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Thread: Things I Have Noticed
February 19th, 2008, 10:01 AM #196
Lise and I are probably the two most under-TV'd on the planet. Aside from Battlestar Galactica (during it's all-too-brief seasons) and NASCAR (don't ask), we don't watch anything. So we miss a great deal of the contemporary cultural references (if you call The Simpsons culture, that is...)
February 20th, 2008, 03:24 PM #197
I don't watch them either. It's just that they are getting advertised everywhere. One or two of them I get but six or however many seems like a lot, especially when the model profession is dwindling in exposure. Of course, that may be the reason why there are so many.
February 20th, 2008, 05:04 PM #198
I know, I know, sorry... We're the wrong demographic, but still... we rather like it. Actually, more for the announcers than the actual racing... at least some of the announcers.
I used to watch all kinds of auto racing back in the '90s, but one by one the various series started to implode, and only NASCAR was left standing...
February 21st, 2008, 06:37 AM #199
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Every now and then we get hooked on a specific show. There are five at the moment but the writer's strike did us in. Nothing new in two months and nothing new in the near future.
Bones: Unemotional female forensic scientist matched with passionate FBI agent. Relationship sparkles.
House: Pain-ridden lonely guy, brilliant diagnostician, tries to make the world bearable. [Hugh Laurie morphed from broad BBC farce to damned near serious medical drama, as great a transition as I can remember an actor making.]
Criminal Minds: Team of FBI profilers after bad people. Relationships of team as they try to hold onto their own sanity keep it going.
Women's Murder Club: Four women, detective, coroner, ADA, and reporter, solve murders while attempting to have a life.
Numbers:Mathemetician brother applies numbers theory to help FBI brother solve crimes. Really good cast.
In all cases, its the characters and the interrelationship that make the stories for us.
We support the slogan of the USA channel: characters welcome.
February 26th, 2008, 11:22 PM #200
What I've been saying for some time:
A quote from the CEO of Random House Canada, speaking about the anticipated next Dan Brown book -
"It's event publishing and we can use an event like this at any time," says Martin. "This business, like the movie business, is a hit-based business.
"Yes, we have a back catalogue that provides us with our ongoing cash flow, but what really moves the needle in this business is a hit, a big hit – whether it's an Oprah book or a Dan Brown or a Sophie Kinsella that breaks out from nowhere and becomes a blazing success. These are the types of things that drive our bottom line."
So he's basically saying their business model is that they can't make money just selling books. The only thing that provides any profit are the megahit "events." I'm sure if someone came up with a way to ensure megahits, the publishing market for mid-list authors would evaporate in a second, and new authors would be limited to the already-anointed who were to receive the mega-stardom status.
February 27th, 2008, 12:10 PM #201
It's the CEO, dude. He comes from corporate. He gets pressure from the corporate bigwigs above him. And what they want is for fiction publishing to be like the movies and book publishers to operate just like magazine companies, but they aren't going to give them any money to do it. The backlist is what keeps publishers in the black, with the new books leading people to the backlists, but it's not what attracts media attention, gets high profile film deals or is the must-have inventory for booksellers trying to lure customers with big discounts.
Corporate owners of book publishers are quite sure that if they can just pump up the glamour and market the fiction right, they can turn out hit after hit, and they don't understand why their book publishing arms haven't managed to do this. They don't understand why when a book publisher pays a couple million in an advance to a celebrity for writing a juicy novel, the novel often tanks and the publisher loses money, whereas if the celebrity writes a non-fiction book, it's usually a bestseller. They don't get that fiction book buyers are into characters and plots, not authors.
Sophie Kinsella, for instance, did not break out of nowhere to be a hit. She's been writing romantic fiction for some time. Her Shopoholic didn't become an instant bestseller, but it did break out of the pack of chick lit, and she was able to continue the series -- something unusual in chick lit -- and build up the audience bigger with each book. Her career-line is fairly typical for fiction bestsellers.
Dan Brown also wrote several mid-list thrillers to respectable sales without much attention, including the first in the Code series, Angels & Demons, and built up a small audience base. When he did Da Vinci Code, the publisher did not market it as "an event," but when controversy and word of mouth over a neat puzzle story began to amp up the buzz and sales, then the publisher went to work, though by that time, they didn't really need to that much.
As for Oprah, she choses who she picks, not the publishers' publicists, and quite often now, it's an older novel. While her endorsement does make a book a bestseller, not all of her author picks have then been able to sustain that sales bump in later books. No matter how the publisher might attempt to market subsequent books as "events," if the audience loses interest and stops talking about a particular Oprah author, they don't sell. And since Oprah picks books on what she and her staff see as literary merit, and since critics and award committees can savage a literary author for being too commercial -- a dumb state of affairs that still continues -- publishers have to be real careful about how they "event" market those titles.
