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Retro-
Progresso

 

I was in a sales meeting with The Story Plant’s distributor last week, speaking with them about our key fall titles. Of course, we discussed the various e-book promotions that we wanted the books to be featured in, but the emphasis of the conversation was on something we hadn’t discussed in years—growing the presence of our featured books in physical bookstores.

Later that week, I was reviewing the text file for one of our upcoming titles before I sent it to the author and the proofreader. As I did, I realized that I was no longer comfortable with this part of the production process being reviewed on screen, so I sent the author printed pages and instructed the proofreader that I would be sending her printed pages as well and that I wanted her corrections to come back on paper.

Still later that week, I got together with the Story Plant team to dissect the meeting with the distributor and to formalize our plans for the fall. By the end of the meeting, we’d set in motion three digital initiatives we’d never employed before.

This was a more dramatic week than many, but hardly out of the ordinary. For some reason, though, this confluence of events caused me to identify a philosophy I’d unconsciously adopted long ago: a strong belief that the most effective way to make headway in publishing is to look backward and forward at the same time.

I’ve come to calling this philosophy “retro-progresso.”

We’ve spent a great deal of time at NINC talking about the need for writers to embrace the future. I, of course, believe this wholeheartedly. The simple fact is that anyone—in any field—who is committed to standing their ground is likely to get trampled. Writers are succeeding with tools that didn’t even exist two years ago, and many of the old techniques for getting attention for books are useless at this point. Is anyone still having coffee and donuts with truck drivers? Many of you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about.

Innovation is critical at every level of the business from the way fiction is presented to readers to the way we find those readers.

However, there is much to be learned from the past as well. Some things that have always worked do so because they are fundamental to the experience. Why do physical bookstores continue to be important to our business? Because a huge number of readers prefer that shopping experience, and discovery is possible at an entirely different level there than it is with even the best online retailers. Why is on-page copyediting and proofreading so important? Because one reads differently on a screen than one does on a printed page, and when you go through the entire proofing process on screen, more mistakes get through.

These are only two examples, those highlighted by my experiences last week. I can think of many cases where retro makes sense, but one leaps right to the top. I’m finding myself increasingly retro in my thinking when it comes to editorial output. Yes, the market is moving faster than ever, and book buyers (especially ebook buyers) seem to have shorter and shorter memories, but I don’t think the best way to address this long term is to flood the market with product—unless you happen to be one of those rare writers who can deliver quality in bulk. Why? Because it attempts to address a marketing problem by slowly alienating the marketplace.

Readers expect the books they read to be worth their time. When they decide that a writer is no longer worth their time, they quit that writer. I think it’s interesting to note that some of the writers who made such a huge splash at the beginning of the digital revolution by publishing in bulk aren’t selling particularly well       Continued on page 6  

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