Obstacle or Opportunity?

Three interests converge in one place. Having many interests and little time is not an obstacle but an opportunity.

Many interests and little time, an obstacle or an opportunity?

In 2003 I published my first short story Gnaw in a literary journal called Southword. The story was shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin competition by the late David Marcus. It was a big deal at the time and still is. I never met David Marcus but I hope he’s drinking fine wines in heaven. Today the story sits in on my shelf, dust gathering. The story is what I’d call in work a ‘legacy title’ or what the industry calls ‘backlist.’

One of my tasks in my day job is to make ebooks out of a ‘backlist’. I adore this work. It’s the closest I get to campaign on behalf of the author, an out-of-print author sometimes, while at the same time make-good the digi-archive I’ve worked meticulously on for years (in a previous life I was an archaeologist which explains my love for preservation). It also gives me fuel to re-imagine an author’s content in a digital context. This may also mean re-purposing their content to suit how Generation X/Y, Millennials and upcoming ‘Digital Natives’ expect to engage with content.

So to recap, in my job I get to extend an author’s shelf-life, potentially make sales for them where sales would never happen, in territories previously inaccessible and in ways that a 2k-plus print run with a finite life-span could never do. All this without the horror of returns, pulping and the inevitable ‘OP’ = Out of Print.

A recent study showed how the Indie/self-published authors were holding their own against the ‘Big Five’ publishers when it came to non-fiction category in ebooks (ref to follow). We already know how powerful the self-pubs can be in fiction in this area. They campaign rigorously, they don’t have a hundred different authors on their list, and they are genuinely part of their product’s sales ‘DNA’, they ARE the business. The Indie publisher too with a smaller list and possibly being a ‘one-man-band’ has less diversity and more incentive to sharpen digital tools. In short, self-pubs and digi Indies are possibly more focused and opportunistic than med-bigger publishers when it comes to digital because they have no choice not to be.

From a production/editorial POV, my particular bread and butter, the indie/self pub crowd are enviably more innovative, self-empowered and by now have a better handle on technology. They understand serialisation of titles, agile publishing, smaller bite-sized content that can be consumed by people who read on device. In digital marketing too, they may have the edge because digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with data analysis; something traditional print publishers are new to. When you look at a svelte publishing model like Orchard Wall Publishing you realise that the hands-on for an ebook publisher is very different to that of a hybrid/print publisher who ends up unwittingly and through no fault of their own in a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ situation. The question for med-large publishers is not only how to sell books online as a discipline in its own right using intelligent metadata and data analysis, but also how to harness, or simulate, the ‘neurotic power of the individual’ (term supplied by author and metadata specialist Ian Flitcroft).

Going back to the ‘killing three wild boars with one stone’ dilemma in my last post I asked myself: How can I as a person working in a medium-sized publisher harness the neurotic power of the individual on behalf of that publisher, on behalf of the authors, on behalf of myself who walks a fine-line between author, producer and publisher? There are only so many hours in the day. Plus I need to write my own book and study at the same time to keep up with the changes in the industry.

It occurred to me that that fine-line was not an obstacle but an opportunity. What if I was to do my own digi indie/self-pub ‘start-up’ beginning with the story Gnaw I mentioned above? The content is peer read, copyright owned by myself. It’s a cheap, time-efficient way to test the waters. What if I ran it through the KDP process, or…took the other model for a different learning curve ie published outside the Amazon ecosystem? If I could do this I could be asking the questions I have as a producer, publisher, editor AND writer and getting more answers.

Can it be done? I think so. Three wild boars with one stone? Yes. Time? Well, put it this way, some colleagues spend a good part of the weekend on the golf course. I don’t do golf. I do THIS, and the bonus is I can do this at odd social hours so I still get to hangout with my family on a Saturday. And that is a bonus that can’t be valued in currency.

9 thoughts on “Obstacle or Opportunity?

