I’ve had a fair amount of time to think lately, and musing about publishing issues made me consider the haphazard way books get publicized at present and how I’d alter things, if I were made Bookworld Queen. Books aren’t like bars of soap, their best qualities are not the pretty wrapper and the promise of a well-known brand name and yet it feels like that’s how they are sold, that and the relentless thumping home of a handful of titles. Books are ideas, they are slices of society, they are questions and they are challenges, they are also comfort, pleasure, excitement and escape. And their authors are artists, creative gold, and should be respected and used as such. To this end, I would:
1. First get my authors to cancel all their individual twitter accounts, blogs, facebook pages and all the other social media that dissipate everyone’s attention and energy. Consolidation is what we’re after, that and exclusive access to information.
2. Start up the most interesting newsletter ever, using my authors’ talents for writing. They can post about their work in progress, the genesis of their ideas, the research trips they undertake – think how great it would be for readers to become engaged by a novel in the production stage, how their interest and curiosity might be whetted by the non-fiction writers talking about how they approached their family over their tell-all memoir, or how an author first realised s/he needed to investigate a forgotten moment in history! The bookshop shouldn’t be the first place I hear about a new book. And I’d make sure there was space for all my authors over time, not just the few who are known about already.
3. I’d also engage readers in the working of the publishing house – there’s drama and excitement there – debut authors to be presented, the vision of publishing that’s currently being created, former editors musing over their relationships with classic authors…
4. Now for events. I’d be tracking down the right sort of locations for regular event evenings. Sure, I’d have readings occasionally, but I’d also want to put groups of authors together for discussions, tying books in to what’s going on right now in the world. It might be the release of a big film, or some current event, or a new cultural trend. I’d get the academics in with the editors and authors to debate where fiction is going (but NO boring death knells for the state of the novel!), school groups for fun activities, and sometimes there’d just be a ‘come and meet’ party (Christmas and midsummer). Then, I’d reach out to all the interested groups in the area – the bookshops and libraries, the book clubs and writing groups, the schools. I’d want to build relationships, work out what the community responded to, try to have a little control over creating the buzz, not desperately following it like headless chickens.
5. Authors create, publicists publicize. So it’s up to the publishers to work on having the best network of media contacts, and a huge network of readers. To whom they could send the now fabulous newsletter, and who would also be interested in the events. The publicist helps authors to place articles in newspapers and magazines, and to give interviews on television and radio. The publishing house is responsible for both media contacts and reading audience, they need them for every author they work with.
6. But authors are creative gold. I’d want to get my authors together regularly, for something informal and laid back and creative, a sort of workshop-plus-pub visit. They can work together to come up with ideas for book programs on television and the radio, and then the publicists would put those ideas into sellable form (because that’s their job, not the authors’). The authors need to keep thinking about that newsletter too, how to keep it innovative and fresh. And I think authors need to get together with their own kind to spark off ideas and keep excited in their own projects. Who knows what might come out of friendships and collaborations?
7. If I wanted to sell ebooks, once their novelty value has worn off, this is the perfect place for deals. Anyone who buys a hardback novel should get an ebook free – so they can take that book on the daily commute rather than leave it at home. When an established author puts a new book out, how about an ebook bundle deal, whereby a handful of backlist titles are sold alongside the new one? There could be ebook subscriptions for the genre readers: a book a month, get readers interested in authors they might not have tried otherwise (a great testing ground for new authors, too).
8. I’d use bloggers properly. I’d have a database in which to log their interests, which books they’d been sent, and which had been reviewed. If a blogger didn’t review, say, three out of five books, I’d strike them off the list. For crying out loud, we are the only sector of the market guaranteed to buy or borrow books for ourselves. Being sent a book for review ought to be a privilege and we should be professional about it. At the same time, I don’t review now for publishers who don’t say thank you when I send a link. There should be reciprocal benefit here. Publishers should get their reviews, and bloggers should get increased traffic. Links to reviews should all be put on the website, and tweeted, and publicized in all possible ways.
9. Finally, the website is the place where everything comes together. The newsletters are stored here, photos from previous events, details of upcoming events, all the reviews for books, all the latest deals and competitions, news and gossip. With a happening website, it makes sense to sell books from here, too. I have to say that on the two occasions I have tried to buy books direct from publishers, I have ended up at amazon out of sheer frustration. Penguin (who I think should be named and shamed) was my worst experience. A different shop for different imprints, so it took a while for me to track the books down, and then when I wanted one book from each of two different imprints, I couldn’t seem to combine my order. It was madness. A clear, easy, reliable shopping system, with big deals on pre-orders and featured titles, that’s what I’d want.
So this is the result of sitting around, not being able to type – overthinking and empire building! These are just my ideas and I’m sure people can come up with better ones. It was just fun to speculate. And keep your fingers crossed for me – at the moment, my arm does seem to be slowly improving.