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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Publishers Need A Better Deal

Can books be sold on deal sites?  They are growing in popularity – Groupon, Living Social, Google Offers, Travel Zoo and others are offering 50% off of meals and other items on a daily basis.  Amazon Local recently rose to become the fourth biggest such site in North America.  Given that Amazon is the biggest online retailer overall and for books, will they include books on a frequent basis to their deal site?  Is that healthy for an industry that shouldn’t commoditize its content? To learn more on which deal sites are offering deals consult Yipit, a daily deals aggregator and researcher.

Similar to these deal sites are discounted gift card sites.  www.plasticjungle.com and www.giftcardgranny.com  offer cards with discounts.  For instance, you can find Home Depot cards for 6% off or Kohl’s for 15% below retail.  Would it be good to have an Amazon.com card or Barnes & Noble card at a discount available for book-buying?  Should publishers issue their own gift cards where you can buy any book at Barnes & Noble but get a discount for books published by the card-issuing publisher?

Or should coupons in the Sunday newspaper offer deals to buy books?

As long as the recession rages and the entertainment world competes for the same dollar, book publishers will need to be price-sensitive and yet the industry needs to make price secondary to the payoff books can offer readers.  The case needs to be made that books are not things and they are not widgets.  We cannot sell words by the pound and we can’t see books as being long magazines or expanded Web sites. Books are unique and special and publishers should charge in a way that positions books to be valued and appreciated in a way other consumer goods can never be.

Publishers need to make a deal not to give it all away!


Interview With Author Valerie Frankel

Below is an interview with the author of a witty new book that the PR firm I work for is promoting (with a radio tour). 

Valerie Frankel is a bestselling novelist and an award-winning journalist. Her new memoir, It's Hard Not to Hate You (St. Martin’s Press), was recently described as "Cathartic, entertaining, funny, warm" by Publishers Weekly. From the author of THIN IS THE NEW HAPPY comes a hilarious new memoir about embracing your Inner Hater. In the midst of a health and career crisis, Valerie uncorks years of pent up rage, and discovers you don't have to be happy to be happy. You don't have to love everyone else to like yourself. And that your Bitchy Twin might just be your funniest, most valuable and honest ally.

She's written twenty-four other books (chick lit, YA novels, memoirs, self-help and mysteries), and contributed to dozens of publications including the New York Times, Self, Allure, Glamour, Parenting and Good Housekeeping. Her memoir, Thin Is the New Happy, about overcoming bad body image after 30 years of dieting was called "Rueful, zestful and surprisingly funny," by the New York Times. Frankel co-authored Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery with the Joan Rivers. More recently, Frankel collaborated with Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi on her novel A Shore Thing. For more information, please cnsult: http://www.valeriefrankel.com

1.      Valerie, why did you write It’s Hard Not To Hate You? I was inspired to write It's Hard Not to Hate You in April 2009 while staring down simultaneous health and career crises. I was diagnosed with colon cancer, which led to the discovery of a genetic mutation that could cause cancers in numerous other organs. At the same time, print journalism took a terrible blow due to the Great Recession. A freelance magazine writer, I was having a bitch of a time getting assignments. My checking account dwindled precarious. The double whammy of problems beyond my control was too much. My carefully maintained easy-going persona cracked under the pressure. Negative emotions seeped out of me at an alarming rate. Instead of trying to suppress them (no longer possible), I resolved to stop fighting and just let them come--in real life, and on the page. The hate in me just had to come out. I'd been wearing a poker face since I was a tweenage closeted rageaholic, so there was a lot of it.

2.      And where did you come up with that title? The title speaks to the ambivalence about allowing and expressing negative emotions. The phrase “it’s hard not to hate . . .” kept coming up again and again as I wrote chapters about jerkoff ex-boyfriends, my husband’s frustrating quirks, snobby neighbors, bratty kids, slow cashiers, difficult friendships. It was the clear theme of the memoir, so my editor and I made it the title.

3.      Your book, recently featured in People magazine, seems to hit a nerve with many women. Why do so many relate to your message? They relate to the hate! You don’t have to look too far to find angry people who have last their ability to pretend everything is okay. My book is non-political, but the breaking out of suppression mode applies to women’s personal lives, too. It’s been a trend in our culture to aspire to happiness above emotional honesty, as if dark thoughts and emotions will come to get us in our sleep. The irony is, you can’t be happy unless you are honest about being authentically, occasionally, seriously pissed off. If readers were inspired by IHNTHY to embrace their Evil Twin, I’d be thrilled.

