Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Cockeyed Pessimist: "Who's afraid of"

Publisher Martin Shepard weighs in on the hot Amazon debate, in his latest editorial on his blog "The Cockeyed Pessimist"

My Photo"On May 24, The New York Times ran a page one story “As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish.”  In their alarmist zeal reporters David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy conjure the dreadful threat that Amazon has inflicted upon the “literary world,” causing a kerfuffle of rage and fear as exemplified by a dispute between the electronic superstore and one of the most robust publishers in the Western World. Their first paragraph states “Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before.” Their second paragraph states that “The literary community is fearful and outraged—and practically begging for government intervention.” They then cite three publishers, none of which I would consider great examples of the “literary” community—or even the larger community of book publishers to prove their thesis.

As far as this literary publisher is concerned this article is poppycock..."

Read the full editorial here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


When asked the difference between sales and marketing, I usually say that sales are something you do face to face, like the Fuller Brush man showing up at a person’s door and showing his wares.  Or a stock broker passing along a tip, leading to a million dollar investment. No matter the scale, the exchange is intimate and personal.  Marketing is what you do when the number of people you need to reach is too large to afford a one-on-one engagement.  So you have to call upon intermediaries to convey your selling story, and many times, complete the sale.  Though not always.  Often, the sale occurs at another place and time. So how do you know if your efforts through intermediaries are actually responsible for the ultimate sale?  Short answer to a big question:  You don’t.

In theory, then, the more you can have your marketing resemble the intimacy, and presumably the effectiveness, of a one-on-one sale, the better.  Right?  Not necessarily.

If that were true, we wouldn’t have advertising and publicity, all marketing would be delivered through what we call “direct”, such as direct mail and infomercials. But it turns out that most people don’t actually like to be sold directly.  They’d rather come to their buying decisions without the pressure and confrontation inherent in a direct sales pitch, and by extension, a direct marketing appeal.  They don’t call it junk mail for nothing.

So what we’re stuck with, if we want to sell a product or service, is to find a mixture of direct selling and indirect marketing (also known as branding) that exploits the advantages of both in a balanced and mutually reinforcing way. 

This is why the advent of digital communications has the world of sales and marketing in a tizzy. For the first time in history, it’s possible to combine the transactional power of direct sales/marketing with the indirect benefits of agreeable engagement (in other words branding) in a single medium.    

Meet Amazon. They sell everything these days, but they got their start selling books, and now they’re really, really good at it. 

Whether or not physical book stores will ever disappear (I don’t think they will, but that’s another essay) or Amazon perpetuates its hegemony, digital marketing is where the action is.  So, while authors may decry the fact that promoting their books now largely falls on their shoulders (even major best sellers – ask them how many miles they log a year and how many talks they give), we’ve never had more ways to manage the task, giving us at least a fighting chance when competing with the rich, powerful and established. 

You can find lots of advice on how to do this online and in physical books, but let me offer here a broader perspective.  When one of our own, William Gibson, popularized the term “cyberspace” in the 1980s, I wonder if he knew how accurately he was predicting the future.  When you go online, whether it’s on a desktop or laptop computer, or mobile device, you are entering a world that is different from the one we live in offline in one crucial way.  Everything in cyberspace is connected.  Intimately, immediately, accessibly and permanently.

So when authors ask me if it’s worth writing a blog I say, Yes.  Send out emails?  Yes.  Start an online newsletter?  Yes.  Get on review sites?  Yes.  Reviewer blogs?  Yes.  Launch a website, get on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, join online discussion groups, get reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Library Thing, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Is it possible to do all these things, well, and write books and hold down your day job?  No.  Nonetheless, the more online things you can do the better, because of another concept in our business known as “integrated marketing”.  It’s a bit of a misnomer, but the idea is that a message is amplified considerably by appearing in different media channels.  So, if people see the Geico gecko on a billboard, on TV, in a print ad or a rich media banner ad, the ultimate impact is greater than the sum of the individual messages.  Likewise, if you’re in a blog, write a blog, get reviewed by your local paper, score a reading at a regional writers conference (that puts out an online newsletter), rack up reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, optimize your website with keywords connected to your book’s theme, etc., the sum total is greater than appearing in any individual outlet could possibly achieve.

Because in cyberspace, everything is connected.  And the connectors are these clever little things that roam the Internet like voracious bacterium called Google Bots.  They feed on semantic relationships and your job is to make a feast out of you as a writer and the books you write.   

More to come.  


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May 2014 Newsletter