Thursday, April 30, 2015

"It's hard out here for a pimp" (of older political books)

Yes, I ordered the book “The Sell” by Fredrik Eklund and will review it, and, yes, you can say that all successful interactions with other people (outside family and immediate friends) involve “selling”, even when you work as a content provider in an individual contributor mode.
But there is a big difference between “Selling” (or “Always be closing”, as in the comedy film “100 Mile Rule”) for its own sake, and effectively deploying one’s own content, often by thoughtfully networking with others in a practical way.

Last week, I got some calls from my “first” publisher, regarding my first two “Do Ask Do Tell” books, urging me to become more aggressive in marketing them.  Why not do a book tour in Canada?
First, I was told that the Kindle will be put back, and that would make all three of these books available in the inexpensive Kindle format for readers who prefer that.  That will help.  But there is still the question I keep getting, why don’t I hire public relations agents, go on tours, or push the books in existing stores, or push mere retail sales on the web, the way many other authors do (rather than posting content for browsing where, to quote one of Reid Ewing’s short films, “It’s free.”)
I’ve explained before, that to me this is no longer about selling “instances” of books (as in object-oriented talk).  There is a whole media vision involving music and film, and I need to spend the time finishing it.  I don’t have time for retail operations.  So I outsource it.

I could even add, my own father was a salesman, but in wholesale mode, as a manufacturer’s representative for Imperial Glass, in Bellaire Ohio (now Lenox).  Does the analogy for bookstores hold?
I did have the first book in a Barnes and Noble in Minneapolis in 1999.  I’ve worked with book distributors (like the Bookmen in Minneaplis, which got bought by Ingram – and book distribution models are different from the movies’.)  But the world has changed.  Non-fiction of a more personal type, especially older works, usually is found and consumed online, not in stores.  I may visit a bookstore in a particular case (as I have a few times, like one near Charlottesville one time).  But I don’t have time to work on this the way my father would have, because people typically don’t buy more “specialized” content in physical stores now.

We often hear that independent book stores are closing, not just because of the chains, but because of Amazon, and because people read online (even on their tablets and smart phones – which makes mobile friendliness even an issue for more conventional publication, as I discussed April 3.
All of this is not good for businesses that depend on selling physical copies of books without blending with other media.  But self-publishing companies supposedly shouldn’t have to worry about this, as the authors pay them to put the works out.  But increasingly, some of them do, and are fighting their own earlier model of “vanity” publishing (see Books blog, Oct. 6, 2013). 

I can remember a book author’s forum in Denton, TX back in early 1988, when there was a topic, “What goes into a book proposal?” and then “Who cares?”   That shows how far back my contemplation history goes.
There is a real question as to what a “book” is, but its publication creates and “event”, almost in the sense of particle physics.  But disturbing impressions remain.
Why, the caller implies, would I publish something and then not think enough of it to push it?  Is that typical sales mentality?  Not exactly, for salesmen who think they should be able to sell anything.  I’ve made an ironic argument, which, admittedly, can be viewed as putting me in an a negative light (the stuff about the draft, the physical cowardice, leaving the risk-taking and medical and emotional challenges of war to others less fortunate, for example) in order to influence the debate on a political issue (which for almost two decades, as “gays in the military” and “don’t ask don’t tell” – and that got bigger, didn’t it.  The caller says “just Kindle won’t sell because nobody will know who you are?”  Can a big publicity package tell people who I am?  No, I don’t think you pimp that.

But people do find me online.  Am I "preaching to the choir"?  Is it people who are already interesting in nuance who "read me"?  Probably.  This gets back to that old question of "the privilege of being listened to".  Do I care if a lot of the "non-choir" doesn't "get it"?  Maybe I should, but there is no way to pander with this material.  (I got flamed one time as "bigoted" and "judgmental" and even puritanical for saying this.)  
I realize that it is easier to give people “what they want” if you let yourself get banged around in your own interpersonal relationships first – be human.  (Look at the lesson from the success of “Harry Potter”).  There is a natural temptation to “pimp” the idea that, well. I was discriminated against, or I was partially disabled, and still led a productive life – isn’t that something to sell as a role model?  Would that sell personally autographed books at $20 a copy?  I can see the thinking, but it sends a misleading message.  I’m not about intervening and making “you” OK if you really aren’t.  I’m not going to invent underdog heroes.  Yet I see an underlying ethical point about speaking out from a greater distance as an “alien observer”, far enough away from the event horizon to stay safe. 

There was an occasion when I got a bizarre weekend call in 2012 (I think) that someone wanted to push my second book.  I didn't believe it. But in retrospect, maybe a major magazine would want my "Bill of Rights 2" essay (1999) or my "Narcissism, affiliation and polarity" from about 2000.  Maybe I was too suspicious then. 
I’d say that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while, in a personal sense, keeping himself at a distance. (That movie is not quite accurate.) And look at his success today.  
Also: note correlated story on Books blog, May 2, 2015.  Yes, independent books stores do seem to have a renaissance now. 

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