Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Marketing Fiction In A Changing World Part 2

Part 1 of this series was posted May 26, 2009. 


Since then, Google invented Google+ which I was sucked into via the hostess of a twitter chat #litchat (which I adore).  That connected me on Google+ with a huge number of writers, and that number has grown to thousands now.

On Google+ a post flew by me (and I didn't snag the name of the poster) which pointed to this website:


This is an online business staffed by people who will, for a fee, edit your manuscript.  I don't know them, and I have no idea what exactly they do for how much of a fee, or what the value of that might be.  I hope they'll turn up and comment on this post. 

I know a number of freelance editors who do good work with copyediting detail, and with finding continuity errors, factual errors, and even pacing and structural errors (getting a climax in the wrong spot in the word-count). 

But they don't work for publishing houses.  And getting an edit from such a freelance editor doesn't lead to publication.

Last week I introduced you to Azure Boone who had a lot to say about rejection letters:


So after that exchange, Azure and I got to talking about how writers 'break into print' -- and what the real role of an editor is.  She read my 7 part series on "What Is An Editor" and re-evaluated and sharpened her business model for marketing her fiction.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/09/what-exactly-is-editing-part-vii-how-do.html   -- has links to previous 6 parts.

So when I saw the post about this business offering editing for a fee -- not entirely a new concept at all -- I thought about the things we've discussed here in previous posts on the changing business model for writers.

It's the entire fiction delivery system that's shifting and changing under the impact of three factors:

a) the Supreme Court decision discussed here: (which I've pointed you to previously)

b) E-books and mostly the screen technology that makes e-readers like Kindle and Nook - iPhone, iPad, etc - feasible.

c) Accessibility of software that allows individual writers to become publishers, and the hosting of their efforts at websites like smashwords and amazon.com

I keep seeing older people -- often in ophthalmologist's offices and other waiting rooms -- reading Kindle with print set to extra-large, and happily "swiping" to turn the page.  This is very significant - especially when you factor in that you can plug in an earphone and LISTEN to the book being read to you, or buy an audiobook with the book performed by an actor.

In fact, two of my own novels, MOLT BROTHER (the sequel, CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS is being recorded) and HOUSE OF ZEOR, SIME~GEN #1 (the sequel, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER, SIME~GEN #2) is being recorded:

So the world changed -- and is still changing.  There's an even bigger impact brewing from internet-delivered TV style video programs, as most young people getting their own apartments are not subscribing to cable at all. 

That's a change in the structure of the delivery system that's been visible to many for 10 years at least. 

What's new between 2009 and today is the way WRITERS are changing to adapt to this new world's fiction delivery system.

Maybe it's the turning of a generation, but I haven't seen that.  I am seeing many writers in their 40's and 50's adapting and changing their business model as fast (sometimes faster) than the world is changing.

And many are just getting into publishing for the first time.

That is remarkable, but because the world has changed so fast, it's possible for someone who is barely 40 to trip over their assumptions about publishing that are obsolete.

There are two separate issues to address: story-craft itself, and marketing. 

These two issues intersect on the editor's desk. 

At that point, the imaginative ramblings of a fertile mind have to be targeted toward a specific market, a readership, a group with something in common.

All the readers who've gotten a Kindle and madly downloaded "free" books over Christmas or some other holiday promotion have learned that self-publishing has two kinds of writers -- those the reader wants to invest their scarce reading time in, and those the reader does not want to pay for, even at FREE as the price.

And it isn't just spelling, punctuation, grammar, and story-continuity errors that repel potential readers. 

All of those corrections go in at the level of the copyediting -- which takes place after EDITING itself.

I just finished editing an anthology titled VAMPIRE'S DILEMMA (doesn't have any story by me in it).  So I have this experience fresh in mind.

I recently read a blog on screenwriting about "coverage" -- a screenwriting term for what novel publishers call editing.

The screenwriting blog said what new self-publishing writers who have decided to self-publish because of the "dreaded rejection letters" they have gotten need to know.

"Coverage" you pay for, even from someone who has worked doing "coverage" for a major production company, isn't necessarily worth what you must pay for it.

"Coverage" differs from 'editing' in that it consists mostly of a form that the script-reader fills out, identifying how well certain mechanical parts of the script are done (such as dialogue, climax placement, A story characters face-time, B story, etc).  "Coverage" doesn't tell the writer what to do to fix the problems, it simply categorizes the problems.  An Editor at a major publishing house will say how to fix the problems to suit the publishing house.

What many beginning writers don't know is that Editors aren't Writing Teachers.

"Coverage" isn't for the writer, either.  "Coverage" is designed to inform a producer if this script is within X number of rewrites of the specific property the producer needs to create the film his backers (putting up money in a gamble to make money) expect.

"Coverage" is designed to sift the slush pile for a particular property that fits exacting -- pre-set -- requirements. 

