managed to help raise over a million dollars for Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a school in one of New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods… and helped the students and principal meet the President of the United States.
He told the story on a blog. He told the story through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And, above all, he told the story through photographs of people talking about life.
Stanton is making a living taking photos and reporting on things. He’s not associated with any media publication. He took the tools technology has made available and used them to make a huge impact.
Stanton’s success isn’t just inspirational, it’s a powerful indictment of the cynicism permeating the art world when it comes to social media, art, and the digital world.
Media companies are having a hard time trying to get people to pay for digital news. When there are so many sites that just provide headlines and a few paragraphs of sensational context (which is what most people want, anyway), it’s difficult to convince readers that “news” is a product that’s worth any money.
That’s why media companies have come to rely on advertising so heavily. Right now, 69% of all domestic news revenue is tied to advertising. And how do media companies ensure that they get the most potential exposure for advertisers? They bring in traffic. Lots and lots of traffic.
Facebook is responsible for a huge amount of that traffic, so it should be no surprise that the social media giant is enticing publishers with promises of lots of traffic and engagement in exchange for a deal in which, according to The New York Times, “media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.”
I’m not really qualified to decide what does and doesn’t deserve a Pulitzer. But I’m of the somewhat strong opinion that “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt shouldn’t have made the cut.
Let me break down this epic journey in rambling, poorly plotted, erratically written, Pulitzer-worthy material. And then let me explain why it spells trouble for the book industry if “The Goldfinch” is what we consider great literature. I’d warn you that there are some minor spoilers ahead, kind of, although, since Tartt fails to put anything at stake or develop any meaningful characters (aside from one), there’s really nothing to spoil. You read the book for the writing, put it down, and say: “Huh. Well, guess it’s over.”
If you’ve paid any attention to the book industry, you’ll know by now that Hachette and Amazon are locked in some kind of pricing battle.
The details aren’t that well known, but the strategy is: Amazon disabled the pre-order option for Hachette books, discounts have vanished and some authors have gone completely unlisted.
Meanwhile, Hachette just laid off 30 people (or, in The Wall Street Journal’s more dramatic terms, 3% of its US workforce). The reason? “Softening book sales.”
Hachette isn’t exactly a two-bit publisher. It’s part of a media conglomerate, Lagardère. Famous authors on the roster right now include JK Rowling, Steven Colbert, Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson.
People don’t really know why Hachette and Amazon are having a stand-off. All they know is that they can’t get the publisher’s books as easily if they’re trying to buy from Amazon. But most speculate that it has something to do with discounting the prices of eBooks.
The real question, then, is this: how do we value books today? And what happens if publishers decide to not renew their contracts with Amazon?
When it comes to online marketing, independent authors like to think they’re ahead of the curve. Social savvy, internet savvy, and savvy in other miscellaneous ways.
But just because you made a Facebook Page and have a Twitter account doesn’t mean that they’re helping sell your eBook.
Online marketing is a mysterious mix of luck and gossip. Whenever social media is brought up – whether by indie authors or bands, or in a corporate boardroom – a reflective hush falls over the crowd. The sound of doubt.
Social media or a blog campaign can help promote your eBook. But you need to know how to measure those efforts to see what’s actually working and what’s just hype (such as paying $599 for social media services). Amazon won’t give you any kind of dashboard to see where sales are coming from, so it’s up to you.
Here are three ways to do it:
The Tribune Company did something that surprised me the other day: it released a new product. An app, to be specific. Newsbeat converts newspapers into audio, so people can listen to them in the car, on their iPhone and in various other Mobile scenarios.
Aside from Tribune newspapers like The Los Angeles Times, Newsbeat will also play content from news providers like CNN and Fox News. Stories can be skipped and, over time, the app will learn what kinds of stories readers – I mean listeners – will want to hear most.
Maybe this will work. Maybe people will stick with the relatively unpredictable and unpersonalized stuff coming from the radio. But the great news, either way, is that The Tribune Company is trying to do something different.
Can book publishers say the same?