Publishing Isn’t For Sissies: Borders, Dorchester, YOU?

This week’s Borders bankruptcy restructuring announcement was expected. Dorchester’s financial difficulties–people in the “know” saw a huge change coming, though not necessarily the business  model transformation the publisher adopted rather than filing Chapter 11 themselves. Are you saying–Whew! Glad it isn’t me? Are you sure about that?


I’ve been writing this weekly column  on my blog regularly for over a month, and the hits each Thursday are rising exponentially as each week passes. Because I’m so witty and relevant? I’m not buying it. The reason, I suspect, is a lot of folks coming to the conclusion I did last fall–that these “signs of the times” are coming for all of us, happening to all of us one way or another, so what the heck are we ALL going to do about it?

I’ve looked back a lot in previous posts, so check them out if you’re interested in my view of what was before and what is “most likely” now. Starting this Thursday, PIFS is going to be focused on the “will bes,” as I race toward the May digital/trade sci-fi/fantasy release that wasn’t even on my radar six months ago.

What should be my (and maybe your) focus in this rapidly changing market?

 1) Distribution. How will our books find readers now, with physical bookstores in so much upheaval?

My agent and I realized not to long after first hearing about Dorchester’s publishing model changes that, in a way, moving my contemporary fantasies to trade paperback might be a good thing at this point in the market. Trade paperback readers by and large still prefer physical books and go to physical stores to buy. But what about the mass market reader? What about the digital reader? Both are now uncharted waters for a writer/publisher–the mass market buyer becoming more and more illusive as stores close all over the country and available shelf space shrinks in the ones that remain.

2) Publisher Promotion. How will a publisher drive readers to our books in the places that they now focus our book distribution? Is that even possible at this stage?

  • Dorchester and several of the online promotional partners I’ve spoken with over the last few months believe so, by partnering with digital providers like Amazon and Sony to advertise and offer “perk” packages like a free download with purchase, advertising in new ways, etc.
  • Online, you can see business like Who Dares Wins publishing  using social media and active blogging to pull potential buyers in.
  • Publishers are still using “co-op” money to position books in physical stores. Secret Legacy, for example, has been selected for the “New In Trade” table at the front of B&N’s in May.

Several of Dorchester’s top PR wizzes will be guest blogging with me going forward to talk about their inventive plans to make a go of their new publishing focus. I’m excited and inspired every time I speak with them. They’re on the cutting edge of this runaway publishing industry train we’re all journeying on. You won’t want to miss the chance to chat with them and pick their brains.

Will any of this work? Only time will tell. But do any of us have a choice whether or not we want to face the reality that our mighty publishers themselves are marketing and promoting in entirely new ways no one really has the playbook for yet? IMHO, no. Case in point–every publisher with marketing/promotion plans set with Borders stores this spring. How well will any of that play for their authors and upcoming releases now? No one really knows yet, including the publishers.

3) Author Promotion. How will an author reach existing readers and new readers, when a lot of the old “sure fire” ways and marketing streams are disappearing?

How do we spend our valuable money and even more valuable time to our best advantage? Where are readers going in this crazy sea of change, and how do we flow with them to make sure the ones who love our stories (and the ones who will, just as soon as they give them a chance ;o) don’t lose touch with our next release?

Once upon a time, authors who Pony Express mailed newsletters and postcards reached loyal readers. Then it was sending promotional materials to key booksellers and book clubs–physically putting your marketing materials in the hands of your high-volume buyers and fans. Then, book trailers on the Internet were the new “hot” thing that, if you had one at just the right time, readers bought you because they’d never seen anything so cool. Then everyone wanted to guest blog at the top blog sites, chat with readers at the top fan sites, and appear on bookseller sites like the “big dogs,” because that’s where savvy online fans of your genre hung out. Now everyone’s blogging, but some are getting ahead with their social media know how. Soon everyone will have conquered the social media “formula,” while much of the rest is already fading into the “old news” folder for our secrets to reaching readers.

How will an author adjust going forward? I’m thinking about that daily, puzzling it out with my publishing team and agent and author friends. I’ll be trying a lot of things these next few months, and I and Dorchester will be sharing our plans (and failures and successes) out here Thursdays in Publishing Isn’t for Sissies. I hope you’ll do the same.

