Monday, January 25, 2016

The Reluctant Hustler

Sacchi Green


“Hustler” generally has a pejorative connotation, with the sense of swindling someone, or at least tricking them for profit. A pool hustler may or may not be cheating—is it even possible to cheat at pool? (Obviously I’ve never played it.) In any case he’s likely to conceal just how expert he is until his “mark” has agreed to big stakes. But the hustler has to work for his money, and the most positive definition of the term is something like “an enterprising person determined to succeed; go-getter.” This would apply as readily to a pool player as to a business executive or politician clawing his way to the top, and we may even have a spark of admiration for those who make it.

Then there are those who try, but don’t make it. And those who pretend to try.  That last is my category.  As with all writers, our “hustle” isn’t an attempt to swindle anybody, but just to get them to for god’s sake buy our freaking books! We, of course, think our books are supremely worth reading, and even paying for, so we’re not trying to deceive anyone, or not exactly. We’re just trying to convince them. Or at least get them to notice the existence of our books!

The rise of “social media” has held out hope for ways to do this, which of course leads to publishers urging authors to get out there and hustle, to have web sites, write blogs, get reviews, make “book trailer” videos, flog the titles and covers of their books on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc., etc. If you’re not doing those things, you’re not doing your part to sell your books, and if your books don’t sell, you don’t continue to get published. It’s not personal, it’s business, and, in fact, I understand, and don’t hold it against them. But I also understand, at this point, that the best I can do is make the motions of hustling.

I’m on Facebook, and enjoy it, but well over half of my “friends” are other writers rather than book-purchasing readers. I have a blog, and when I began it I posted essays about writing and various other themes that I found interesting, besides news about my books. I never figured out how to attract readers to it, or even tried much to figure that out, but I’d get comments from time to time, especially when I posted free stories. Eventually comments became rare, even when my stats indicated a modest number of readers, and I fell into mostly just posting about my new books coming out, with occasionally a review or reference to someone else’s book. At this point I get more “hits” than I used to, sometimes inexplicably, as when, fairly often, my stats cite a one-day flood of hits from Russia, but there’s no indication that many people are actually reading my posts (although the free stories do pretty well.) The most hits for specific pages are for my Calls for Submission for new anthologies, and I’m still getting an amazing number looking for my CFS for Best Lesbian Erotica 16—renamed, this year, Best Lesbian Erotica 20th Anniversary Edition—routed through my publisher’s web site. The deadline for submissions is long, long past, of course—in fact I just got my box of the new books from the publisher, and the official release date is February 9th—so I guess the folks come to my blog to see if I’m taking submissions for the next one. I have no idea whether I’ll be editing the next one, and I expect the publisher (new to me because the business was sold last year) won’t decide on that until they see how this one sells.

The new publisher, or rather the new owner of the old publisher, has its own new publicity people, with their not exactly new ideas, so I make an attempt to cooperate. I’m already out ahead of them in some areas, like doing readings; I’ve done those for years because I enjoy them, and so do my writers, but I only do them in places I can get to fairly easily, and where at least three or four of my writers are close enough to join me.  Fortunately those places include New York and New England; unfortunately they don’t include the west coast. I’m already in the habit of doing book give-aways on Goodreads and on a site or two where potential readers gather, although it’s getting harder and harder to get any takers when I offer free books on Facebook for potential reviews. I did a blog tour for my last book, with my writers participating, and I’m organizing one for this new book, too, more to give the writers some attention than to promote sales. Do any of these activities actually sell books? Probably not, with the possible exception of readings in New York, and even then I think the people who buy them would have bought them anyway. But at least I can tell the eager staff at my publisher that I’m doing things.

And there are things that I don’t, as yet, do. I got an e-mail from an enthusiastic young intern at my publisher’s office who had the great “new” idea of short book videos, so I said I’d try, but it hasn’t worked out yet. I don’t have the tech chops, but I thought I might do a voice-over montage of all the BLE covers since the first one in 1996, so I asked her to get me good files of the covers to use—and haven’t heard back. I did check out the link she gave me to the ones already done by my fellow editors, and I’ve done it again recently. In two months Rachel Kramer Bussel’s video has had 48 viewers. In one month, Sinclair Sexsmith’s video has had 6 viewers. Somehow I don’t think the absence of one by me is a big loss to anyone, but I may still try.