4.      You have written dozens of books, including collaborating with Snooki and Joan Rivers. Why do you love to write? Writing is sometimes painful, but it’s downright fun when I’m in the zone. I feel great about myself when I write a funny scene or some witty dialogue. Writing is a solitary activity. It really helps if I can amuse myself while doing it. As an essayist/memoirist, writing gives me a record of my experiences that, one day, my children or their children might be interested to read, and it helps me gain valuable insight into my life now. Other women relate to what I write in memoirs and magazine articles, which connects me to them and the world. As a journalist, I like learning about new things, interviewing sources, being exposed to different subject matter. As a novelist, I appreciate how my subconscious solves plot problems and invents characters without intervention from my conscious mind. As a ghostwriter, it’s cool to hang out with famous people, and a welcome break to get in their heads and speak (write) with their voices.

5.      Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? In my humble opinion, I don’t know. I think books will become shorter. More authors will self-publish, and the glut of material will make it harder for readers to find quality books. Established authors will start to self-publish, and the clout of publishing houses will suffer. Or they’ll figure out a way to be their own little amazons, and sell directly to readers. As long as there are readers, publishing will survive, in one form or another.

6.      As a magazine writer for many of the leading women’s magazines, what trends are you seeing in the world of the news media? Shorter articles. An emphasis on service, or “new you can use.” In women’s magazines, fewer pages on internet-friendly topics like sex and dating. More pages about exercise, dieting, fashion, beauty—the content that sells ad pages. Integrated brand content in print, web, video, podcast. Every magazine will attempt to do a TV show.


Interview With Author and Blogger Barry James Hickey


1.      What challenges or advantages does the new media landscape pose to authors? The new media landscape is in enormous flux right now. We have a vast Internet wasteland cluttered with too many sites and small audiences that charge small dollar amounts for exposure but ultimately detract from building a brand. Traditional businesses, especially Public Relations and Marketing firms are scrambling to justify their current business. For example, for $6,000 a writer might get an ad campaign focused on electronic or print media with “guaranteed exposure,” played out with local radio interviews or print impressions. But does it work?  What is the author “selling”? A one-liner in major newspapers counts as an impression but is it a valid cost factor? And then there are the touts selling their packages to turn us all into “experts” in given fields. I research extensively; I’ve lived an exciting life. I am an expert on so many topics, I can’t sort it out. So I write stories. My readers escape with me. I’d have to say that 95% of authors don’t have the time, financial strength and resources, energy, drive and ambition or ability to shill themselves. It is said that 80% of all Americans have a book in them -  staggering numbers. There is a true fight for shelf and social media space to capture the hearts and minds of the scattered reading audiences.

2.      What do you love most about being a part of the book publishing industry? This is a competitive business. We vie for space. Each new book is a pebble at the head of a stream. To move that pebble into the creek, then the river, then the ocean, is a tremendous challenge. How often great works are lost to the sands of time? It is an enormous never-ending lottery. Writers and agents and publishers search together and apart for pots of gold.

3.      Where do you feel it is headed? This is a bubble-burster. As I experienced in my “Hollywood” career, there are only so many slots open. The true claim to writing fame and bigger book sales is still in the hands of people with deep pockets with vested interests. Like the film and music industry, there are enormous marketing, printing, and distribution costs involved. Of course, the work must resonate with readers as well. Harlequin and Scholastic have their niche markets. The big houses have their “famous” stables that generate measurable results. But anyone can be a “publisher” now. It’s so easy to have distribution. We now have blog radio shows with tiny audiences displacing and skewing traditional radio markets. A majority of newspapers have uprooted staff writers in favor of free articles, reviews and interviews from non-journalist sources. Never before has there been so much fragmentation.

4.      How do you go about making an author’s work better? Long ago, I learned just how delicate and thin-skinned most writers are. Especially bad writers. To hint at revising their opus is a Herculean task. But a thick-skinned writer, someone with a true talent and a bad dictionary – I can work with them. They know they need revision, they realize their first draft isn’t a masterpiece but has potential. I usually start with grammar and sentence structure. After that, we look at saying more with less, chopping long expositions into short dialogue exchanges, carving the unnecessary fat off the bones of the story.

5.      What can publishers do to work more closely with their authors at the editing stage?  Establish trust. Have true care and concern. Spend quality time discussing why they wrote the book, what they think it is about, where the passion comes from. An editor should only work on a piece he or she has a passion for. It can’t be all business. Prepare the author to think outside the box they created, offer them tools to reconsider a chapter’s direction, a character’s motivation. It helps to create a short character bible. A book has its own brush strokes. We can over-analyze, overwrite. In the end, it is the author’s piece, not the editor’s. Being an author myself, I have other works to finish. Let’s get this one done to the best of our abilities and move forward.

For more information, please see: http://www.barry.hickey.com/

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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