The writer and social media

May 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Some months ago, a writer, speaking at a self-publishing event, took a very negative view of Twitter. As some people tweet, along the lines of, ‘home now just putting the potatoes in the oven’, she had no time for it.

We all know that means of communications are used in different ways. To the  farmer in Africa, without any landline, a mobile phone is a lifeline. Londoners may say ‘my life is on my phone’ but their livelihoods do not depend on their phones in the same way an African farmer’s does.

We can tweet trivial things and we can tweet serious things and we can do both.

Mel Sherratt, best-selling writer on Kindle, had a social media presence before she self-published Taunting the Dead. She wrote a blog High Heels and Book Deals, and she was on Twitter.

Initially Mel Sherratt had not been that keen on joining Twitter. However, a friend persuaded her to sign up for an account (@writermel), and since then, Mel Sherratt has grown to love Twitter.

Writing can be lonely work. When Mel Sherratt takes a break from writing, she often goes to see what’s happening on Twitter. She might throw out a query to her followers: How would a frightened child call out for its mother? Would the child shout Mum or Mummy?  Her followers favoured Mummy.

Mel Sherratt stressed that her use of Twitter is largely social. Of course, she will let people know when she has posted an article, what event she might be speaking at, and she might retweet some news about a writer friend, but she will tweet about her dog too.

Tim Cooke, self-published author of Defending Elton and Kiss and Tell, was slow to join social networks; he felt they might not suit his personal style. But he started a blog (T J Cooke) and joined Twitter (@timscribe). Contrary to his expectations, he found that writers on Twitter could be very supportive of each other. And his attitude to social media changed.

Both writers were speaking in April at this year’s London Book Fair. At the question and answer session after their talk, one attendee told us that she had written books, cosy crime. (I think she had self-published but I am not sure in what form.) The books were selling but her being on Facebook and Twitter did very little to increase her sales. She wondered why.

Neither Mel Sherratt nor Tim Cooke could throw any light on that. Should you be fully engaged in all forms of social media? Will your presence on Twitter boost your sales?  Will you succeed just as well without Twitter ? You might. Mel Sherratt writes women’s fiction using a pen name and, despite having no presence on social media (in her pen name), these novels sell.

If only we had the answers!

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How much will people pay for an ebook?

May 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

We all carry notional values for money. A pound or two is not very much, not enough to buy a coffee in most cafés, a second-hand book in Oxfam (average price £2.50) or a large loaf of wholemeal bread (£2.30) in Dunn’s, a fifth-generation bakery in Crouch End, North London.

Yet many self-published books sell on Kindle for 99p. Self-published author Tim Cooke believes that some people would not be too quick to spend even 99p on a book. The sum of 99p is not so inconsiderable that they will buy an ebook without a second thought.

You can search by price on Kindle, and see what is on offer for 99p. I have no idea if the cheapest books sell most. Daniel Cooper ( Head of Kindle Direct Publishing, EU) did not appear to think that the lower the book is priced, the better its sales would be.

When self-published author Mel Sherratt first made Taunting the Dead available on Kindle in December 2011, she priced it at 99p. It quickly became a bestseller and reached number 3 in the Kindle fiction category in 2012. Despite her success, Mel Sherratt has not increased the price above £1.99. Would her readers have baulked at paying £2.99?

Are writers, who have had their books professionally edited, selling themselves short when they price their books at 99p? Will potential buyers assume the quality is poor?

Daniel Cooper informed us that from one year to the next, Kindle sales of self-published books increased from 14% to 26%. Will self-published books continue to make up a quarter of the Kindle market? What percentage of those books was sold for 99p?

In some cases the low price will reflect the fact that the books have been poorly edited and written. In other cases you will be buying a book that has had as much professional attention, perhaps more, than a book that has been traditionally published. At 99p, authors, who have paid to have their worked edited, will have to sell many books to recoup their investment.

