If you’re like me, you’re getting pretty tired of thinly-veiled touts by authors desperate for visibility for their books. It’s sort of akin to the date-rapist who assures you that you have really pretty eyes while he’s slipping the ruffies into your martini – most of these efforts just smack of desperation and cheap hucksterism, and leave an oily film of smarmy flop-sweat in their wake.
I, on the other hand, am above that sort of thing. My efforts to make several whopping dollars per day are paying off (any second, now), and I can see it’s mere moments until I mine the motherload. Given that I’m so richly evolved and beyond the sort of base, crass commercialism many authors have been reduced to, I’ve developed my own pitch, which hopefully resonates with your inner muse, either as an author yourself, or a reader, or someone who knows an author or reader, or has heard of either.
And soon I’ll be offering a “How to be Radically Bitchin’ Like Blake and Sell a Blazillion Books in Fifteen Minutes Using Only the Power of Your Mind and a Dial-Up Modem” guide you can not only use to get rich, rich I say, but also can multi-level market to every other human being on the planet in a virtually endless pyramid fashion.
But enough about that for now. Let’s focus on a successful pitch for e-books, and how to craft a message with universal appeal, while not cheapening your important work.
Because this is so much more than entertainment – it’s Aht, I say.
So here it is. Let me know what you think:
Depressed? Feeling worn out? Eviscerated by the market, or bummed by the ongoing financial crisis, or troubled by global warming or hunger, or general entropy? Mate done you wrong? Job suck? Random aches and pains causing grief? Phantom limb or Tourette’s gotcha grumpy? Spontaneous tremors? Problem flatulence? Overweight? Have a pesky chemical imbalance, or wish you did? Got a suspicious lesion or a troubling growth? Organs failing? Wish you had stronger bones or teeth?
Don’t worry! Just pick up Fatal Exchange, the new action/intrigue/thriller by Russell Blake, and you’ll be fixed up in no time! You’ll be thinner, younger, with a thicker head of hair, oodles of money and charisma, fabulous vibrant good health, and incredible magnetism for the opposite (or same, if you prefer) sex. Your peers will envy your grace, charm, poise, wit, and prosperity, and you’ll live practically forever while enjoying astounding vitality.
And for a limited time…all for a lousy ninety-nine cents! That’s .000099 cents a word! It’s like they’re giving them away. And Russ isn’t shy with the syllables. You get richly developed, half-dollar words for mere fractions! Interfenestration! Quixotic! Anthropomorphism! Antidisestablishmentarianism! They’re all there, and more. And if you’re the sort who moves their lips while reading TV Guide, not to worry – the plots are clever, but not so much that you won’t still feel pretty damned smart just for reading it – and there are broad clues so even the dimmest can sort of keep up!
What are you waiting for? Don’t you owe it to yourself to finally climb the mountain of dreams and grab the fruit of success from the tree of actualization, and change your entire life in a profound, seismic manner? Now all your aspirations can come true – boundless happiness, unshakable self-esteem, Midas-like wealth, and the slavish adoration of your high school sweetheart/crush (who hasn’t aged a day since your last kiss), who’s been fantasizing about reconnecting with you and being your love toy – all this and more, from a kindle book with a racing plot and whiplash-inducing hooks. And don’t get me started on the eternity of guaranteed paradise in the afterlife of your choice, where you’ll be reunited with loved ones, cherished pets, and/or as many virgins as you can shake a stick at. Amazing you say? Impossible? Tut tut. Not so. It’s all there for the asking. Your only limitation is your imagination, and a lousy dollar!
So take that first step. Make the move. You are a winner. This is your movie. You’ve got what it takes. You’ve got game, my friend, and you’re different than the rest. You’re worth it – you deserve it. Nobody can hold you back. This is your moment, and you’re an unstoppable force. You are Atlas, you are the Fountainhead, and now the hero within is awakened and everyone best just get out of your way, stat, Biatch!
Do it for the children. Do it for the future of the species. Do it to foster world peace, and banish disease and suffering forever, except of course from your rivals and enemies, who deserve to be crushed like shitgrubs beneath your powerful, demi-godlike feet…
I dunno. It may need a little more tuning. I want to strike the right tone. Something that’s edgy, but has broad appeal, and won’t offend, but will make people think about each other differently while we all also learn something about ourselves. Maybe it needs a racially diverse but appropriate buddy for whom this time it’s personal? I’m always open to suggestions…
I got bored today, and thought it might be fun to try to come up with the worst possible opening sentence/bit of dialog one could imagine for a fiction novel. Here are some of my offerings – my currently non-published ones, I should add. Feel free to comment and post your own. We could wind up with something truly awful. The only limitation is your imagination. As a huge fan of spectacularly bad writing, I hope this becomes a very long thread and goes viral. Feel free to tweet it long and hard.
“It was a dark and stormy knight,” the Princess confessed, her virtue in tatters along with her dignity.
