Astroturfing: The Source of Zombie Memes in Publishing?

international publishers associationWhy are there so many zombie memes in publishing? Why is there so much groupthink? It might be because the industry isn’t particularly diverse. Or it could be that book-lovers are nostalgic types who are automatically wary of change.

But I suspect it’s astroturfing by the publishing establishment, a practice admitted to last month by YS Chi, chairman of Elsevier and president of the International Publishers Association, in paragraph six of this article.

For the click-lazy, here’s the money quote (emphasis mine):

We gathered all the communications people together to discuss the issues and create an action plan. We have a multi-faceted audience to address, and in the next 12 months you will see key messages delivered, compelling stories of our impact on society for culture and education. We’ll ask you to personalize that message. I’m very excited that there is a meeting of minds on this.”

Yey, talking points! I don’t know if I’m more excited about the centrally approved messaging that’s going to flood the blogosphere, or the mental image of YS Chi doing a mind-meld with everyone in publishing.

But I digress. This post attempts to dispel multiple industry myths in one fell swoop. Perhaps then we can start having meaningful conversations, instead of batting around boardroom memos.

Self-publishing is a bubble

Remember Ewan Morrison’s prediction in The Guardian? “Epublishing is another tech bubble, and it will burst in the next 18 months.”

That was two years ago, but Morrison was never one to wave the white flag in the face of facts, evidence, or logic. He’s now pushed the date out for this bubble bursting to a point in the 2020s (don’t ask me to be more exact, I can’t abide his pseudo-intellectual crap).

I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised Morrison is still beating this drum, given he has admitted, “writing about the end of books generates more income for me than actually publishing the darn things.”

Publishers (and Apple) never fixed them prices

It was all a conspiracy by the pro-Amazon DOJ! Let’s just ignore the fact that Amazon donates to the red team and Apple donates to the blue team, that the Price Fix Six left a trail of evidence a mile long, that the publishing industry actively campaigns for fixed priced laws outside the US, and that any independent legal observer considered it an open-and-shut case, a per se violation of anti-trust law.

The e-book market has flattened/peaked/slumped

We’ve reached the stage now where over 50% of new release fiction is purchased in digital format, as reported by several large publishers last year. The market simply cannot keep doubling – you can’t have 110% of new release sales in digital format. This doesn’t mean the market has flattened or peaked (or slumped).

There is a difference between the rate of growth slowing, and the market actually shrinking, and official industry figures don’t measure any of the boom in self-publishing. Eoin Purcell had a good piece in the Irish Times noting this, and Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader drills down further here. Continue reading

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If You Don’t Enjoy Marketing, You’re Doing It Wrong

Snake-oilI can already feel the heat from approaching pitchforks!

But if you hear me out, I think I can convert at least some of you to the idea that if you don’t enjoy marketing, you’re doing it wrong. Let me explain.

Sometimes marketing can seem like a Sisyphean task. There’s always something you could do to promote your work, and there’s never enough hours in the day. Many writers are already hard-pressed with demands from the rest of their lives and have to battle hard to carve out writing time. The pressure to promote squeezes that precious writing time even further.

On top of that, many marketing tasks just seem unpleasant. Writers can often be introverts who don’t like pressing the flesh – either in cyberspace or meatspace – and the very idea of marketing is hive-inducing. I get that, I really do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I think that if marketing is making you feel icky, you’re probably doing it wrong. If it’s too expensive, you’re definitely doing it wrong. And if it takes up too much time, guess what? You really are doing it wrong.

Stuff that can make you feel icky:

  • Book signings
  • Hanging out on Goodreads
  • Emailing reviewers
  • Spamming reader forums
  • Tweeting buy links
  • Posting to reader groups on Facebook

I don’t bother with any of this stuff. Some is completely ineffective (Twitter spam) and some is potentially useful (emailing reviewers) but isn’t worth the time cost. In certain genres, a Goodreads presence can be very useful, but if it makes you feel uncomfortable then you’re not going to execute effectively and should just avoid. Anyway, if you need reviews (or readers), there are easier ways. Continue reading

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Using Story Beats To Increase Writing Speed

cover-write-publish-repeat-finalYou may be familiar with the Self-Publishing Podcast – hosted by Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright – which has featured all sorts of people doing interesting things in the world of self-publishing. Well, now the SPP guys have released a book – Write. Publish. Repeat - and it’s fantastic.

Long-time readers of this blog might remember Dave guest-posting here way back in October 2011 about a serial fiction experiment he was conducting with Sean. The experiment was a huge success and Sean & Dave have since written a bunch more serials, including one for Amazon’s SF/F imprint 47North.

Sean also co-writes with Johnny, and together they’ve written a bunch more serials too (over a million words published last year alone), and all three of them are now making a living from book sales. In short, these guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing fast, publishing well, and building loyal readerships.

Johnny & Sean have now taken all the knowledge gleaned from both their experience and their podcast, and written a book about self-publishing that is, in my humble opinion, the best out there on the topic.

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Write. Publish. Repeat. last week, and I gobbled it up pretty quickly (my Amazon review is here). I had several lightbulb moments while reading it, and, no matter what your experience level with writing or self-publishing, I’m confident you will have several lightbulb moments too. Continue reading

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Greetings from Prague!

LMEEThere’s news of a monster sale and competition at the bottom of this post, but, first of all: I’m still alive!

Apologies for the prolonged radio silence, but finding an apartment in Prague proved trickier than expected. We thought we had a place twice before, only for the deal to collapse – either from the terms changing at the last moment, or other related shadiness.

But we have a place now and that’s the main thing. Internet connection should be hooked up this week, and then I can re-commence taking over the world.

While the apartment search was frustrating, all that pounding the pavement was great for getting to know the city. And what a city!

