THE E-BOOK ERA: A Memoir, sneak peek by Rebecca T. Crowley

I am a book publishing industry insider, and I survived the dawn of the e-book era.  How?  By staying calm! Imagine that! So many have been surrounded by chaos and panic, but not me.  And I’ll tell you why.  But first, please note the picture. This is my niece, Shea, reading at a recent family dinner in Illinois.  She’s reading a printed book. She has not yet converted to an e-reader though she does enjoy my sister’s Nook Color. Do note, despite the huge soda in front of her—her concentration is not shattered in the middle of a family function. This shows that people are still reading and it’s a warm fuzzy feeling to see a child read with such intensity, pleasure and concentration.

Today's young reader

Now, surviving the dawn of the e-reader: I have read it countless times: The printed book will not die.  It cannot die.  And despite my love of the printed book, I know that they will be on their way out – eventually – as the world becomes more and more digital.   It will not happen overnight, nothing does, but the digital era is here and future generations will know the e-reader as their “go to.”  They’ll “borrow” from libraries by downloading the library’s books to their e-reader.  College students won’t have to buy textbooks and stand in line at their book store – they’ll simply download the necessary texts from a website. In fact, some are already doing it!  The statement: “the printed book will not die” is made out of fear – that books – stories, tales, information – will somehow disappear just because the e-book era is upon us.  But I disagree.

Life is all about change.  My senior thesis in college was on the history of the printed book. You don’t see anyone pulling out a scroll made of parchment or deer hide on the subway, do you? But they remain in museums and historical libraries all over the world for the “bookies” among us to enjoy.  Similar with ancient books and texts.  Has anyone read The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks?  This novel traces the ownership and origin of a book through history and reminds us that books will always be with us.  Despite the change in format, one constant remains: people are still reading, still loving books, still sharing the love of reading and favorite authors with others.

As a voracious reader and lover of books, those are my thoughts.  Now to speak as the publicist I am. I made a vow,  perhaps a proclamation, sometime back in 2010 that I would blaze the trail on e-book promotion. I had watched the various stages unfold and felt I was a witnessing history. I told a few supporters of my company, RTC Publicity (often just referred to as “RTC”) and some authors that I’d be the one to define what e-book promotion was in the new digital era.  The time has come and my faithful clients and confidants held me to it.  So here I am sharing with you my journey.

I approached Foreword in 2010 to write an article on e-book promotion though it didn’t run because they felt I didn’t give enough away. It’s a competitive world out there and while everyone is panicking I am staying calm, doing my research, collaborating with phenomenal authors and publishing professionals—and keeping all my e-book proprietary knowledge under lock and key until now because I know it’s valuable. The traditional PR route and the traditional publishing route are out the window. I chose not to hang on to the past.  I chose to be part of history and be a part of raising sales for my clients in this new uncertain time.  In my upcoming book on the dawn of the e-book (to be available in print and e-reader versions!), I will share with you some cases studies. The beginnings of what were/are the first formal e-book marketing campaigns.

I have watched too many authors get chewed up and spit out by the traditional publishing machine. That’s two-fold. Simply put, it’s the legacy publishers being understaffed and not able to serve the promotion needs of authors. At the same time, selfishly, they aren’t advising them to go elsewhere—they aren’t letting them know there are people like me out there to help (for not a lot of money either in terms of ROI!).  Beyond the big six there are countless small houses putting out truly amazing and quality work. These publishers and their barebones staff and contractors are trying innovative things and making their mark. Many authors are making their name at small houses—or even self-publishing! (Bet you didn’t think that would happen either).  However, these small houses don’t have large promotional budgets, and often times are backed by investors-or looking for investors to fund their dreams. They may not have much money, but they have HEART and I am a big believer that heart and passion can take you a very long way.