Two of the biggest selling fiction authors right now are Sue Monk Kidd and Paulo Coelho. Kidd, with her last two novels, has been on the fiction bestseller lists not for months, but for years. She has not been as successful on the film adaptation front yet. Her publisher markets her as a bestseller but they haven't done anything that flashy. No "event" efforts. But she sells and sells, and her next book will probably do the same with her large fan base. Yet, many people have never heard her name.
Coelho has written a whole string of novels, some magic realist and some not, to literary acclaim and mid-list sales. The Alchemist, by word of mouth, became a major hit and the publisher then backed it up with some marketing. The Alchemist has now also been on the bestseller lists for years, but has yet to be made into a film. Some of Coelho's other novels -- backlist and new -- are also now on the lists for a long time, though not doing as well as The Alchemist because people really like that particular story. He's now teamed up with Hewlett Packer, of all things, to help market computers and his novel, The Witch of Portabello, in a landmark publicity deal that I'm willing to bet his publisher had little to do with. And yet again, many people have never heard his name.
What happened was not developments in adult fiction but the craziness over the last several Harry Potter novels. Rabid fans turned the release of these books into "events" with event parties at bookstores. The bookstores loved this. It gets people into the store and buying other books, it gets them media attention, it builds some store loyalty, and it can't be replicated by the online bookstores. So they want more books they can do this with and are pressuring publishers to come up with them.
Hence the quote and the new buzz word "event" publishing. Media corporate owners like event publicity. They can see it. They think they understand it. The kids came out to buy the Harry Potter book because it was an event, a party, because it's like the hot new toy, like Star Wars. All they have to do is a big marketing push. Which misses the point that the kids were there not just because it's a party and Harry Potter is the hot book, but because they are in love with the boy wizard.
But business people don't like this. Stock investors don't like it. They can't rely on consumers falling in love. They're used to getting people to love something through marketing, as a status thing, not a personal thing. They tend to ignore evidence that a film or a singing artist is a success not just because of marketing. And you better believe the CEO of a national division of a big media publishing firm is going to be reassuring those folk that they have everything under control, that they know what to do, that marketing will bring home profits, even though book publishers spend less on publicity and marketing than almost any other industry.
Of course, the funny thing is that non-fiction is still really what supplies book publishers with most of the revenue. Non-fiction can be sold through marketing, non-fiction gets media attention, non-fiction has numerous ways to sell outside of bookstores, successful non-fiction can be spun off into other tie-in books not reliant on the original author and other products, etc. But fiction's got the sexy passion, the allure, and the connection to films, and the Internet is cutting into non-fiction's profits, so publishers are bowling over themselves to promise that they will shore up fiction's falling sales by delivering mega-hits.
But the mid-list isn't going to disappear. Superstores and online stores need titles to fill up inventory. And there may come a time when it is not as ignored. But it won't be when we're facing a recession in the States and rising paper costs probably.
February 27th, 2008, 01:40 PM #202
This is kinda fun - I think I've now come up with a formula that I know will cause KatG to unleash a torrent of words in response. (My wife calls this syndrome, "Poking the bear in the butt with a weanie fork" but I think we can come up with a more erudite way of saying that... HE?)
Vis-a-vis marketing versus substance, I think the equivalent object in non-book terms would be the iPod. Yes, Apple is very good at marketing, but then they've also made a lot of products that went nowhere even with the marketing. But people like iPods for what they do - they're the right product that hit the market need. Just as Harry Potter hit the right mark with the kids. All the marketing machine stuff happened after that connection had already been made.
What I would like to see, perhaps as somebody's PhD thesis, is an analysis of how Potter got to that point in the first place - the mechanics of the elusive buzz. For instance, an analysis of media visibility to Potter, based on when it first started popping up. Researching all of the magazines, etc. for when reviews happened, when bookstores started ordering larger quantities, when the publisher first began to sense the book had legs, when the thing began moving past the confines of the book world into something larger - in other words, connecting all the dots. There was a time when the book was written and it was still just a book. Somewhere along the way, the buzz started. What are the clues? What were the first signs? And if they can be identified, are there any that can be supported in some fashion to increase their viability? (I would presume the publishers already do all this sort of thinking, but it would be nice for us to know too...)
February 27th, 2008, 04:16 PM #203
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Now, there is one hell of a visual: poking Her Greatness in the butt with a weanie fork.No wonder she's TSOTNW. Let's see you put that one up, Radical Thorn, sir. My suggestion is use a real bear with a nice little tiara to point folk toward the symbolism. Yes, it will be beating them over the head with the symbolism but there is a long proud history of beating edi...er...nevermind.
