REPENT…THE END IS NEAR…for the Hybrid Publisher Formally Known as Booktrope
Despite my overzealous title for this article, I am not jumping for joy over the recent news of the downfall of the hybrid indie/small press publisher known as Booktrope. I’m not exactly surprised either. Let me be clear about at least one thing, I’m not going to pretend as if I known all the answers when it comes to the business of publishing books, such a business has existed well before my time on the playing field. I can share only my own experiences and what I’ve seen regarding general popularity in marketing and consensus among a few like-minded writers. After reading a few other articles on this similar subject matter, and also seeing how some were reacting on social media and groups on Facebook, I felt perhaps someone out there somewhere would like to know what I thought of everything. And by everything, I mean not just Booktrope, but also the underlying causality of the fall of Booktrope, AND the even more under-underlying causality, the writer. The best way I can explain my understanding in the failure of both Booktrope and writers is to go about this point for point. Shall we get started?
The fall of Booktrope as a whole is actually best explained by my good friend, Duncan Ralston in his recently published article on Ginger Nuts of Horror. You can find that post here. Basically, to sum, Booktrope created a system with little to no quality control. They wanted to create an enormous backlog. Good. Great. Best thing, really. Except for one thing. Pacing. Backlogs are great, but the faster you create one while paying little heed to the actual quality of books for letting in, well then…we all know now what happens. The system collapses. If you’re an author going to back to indie basics, yes, build that mother-f-ing backlog. But you better make sure each of those works on your catalog are of good quality. Why? Seriously…? If all you publish is shit, and word catches on all your work is shit, who is going to want to buy said shit? No one. Now, is this what happened to Booktrope? In a way. They also over stretched themselves and faltered on to-little-to-late marketing. They also put a lot of assumption into one particular basket…cross-promotion.
Before I dive into this, I know this article is not going to be very popular with many who may or may not read this. What follows is my opinion, and just that.
Since I first started this precarious journey known as publishing, there has been one gleaming/glaring ugly side of it that is more nefarious than any other aspect and failure in most publishing ventures. For whatever reason, even when writers deny feeling as such, they have this preconceived notion that other writers are somehow their competition. They’ll “like” a post like nobodies business, but they’ll hardly ever share anything. Some might comment, “Way to go!” and other such other bullshit. They build websites but never showcase anyone but themselves, they join groups but never respond to any other post but their own, etc. etc. You know what they call such behavior in the adult film industry? I don’t know either, but I assume its the equivalent to what’s known as being a “fluffer,” just enough to get it up but never to bring to culmination. Such individuals I’ve found to be poisonous, cantankerous, and everything wrong with small press, independent, publishing. Such writers get into publishing and they have BIG stars in their eyes and sticks up…(I won’t go there), needless to say, they publish their shitty (or perhaps even decent) book and think they’ve hit the big times, they’ve become the next Stephen King or Ray Bradbury or Sylvia Plath or Kurt Vonnegut or Clive Barker or J. K. Rowling (yes I mentioned her, I love those Harry Potter books, don’t judge!!) or Neil Gaiman or Maya Angelou or Hunter S. Thompson or Shirley Jackson.
I hate to pop your bubble buddy, but…you’re not the shit, you’re just plain shit. You haven’t hit the big times. You’ve published a book, and yes that is an achieved in and of itself, but its not the end game. You haven’t reached stardom, and you may never will. That doesnt mean you need to stop dreaming. Dreams are wonderful, so long as you keep them in perspective. Cross-promotion is the lifeblood of small press and independent publishing. That other writer beside you in the trenches is not your enemy OR your competition. You are both soldiers on the front line of publishing. I’ve seen this hesitancy toward cross-promotion so much I’ve got shell shock. Not just with those in Booktrope but also in other small presses (of which I will not name for fear of being burned at the stake). And I don’t get it. Do these fluffer writers really believe that if they cross-promote another writer people will start buying the other persons books over their own? Who are you sharing these posts with? Family and friends, right? Do you think YOUR family and friends will stop buying YOUR stuff? No, you big dumb idiot! The point of cross-promotion is to breech the “family and friends” bubble on social media.
And this bring us to the nitty-gritty.
If you’re one of the fluffer variety of writers out there, do you honestly think/believe that other writers are going to want to share your stuff if you are in fact unwilling to share theirs? I’m not going to name names, you are who you are and God willing you’ll know at least that much. I know one (more than one, really) writer in particular who jumps on to these writer/publishing groups I’m in and always asks for people to help share their stuff but yet never NEVER reciprocates. Some call these folks trolls. Me? I call them turds. Cause that’s all they are. Floating nasty little turds. It boggles my mind, it really does. It never fails. I’ll see these fluffers bitching about why their stuff never sells, or sells poorly. Now, this could be for other reasons, such as crapper quality or if you’ve only published one damn book. Mostly, it boils down to breaching outside your family-friend bubble on social media. They’ll moan and complain yet never think it that by maybe helping out other writers and cross-promoting, those other writers will likewise reciprocate, and then maybe by doing such consistently, sells might just pick up.