Aside from being so bloody beautiful, it’s easy to see why so many ex-pats have set up home here since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The rent is about a quarter of London rates, beer is about fifth of the price, and the whole town is just an incredibly inspiring place for creative types. In short, I’m pumped about getting back to work.

The disruption of moving and flat-hunting has set my writing schedule back a fair bit, but hope to make up some time by, uh… typing faster? First up (and hopefully before Christmas) will be Super Tramp – a near-future, mildly dystopian, and (hopefully) darkly comic tale of two homeless guys who get roped into a twisted reality show. It was supposed to be a short story, but I had way too much fun writing it and expanded the idea as I went along. I might even turn it into a series. We’ll see how it sells, and how I feel after editing.

Following hot on the heels of Super Tramp will be the revised, expanded, and updated version of Let’s Get Digital. I’m trying to figure out a way that purchasers of the original version will get the 2nd Edition for free – or at least as many of them as possible. If you bought it from Amazon (or Smashwords), that should be relatively easy and I’m trying to see if I can do anything similar with other retailers – but more on that in a future post. Continue reading

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Publishing Is Easy


There are three primary tasks a writer must undertake to get her work into the hands of readers: writing, publishing, and marketing.

Out of those three, I respectfully submit, publishing is by far the easiest.


Writing a book is hard, and writing a good book is even harder – at least from the perspective of the inexperienced writer. Most people who think about writing a book never start one. Most people who start one never finish it. And most people who finish a book never polish it to the point where it’s ready for prime-time and/or never get it out the door for one reason or another.

To write a good book, you have to put in the time in terms of reading with intent, learning about the craft, gaining mastery of the tools at your disposal, and putting all that into practice with book after book (some of which may never see the light of day). It’s usually a long process and it’s understandable that there’s a high level of attrition.


Marketing can be tough. Most writers don’t come from business or marketing backgrounds, and creative types aren’t generally renowned for taking to those disciplines naturally. It also doesn’t help that many of the traditional methods for marketing print books are largely ineffective at selling e-books (publicists, press releases, newspaper interviews, radio spots, television interviews, book signings), and that what is actually effective at selling e-books can often be counterintuitive, or at least swim against that traditional approach (heavy discounts, giving away lots of free copies, building up buzz after release instead of prior to publication, using media to make social connections rather than broadcasting a message).

Part of the difference in marketing approaches is down to there being thousands and thousands of points-of-sale for print books, and pretty much four or five for e-books. And part of the difference is down to the formats themselves and the often different paths to discovery. For example, it requires a huge investment, key relationships built up over time, and the printing, storing, and distribution of thousands upon thousands of print books to be visible to customers across Barnes & Noble’s store network, but a basic, low-cost digital marketing campaign can make your e-book visible on Amazon. Continue reading

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Amazon Makes Life Easier For Authors of Historical & Literary Fiction

visible1000pxThere are lots of reasons why self-publishing success stories tend to concentrate around writers of “genre” fiction, but it’s a mistake to assume that success is impossible if you write literary fiction or historical fiction (which tends to get lumped in with literary fiction, even though it’s just another genre… like literary fiction!).

The first is demographics: romance and erotica readers were the first to switch to digital, followed by mystery and thriller fans, leading to the success stories of Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, and John Locke.

I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed.

The rise of “genre” self-publishing was also aided by the mistreatment of the midlist by large publishers: falling advances, worsening terms, and the shifting of the marketing burden onto the author’s shoulders. With bigger names jumping ship and striking out on their own, the increasing selection of quality self-published books at very low prices (and often exclusively available as e-books) acted as a strong pull factor for readers of genre fiction to switch to digital.

Non-fiction has been slower to go digital for a few reasons. First, technical limitations of e-book formats and the devices themselves have made the digitization of anything other than straight narrative text troublesome – even the minor technical challenge posed by something like footnotes has yet to be resolved in a satisfactory way.

On top of that, non-fiction authors tend to be treated a little better by publishers, especially in terms of advances – so there’s less of a push factor encouraging authors to self-publish. This means less big name authors dragging print readers to digital with low prices and digital exclusivity, and, thus, a smaller reader pool for non-fiction self-publishers.

The case of historical fiction and literary fiction is a little different. Weak digital sales from large publishers, and the relative lack of self-publishing success in these genres, has led some to worry about the future. But I think something else is going on here. Continue reading

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Kobo Cull Self-Published Titles In Knee-jerk Response To Tabloid Clickbait

Kobo read freelyA media firestorm erupted in the UK on Sunday after a tabloid story about WH Smith selling “filth” alongside books aimed at children, which has resulted in Kobo culling huge numbers of self-published titles – most of which have no erotic content whatsoever.

It’s hard to know exactly how many titles Kobo has pulled. What we do know is that Kobo has removed all 7,883 self-published titles distributed to their store via Draft2Digital, as confirmed in an email from D2D’s CEO to affected authors.

However, I think that’s only a tiny fraction of affected titles. Many self-published authors who distribute via the (much larger) Smashwords service have reported their books are no longer on sale on Kobo’s UK store, as have many authors who uploaded to Kobo direct, via their self-publishing platform Kobo Writing Life. And, indeed, it’s not just self-publishers that are affected. Lots of small publishers either use a distributor like Smashwords, or upload direct via KWL.

Those not in the UK will be unaware of the full extent of the problem, as only those with UK IP addresses can view the Kobo UK store. But when I ran a simple check of 10 self-published authors – none of whom write erotica or romance – half were missing from the UK store. Indeed, all seven of my titles have been pulled – which I uploaded direct via KWL – and I don’t write erotica (and don’t have any other pen-names).

In addition, Kobo’s UK partner – WH Smith – has closed their entire site. All that remains is a holding page with a statement, containing the following:

Our website will become live again once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again. Continue reading

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