Sunday, June 26, 2016

Flogging the Novel - 2

Way back when I posted some words under a similar title I was talking about trying to market the novel in its digital version. You can buy it on Amazon for a couple of bucks, or you can sample it free on Smashwords to see if you want to go the route.

This time -- I have a real book. Some people will take exception to that probably, but to some of us not of the millennial generation (or the X or even Baby Boom cohort) a book is a book; you can heft it in your hand, and it has a cover you can open and pages you turn.

The marketing possibilities become entirely different. While I’m not up for book tours to other cities and I don’t have money for an advertising campaign, still a book in your hand has advantages over the online product that I think will make the difference.

Industry advice tells us a book must find a niche if it’s going to succeed. And it doesn’t get much nichier than mine. It wasn’t consciously designed that way, it just self-selects its audience. I like to think it’s a respectable number, but as a percentage of the population at large, animal rights enthusiasts must show up as a pretty small slice on the pie chart.

On the other hand, we are a committed bunch. I’m betting that subject matter alone will get the proper peoples’ attention. Copies strategically misplaced in animal-related venues will bring it to hand. After that of course the book has to stand on its own. I consider that I’m a pretty good craftsman with the language and it will be readable and mostly correct. What is yet to be proved  is whether I’m a good storyteller as well, and only an audience can decide that.

If you live in my neighborhood expect to find it at your vet’s office and the local shelter, where I will be planting copies (I can afford to do that at the price, as related in last week’s post) each spiked with  an invitation to buy your own. Revenues, if, as, and when will be split with each host organization.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hard Copy

Faithful readers of this blog (!) will have heard about the novel. It’s plugged on the home page, and has been mentioned in several posts.

Talk about ups and downs: the satisfaction of finally finishing it, followed by the realization that no one cares, verified by rejections from a dozen agents, offset by the thrill of publication (even self-publication electronically) giving way to the realization (did I mention this before?) that no one cares, and then -- and then, a physical, printed book.

That’s right; I now have a book I can hold in my hand, turn its pages, and squash a bug with if it comes to that. All the things about a book that you can’t do electronically/digitally, and the difference is night to day.

You can read your own words just so many times, and I’d about hit the limit on that, re-reading the digital file recently for typos (found three, bad ones). Then I had it printed (details below)  and everything changed. It’s like reading if for the first time. I think it’s because I’ve been a reader all my life, and ”a book” was something someone else had written and managed to get published and printed and bound in physical form; someone else’s work.

And I’m not the only one impressed by the new format. People who didn’t know or knew vaguely that the book existed digitally suddenly saw that here was a book, something they understood, one of a class of objects they had learned to value.

 Next thing you know the bloomin’ thing is liable to start selling.

I owe it all to an online outfit called PrintToPress, which I heartily endorse and recommend to anyone who wants to get a book into print. They’ve made the process so simple and so inexpensive that I spent a while looking for the catch. There was none. You just punch two numbers -- size and page count -- into the calculator on their home page, and a number comes up telling you what it will cost to print a single copy.  The number is unbelievably low; I don’t know how they do it. My 176 pages in conventional 6”x9” format printed for four dollars and change. For Pete’s sake, the postage to send it to me was more than that. A single copy; something you couldn’t have begun to do in old-style printing.

Maybe there’s some good features to this digital stuff after all.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A new chapter in my like/hate relationship with LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has quietly initiated a service with which members selling skills can be matched up with members who want to buy those skills. It’s an ideal arrangement. Not an unusual idea, of course; there are myriad online job-matching outfits. The difference would be, or that’s the hope, that buyers on LinkedIn would be a cut above the bottom-feeders you find on many of the other services. At least until they invaded the system, the penny-a-word, $5-per-article, plagiarism-obsessed, work-for-hire blatherers might be missing. I registered immediately I heard about it.

