While many authors are trying their luck at e-publishing, either completely on their own or with the help of a Web-based publishing service, fewer of these intrepid souls may be skilled in what it means to market their work. Indeed, the same dilemma faces consultants and independent contractors, who must 1) do the work they are paid for and 2) market and promote their consulting business. What is more, successful marketing requires special knowledge of the target audience to gain traction and garner attention. My favorite example of this comes not from the trenches of capitalism but from Broadway. The celebrated musical The Music Man begins with a group of sales people on a train, chanting their market tips in time with the clicking rails. Keeping perfect time, one of the sales guys calls out, “But ya gotta know the territory!” more than once.
The territory of self-publishing authors is a tough one to learn. Even now, several years into the era of the e-book, it often seems like the best marketing coup an author can hope for is to be discovered by a mainline publisher and to pick up a contract. Several popular authors have made their fame and fortune from just this sort of process.
Authors, take note: entrepreneurs have you in their marketing gun-sights. On April 9, 2013 The San Francisco Chronicle profile a new Houston-based startup called Kbuuk (don’t ask…OK. “K” is for cloud and “buuk” is for…well, Fritz Lanham at the Chronicle figured it out from there; see SFC, April 9, 2013, p. D1).
Kbuuk can convert a Word manuscript into a e-book, and host it on its own distinctive web site within the Amazon Cloud ecosystem, in Amazon itself, and on Kobo’s and Barnes and Noble’s platforms. This reduces costs (and gives Kbuuk a 20 percent margin). Kbuuk creates marketing “value” by crafting a Web presence that will grab the attention of readers.
Sounds great! But–in addition to “knowing the territory” you must have a quality product to bring in the sheaves of fame and fortune. No shortcuts there.
New Terrain: “The Lowest Publishable Denominator”
In addition to discussing the merits of a comprehensive marketing plan Lanham points out that there is something new about how pricing works in the self-publishing e-book market. He quotes Ed Nawotka, editor in chief of Publishing Perspectives, on the new dynamics of pricing. Apparently, “less is more: authors are pricing lower for smaller bits of information. New and good idea, yes? Except academics will quickly recognize the tried-and-true vehicle of the “lowest publishable denominator,” i.e., stretching out your research into as many articles as possible. But then, many famous authors have also shown their skill in the LPD derby (Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones, anyone?)
Anyway, it works like this. If you, the reader are being charged $1.99, your expectations are lower, and you might be more willing to buy something. Amazon’s Kindle store (as well as The New York Times) give ample proof of this new e-sub-market. Famous authors are now publishing novellas, short stories and excerpts at very low prices. This low-cost come-on, in my opinion, may be deepening the e-book market by giving readers affordable options, using the hook-power of name recognition.
For those without name recognition in place, the marketing work must continue. Perhaps startups like Kbuuk will make that work a bit easier for aspiring authors.