Elizabeth Foxwell has a photo of Don Westlake and John D. MacDonald together. John D. looks like a delighted child.
----------------------------THE ETERNAL QUESTION
Who Are These Fools, and Why Should You Care?
"A couple of the responses to my Greg Egan post theorized, to my surprise, that Egan’s relative lack of commercial success is due largely to his reclusivity—“no book tours, no signings, even his website has no blog or reader feedback area, nor any email address.” This started me wondering: how much of a personal connection to authors do most readers nowadays want and/or expect?
"I suppose I’m surprised because I’ve long been on the other extreme. I’ve never even considered sending fan mail to a writer whose books I like, much less searching online for a picture. Except for those years during which I accidentally stalked William Gibson1, and that time I was sternly scolded by Michael Ondaatje1, I don’t think I’ve ever attended a reading or signing2. I care about authors’ work—a lot—but I don’t really care about them."
Ed here: In more than a quarter century I don't think I've done more than a dozen signings. This may be why only a tiny fraction of the reading public has ever heard of me let alone read any of my books. But I'm not sure of that. In twenty-five years I've seen dozens of writers spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars packing themselves off to innumerable signings, meetings, workshops and remain solidly mid-list for their trouble.
I admit that I'm not especially sociable in groups of any kind. I tend to head for the corner. I just never know what to say. So I've never thought I was doing anybody any favors by inflicting myself on them. Easier just to stay home and write.
But my sense now is that (and I may be full of beans of course) with indy bookstores dying signings will become even less valuable for mid-listers. The indies know the books and the writers and know how to sell them. The other types of stores aren't very good at it.
Now, as with any truism, there are many exceptions. There are mid-list writers who can move a fair share of books at signings. And promotion of some kind--especially media promo--is vital. But I know there are writers who spend more money on travel and promo than they receive as advances. I'm not sure that makes any sense.
I'd like to hear what you writers think.
-------------------------More Mid-List Blues
Interesting article posted on the PW online. The topic is why in these dire economic times publishers will throw even bigger money at certain titles. The ones most of us groan about when they make the news.
"Yes, that's right -- amid the worst economic crisis to hit the United States in decades, publishing executives are still making what many see as outrageous gambles on new manuscripts."
"The move by HarperCollins is only one of the latest in a string of big bets by companies employing a blockbuster strategy -- a common approach among movie studios, television-production companies and music labels. A spokeswoman for the publishing house says it doesn't disclose author advances. (HarperCollins Publishers is a unit of News Corp., which also owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.)"
"In the past, the strategy seemed to work wonders. For example, Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group USA, generated roughly 80% of its sales and an even larger share of its profits from just 20% of its titles in 2006. In 2007, Grand Central purportedly shelled out $1.25 million for the rights to Vicki Myron's "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World," a nonfiction book about a fluffy orange kitten found abandoned in the returned-book slot of an Iowa public library."
Vicki Myron's book about her adopted orange tabby cat, Dewey Readmore Books, briefly occupied the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list and now sits at No. 2. The feline inhabitant of the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa has passed away, but a sequel might be in the works -- last month Ms. Myron reportedly adopted a cat named Page."
"A prudent manager in any other industry might be left scratching his head: Why would Grand Central put itself in the position of having to outsell all cat books released in recent memory to earn back its seven-figure advance? Rather than putting all its eggs in one basket, wouldn't it be smarter for a publisher to place a larger number of smaller bets -- particularly in today's harsh economic climate?
"Hardly. Despite its double-or-nothing daring, the blockbuster strategy remains the most sensible approach to lasting success."
(for the rest go here)
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I don't do many signings at all. I always go to Murder by the Book in Houston when I have a new book out, and, if asked, I'll go to one of the chains in the area. I've gone to a few other independents in the state over the years, but I've never had a tour of any kind and never thought of having one. Certainly the publisher's not going to pay for a guy with my sales to do a multi-state tour, and now I'm too old to want to do it myself. Maybe if I'd toured, I'd be as big as Stephen King, but somehow I doubt it. We'll never know, though.
Ed, about the connection you need to read an author--when I was growing up I don't think anyone really cared about that, all we cared about were the books. Things do seem to have changed, though.
I doubt I'll be doing much if any touring unless my publisher wants to send me to the UK. Then I'll do it gladly.
A sequel titled DEWEY READMORE -- VAMPIRE HUNTER should be a slamdunk.
I'm not a believer in Web sites, don't have one myself. If I did I know I'd insist on managing it myself,and I'd rather spend that time writing.
I'm always surprised at publishers who think they need to invest money in sending Mary Higgins Clark or Stephen King on tour. THEY DON'T NEED IT. Remember the "Send a kid to camp," campaign? Well, I'd like to start one. SEND A MID-LIST WRITER ON TOUR!!!!
I think the silliest thing in the world is a new writer who says they're "going on tour" and then paying for the whole thing themselves, as if the simple act of "being on tour" makes them a success.
I can only respond as a reader and say that while signings have never made a difference to me, websites do. When I find an author I like, I'll visit their website to learn about their other books. I know many authors are torn on the subject of blogs, but they can be a good way of maintaining a relationship with readers until the next book is out.
Like Vince, I'm responding as a reader (and future-published author): websites, for me, are crucial. I want to know more about other books an author I just 'discovered' has written. Blogs have become a wonderful way to get some author feedback to a question or two. I remember just last year, I "discovered" Don Winslow via The Dawn Patrol. I went to his website and was disappointed. It hadn't been updated in years. Podcasts are another valuable way to introduce future readers to an author. The Behind the Black Mask podcast (sadly on hiatus) was a goldmine of information about a particular author.
In the future, I think there may be fewer book signings but more opportunities for an author to engage the readers: guest blogging, podcasts, online video interviews. The possibilities are, while not endless, nonetheless fertile. Jeri Westerson, author of Veil of Lies, actually created a blog as if written by her main character. That's certainly something that's entertaining and you couldn't get from a book signing. And it gets readers' attention. And they might buy her book.
After years of aggressive tours and signings, my publishers backed away and I fully concurred. They are without value. All the rationales for them fall apart. If publishers want to spend that much on touring and signings, I'd suggest that they literally give away my books to acquaint readers with them, and maybe return for more later.
As a new writer and a Canadian (which let's face it makes me a tenth degree black belt in obscurity) I will go wherever my publisher sends me. But every time I hit a convention, I am relegated to the tiny little side tables to offer people directions to the bathroom and/or snack table.
Every signing I have ever done has had my mom filling out the front row and my dad filling out the row behind her. I imagine this will be the way it is until my publisher gives up or I tell her to stop coming.
I think reviews are what really matter. People will always buy good work, the problem is people often don't know what is out there.
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