Since our recent post about the decision by Waterstone’s to bring Kindles into their stores, allonymbooks has shed the writing pyjamas and dressed like a professional to hit the branches and find out what staff in-store have been told about the plans for promoting the Kindle and its content. Responses varied widely. In one large central London store the day before the launch, a staff member told me that managers were just that afternoon meeting to discuss fundamentals about the launch and store logistics for the product. He looked surprised and a bit baffled when asked what Waterstones might do to adapt their book review cards for direct-published Kindle books, and clearly the idea hadn’t occurred to him at all before it was mentioned. He nodded a lot, thought about it, took some allonymbooks promotional material and agreed to ask his managers about it.
Ten days later allonymbooks went to a much smaller London branch and tried again. The woman behind the counter was honest and direct. She explained that the chain is still fathoming out how it is going to put the Kindle dimension into practice via its website, and she thought that was going to be a huge job to accomplish before they could even begin to consider new ways to look at readership, or reading content. She was also friendly and interested and, having an e-reader herself, was curious about the writer’s experiences of e-publishing. But the net result was the same. Waterstone’s are not ready to capitalise on the situation they have created.
allonymbooks has also been covertly swooping through the forum-verse over the last few weeks, investigating how other ‘literary’ writers are reaching their audiences. A discussion on Amazon’s own KDP forums initiated by literaryladynyc entitled ‘Can self-published literary fiction ever be successful?’ gave promise of a fruitful discussion. But when our audiobook voiceover artist Kate Daubney posted suggesting literary novelists might join together to advance the cause of quality fiction on Kindle collectively, her suggestion was met with silence. The discussion meandered on regardless with concerns about how to measure quality, definitions of what constituted literary, whether there was an elitist aspect to literary fiction or its readership, and so on. But the contributing authors to this discussion were still essentially thinking like individuals. Similiarly, on authonomy this thread seeking out good writing quickly shifted towards a polarised debate about why literary fiction is pompous, alienating to the reader, and overwritten.
On another site, a literary author was triumphantly extolling the virtues of having priced his literary novel as free, with the consequent thousands of downloads and a number one chart placing. Others in the discussion sounded a note of warning: was it likely that of the thousands of downloads, very many of the downloaders would ever actually go on to read the novel? The author didn’t seem too bothered, thinking that the collateral effect of a high chart placing would attract other readers to buy the book, and believing that people would read the book anyway, particularly because it was free. Likewise, on Kindle Users Forum, a current thread is also concerned with this very issue, how to make best use of the wide range of websites available to promote free books.
But this is not solving the problem of how to promote quality fiction that is published direct to Kindle. There are many, many ways to promote books because of their price (or lack of it), and ways to promote books because of their genre, but apparently very few ways to promote books because of their quality. If the perception is that much of the self-published writing out there is not of high quality, then how does the good stuff rise to the surface? In all the infinite variety of the internet, surely there ought to be a way to bring together writing of real quality published in this way. Or does that mean abandoning the individuality and independence that self-published writers prize, and which was only last week discussed on this blog?
All of which raises this question. Is this the ultimate paradox of independent publishing: that once you make your own decision about whether your books are good enough to be published, then ultimately you will always be alone on the road to convincing others to buy them?