Because above all else as we go forward, all this scary change and failure and questionable success and exciting new adventure isn’t just about Borders or Dorchester or anyone else. It’s about you–all of us who want to sell what you write to readers who’ll love the stories as much as you do.

We’re in this together, folks. Let’s get ‘er done!

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8 Responses to “Publishing Isn’t For Sissies: Borders, Dorchester, YOU?”

  1. Kait Nolan says:

    I think one thing that people need to realize is that there is no one size fits all form of promo. Because not all readers are alike. You’re appealing to different demographics and the only 100% truth across all of them as that everybody hates ads. That’s why we DVR everything, fast forward through commercials, listen to MP3 players in our cars instead of the radio, etc. I think going forward it’s going to be about finding ways to encourage and promote word of mouth and ENGAGEMENT with readers. It’s a heady thing to be able to “talk” to favorite authors on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a level of personalization that readers didn’t have before, and it’s a lot more appealing than ads.

    • Anna says:

      I love the word, “engagement,” Kait. It’s all about telling a story, isn’t it? Our story, a book’s story, a character’s story. Why are we, as writers, excited about what we’re doing? Why do our characters appeal to us? What is it we’re hoping our readers connect with? I think having that conversation is essential in social media/digital promotion, and in long-term author-reader relationships. Not the sell, sell, sell, buy THIS because you can’t live without it. I think the average reader in this economy’s far beyond responding to kind of transparency.

      As a writer/entertainer (and, face it, that’s our business), I think you need to be opening up your world a little more and sharing a bit of who you are and why you’re in this crazy business to begin with ;o)

  2. The last year and half has been very interesting both in publishing and in my own career. It has been both scary and exciting.

    Keeping up with all the changes is difficult, but very necessary. Many publishers right now are back fighting with Apple over their proposed 30% cut for digital and right now the iPad is the one device that lends itself well to all digital reading whether it be a book, newspaper or magazine. However, at WDWPUB the majority of our eBook sales happen over at Amazon. We are constantly discussing different ways to partner, promote, and get our books in front of the reader. We’re currently adding our books to the search inside program.

    No one tells you exactly how to do all this. Like Kait said, this is not a one size fits all kind of deal. The key is staying on top of all the changes and preparing for what you can. No one knows what really is going to happen next, other than we as an industry have to learn to adapt to change as it happens. Not an easy thing to do.

  3. cc says:

    This is not a good thing to see the end of Borders.

  4. Bob Mayer says:

    I know a lot of people are unhappy over the near demise of Borders. But frankly, few people in publishing bothered to look ahead. They were stuck in an archaic business model and no one bothered to look outside the bookstore. Publishers are STILL focused on selling books to retailers, even though they’re dying, instead of readers. For decades publishers had a lock on distribution and it made them comfortable and, frankly, complacent. They no longer have that lock and are reacting instead of acting. The handwriting was all there for anyone to see with what happened to the music industry. But few were looking. It’s going to get worse, a lot worse, for the publishing industry before it gets better. What will come out of the flames is a very different model, where the author will be much more important to the process. As Margaret Atwood said a TOCCON: Authors have been treated like anchovies for a long time, but the anchovies are getting irritated. She also said for authors not to run: they’ll think you’re prey.

  5. Carol Silvis says:

    Thanks for the information. As a recently published author, I appreciate input that will help me plan my career.

  6. Selena Blake says:

    I think the future of publishing will be based on the same things that traditional publishing has always been based on: distribution, good books, brand promotion. The difference is, everything except for “good books” has changed.

    Distribution: it’s cheaper to distribute digitally and it’s taken years for many publishers to understand that.

    Price points: many readers can’t afford a $25 hardback and ebooks can be the answer to that.

    Promotion: many of the tried and true methods will still be viable in the future, but implemented in a new way. Word of mouth is still key and it can spread faster than ever before thanks to twitter, facebook, and blogs. Newsletters are still “in” and digital newsletters are cheaper and quicker to send.

    Ebook authors who started their career like I did, in the digital only market, networked online before social networking was the buzz word. It’s interesting to watch traditional publishers learn the ropes.

  7. I’m a bit behind on reading these posts but please know you’re reaching me, Anna. :) Amazing what’s happened in the year since my debut novel was published–makes my head spin but encourages me just the same with all the possibilities!

    Thank you (and Jenni, and Bob and Kristen) for taking the time to post all this for those of us who may need a little time to ‘catch up’!

    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    The Wild Rose Press

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