“I swear quantitative easing isn’t just a bullshit way of saying taking all your money and giving it to my rich friends,” Ben offered, fidgeting with his beard in mock sincerity.
“Don’t worry, he’ll stop when he’s finished,” Miriam assured Tom, who was clearly troubled by Spot’s unrequited love for his pant leg.
“Are you sure you’re a doctor?” Marty asked, concerned about the dentist’s request that he remove his underwear.
“Vampires all suck,” Mona exclaimed in frustration over her odd visitor’s reluctance to take her then and there.
“Ah have always retied on the laces of Sketchers,” Blanche declared rebelliously, shifting her feet as the streetcar swayed down the track like a boozy debutant on prom night.
“It may taste like chicken, but it looks like chick!” Edgar spat, doing his best Perez Hilton impression.
“I see red people…” Tommy whispered in horror, trying to describe the most disturbing aspect of his unusual form of retinal dysfunction.
“Piglet looked at little Johnny, and confessed – ‘I suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – fear of long words’,” Father exclaimed in a pretend gruff voice, before adding, “which is why Daddy drinks whenever you cry.”
You get the drift. It doesn’t have to be dialog. You can go narrative, although some might not get whether you’re kidding. I’m almost tempted to simply collect everything that comes in and use it as the basis for my next magnum opus, but I’ll resist. Mostly.
David Foster Wallace was the most important author of my generation.
That’s a rather sweeping statement, however having just finished re-reading Infinite Jest after a decade of it collecting dust since my first read of it, that’s the only conclusion I can arrive at. The man was a genius. His evocative use of language and fearless pushing of the post-modern sensibility was awe inspiring. Many use Thomas Pynchon in the same sentence, however that doesn’t do DFW justice, IMO.
Is he easy to read? No. There are sentences that run half a densely-packed page, and endnotes that run four or five pages. Is the story coherent? Depends on what you mean by “story” and “coherent.”
But is it an incredible, one-of-a-kind read that can and should redefine what fiction can be? Does it make one feel ashamed and unworthy to set words to paper? Does it make one sad that a talent this immense, this outsized, took his own life, robbing the world of a virtuoso the scale of a Mozart or a Nijinsky?
Yup. All that and more.
It’s also the literary equivalent of a nine-course gourmet French meal prepared by three-star Michelin chefs. My suggestion is that if you’re a writer and are unfamiliar with David Foster Wallace’s work, you should pick up Infinite Jest and take a month to read it – not to demoralize or bewilder you, but rather to give you a sense of the possible.
I know this is all off-topic, however between finishing up The Geronimo Breach and editing the final revision before publishing it, and doing my final polish of Zero Sum, I gravitated to the bookcase and became re-acquainted with DFW, which is somewhat akin to going to church, at least in my lexicon.
On a different note, I’ve gotten several e-mails asking me what’s next now that Fatal Exchange is available on Kindle and beginning its sales ramp with a few positive reader reviews (gracias for the kind words). Well, I’m about 20K words into The Delphi Chronicle, and that should be done by August 15, on the outside. Then I’m going to switch gears, and move from the smushed-together amalgam of Ludlum/DeMille (Nelson, not Cecil) that I tend to favor for my stories, to a stylistic departure, wherein I serialize the protagonist from Zero Sum (which should be on Kindle beginning of August, with any sort of tail wind whatsoever), but in a completely unexpected way. Think Da Vinci Code crossed with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and liberally sprinkle some Foucault’s Pendulum.
I’ve always wanted to write something like this, but lacked the desire to do the mountain of research a good effort requires. We’ll see how that goes – I can say that so far, at least at the outline stage, it’s by far the most Byzantine and complicated story line I’ve done, but it also gives me goose bumps when fleshing it out, which is a good thing. After getting through with Geronimo, where the protagonist is a deeply, chronically flawed character with every imaginable vice and shortcoming (which is easily the most fun character I’ve ever created, at least to write) who survives in spite of anything he does rather than because of it, moving to a research-intensive novel with heavy historical elements is as much of a departure for me as shooting for writing Harry Potter Meets The Android King. But that’s what keeps it fun, no?
I’ll try to blog more often over the summer, although I’m keenly aware that my opinions are seldom in as brisk a demand as I’d like to imagine (apologies to Strunk & White), however for better or worse, they’ll be online with at least some regularity.
Oh, and a final thought. At the risk of being Dr. Obvioso, this Christmas will be the year of the e-reader. I heard a voice in my head, and it never lies. Hardly.
I believe that the publishing industry as we know it is days, rather than decades, from extinction.
The old model, wherein literary agents act as the gatekeepers for the publishers, is done. And the model that includes publishers acting as quality control guardians for readers is also finished. It’s all over. O-V-E-R.
The delivery system for written material has changed, and that technological revolution has inadvertently killed the publishing business. Why, you ask?
It all comes down to pricing.
