Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bookselling in the Digital Age: Part 2

This is the second excerpt of the presentation given to the Swanwick Writers Summer School, 11th August,2009. By my wife Annie Quigley, owner of Biblophile Books. ‘Bookselling In A Digital Age.’

...So how does the Digital world affect you as authors?

Why does a bookseller need you today?

In today’s digital world the book may be physical but the marketing is going digital in the way that people find it, buy it and value it on the internet.

Yesterday everyone relied on the publisher to promote and market both the book and its creator. Those days are fast disappearing. Marketing and PR budgets are tighter and publishers now will back surefire winners allowing the rest often swim for themselves. Max Arthur, a historian friend tells the story of one publisher (who I shan’t name), setting aside the princely sum of £100 for his book tour budget! What does that tell you about the state of publishing today? I am asking you to consider “Who is the best person to sell the book?”

I quote Ray Hammond again who urges the writer very strongly;
“It’s your business and if you want to make a living you must at least take some responsibility for the selling.”

You may ask “How can I do that?”

First you have to take responsibility for the blurb and the book’s jacket and not just delegate it to a marketing person whom you may never meet. It’s your brand. Remember each key word you choose to describe your work and each description or review is now used by search engines to find and catalogue your books. Today you no longer compete with a shelf of books in a bookstore but millions of titles on a virtual shelf. Can you afford to get this wrong? Can you afford NOT to be involved with the marketing?

Secondly you must become familiar with blogs, websites, podcasts and social networking sites. You may not use them all, but I would urge you, make your choice out of knowledge not out of ignorance. We need those new kinds of feeds to stimulate the book buying market, to provide supplementary information such as biographical details and to encourage a younger generation to take an interest in our work.

Perhaps if you do this correctly, I and Bibliophile may never see your books!

Book tours may be being squeezed and school visits now shrouded with awful government checks and licences but the virtual world exists and a virtual tour is now possible from your armchair.

Thirdly, you must become familiar with your local bookseller and librarian. Work with them at how best to promote yourself and maybe offer to add content to their websites and newsletters or offer readings and signings. Consider how are you going to make fans, and connect with readers…
And last but not least, what are you going to say about yourself, your influences and your methods of writing?

Selling your book certainly doesn’t stop at finding an agent or getting a publisher. That is the very start of an exciting journey. As rights may no longer revert in a digital world, the book may stay in print in perpetuity, its life cycle only over when every opportunity to sell it exhausted.

The digital world offers authors a great deal just as it does booksellers, so let’s make it fun and work together to make success happen. Far from sitting back, we planning to re publish my mother Aileen Armitage’s books in the formats of both Print On Demand and ebooks.As a bookseller I know that these books can be sold and am determined to bring them back into print for a new generation of readers.

Two titles I brought back from obscurity and wrote new Introductions for were The Night Side of London and The Memoirs of An Erotic Bookseller (which is not my autobiography!) But rather than order long print runs, they are published POD.

The POD machine has at last arrived Charing Cross Road in Blackwell’s and can produce a book in 5 minutes bound and ready. I am tempted to invest in one and would do so if more writers’ works become available as digital files for me to select from.
Just before I finish, I would like to regale a wonderful story about the late Bill Smith. Bill also found fame as a publisher and was the last person to be charged and acquitted under the Obscene Publications Act. He had reprinted a book called The Amorous Illustrations of Thomas Rowlandson and discovered that the original erotic watercolours were held at the Queens private Library in Windsor no less! Bill’s defence summary in court was delivered in style, with his thumbs tucked under his imaginary braces, “Me Lud, surely if they’re good enough for Her Majesty, they’re good enough for her subjects!” Case dismissed.

I am such a dyed-in-the wool bookseller that maybe then I shall go back to the old tradition of taking orders then printing individual books for my customers. This was what bookseller/printer did 300 years ago before the profession of “publisher” was invented! In fact the prosperous 18th century booksellers were all large copyright owners.

May I end by reading from one of my favourite books, The Life of Robert Dodsley, “… for the real money lay in ownership of copyrights, not in the retailing… booksellers were the entrepreneurs who purchased rights from authors, and, binding to others, merchandised and finished the product through advertisement and trade distribution.”

What goes around comes may around. Let’s make bookselling fun, and long may the author-bookseller relationship flourish - here’s to our digital future! `

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