So, in effect, there is no such thing as "freelance" coverage.  You can pay someone who knows basically what producers they have worked for need, and they can tell you if your script meets such needs -- and finger the points that would have to be rewritten to fit such needs.  They can't assess whether your script CONCEPT will sell.

And it's the same with freelance EDITORS.  They can copyedit -- and if you find you have a lot of copyediting errors, you should use a copyeditor before you send your manuscript for editing.  But the freelance editor can't conform your manuscript to SELL.

The freelance editor works for the writer, not a publisher.

If you can tell the freelance editor that this property is to be submitted to a particular line at a particular publishing house, and that editor has read, studied (or worked for) that line -- they can conform your work to the publisher's requirements.

If you are self-publishing, creating a "line" -- you may be able to give an accomplished and skilled freelance editor a list of your requirements and have them conform your product to your own requirements.

If you know your market and can create a set of requirements, you may find yourself founding a publishing company.

Or, as a freelance writer, you may write, then hire a company like


to do the editing, possibly another freelance editor to do the copyediting, then pay a techie to conform the manuscript to the requirements at smashwords (pretty simple these days, but still a technical challenge if you're including artwork, charts, graphs, colors, etc), and pay someone to make a cover that will look right at Kindle's thumbnail size, AND pay a publicist who will try to get your product reviewed while you write the next item.

What's happened today, though, is that the sales breakpoint above "free" is 99Cents.  People are buying books that have been through professional editors at the big publishing houses, and are "clean" of most errors for a dollar!  How will they view your product against that quality assurance item? 

Yes, 99cents is the hot-sales price for a reprint.  You'll find a lot of such books on
http://backlistebooks.com  -- along with some higher priced ones like $2.99 for longer works.

I'm a member of Backlist e-Books, but have no idea who these people at the editing shop are.

How many copies of your novel do you have to sell to make back all those costs before you make a single cent?

How many dollars per your work-hour are you going to make from your book after you've paid all these costs and fees? 

Trust me, you'd make more packing grocery bags at the supermarket or collecting grocery carts from the parking lott.

Envision this carefully, then think it all through.

The bottom line is that publishers, agents, editors, etc are worth what you pay them. 

But to pay them, to make your business model function at a profit (albeit a thin margin) you must perfect the writing craft to the point where you do not have to do much rewriting.

To achieve that, you must learn to lay out the piece (story, novel, article) in your mind before you begin to create the words.  The functional components of the story must lock into place (i.e. follow a trope of some sort, even if it's one you invented) before you start typing words.

When you're finished, you have Microsoft's spellcheck and grammar check to find most of your typos, and then a copyediting run for which you need experienced professional input, maybe two or three of those, with no more work required than to tweak some words. 

If you can write 4 books a year -- say 80,000 to 100,000 words apiece -- and make them all appeal to the same readership who will keep coming back for more, after 5 years of sustained effort, you might gross $30,000/year in a good year.

But this world isn't up to supporting that yet.

We are generating the freelance self-publishing writers, and the mechanism for distributing books via smashwords, amazon.com, createspace.com etc.  We're getting the companies that provide just editing (such as the one I'm featuring here which could be gone tomorrow, or be successful and get bought up).

And we're getting the freelance cover art creators, such as Penny Ash, who did the cover for VAMPIRE'S DILEMMA.

We've had freelance publicists working by email for a while -- but as a professional reviewer, I have to say that there are very few of them that I accept books from because of discovering discrepancies between the "pitch" for the book and the book itself.

We have a growing industry of freelance bloggers who do reviews, and many readerships have flocked to them for help in sorting the avalanche of novels pouring out of the e-publishing business. 

What are we missing to make this re-construction of the publishing industry around a new business model actually work?

We're missing the agents.

A writer needs to be able to put her head into her stories and just write -- to produce those 4 books a year (which is a common workload for working writers).  To focus like that, the writer needs an agent to manage this entire circus of other skilled professionals that waft the writer's product to the reader.

And the other thing that exists but isn't yet notched into place in the mechanism in text storytelling is the professional level writing school, or writing teacher.

From the website, I do not see how http://www.21streeturbanediting.com/  distinguishes itself from a writing school.

In my experience, beginning writers think they need an editor's attention when in fact they need a writing teacher.

That's where the bewilderment over the "The Dreaded Rejection Letter" we talked about last week comes from.  The beginner in this industry expects the editor to say what's wrong with the manuscript, not just reject it.

The screenwriting industry seems to have generated a school that is successfully doing this polish coat on the craft of screenwriters.  In fact, I know of three such --

And the Supermentors round table project of

And blakesnyder.com and the SAVE THE CAT! seminars and books.

These are the serious, and very expensive, entrees to screenwriting (there are others of this type using similar business models).