In other industries sellers have increased the price of their goods with no adverse affect on sales: sometimes their sales increased (See Yes! by Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin, and Robert B Cialdini). Could some writers selling ebooks for 99p, price them at £2.99, and possibly sell more copies?

Mel Sherratt, Tim Cooke, and Daniel Cooper spoke in the Authorlounge, The London Book Fair 2013.

Are Bookstores Here to Stay?

April 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

Two days ago on 15th April 2013, at The London Book Fair, Authoright’s Gareth Howard conducted the discussion entitled ‘Are Bookstores Here to Stay?’ between Sam Husain (C.E.O. of Foyles) and Philip Jones (Editor of The Bookseller).

On the whole the word bookshops was used rather than bookstores. We, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, tend to use the word ‘shop’ more than the word ‘store’.

In recent years many independent bookshops and some large chains have closed in the UK. Can bookshops survive? Both Sam Husain and Philip Jones agree that they can but not as they are now.

It must be remembered, Sam Husain said, that a bookshop is a business, but it is a business that must do more than merely sell books to people. Bookshops must add value. In other words, the bookshop must create an experience for the book buyer. How is this done? To a degree, by training staff. Foyles invests resources in educating its staff. If staff are knowledgeable about books, they can sell them better. And to survive, Mr Husain believes, bookshops must become better at selling books.

Philip Jones buys books from bookshops that he did not know (when he went into the bookshop) he wanted to buy. Trained staff can open up the world of books to buyers, can introduce unknown writers to buyers. But there is no staff to guide Philip Jones online. Who can advise him there? What has he to go on? Only, if anything, the purchase patterns of other buyers. For him, buying online is a narrowing experience. He is unlikely to discover books he did not know about before going online.

But knowledgeable bookselling is not enough. Bookshops, like everyone else in the publishing world, must expand their remit. Bookshops, Sam Husain believes, must create a cultural space. The era of ‘curating’ a bookshop has dawned.

Now, in bookshops a broader range of events (than the traditional book signing) is emerging. Such events must pay for themselves. Should there be a fee? Or should the admission be the purchase of the author’s book in hardback or paperback? So far, it appears, audiences find it more acceptable to buy an author’s book rather than pay an admission fee. Clearly in different parts of the United Kingdom, there will be different attitudes about what is an acceptable admission charge. Booksellers are finding out, by trial and error, what works best in their area.

It was also suggested that bookshops should be involved earlier in the product (book). It is an interesting idea but it does make the bookshop’s job a more involved one.

Some time ago (perhaps in The Bookseller) I read that 75% of books sold in bookshops are from display stands near the entrance. Therefore, many books on shelves do not get a look in. Sam Husain is developing his backlist: another area to be exploited.

Philip Jones sees no reason why there would not be room for all, for the bookshop and for online purchases. But he does feel that bookshops need help: the government, to encourage their growth and to preserve a high street, should introduce financial incentives. After all, bookshops enrich our culture. The more informed and supported booksellers are, the more enriched we book buyers are.

After listening to this discussion, a member of the audience quibbled about the price of books. How, he wondered, could bookshops justify charging so much more for books than an online shop. He suggested buying a book (or was it renting a book?) for five pounds and returning it after a month. Sam Husain’s response was that such a transaction, not being a purchase, would not work in a bookshop.

The question surprised me. The seminar had just provided answers. Bookshops charge more because they must pay enormously high rents, certainly in London, train staff and discharge all the usual overheads of a high street business.

Is it simply that people baulk at paying a reasonable price for books? Is it still the case, as George Orwell found it to be, that people prefer to spend money on cigarettes than books? Alison Baverstock in The Naked Author came to a similar conclusion. People appear to have less trouble paying for a round of drinks than a book.

Perhaps bookshops need to educate the reading public about book pricing: what exactly are they paying for? The better buyers understand and experience the process, the readier they will be to pay for it.

In the book world, things are changing fast. There are unexploited opportunities for bookshops. But bookshops, like literary agents and writers, must do more and be more to survive.

Authoright curated the Authorlounge at the London Book Fair 15th -17th April 2013

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