She gave me a bit a what for over in the writing thread when I fessed up to the fact I was baiting her just a bit. But, that won't stop us (me), will it?
You know, she and I actually were on the same side in argument in GW's thread. Now, that was different! Had to keep looking in the mirror to remind myself I hadn't changed from the same old, loveable fool I've always been.
February 27th, 2008, 06:34 PM #204
How about poking the literary lion? TSOTNW -- I don't know what this means. Do I want to know what this means? And we agree on lots of things, HE. You have developed a nasty habit of trotting out some writing rule/theory, letting me rant, and then saying that you agreed with me all along. You like to pretend we don't agree, which is not the same thing. But I'm planning on cutting down on my rule ranting, ha, so there. But not here, of course.
Marketing fiction is not like marketing an IPod. An IPod, IPhone, etc., is a status purchase as well. People want to have the cool or popular technology and they want to have it first. There are ways to sell IPods or non-fiction books that don't work and you can't do with fiction books. What causes me to roar is this notion that selling fiction must be like selling this or that, ignoring the market factors fiction selling actually has to deal with.
There are a lot of interesting promotional things going on right now, and I think some of them will work. But if they do, it will be because they work with how fiction sells, not by trying to pretend it's a CD.
We don't really need a graduate paper on Rowling's development because the facts are pretty well known. She worked on the book. She sent it out and it got rejected a lot. Bloomsbury in the U.K. eventually bought the rights for a tiny advance. Her editor told her not to expect it to sell much and not to quit her day job. But the book started to get buzz from early reviews -- the kind that go to the trade and the libraries -- and from booksellers reading galleys. When the book came out, word of mouth quickly spread among kids as well -- kids who had been primed by the Goosebumps series and Lemony Snickett and Pulman's trilogy to look for treasures -- the shift toward middle school and YA fiction was already going on then. Bloomsbury started doing some P.R. to back up the interest. Kids visiting from America bought the English edition and took it home with them, creating interest overseas.
At the big Bologna Children's Book Fair in April 1997, Harry Potter was the hot property of the fair. Arthur A. Levine from Scholastic won the U.S. rights in a bidding auction for a $105,000 advance, a very big sum for children's (or at least it used to be.) That size advance meant that they expected it to be a bestseller in children's, but they've admitted they really didn't have any idea of what was coming.
By the time the U.S. edition of the first book was coming out, Harry had moved on to further books and had become a phenomena in the U.K. and was selling busily all over the globe. Levine quickly bought up the rights to 2, 3, and 4 and did come up with a cool marketing plan -- save them up and release them close together, with lots of marketing for the #4 book from the build-up of the first three volumes, and I believe that Canada followed suit. This worked way better than they expected. Harry Potter took up 3 slots on the New York Times list before they even really got going on the P.R. The other publishers complained so loud about Harry Potter clogging up the list that the New York Times actually reinstated its childrens bestseller list to appease them. Sales were happening with adults with no children. Everybody in publishing was totally freaked out.
By the time Rowling was ready with #5, they were a little bit better prepared to deal with it. They'd done some book launch parties and now they did them en masse. But it really wouldn't have mattered if they hadn't. What the book parties did was get media coverage. But the phenomena was never media driven, nor was it a product of the Internet.
75% of the PR marketing publishers do for fiction occurs in the bookstores or to the booksellers. This has become even more the case with vendor markets outside bookstores drying up. Ads tend to come out either after the book is already a hit, to try and make it bigger, or they come out and nobody notices them much until the book becomes a hit from word of mouth. That does not mean that ads are useless. I think book ads in the subways, for instance, is a brilliant idea. But fan book clubs, reviews for genre works, author interviews on the Net and other stuff usually work more reliably.
But things like viral marketing, book videos, and other stuff that works really well for many products, has so far done not much for fiction. And you can't have "event" publishing for a fiction property unless the series/author is already a big hit. Saying that you're going to try and make your hits bigger is hardly ground-breaking.
What publishing needs to get better at is low-cost but targeted marketing for its lower level slots, and the entire industry needs to find a way to dump the returns-waste business structure and philosophy. They also need to broaden the number of non-book vendors considerably. Authors -- who always get stuck with most of the promo work anyway -- and small presses are coming up with some good ideas, figuring out ways to use the Net. But the big ones are trying too -- Tor, Orbit, etc. are making a lot of effort to expand their sellers and coordinate international markets.
