Monday, July 21, 2008

How to sell short story collections, Part II

Selling my book is very much on my mind right now. Following on from my previous post, an interesting article in Forbes magazine called Web Savvy Authors Reap Fame and Fortune caught my eye - unsurprisingly. About a first time author who decides to self-publish her "historical fiction tome" when she can't find a publisher:
But getting a book out in print is only 5% of the battle--getting it read is a whole different ballgame. So Newmark looked to the Internet to build a readership. She decided to throw a virtual book launch party and sent out 500,000 e-mail invites to agents, editors and reviewers. It worked: Her book became a best-seller on the day of the virtual book party.
This business article then goes on to portray book marketing in terms I haven't heard before and which, as someone who comes from the world of technology journalism and is familiar with this lingo, found interesting:

What struck me in Newmark's story is the parallel with the high-tech entrepreneurship world. In Silicon Valley, we do alpha and beta products--small prototypes of our vision--and recruit a small number of customers to gain early validation of the products' viability. These alpha and beta products, along with early customer validation, help us sell our ventures to investors and raise millions of dollars in venture money.

In Newmark's case, she spent less than $10,000 of her own money to "bootstrap" her self-publishing effort, she found customers online, and then she recruited William Morris agent Dorian Karchmar as her "investment banker," who then got her Simon & Schuster as a "venture investor." Newmark's deal with Simon & Schuster is widely rumored to include a seven-figure advance.

What can we learn from this? Would this work with a short story collection? Or was it more the case that she had the kind of novel that is eminently marketable and just hadn't waited long enough to find the right agent and publisher? I'm not saying she did anything wrong - but she did end up spending "less than $10,000", which I am assuming is $9999.99, when, if she had a novel that Simon & Schuster did snap up when they found out about it, she might not have had to go through all that for. The article says she went through 4 different agents. Is that enough? Should she have kept on looking for the "perfect" agent? She used to work in advertising, so maybe this approach suited her - and maybe it wouldn't suit, say, me.

I must admit, I thought to myself: OK, throw a virtual launch, invite everyone, go to the top of Amazon. Easy. But, what Forbes doesn't mention but surely knows, is the amount of start-ups that put out alpha and beta versions - initial prototypes - and never find funding, crumbling into obscurity, probably thousands of dollars lighter, soon afterwards. And, I have seen this myself, it is often nothing to do with their product. They have amazing technology, revolutionary, but they just can't get it out there, they don't know how to sell it. Or no-one wants to listen. I don't know.

Can we learn from this? Should we become Forbes-reading, hard-nosed businesspeoplewriters?

WomenRuleWriter discusses the aspect of getting book groups to read your books on her blog:

I ran a book-group in the bookshop I worked in for over two years. I ran two others in two libraries for over four years. Rarely could I interest my participants in short stories. Until a few writers joined the latter library group. Then things really took off and we had a discussionary ball, to coin a phrase. We read Hemingway, McGahern, Scott Fitzgerald, Edna O'Brien, Frank O'Connor and many more.

Check out the comments on her blog. Are short stories only what writers read? Maybe if we combined the two, and did a major marketing campaign in the book group, did little promotional gifts etc...

Chris Meeks, author of two short story collections, who I quoted in my earlier blog post, sent me a great email with some helpful tips of his own:
...[I] convince[d] a company specializing in making promotional videos for books, Expanded Books, to take me on and experiment with me. Expanded Books seemed to specialize in nonfiction books. After all, it's easier to talk about and sell something that's real. I told them that great fiction is about real things, too, and I could talk about what was behind some of my stories. That led to my first video about my first collection, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea. You can see the video here.

Most recently, after seeing actors read/perform short stories at the New Short Fiction Series at the Beverly Hills Public Library, I convinced Expanded Books to create a video using an actor reading an excerpt, which led to this video.
So - virtual launch parties, beta versions, YouTube videos. All interesting advice. Think out of the box (I hate that phrase). My partner is a film-maker, so YouTube video shouldn't be too tricky, even though all you need these days is a phone with a camera.

Racking my brains last week led me to approach my old secondary (high) school, who now have a web site. I saw from the site that they have Creative Writing Clubs, never had that in my day:
Girls from year 7 to Sixth form are given a chance to develop their creative writing skills ... Scheherazade, a creative writing group for the younger girls, meets on Monday lunchtimes and specifically caters for the creative writers in years 7 and 8. The Year 10 and 11 creative writing club meets on Thursday lunchtime and the Sixth form meet on Friday lunchtimes. ...Girls are encouraged to evaluate their own and their peers’ work in ways which are probing but entirely positive. The clubs regularly display girls’ work, hold reading events, inviting the rest of the school and staff, and enter work into national competitions, in which we enjoy considerable success.
If only I had had something like this when I was at school. Ah well. So I wrote to them. And they were thrilled! Hopefully I will go and talk to the 6th formers, and maybe run a workshop with the younger girls. And perhaps they will part with some of their lunch money (does that still exist?) and buy a copy of The White Road and Other Stories, so that when their parents say, "So, what did you do at school today?" they can say "I met an author, and she studied physics and chemistry, and now she's written a book", and then their parents, who are very well-known literary agents, will take a look, exclaim over my unique genius and........and......................

Oops, sorry. I drifted off.


ireneintheworld said...

very enthralling post tania. i clicked into all the 'here' spaces and enjoyed the videos; i loved the cat story! good luck with the school - great idea, and i know that they'll love you. x

pierre l said...

This post contains many interesting ideas. To start with the last item, surely the answer to "what did you do at school today?" is "not much". That's certainly what it seemed to be when my children were at schools.
The video idea is interesting. I read a review of Miranda July's book in "The Short Review", initially because Sara had written the review. I then watched the slide show on Ms July's fridge, and definitely had to have the book
(Incidentally, she has added a lot of new material to the slideshow now that her book has been out for a year. Well worth another look.
I also buy all the books/short-stories written by my favourite bloggers, and I shall certainly be queuing for yours.
Good luck with the book, Tania.

Tania Hershman said...

Irene - thanks, Chris' videos are great, aren't they? They really hook you, bring the books to life. It's got me thinking!

Pierre - yes, I am hoping that at least for one day, some of the kids won't say "not much" when asked what they did at school! Very interesting re: Miranda July, I will have to check out her site, I really loved what she did, although some people found it irritating. Thanks for wanting to buy my book, it means a lot to me!

Women Rule Writer said...

I love Miranda's site. She's always outside the box!
No mention of her FOC win though, that I could see. I do wish winners would bang on about it more to raise its profile.

Deborah Rey said...

'...and then their parents, who are very well-known literary agents, will take a look, exclaim over my unique genius and........and...'
From your mouth to G-d's ears, Tania!
Very interesting, no fascinating post.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

...and don't forget the school library. I took my book up to Brighton College Library when I did a session or two there, and they liked it enough to buy it.

I'm sure your old school will want a copy of a successful old girl's book on the shelves!

(PS have blogged about The White Road and other Stories this morning...)

Adrian Graham said...

Selling short stories is difficult. I think it's great for authors to promote their work in whatever way they see fit, so long as they remember it's the quality of the stories they're selling that matters, and the marketing doesn't 'take over'.

Good luck with your book. With Salt behind you, you have a great head start!

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks WRW, surprising Miranda didn't mention FOC, I don't think she's won so much that she can afford not to.

Debora - glad you enjoy my ramblings!

V - good point, and thanks so much for your blog post!

Adrian - lovely of you to stop by, thanks for your kind words and thanks so much for mentioning the Short Review on your excellent blog, good luck with that.