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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

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(Note: Please see the update at the bottom.)

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned getting some spam from a self-published author. Victoria Strauss wrote about this phenomenon over at  Writer Beware Blogs the other day, and I have to say she is absolutely right.

Spam is rude. It's annoying. And it may be against the law.

Oh, the purveyors of this stuff call it "targeted messaging" or something that sounds similarly useful. It isn't. It's not "targeted messaging" when ads for certain blue pills land in my inbox, and your plea to buy your book isn't "targeted" either.

The underlying problem, I suspect, is one of the things that's "broken" with the publishing industry. And sadly, it's due to the very publishers who think the industry is "broken."

80% of books** are still sold in bookstores. If your publisher can't get your book in bookstores across the country, you're missing out on sales. And yes, it's up to your publisher to do that.***

A lot of very small presses* make money because they shove almost all of the marketing and promotion duties back to the author. In essence, the author is paying to get published, even if if the publisher is well-meaning. Why do I say that? Well, who pays for the "targeted" marketing campaign? The publisher? Who gets review copies out? Who pounds the pavement to convince bookstores to carry the book? If the answer to any of these is "the author," then there's a potential problem here.

Most authors are not professional marketers. There's nothing wrong with that. As a publisher, you should let your authors concentrate on their next book rather than sales. Yes, authors should do promotion. But it's only effective if it's backed up with a proper marketing plan and decent distribution on the part of the publisher.

The industry may be "broken," it may be changing, but paying your authors squat on the net and asking them to do your job (marketing and distribution) is wrong.

Okay, I've ranted enough. Just don't give in to the spam temptation, please.

*Not everyone. And e-book publishers are a different animal.

**But what about the claim that 75% of books are not sold in bookstores? That claim takes in everything with an ISBN, which includes textbooks, industry books that never see the light of a bookstore, and government publications. All those impressive books lining the bookshelf in your doctor or attorney's office? They all have an ISBN, but you won't find them at a mainstream bookstore. Then there's audio books and other book-related items, not to mention different versions of one book (hardback, paperback, large print). Strip it down to stuff the general public would be interested in buying and you'll find that most books are still sold in bookstores.

***Yes, your publisher may be the exception to the rule. Don't leave me angry comments. There are some small publishers that do very well selling the SF convention circuit, for example. And that's okay, if you're making money and you don't have to bug your friends and family and strangers to buy your damn book, already.

Update: I wanted to clarify my remarks based on the comment left here. First of all, I'm talking about fiction as opposed to non-fiction. If you have a platform it's possible to do very well with self-publishing. An example of a platform is a speaker selling books at the back of the room.

I'm in the US, and I'm aware that the publishing business operates differently in other countries. So unless I specifically mention another country, I'm talking about the way things are done here.

And finally, I stand by this post. Spam is not an acceptable way to sell - be it books or blue pills. If you have your own carefully cultivated contact list and they don't mind you pushing your product (book, whatever) to them, that's different.

Sorry if I caused any confusion.

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Filed under: Writing   Self-Promotion         
12/23/2008 6:14:54 PM
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