In screenwriting, though, because there are more ambitious people trying to get into what amounts to a necessarily limited number of working slots, there are a number of very predatory organizations that purport to teach screenwriting or to provide entree to the industry, but who use a business model based on fleecing the innocent by soothing their egos rather than whipping them into shape.

On another front, we have YouTube growing us a generation of skilled videographers and storytellers exhibiting worldclass skills.  Watch the top-hit producers on YouTube and study what you're looking at.  THERE is the generation of a new industry. 

But all these writers create more than any one person could read in a lifetime. 

The next functional component of this business model has to be a replacement for what many call "the gatekeepers" -- the people who decide what will be bought, what will be invested in with the expectation of making a profit, and what will not be invested in.

These "gatekeepers" are the folks who the reader, the person who lays down their money and invests their time, depends on to narrow the choices, and spot the one item that the reader actually wants to spend their evening with.

There is, perhaps, a misconception on the part of the marketers when it comes to marketing fiction. 

If you look at the shifts in the TV cable industry, and how internet delivered TV and video are chopping up the TV market, you will see it.

There are those who market a delivery service (such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, Apple TV) by boasting "we have X hundred thousand films and TV episodes."

They are marketing to people who have free time to kill and just want a distraction.

But most of the readers I know don't read just to fill up time that's heavy on their hands.

People go after a particular product to read because of the payload they expect that specific thing to deliver.

People imbibe fiction for a personal reward -- not to waste away time.

The pace of life has picked up today to the point where people don't have time to read, or watch TV regularly.  We're just too busy and too frantic.  Movies are too expensive (Christmas weekend boxoffice was off this year).

So we see advertisements on TV for the big expensive movies (like WARHORSE), and we go "I want to see that." 

What we see advertised, what comes to us, we "want" and go after.

But what about all the rest of the stuff that we might actually like better -- but don't know exists?

Google is working on tailoring the advertising that appears beside the website you're on or beside your gmail mailbox to have some relevance to what else has captured your interest.  They haven't nailed it yet, but they're making progress.

This political season may see more progress.  I've noticed how political polls have gotten better at predicting winners -- or at least losers.

What we're seeing with advertising and polling is a technical application that may allow self-publishing or small-publishers to target readerships accurately enough to make a real living with the fiction delivery system.

Yes, I know political ads are odious in the extreme, but hold your nose and study them.

They are "romancing" the voter!  It's very aggressive stuff.  But if you penetrate that surface, you will find the "gatekeeper" model behind it all -- the very thing that new writers get so resentful of. 

There is a mathematics behind all this, predicting the behavior of large numbers of people.  It's called Public Relations now, but that's a euphemism.  The mathematics is based on games theory.  (Google "The Overton Window").

There are two sides to this.  A) doing what large numbers of people want from you B) making large numbers of people do what you want from them.

Sound familiar?  Change "large numbers" to "one person" and you could write that sex scene from a pickup in a bar to the morning after.

That's the marketing business, and it's product independent.  It doesn't matter if it's a novel or a politician, marketing works the same.

And they use social networking now -- a tool that's accessible to writers (if only they had time).

What the mathematicians doing "game theory" and the tech companies like Google are trying to figure out is how to be an agent. 

Google apparently wants to be the Agent between product producers (such as writers) and product marketers -- such as the fiction delivery system components I've been discussing here.

But there are some missing pieces to this puzzle of Marketing fiction in a changing world. 

Two things I see missing (that may turn up in 2012 or 2013) are:
A) Ultra-cheap ways of "routing" (or agenting) the right story to the right reader
B) Ultra-accurate ways of determining what will give you want you want or need  so it can be routed to you.

Right now the fiction delivery system is in chaos and thrashing around delivering product at random, trying this, trying that.

The high-budget risk takers are sticking to the old tried-and-true "remakes" and sequels to films that have been hits.  I've already heard folks on twitter complaining about that lack of originality.

Watch YouTube -- there is a new arbiter of taste emerging from the applications of "hit counters" and that Google +1 button -- by counting the responses of people at random, "they" are going to try to replicate what the author's agent has traditionally done.

If you want an image of that task in your mind -- think of what your household "router" does for your computer connection to the internet -- putting several householding devices onto the internet from your single account.

If you don't know how that works, you should learn because I suspect it will be the dominent piece of the puzzle for the next "build" of the fiction delivery system. 

Google is not fooling around here.  It's making money from a) predicting behavior and b) creating behavior  -- and interacting these two processes to "correct" behavior.  (check out Google Chrome and its battle against Windows Explorer)

The highest level tech applications and the smartest people are participating in this remake of the world. 

Every move Google makes changes the Writer's Business Model, and how you market your fiction depends on how "they" change the world. 

If you think that publishing's "gatekeepers" have been an onerous burden, you need to think about the drummers hammering out the beat that the "gatekeepers" dance to. 

Figure out what dance (fictional tropes are just like dances) comes next on the playlist, and get the right shoes (editor) for that dance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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