But what fiction really, desperately needs is more media coverage. They're starting to get it and coming up with ways to find it. Will it transform things? It won't turn novels into status purchases. It won't replace word of mouth. But, it will help fiction authors be seen as real players on the entertainment stage. Which means their names get out there more, which means attention is paid more to books as a whole and people start trying some books and some of those will try more books. Right now, though, we only get real media coverage when we're weird and extreme, including runaway sales, and having movies made.
February 27th, 2008, 07:43 PM #205
My point being, is this a little bit like insurance? (I know you don't like comparing books to other things, but bear with me a moment.) Insurance companies sell a product that is used by end consumers, and which has to appeal to those comsumers in the broader insurance market. But for insurers without their own agent force, those end consumers are not their customers. Their customers are the independent agents who sell policies from a wide range of insurers, and who can push or not push a particular product. So insurers spend as much or more time marketing to these agents as they do to the end consumer of their product. Using this analogy for the publishing world, if the tipping point for buzz to start is early, positive reviews by professional opinion makers (trade and library reviews and ARC's), then shouldn't the author/publisher emphasis go there, rather than to ads and blogs and other web things that might hit the end consumer but which by themselves can't kick start the buzz? They can perhaps sustain and enhance the buzz, but can't start it.
When I talk about analyzing these early days of Potter in depth, I'm thinking of looking at things like Publisher's Weekly, sales figures, and other sources, and trying to glean from the days pre-Potter to when the 'something' happened that Bloomsbury noticed - when did it first become apparent that Potter was 'happening'? What was the point where it moved from just another book to something that got additional attention? It could be a conglomeration of several things, of course, all coming together. But it might be fascinating to retrace those very early steps in detail, where you say "In March blah blah, it wasn't on the radar. By June articles about it were appearing. Here are the various things that happened related to the book during that time - good advance reviews, an endorsement from a library association, better than normal sell thru, etc."
February 27th, 2008, 08:42 PM #206
Let me emphasize here that my interest is not in seeing how we can all replicate Potter-levels of success; I'm simply picking on Potter from an assumption that more data may be available from which to cull results. What I'm curious about is the pattern of transition from just another title to attention getter, and I would think it might be easier to observe through the historical record with an eventual 'event' book like Potter or Da Vinci.
Let's say for argument's sake that you plotted out all the 'things' that happened to Potter between "just another book" and the publisher determining that it warranted more attention. Let's say further than you did this analysis on quite a few books that became attention-getters, and you were able to conclude, say, that ARC's and informal word-of-mouth among the trade were the things that get a particular title moving from "just another book" to something else. That at least tells you where the important stuff is going to happen, and if nothing else saves you from spending tons of effort and money on things that will in fact have less of an impact on eventual results.
February 28th, 2008, 06:54 AM #207
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Agree, the data ought to be there. Someone who has a lot of time on his or her hands ought to persue this.
BTW, you neglected to mention a major part of TSOTNW's qualifications. Whilst she did, in fact, assure that we could enjoy martinis together - that has a nice sound to it, doesn't it? - she also manages to put up with you and your endless bookcase which I believe is the first practical application of a moebius strip in the known universe.
February 28th, 2008, 08:56 AM #208
From somewhere beneath a pile of books, I believe I heard a little voice say, "Give my regards to Dan...". I suppose I need to go and excavate her now from under the weight of many ponderous tomes... or was that the editing of my next book? Hard to tell the difference sometimes...
February 28th, 2008, 01:16 PM #209
It's not that I don't like it; it's that it's a waste of time. There are factors peculiar to the fiction publishing market that have to be dealt with, so trying to ignore those and shoehorn fiction publishing into another industry model that doesn't fit isn't going to help give you the answers you are looking for.
What you see as a mysterious tipping point period is not mysterious for publishers. They know how this stuff happens, just not when it's going to happen with certainty, and they can't manipulate or control it to any great degree, which is where all the gambling comes in.
The early, trade reviews are not the driving factor, more like the early warning signs. These reviews alert booksellers that there's something here to look at seriously. If they do and if they agree, then they'll order more copies (copies shipped/gross sales.) So the first sign for a publisher may be that their sales reps are telling them the book's getting a good reception and the initial orders are growing, possibly requiring them to print more books.
The booksellers will hand-sell if they like a book and do stuff like turning a book they like with cover face-out or putting it on a display table, and also do in store promo if publishers give them money (which also shows the booksellers that the publisher is backing the book.) However, this doesn't guarantee the book will do well either. You definitely want the booksellers backing a book, but having them do so doesn't make the tipping point either.