In the registration instructions LinkedIn puts heavy emphasis on recommendations from clients and others you've worked with. I hadn’t done anything about that on my home page, but certainly I could manage a few. I wrote to three people I had worked with in the past asking if they wouldn’t mind putting up a short paean to my writing prowess which, since it was my writing we were writing about, I would write for them. Then I went about registering.

The problem -- and you just knew that with LinkedIn  there would be one -- is that LinkedIn has made recommendations the coin of the realm. There are, if I’m reading the numbers correctly, an astounding 282 pages of names at this writing,   13 names to a page, in just the “Copywriter” category. A little discouraging, but you knew the competition would be fierce; nothing new there.

The kicker, however, is that LinkedIn has ranked people according to number of recommendations, and presents them that way. The runner-up at this writing has 125, just behind the leader with well into the 200s. The name of someone with a modest 20 or so wouldn’t begin to show up until ten pages in. My three would have put me in the 130s-140s. At the rate people are joining someone who hasn’t yet started to amass his or her recommendations would find himself or herself somewhere close to page 300.

My first reaction is that I don’t think I know 200 people altogether, much less 200 who can vouch for my writing. Second, since listing doesn’t seem to follow any other criteria -- not experience, not location, not specialties or languages or even alphabetization -- what's the likelihood that anyone in the vast middle of the list will be found? Third, recommendations can be manufactured; enough said. Fourth, with that kind of competition, the logical next step will probably be to make it a two-tier system, as LinkedIn already does with its regular membership: you can hang around for free, but if you want the good stuff, there’ll be a charge.

One more mirage in the job-hunting desert.     

Sunday, June 5, 2016

“Native Advertising” 2: The FTC Tries to Square the Circle

There used to be something called Public Relations, whose goal was the same as that of today’s native advertising -- to have a product or company mentioned favorably in a publication’s (now website’s) editorial matter, taking on the authenticity and presumed impartiality of the publication or site sponsor itself.
The difference between that and native advertising -- and it’s a crucial one -- is that PR wasn’t bought. Editorial mention was achieved on the basis of newsworthiness. The  “news” might be contrived, but an editor had discretion to distinguish whether the information would be useful to his or her readers and to publish or reject it accordingly. That doesn’t work when the publication has taken money for it.
Mind-bogglingly(!), the FTC has promulgated rules to try to ensure that this inherently deceptive practice won’t deceive people. And predictably (see last week’s post)  marketers try to evade them, which brings us to the prestigious clothing retailer,  Lord &Taylor.
The FTC caught Lord &Taylor red-handed, and its report lays out a campaign the company organized to sell a new model dress. Among other things, 50 on-line fashion “influencers” were paid (between $1000 and $4000 each) to love the product publicly (if you haven’t had an opinion one way or the other about “influencers” you might form one now) on websites this writer never heard of but that obviously are important to young women who buy dresses. 
The good news is that the FTC acted, and Lord &Taylor is forbidden to do it again. That’s also the bad news, because although the FTC acted, that’s the extent of its punishment of Lord &Taylor.
The dresses “quickly sold out,” for some unreported but no doubt considerable amount of money (enough, apparently, to justify the expenditure of between $53,000 and $200,000 to the “influencers”). The FTC either doesn’t know the amount or won’t release it publicly. But the company is not being fined. It gets to keep the money it acquired deceptively. A letter (not mine) during the public comment phase suggested the company should be made to disgorge the profits it had made deceptively. The FTC declined to do that:
The Commission has determined that the conduct relief obtained 
by the order is appropriate, and will serve to deter future violations 
of the FTC Act by Lord &Taylor.   If Lord &Taylor violates the Commission’s final order, it will be liable for civil penalties of up to $16,000 for each separate violation, pursuant to Section 5(l) of 
the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(l).
Naughty Lord &Taylor has been told not to do it again. The penalty, or "conduct relief," is some monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting tasks that will ensure the company obeys the rules in future that it ignored profitably last time.
The way I read the message to everybody else, it’s “Do it once and do it big.” You won’t get to do it twice (or not the same way, anyway) but you do get to keep the profits. You can apologize later.
Caveat lector.