Monday, May 08, 2006

I Need Marketing Advice

For some time now, I have been toying with the idea of selling some of my writing directly from my web site. This is quite a change from my decades-long policy of selling my stuff only through the traditional publishing companies. For just as long people have been telling me to sell direct, using the shareware model and others, but I have been adamant. My thought was this -- the web is flooded with words, from blogs to wiki's to traditional news services. Fiction out on the web almost declares itself sub-standard. If it was good, wouldn't the traditional publishers have paid for it and sent it out in paper?

I think my logic was valid, but conditions have changed. There has been an explosion of content, both good and bad. Everyone knows how to wiggle the keys and put words on the screen now. Practically everyone I know has a blog. This translates into a glut of manuscripts to the traditional publishers as well. I've been sending manuscripts to publishers since at least 1973, and I can tell you Things Have Changed. In the olden days, I took the used box a ream of paper came in and packaged up the whole novel manuscript and mailed it off. It's been years since I've had to do that. For a while, it was just "three chapters and a synopsis". Now, it's "send a query letter", if the publisher will even talk to an un-agented author. The big guys, for the most part, will kindly direct you to a list of agents. Of course, getting an agent to read your material now is just as hard as it was to get interest from a publisher.

I _Know_ my writing is better now than it used to be. That novel I sent out in 1973 would have been a terrible embarrassment if it had actually been published. In fact that same story line has been mutated, expanded, and re-written into a much better story now, one that I would be proud to see on the shelf. My short fiction still manages to be sold to the magazines, but since I have been concentrating on writing novels, there is very little of that being produced.

So, I am writing novels. I have ten good ones ready to sell, but I am unable to get them across the moat into the hands of the publishers. I understand their policies. They are flooded with content. They have to rely on agents to filter out the worst of it. But many of my competitors may not write better, but are better at that query letter, or gaining the attention of an editor or agent at a conference.

So, I must learn how to better market myself. I've been waiting to be discovered for decades, and looking at the mirror, I have lost confidence that it will happen on its own. I have to try something new.

I have entered a contest. Maybe "award winning manuscript" will make it more appealing.

But I am also considering dipping my toes into direct sales.

My website has already offered short fiction to read. Like this one, or this one. These are stories that have already been published by the magazines, and thus were already judged "good enough". I haven't put my rejects out there.

But what I'm considering now is a sample novel. I'd rig some kind of "web store" and email out a PDF packaged copy of just one of the novels. I've looked at Print On Demand and other self-publishing techniques, but large up-front costs or managing an inventory of paper copies doesn't appeal to me at all. Indeed, all of these small volume paper publishing ideas produce very expensive books.

I could supply a PDF formatted to be printed, just like I currently use when I send a manuscript to my first readers, or I could provide one formatted for easy reading on the screen. I have no confidence in or liking for DRM, so this would have none. I'd just have to hope that releasing an easily pirated copy into the wild would be a risk worth the rewards of wider exposure.

I have no expectation than any Big Name Publisher is crusing the web, looking for properties to publish, but any increase in my name recognition, and any better appreciation of what Henry Melton fiction is like, could only help me out, down the line. I have little expectation I'll make any money this way. People expect to read free, or nearly free, off the web.

So, Reader, what do you think? Is it a workable idea? What do you think about the PDF formats? What would you like to see? What would tempt you to visit HenryMelton.com and browse? I honestly need your advice.

1 comment:

Chris Nystrom said...

I think that it is a great idea. I have read and loved your short stories and I would very much like to read your novels, too.