Friday, August 3, 2018

Property Values

"I just updated my newsletter, my bio, and my website. That smell?
That's book sales, son! Or my following. I'm not sure."

By Danny Gardner

My website stinks. I can't even lie. I envisioned it as a hub for some self-branded platform. Corral everyone interested in my work with random musings, fun anecdotes, and socially relevant asides as I ready each novel for their continued enjoyment. Man, oh man, if websites were houses and crime fiction was the block, my crib would be the one bringing the entire neighborhood down. Oh, it still has all its shutters and windows and doors. No one has come along and stripped all the plumbing and wiring and drywall. It's not exactly the Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" version of destitute, but it ain't exactly 5th Avenue either. To put you through another metaphor, if this were Monopoly, my website would be a Chance card, which says "There's no chance of finding anything here you can't find everywhere else."

So when I say there's no excuse for the way my website looks, it isn't an anecdotal notion. I'm not the accountant with tax trouble or the attorney who can't close out his own divorce. It's not terrible because I'm lazy. I had a crisis of conscience. Well, actually attitude and surliness, but my conscience was at the bottom, like a parfait of frustration. The granola on top was the truth that nothing sells books quite like getting off your ass and selling books.

Websites that exist on their own are silos of interest, and I question the merit of silos in a world where everyone is fast realizing they've been wrong about a lot of stuff they once followed as gospel. An unknown author becomes a known quantity, the common wisdom is that the author now has a platform. By that measure, you harness value and crystallize something that commodifies that author's work and image. Boom! Easy street. An author with a successful book and a platform for marshaling readers into a tribe (cult) built around the personality. "You liked my book? Well, get in here, friend! Meet your brothers and sisters. Here comes the Good News-letter." Yo, this isn't square-dancing. Individual readers aren't partners to do-si-do with. This game is a straight-up rave, where you're dancing only if you can get in where you fit in, and you're going to keep moving. You haven't found a spouse when the song stops. You've found yourself alone again.

Book people like a lot of books. The TBR-pile is where we came from. The IDR-pile (I Done Read it already) is where we end up. Once we hear from a reader, the notion is we have a new converted follower. Nah, dawg. You're just hearing someone speak with pride about checking off another completed task, of which we each have far too many. "I loved your book" isn't "Where do I sit in your temple, Author-person?" More like, "Yay! Let me mark my accomplishment trophy over at Goodreads for everyone who hasn't read it yet. #winning" That's, like, Ta-Nahesi Coates/Roxanne Gay's whole hustle. "Wow, you haven't read that yet??" No, but I own it, so back up with them hashtags.

It has nothing—c'man, you know it's true—absolutely nothing to do with our books. Unless it does. And if it does, that person is already dancing with the next person in the joint as you're updating your tip sheet with new pull quotes. Think of having a hot time on the dance floor. The song changes. The two of you are thirsty. You head to the bar at the same time (you're not quite together, yet.) In the middle of the jam, you hand them a form to fill out for your newsletter, where you discuss dancing when you're not dancing. They don't want to discuss dancing, but dance, thus you lose them, even after you bought them a drink. Seems rude, except in this scenario, you're the DJ, standing outside the booth. The music has stopped.

"So...Bouchercon this year?"

Everyone and everything has its proper place. Selling what you've done and what you gon do isn't selling your next book. You ain't really selling anything until you're selling your current book. No one has the time to hang out in your waiting room as you write the next one. You have to allow readers to leave and, if you lose them, trust you'll attract the right readers at the time, if and when you sell THAT book. Maybe that is a bit of the logic surrounding the "No more series" edicts from editors I've been hearing lately. No one wants to commit to all those books now that selling the first one doesn't automatically sell them all.

I believe in leaving folks alone. You read my book. That's enough. When I have another to sell, I'll sell it. This ain't Applebee's. I won't seat you in the bar until your table is ready. I want my career to be a music festival. The Electric Daisy Carnival of crime fiction. We all sweaty, jackin', singing along. And when the music stops, I'm not following you home. We danced. We good. Maybe see you at the next get-down.

- dg


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.


1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Danny, I know what you mean about not having something to sell if you don't have a fresh book or one just about to pop. But here's something someone mentioned at a talk to writers that I think is worth considering. Your last book is, after all, still available, not old, and got good reviews. Putting an excerpt on your web site is like the See's candy people handing you a free chocolate as you enter the store. Then, having a link so the reader can act on impulse right then to order the book from a web retailer might get more readers. The speaker said that changing the excerpt after a couple of months is a good idea. Was it Seth Harwood to started his career by publishing serial chapters of his first book online and picking up fans, buzz, and buyers that way? A Negro and an Ofay has legs...