One of the biggest problems with e-book promotion that I’ve been tackling is that there is a huge disconnect between when e-books come out and when promotion can happen.  With e-books coming out so fast, there is not enough time to book the promotion to coincide with the pub date as we do with the printed book. Does that make any sense? In the promotional world it does not. LEAD TIME is necessary. The outlets that promote e-books do not lend themselves to that. Furthermore, there are a LOT of e-books being published and compared to outlets that review printed books; comparatively there are only a handful of e-book review sites.  This is a second problem with e-book promotion but one I hope that the e-reading industry is already seeking to fix. I see many authors collectively working themselves to fix this problem.

Take it a step further. Amazon is the #8 site in the world for EVERYTHING. Think about how that affects books.  Essentially we’re dealing with a monopoly. And with more neighborhood bookstores closing, people are turning Amazon. In my own home town of Hoboken (right across the Hudson!), Barnes & Noble shut down. There is no book store within walking distance of my home aside from a used bookstore that unfortunately does not meet my needs.  Further, the majority of the sites that review e-books are Kindle specific. Kindle Nation Daily and Kindle Boards being the 2 biggest. So, in order to sell books, I have to go against my training of keeping all the booksellers happy and promote the Kindle edition of any given e-book. In order to purchase a promotion on these sites you need a special number: the ASIN number. Publishers do not get that number until the book drops on Amazon. So here we have the chicken and the egg theory. Book is out, we have the ASIN and NOW we can promote. Makes zero sense.

It’s making it harder and harder for authors to do things on their own with any kind of organization. It’s forcing authors to hire out. I have “ins” at these review sites. They’ll hold a spot for me without the ASIN. This, just by me giving them repeat business, gives us the opportunity to have some lead time to play with. A solution for now, but in the long term there will need to be significant realignment.

That’s all for now – but I will continue to share my adventures in the e-book era. Stay tuned!  I hope all you book lovers out there will consider reading more when my book is out. And so I leave you with a quote (or it just wouldn’t be me):

“The world must be all f*cked up when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.” – Catalan bookstore owner in Macondo in 100 Years of Solitude  

Let’s change that together!

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9 Comments

Filed under e-books, Media, Publishing, Reading and Writing

9 responses to “THE E-BOOK ERA: A Memoir, sneak peek by Rebecca T. Crowley

  1. Emily Harting

    It does my heart good to see a young person so in love with reading! I, too, fear the e-book era – but this helped me to feel a little better about it. Someday I’m sure I, too, will use an e-reader…for now I’m stockpiling paper books. :)

  2. I am totally ready to embrace the ebook era – bring it!

  3. I am slowly entering the e-book world as a reader, and I have to say I am enjoying the books I read on the Kindle. Though I pretty much had to be dragged into this world kicking and screaming, I’ve now calmed down and can see the upside to it.

  4. kristinmaiorano

    I think we have a long way to go before we say goodbye to books completely. I personally have given in to a variety of digital media, but when it comes to books, I am still a big fan of the physical, smells-like-a-book, feels-like-a-book BOOK. Maybe because I’m too poor to afford an e-reader? :)

  5. Libby Fischer Hellmann

    You make some excellent points, Rebecca! Thanks for being there. I know whose hand I want holding mine as we jump off the cliff together.

  6. Excellent points being made here. And a lot to think about if you’re a writer interested in getting your work read and promoted. I agree that there is no need to panic — and also agree that there is a need to think of strategy.

  7. Your blog is a smorgasbord for writers; so many things to consider as we leap off the cliff into the great electronic void. After a decade of giving the old traditional publishing world my best shot, I turned to eBooks with a vengeance. Got a bunch published. Still don’t have a clue to building my readership beyond blind luck.
    I’m writing a new mystery series, into the second book, with the first one due out next April. Now I want to get these promoted; they’re my best work. Just knowing you’re out there battling this thing encourages me to give it all I’ve got. Thanks so much!
    Cheers,
    Pat Dale

  8. ruthann

    Excellent post, Rebecca! One thing the e-reader will never have is that “new book” smell. I hope not, anyway. (Someone is probably already trying to duplicate it.)

  9. I have been surfing online more than 3 hours nowadays, but I by no means discovered any fascinating article like yours. It’s lovely worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all site owners and bloggers made just right content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

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