Saturday, March 24, 2007

Changing Times, Changing Tastes

“It’s been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”
--Sam Cooke song

News of poor sales at WaldenBooks and Borders has reverberated through the writing community. For those of us who aspire to window-sized ads accompanying our book releases, indications that people aren’t buying books can be really unsettling – much the way poor car sales have rocked Detroit.

I have, in fact, been told that “nobody reads anymore” a time or two since I announced my book sale. Of course, I quickly corrected the messenger. People may not be buying Detroit-made cars the way they used to, but they do still drive. The trick is finding out what sells a vehicle these days. And so it is for books.

Without question, the biggest lesson I’ve learned about being an author has nothing to do with writing at all. I can put words on paper with my eyes closed and hands behind my back. Somehow, they would find their way out into the world. No, what’s been tough is figuring out the industry.

Believe me when I say that since I finished the book in September ’05, I’ve spent countless hours learning what publishers like, how to craft a pitch for the “book of my heart” so that it fits with the current market demand (or what publishers think readers will want 12-18 months from now!) and how to promote the book and encourage sales. Many people think your publisher handles all your marketing. Au contraire!!

To me, the biggest boon in getting a book deal is having someone to place your 300+ pages on store shelves all over the country. (Ask any self-published author how hard that feat is to achieve.) So, while your publisher helps with marketing, a lot of it falls on the author. Woe to those who have no clue as to go about it.

I consider myself infinitely blessed to be a marketing communications professional by day. This marketing stuff has eaten up an incredible amount of time – and I do this for a living! But my hopes remain high that the hard work and insider knowledge will pay off when release day actually arrives.

What I try never to lose site of is that while many people visit stores to purchase their books, many do not. Luckily, authors now have the Amazons of the world to help tout our work. Even though it doesn’t usually account for the bulk of one’s sales, it can provide exposure in a very crowded marketplace. E-books have also become increasingly popular. In this high-tech, everything-on-the-go world, doesn’t that seem a logical course for books in print? I liken it to the birth of broadcasting in a world that had only received official news via paper since the dawn of the press.

We as writers and authors must be flexible to keep up in an ever-changing world. We can fight it all we want, but change will come. For me, lower book sales don’t herald the end of reading anymore than shifting auto preferences signal the end of traffic. It just means that maybe one day I’ll get to narrate all my books so that joggers can “read” them as they run.

As long as I still get to write what they hear, that’s just fine with me.