In order for there to be juice in the game to support the literary agent, and the publisher, and the copy editor, and the ad and development team, publishers need to be able to sell their product for many multiples of what the author gets paid. That’s partially to cover the overhead, but mostly to cover all the titles that the industry produces that bomb. Because, just as in the record industry, where all the execs pretend to know a hit when they hear it (and thus have more rarefied insight into what the public wants to hear) the publishing houses and literary agents all pretend to have special knowledge of what readers will want to read next, or what stands a decent chance of being popular, or failing that, what is at least “good.”
Except, of course, they don’t. Otherwise most books wouldn’t fail. Just as most records would be hits. But that’s not what happens.
You have an entire industry that creates its value by doing two things – presumably, acting as quality control/talent scout, and by being the distribution system.
Enter the Kindle, and the Nook, and the Ipad.
Suddenly, there’s no distribution system required, or rather I should say there’s no value in the hard copy distribution system as it currently exists – the shipping of books, of hard copy, is largely dead or dying. The idea of folks going to a book store to purchase a book is rapidly becoming as antiquated as the rotary dial telephone, or the quaint imagery of people lining up at record stores to be the first to purchase vinyl of their favorite artists. It’s just all so 1980′s.
No, the distribution system value of the entrenched publishing houses has dropped to near zero. Now you can download instantly, and carry a thousand titles around on something barely larger than your phone. So the value of the shelf space, of the trucks going from the paper mill to the printing presses, and then to the book stores or the warehouses, is effectively becoming nil.
Just as the Internet bankrupted the newspaper business, the Kindle and its siblings will BK the traditional publishing game. Because once it’s a download game versus a hard copy sale game, the price consumers are willing to pay drops through the floor. Because there is no value in the delivery system, whereas a few years ago, the delivery system was everything.
Which leaves the perceived value of the publishing business as quality control/talent scout.
I believe there is some value in that, but only to a point, and I further believe that the system as it exists is badly out of touch with readers’ tastes and wants. Because as with all high priesthoods where knowledge and power are tightly concentrated among a few anointed cognoscenti, the likelihood of creating self-reinforcing feedback loops is high, thereby corrupting the system’s ability to innovate – or supply products people truly want. Which may be why I have such a hard time finding books I find interesting.
But my point is that the industry as quality control and talent scout, while it has value, has very little value the lower the price of the entertainment.
John Locke, who is something of a phenomenon, has said, and I believe correctly, that a Grisham has to be 10 times better than him to sell his book at $10 whereas a Locke book is $1. That’s paraphrasing, but I believe the essence of the observation to be true. I think it’s a race to the bottom on pricing, and I believe that somewhere between $3 and $1 is what most will soon be willing to pay for fiction. If I’m right, then say goodbye to the mainstream publishing business, as it can’t support itself on those kinds of revenues. And frankly, the economics from an author’s perspective of getting a book deal and signing with a publishing house don’t make much sense at those kinds of prices, either. Even now, as the publishers recognize this death knell, they’re trying to fight the inevitable by selling “singles” – 10 times less book for 10 times less cost. But that’s again, an unsustainable paradigm, as ultimately consumers will want 80-100K words for their dollar, not 10K words with a fancy wrapper.
But then, what of quality?
What I envision happening is the same thing that’s happened in the blogsphere, where it becomes a pure meritocracy, and buzz and word of mouth determine what becomes a hit, rather than marketing budget and quisling reviewers.
That’s exciting as a business, because it means as an author I can get work to market in a timely manner, and the economics work in my favor. I get a larger percentage of the ASP by disintermediating the publishing house, and I don’t have to wait 18 months for my book to hit the electronic shelves. It’s also creatively exciting, as I’m not limited to what I believe my agent wants or finds marketable to his network of publishers, nor do I have to self-censor to make my work more “accessible” – I can write what I want, and you the reader either like it, hate it, love it, or are indifferent. But the expression of the ideas is all mine, for better or for worse. And you vote with your dollar.
In a nutshell, I think the publishing game has maybe 24 to 36 months left, if that. I believe that there will be a slew of new names selling a lot of books, ironically from authors who never would have made it through the existing mill. I also believe that there will be a lot of dross distributed, and that there will be a shaking out period as the leaders in this brave new world define themselves and claim their relative positions.
But I truly believe that shortly, readers won’t be willing to pay more than a buck or two for a fiction book, and I don’t care who the book’s author is. Is that good? Or does it cheapen the craft and the work? Will those who work for eight months or a year to get an idea honed as a novel refuse to participate as the reward is undersized to the task, or will that just become the new normal? I tend to say it simply is what it is. Maybe if there’s a big enough following, an author can ultimately command $3 a book, and put $2.10 per book in his pocket. Or maybe it will become a world of 99 cent books, and some authors will sell half a million books a month, with no marketing, or PR campaign, or anything but word of mouth. How that part shakes out will be part of the show.
But I believe that rather than railing against the machine, it’s more productive to write another story or three.