Reviews are useful for marketing to the people who read them. But that's only a slice of the pile. Word of mouth is the bigger factor. All those blog reviews are word of mouth generators, and they're good for increasing the odds that a SFF fan will encounter one and then hear about the book, so some of them, if they seem to have a regular audience, the publishers will give them ARC's. But they can't make any of those reviewers, professional or amateur, write good reviews and it's nearly impossible to measure the specific impact of those reviews on sales numbers. As far as they are able to tell, reviews are good to have but no guarantee either.
The initial net sales -- to the customers -- and the customers talking to the booksellers about what they think of the book, and coming to author book signings, etc., then tell the publisher they've got something going on their hands, and they'll try to support that by going in on co-op advertising with the booksellers to have the bookstores feature the book in ads, and by putting in display risers, etc., and if things are good, some ads. If they're lucky, the word of mouth will be for a book they're already backing, like The Name of the Wind, and it won't be a scramble. But often it is.
They also get less data than they used to upfront from the non-bookstores, which is why you have a certain number of secret bestsellers -- people who sell really well over time. Tom Doherty talked about this after the Ballantine panel at WFC. They used to get all sorts of initial sales info from vendors like grocery stores. But when the grocery stores dumped book products and wholesale suppliers, they stopped keeping track of specific sales at the register for books. The publisher eventually finds out how many copies of a book sold and gets the money for it from the grocery chain, but they can't find out right away what's selling and also important, where it's selling the best in what stores. Whereas Pepsi can find that out for each of its products right away. But the bookstores supply pretty good info.
When publishers do back a book with promo, sometimes it tanks because of poor word of mouth. Most promo goes to supporting the bookstores in trying to get people aware of the book and trying to get people aware of the book in general. Because in non-fiction, the author is the brand, the person who sells the book. But in fiction, the author isn't the brand, the author's books are the brand and the books sell the author. Everything is geared toward getting people to try the book, which is not that easy to do. After that, they have to hope the book sells itself.
Most bestsellers are slow burn; they build up an audience over several books, as Donald Maass explained in the blog interview, such as Laurell K. Hamilton and Mercedes Lackey. So that does give publishers some time to prepare. But some bestsellers are fast burns. They come out with a book, perhaps their first book, that does phenomenally well. And often, that book had no real promotional backing from the publisher at the beginning. The Kite Runner for instance, though topical and expected to do decently, became a much huger hit through word of mouth. Snow Falling on Cedars, Cold Mountain, White Teeth -- it's a long list.
One of the things that SFF publishers have done that has been phenomenally successful as a marketing tactic and changed things dramatically has nothing to do with ads -- and whenever I bring it up, nobody notices -- and that was putting more titles into small print runs of hardcover. It started in the 1980's and then became a serious effort in the early 1990's. Since most of category SFF was mass market paperback, that meant few reviews and limited placement in libraries, which usually didn't bother with small paperbacks.
By putting more titles in hardcover, they got a lot more reviews and interest in SFF in general, and they got the books into the libraries, where hard-core readers would be exposed to them. People wonder about the popularity of Big Fat Fantasy epic series, why did they get so big on the lists, etc. Well, publishers slapping them into hardcovers and making them available in the libraries where people discovered them helped an awful lot. And the hardcovers pleased bookstores too and made them more willing to put the books in the front of the store if publishers paid for it, which changed SFF's status in bookselling a lot too and got more attention from customers.
Likewise, the children's authors' ability to go to libraries and schools for little get-togethers helped grow a bigger market for middle school and YA fiction. Christopher Panolini traipsed around with his self-published novel and a nice costume to schools and library in his region promoting reading and got 10,000 copies of Eragon sold all by his little-bity self. And the SFF publishers' efforts to interest mystery fans in contemporary fantasy novels, and general fiction publishers' efforts to interest SFF fans in non-genre SFF novels may have been helping those novels too.
So they are aware, which is not to say that they don't mess up, focus on the wrong things, take a too conservative, non-tech stance, or be too lazy and don't do enough. Which is where the authors come in. The authors really do most of the work. The authors come up with a lot of innovative ideas, some of which work and some don't. The authors are in contact with the fans -- which is where SFF authors have an advantage over other types of fiction. The authors can introduce themselves to booksellers, etc. But it's tricky and nobody's found a magic key yet. Anything you can do for free to get your name out there in some way, like a blog, do it.
And then there's distribution, which is just something you have to deal with. The big publishers can get more copies out there to a larger number of bookstores. And it does effect things. But it doesn't guarantee the large publishers hits and small presses can do very well on sales if they provide good service to the booksellers and if they're strategic.
Last edited by KatG; February 28th, 2008 at 01:18 PM.
February 29th, 2008, 12:15 PM #210