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If I Build It, They Will Come; If I Write It, They Will Read It

617 Views 5 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  ToniD
Excerpt from latest Write It Forward blog

Recently Australia's Minister for Small Business said that he believed that online sales would wipe out bookstores in five years, except for a few specialty stores.

He was greeted with outrage. From bookstore owners. "I'm gobsmacked," one owner said. (I put that there because I've never typed gobsmacked, and since I'm presenting at the Australian RWA conference in August, I need to practice).

Here and there, a few people are saying that 99% of self-published books are going to die slow, un-noticed, deaths.

These announcements are greeted with outrage. From self-published authors.

There is a thing that supersedes these proclamations and resulting outrage. Called reality.

The Australian minister made this announcement after Australia's largest book chain collapsed due to on-line competition. Why would someone then be gobsmacked? The largest surviving chain left in the US announced it is making more off Nook sales than in-store print sales. That they were seeking shorter leases to 100 stores, to give them the "option" to close stores efficiently. Speaking of B&N, this morning I was mentioned in Barnes & Nobles' Press release thusly: Barbara Freethy's Don't Say A Word recently held the title of the top-selling NOOK Book, a first for a PubIt! title. Current PubIt! bestsellers include Amanda Hocking, Bob Mayer and Christie Craig.

The people arguing the loudest against the rise of the ebook are independent bookstores. They claim their uniqueness and their atmosphere will keep them alive. Perhaps. But only if they adapt and provide customers with a unique experience. Frankly, and I know this will cause outrage, too often my experience has been in such stores of finding an attitude of "I built it, now you come in and buy some books." That attitude is reaching new heights as some indie bookstores are now going to charge customers to come in for author events. I might be wrong, but that just seems backwards. One store said that 10% of their revenue comes from this. I wonder how much of that they share with the author? In Seattle an indie bookstores posted emails on why they declined to have an author published by Amazon to do a booksigning, going so far as to say Amazon was evil, and that Amazon censors books, while they proceeded to do exactly the same thing.

Books are being loaded onto Amazon Kindle and PubIt at record numbers. The reality is, 99% will die quiet, but agonizing deaths (agonizing to the writer). At the height of the POD rush, there were 1.2 million titles in 2006. 950,000 sold less than 99 copies. At .99 cents, more writers may be selling more than 100 copies, but the income is poor and this can only last for so long. But, let's face the reality of traditional publishing: 99% of the authors who were published the same year my first book came out (1991) are no longer writing for a living. It's actually probably higher than that since most weren't even writing for a living then.

What is key now is that the reader-author relationship is finally the cornerstone of publishing. Authors can talk directly to their readers on social media. Bookstores had the lock on distribution for decades. They no longer do. That's a reality. To survive requires accepting that reality. Writers can now publish immediately. That's a reality. But that doesn't mean it's a good one for everyone. The successful writers are the one who realize quality content is what will draw readers, not smoke and mirrors. The best promotion is great content, and multiple titles. Success requires a long term plan and perseverance.

I love this quote from Terry Gilliam (can't beat a Python for a great line): "Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need."


I don't expect readers to come to my books. I have to go to my readers, with quality writing, community, blog posts, social media, conferences, unique topics, YouTube clips, answering every email, and just plain hard work.

So just because we built it or we wrote it, is no guarantee of success. That will go to those who learn, adapt, change and work very, very hard. What we all must do is go to the READER.
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Thank you for the fascinating post. I'm particularly drawn to your statement at the end, that authors must go out and bring excellence to readers. After I'd been writing and critiquing for a few years, I began thinking of novels as a dialogue. Not that they are touchstones for dialogue, but that they are in themselves an act of dialogue between writer and readers. If I do not write in such a way that I engage readers, there is no dialogue, because there are no readers. I need to understand how to build stories people will read, and I achieve this by engaging first critiquers then beta readers and finally the general public. I attract more readers by writing about other things (backlist!), having series of books within a genre, and engaging in the activities you detailed in your post.

I once worked for a company whose slogan was "It's time for new ideas." Well, besides being just about the most over-used phrase in politics and business, it does not express the state of mind that is really required for business success, in my opinion. Ideas are a dime a dozen. I have several dozen ideas for novels; they're easy to dream up. What's needed--whether in politics, business, or writing--is aggressive and engaging implementation of ideas. Dreamers have ideas. Authors are those dreamers who have figured out how to turn a dream into an idea shared and discussed and brought to life in readers' imaginations. The proof of sound implementation is in the facility of execution. If my dialogue (my novel) is engaging, it is because I have worked hard to attract readers, as you wrote in your post. It's not because my idea is new or in itself interesting, but rather because I've worked hard to engage in the dialogue with my readers.
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Great post, Bob. I agree. The rise of ebooks creates new opportunities, and this includes opportunities for bookstores.

Thanks for taking the time to post this.
Thanks for the post, Bob.  I agree with your last statement also that we must go to the readers. 

Bookstores will find a way to use the ebook to their advantage. In the next 5 years I see them setting up ereading stations and more inside libraries and bookstores. ebook gift cards and all that stuff. I think it will come to a point, where everyone will win. I guess it's just important in the next 5 years to make sure that we are at the top of our game!
Excellent post, Bob. (anyone who quotes Monty Python is worth listening to)
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