  1. It’s a fascinating idea Jen and I can’t wait to see how you get on. There seems to be an almost punk-like DIY ethos floating around with regard to publishing between the electronic publishing world and the smaller physical publishing houses that may be prepared to take more of a chance with new writers.

    My biggest question with regard to e-publishing has always been how do you get someone to read your book? (reviews seem virtually nonexistent and you can’t exactly loan a copy to a friend) I’ve seen a lot of people try but their efforts descend into spam incredibly quickly, do you promote yourself like a Nigerian prince looking for an account in which you can ‘rest’ some money, spam thousands with the hope of making a couple of sales, or is there a better way, that, to me, appears to be the biggest problem the new publishing revolution faces?

    • You’re right Colm, I see that too, and that’s why I want to experiment. I feel a title’s appeal has to be recognised outside the personal grapevine of Twitter and Facebook etc perhaps with intelligent metadata, advertising online in the right places at the right time and data analysis might creep more into the publishing world, and the word algorithm won’t be something just heard in a movie for us regular folk. To get real traction might takes more science and less spam than we think. I’m going to take the most unsalable content (lit fiction short) and see if I make even 1 sale by these means. Then I might go further and do some other experiments with different genres. If I find a better way you’ll be the first to know, the info is yours for a pint in the Central.

  2. Gosh, that’s quite a juggling act you’re performing there Jen. But I have no doubt that you’ll overcome the obstacles and achieve all your objectives with your usual panache and good humour – Maybe it will not be necessary to stone those wild boars to death – just try killing them with kindness instead! (See attached cartoon)

    PS – Love your COGENT diagram.

  3. Jen,
    I think this is a wonderful and opportune initiative. There is nothing better than a workthrough to show the possibilities and the challenges. I, of course have some questions;
    Does the market buy one story at a time? If so what is the first step towards accessing that market? What sort of meta data do you need to get people to come have a look at Gnaw? When they come to look, how critical will price be in their decision to purchase?
    Cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derriere toi!

    • The best comment ever! And an ideal one for me because it forces me to think and it helps me to hone my strategy.
      So, yes, the market can buy one story at a time, but in my case, because it’s all I’ll have out there initially, there is only one story to buy, but if I were to do more I would make the metadata work in the background to tie them in as a serialised product perhaps? And the cover and product description would intimate that.
      The first step accessing that market is to do the research on where people are most likely to purchase literary fiction, short stories, and in particular Amazon have special areas to do that. In fairness I’ve chosen the hardest category to work in so it’ll be interesting to see what I’ll be put through to make even 1 sale. Of course I’ll be using BIC and BISAC codes and depending on budget some small ad campaign in a relevant sites, but the marketing side is all new to me and I imagine I’ve a lot to find out, Of course it would help if I did publish my novels with a bigger publisher and that would link to this title and I could also get sales that way? This where the new publish in ecosystem works well in the shift age to my mind.
      The sort of metadata I need will be a big challenge as I have no vertical subject, however, saying that I’m looking closer into the themes in Gnaw and there are some very vertical and interesting subjects there. So I’ll be drilling down into the content to get that theme to match the relevant categories and keywords and writing the copy to suit to positive sentiment. This will be interesting as my specialisation so far is in Trade non-fiction. I’ll be doing some few pilots, tweaking and some A/B testing to see which metadata or Adwords work better.
      For price and for the purpose of experience in supply chain etc I’ll be charging a lowly sum, so price will be small change to most BUT pricing is a real tricky thing in ebook world, sometimes you think you’re doing your book a favour by pricing low, but the audience can read this as equivalent to a non-professional title, and my experience with pricing is that there is a ‘sweet spot’ as they say where the pricing is just right. Also you’ve got to consider holidays, promos, and countdown deals, basically for this product the price will be in keeping with the shortness of the read, but as you know the work that goes into that ‘short read ‘s invaluable.
      Any other questions keep asking!

  4. Pingback: Project Gnaw an experiment in self-publishing Books Ireland Magazine

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