One Amazon/Goodreads Combo, Comin’ Up

goodreads-and-amazonSo, Amazon – great, lumbering consumer juggernaut that it is – gobbled up literary social networking site Goodreads in (an impeccably timed) Good Friday announcement.

If you’re interested in catching up, check out the New York Timesoriginal story and this interesting bit of analysis on Amazon’s motivation from the Washington Post.

I saw the news but, consumed with pre-Easter prep and the celebrations of the weekend, put off posting until today. Not very New Media of me, but what the hell. Not much thoughtful analysis takes place by the bozos who insist on posting first.

But what struck me right off the bat when I heard of this move was, “Huh … Amazon, which already owns Shelfari, now feels it should own Goodreads, which was run by Barnes & Noble. Amazon makes Kindles, the most popular e-readers around, but couldn’t build itself a workable, popular literary networking site, while B&N, which produces the floundering Nook, had what was the most popular literary networking site around. Interesting how each could make one part of the puzzle work, but not the other.”

As I said, lots of other better informed folks have already chimed in on this, but I would like to point out that while ownership of the formerly pseudo-independent Goodreads by Amazon will likely put the recommendations portion of Goodreads under tighter control, it also puts two of the biggest arrows of the independent author/publisher arsenal into the same quiver.

Whether this will be good or bad for me and other indie authors remains to be seen. As both an author and a member of Codorus Press, I think my biggest concern is the danger of reader reviews somehow being deleted or diluted. As any author will tell you, one of the best ways to sell books – whether hard copies or e-books – is through word of mouth. And typically, that word of mouth these days comes thanks to online reviews from readers.

To take that major selling point from us kicks a leg out from beneath authors and small publishers who, shunned by big-box booksellers – of which B&N is the last – were standing on just one leg to begin with.

What Amazon should remember is that for many indies, Kindle Direct and the Amazon-owned print-on-demand service CreateSpace are the only places where some titles are available. For the company to keep Goodreads as intact and independent as possible would better serve Amazon by continuing to drive sales in what I would suspect are its two biggest growth sectors.

Do the Hustle

There are plenty of newbie or wannabe authors roaming around out there that are still under the mistaken impression that a big publishing house will do the work of marketing and promotions for every author it takes on. Every time I come up against this misconception (usually put forth by someone who has rejected independent publishing out of hand as something that “real authors” don’t do), I do my best to correct it.

This week the Philadelphia Inquirer went a long way towards doing that for me with this story on how all authors are now responsible for a good portion of their own marketing, and are forced to be darn creative about it, too. For instance, the author who wrote a book about the New Jersey Shore has done much of her marketing – especially now that summer is here – at the exceptionally busy resort towns along New Jersey’s coast. As a result she targets not only year-round locals, but the year-round residents of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware who flock their in droves as soon as Memorial Day arrives.

I have a colleague and fellow novelist, Bob Yearick, who wrote an excellent novel called Sawyer that is essentially a detective mystery set in the world of professional football, with one of the players serving as the de facto private eye. When we saw each other at a professional event not long ago, he tapped me for a little marketing advice and the first thing I suggested was that he start setting up tables to sell the novel in the dealer rooms at sports memorabelia events, trading card conventions or other sports-related gatherings. It doesn’t matter that you’re selling books and you therefore feel like all your appearances should be at libraries and book stores – the goal is to find where your readers will be and go to them.

That also means going beyond the physical world and deep into the virtual, targeting bloggers that can help spread the word for you in a much quicker, more efficient and, most important of all, less expensive (often free) way.

I’ve seen written a number of places that as much as “launch parties” can stroke an author’s ego, there’s really no payoff for the ordinary – and certainly not for the independently published – author. You’re announcing a party to a public who has no idea who you are and frankly doesn’t really care. Aside from giving friends and family a chance to congratulate you in person, such an event is really pretty useless as far as building the buzz needed for a book to succeed.

For me, the target market  for Immaculate Deception from the very beginning has been split between science fiction fans and folks interested in how we’ve gone about setting up Codorus Press. As side markets, there are the coastal areas of South Carolina, in which the novel is set. The only real “signing” I’ve done was in my home town, where I knew I had a ready base of buyers from my time spent there as a child and as a newspaper reporter during adulthood.

Otherwise, the press itself has done larger events like the Philadelphia Book Festival and other regional book events. This fall we’re shooting for, among other things, the Collingswood Book Festival and the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Book Festival, as well as PhilCon – the Philadelphia area’s huge science fiction convention.

We’ve also made shameless use of our former (and current) newspaper connections. Some of the best traditional press I’ve received so far has been from newspapers I used to work for. We’ve also used the editorial judgement we developed on the desks at a number of papers to craft better and more effective press releases. We know what editors see as a story, and we try to give it to them each time we send out a release.

So in marketing your work, make sure you explore all angles, both the most and least obvious. It’ll result in a better payoff for you all around.