Well…this article has certainly turned into a sort of vent/therapy session for me. I know many will not agree with what I’ve said. And that’s okay. Were fluffer-writers, non-cross-promoters, the causality for the fall of Booktrope? Not entirely. They sure as shit didn’t help matters. Booktrope as a company should have slowed things down and focused a little more on marketing and quality control. Their recent venture with Hubble-Bubble pulled in some big numbers for sales, or so I’ve heard, but sadly it was a little to late. Much too late. It is my strong opinion that for small presses and independent publishers to thrive, there must be a strong urgency toward cross-promotion. Writers within said spheres need to stop acting as if they’re on their own private island. It takes a community to grow and prosper. Do you know what happens to people on remote islands? No, they don’t lounge in hammocks drinking coconut rum on the beach, they die, miserable and alone.
This entry was posted on May 13, 2016 by Thomas S Flowers. It was filed under Local Happenings, Politicking and was tagged with authors, Booktrope, critique, cross-promotion, etiquette, fluffers, publishing, Small Press, writers.
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May 13, 2016 at 11:25 am
Cross-promotion is but one aspect to achieving success.
I was with a small independent press for several years. Some authors cross-promoted; others did not. We were asked to post a blog on the publisher’s website once a month. Some participated; others did not. I contributed a blog for nearly five years. I can’t say it helped my brand.
A bigger issue with independent presses, in my opinion, is that many figure they simply need to list a title on Amazon, B&N, their own website, and titles will simply sell themselves. It doesn’t work that way, unless your name is Patterson or Rowling.
What good is a publisher if it doesn’t make good on what it promises, like sending out a press release, advance review copies, providing copies for author events at brick and mortar bookstores? For what do I need a publisher when it does nothing and collects the lion’s share of my royalty and I’m doing all the work?
I self-published a title many years ago and it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth whenever I think about it. I like to think, wrong or right, that having a publisher means something to consumers, a sort of validation of the quality of a novel.
As a consumer, I won’t waste my time with self-published novels unless it comes to me highly recommended by someone I trust. With nearly a half-million new titles released every year—most self-published, poorly written, unedited, poorly packaged claptrap—my time and budget are too valuable to me.
Self-publishing enables anyone to see their work in print, whether or not it’s deserving. The rejection letter is a thing of the past. Today’s writers don’t even have to learn craft. They simply upload a draft, wait for readers to point out the mistakes and weak spots, revise, upload a second draft, repeat as necessary, and wait for Random House to come calling. It worked for E.L. James, and it happens often enough to give every hack hope that they, too, can win the lotto.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of independent presses. Some are good; they produce quality novels and give voice to talented writers who might not otherwise see their work in print because it might not be considered mainstream enough for today’s consumer. An agent once told me she really enjoyed my novel, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings, but didn’t think there was a market for baseball novels. Obviously she didn’t bother to search Amazon using “baseball” as her keyword or she’d have found more than 40,000 baseball books, many of them fiction, and several, like Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game, were made into movies.
Other independents are predatory, built on the AuthorHouse publishing model.
To sum up, I haven’t found cross-promoting any more helpful than “Liking” an author page on Facebook, following a blog, retweeting a Twitter post, or creating profiles at Goodreads and other websites devoted to novels.
My website is for my brand, and my products and services. Why should I promote another writer on my dime? I never much cared for Pepsi commercials that gave air time to Coke. Tell me why I should drink your product, not why I shouldn’t drink your competition’s product.
Fewer Americans are reading novels today, while supply continues to escalate. Internet shorthand and text messaging conspire to destroy language, and consumers have short attention spans. They don’t have the patience to read something artistic. They want page-turning blockbusters written to a formula that find their way onto a movie screen.
All in all, success in publishing today, I think, requires more luck than talent. A writer can spend a small fortune in promoting themselves and their work, do all the things writers are advised to do—get a website (I have one), blog (I blog at several sites), arrange signings, cross-promote, etc., and still fall short of achieving their dreams.
I don’t know what the answer is; if I did I’d have a much larger audience for my work.
May 13, 2016 at 12:32 pm
Couldn’t agree more, Conrad. I don’t however see an issue with self publishing, so long as the writer puts in the effort to ensure quality control. And in there is the rub. Many don’t. My rant here was more or less about this entitlement attitude I’ve seen among certain freshman and some senior writers. I for one love small press, but yes, you’re right that they have to pull their weight too. At this juncture, I don’t think there’s an exact formula for successful publishing, however, there are certain universal no no’s every writer should avoid.
May 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm
I’ve actually gained more publishing opportunities – and more ideas for my own work and projects – through cross-promotion. It can have tangible rewards outside of basic sales numbers. Occasionally there’s a dildo who just wants you to promote them, but in general I’m a great believer in it.
May 13, 2016 at 1:24 pm
Absolutely! The idea behind cross-promotion is the community and not allowing yourself to become a one trick pony, but rather a genre provider.
May 13, 2016 at 3:11 pm
I’m not particularly familiar with BookTrope, but regarding cross-promotion: terrific points made, and I’m glad that you put them out there. As writers, we all share the same passion, the same drive that few others can quite understand… and most importantly, we’re all in this together. Writers should view other writers as compatriots, not competitors.
May 16, 2016 at 3:14 pm
Couldn’t agree more, Nicholas. Thank you for always being willing to read my stuff and give me your thoughts. Looking forward to your next project.
May 17, 2016 at 11:33 pm