So here I am, a reluctant hustler. You might say that I’m hustling my publisher by appearing to do things but not in a big enough way. I don’t know. When it comes to the positive kind of hustling, the go-getter kind, what I’m good at is getting good writers together, and sometimes helping potentially good writers be really good ones. As far as selling the books goes, all I can really do is make sure they’re worth reading. If there’s any way to hustle or swindle anyone into buying books, I don’t know what it is, which is just as well; this way I don’t have to decide whether to take the high road or the low. But if anyone does happen to know a trick that works…        

7 comments:

  1. Since you already know what I would say here—and it sounds like you're already thinking along the same lines—this time I won't even say it, for the most part. But I will add my concurrence to one very specific point you touched on (which I actually don't think I've put my two cents in about here before!): At a certain point, after blog comments faded into nothing and my overall impression (from a complete lack of feedback or "buzz" of any kind) was that hardly anyone was reading my blog anymore, I became convinced that those impressive stats meant next to nothing. Whether it's indexing robots, spambots, people passively "seeing" blog posts in their feeds (but not reading them), or what exactly, I couldn't say. I know the tech people supposedly wrangle stats to minimize hits that "don't count"; on the other hand, I know that there's an entire industry built around convincing people, via impressive-looking stats, that various kinds of Web presences and online marketing are effective, and so it's presumably in the interests of most people anywhere in that industry to believe the stats and encourage the rest of us to trust them. But I do not believe them, because the evidence just doesn't add up.

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    1. The best indication I have of readers of my blog is that when I post on Facebook that I've put up another free story or some potentially interesting bit of writing/publishing neep, I get almost immediate hits on that particular post! As many as two or three sometimes! And a comment or two about it on my Facebook page. Oh well.

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  2. I think I'm fairly visible as editor on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, but besides that and this blog, I'm not involved with social media. I never got anywhere doing things like everybody else. Seems like putting a message in a corked bottle and throwing it into the ocean.

    I do readings of my stuff (and attend others) in the San Francisco area. Last week I went to one of Rachel Kramer Bussell's. I kinda like readings better than social media, though they don't seem to produce many buyers. I guess I'm from a time where a bit of knowledge, a business card and winning smile got you somewhere.

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  3. Sigh. I also wonder how to find readers (on-line or in person) and seduce them into buying a book -- OR how to find readers that are already looking for the exact type of book I would like to sell them. I don't think anyone has a magic recipe for this.

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  4. I share your frustration, Sacchi. But I love blogging (though it's hard to find the time). I do connect with readers there. And since I joined Twitter and Triberr, my average number of hits for a blog post has tripled.

    Does that mean I'm selling more books? I can't tell yet, since there's a significant lag between sales and payment, and I've only been doing this for three months.

    I do wonder about this: "if your books don’t sell, you don’t continue to get published" I'm not sure this is true anymore. In fact, there are so many publishers out there these days that there's quite a bit of competition for good authors.

    Anyway, each of us does what we can (and what we can stomach!) Keep it up.

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    1. In fact, there are so many publishers out there these days that there's quite a bit of competition for good authors.

      Yeah—and a lot of those publishers can't tell the difference between good and bad writing, or don't care. And because they tend to invest a minimum of resources into their e-book/POD product, it's little or no skin off their nose if your books don't sell. Their strategy, it seems, is to publish as much as possible as fast as possible and figure they, the publisher, will make out all right overall.

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    2. It's true that I've had "feelers" from other publishers since my main publisher was sold and is under new management (management even more focused on the bottom line than the original one, which is saying a lot,) and at least one of those enquiring publishers is one I might consider, but I've been spoiled by having my books distributed to actual stores, and very few small presses can do that. However, with so few actual stores remaining, and Barnes &Noble closing outlets left and right, there may be no longer any point to thinking about brick-and-mortar distribution. We'll see. I'm sticking with the current one at least until all the books I'd already contracted for, and turned in, are in print, partly for the sake of the contributors
      . "Sticking with," however, doesn't mean that I'm not doing an anthology or two for other smaller outfits run by friends. And I'm quite sure that if the sales of my books don't live up to the expectations of the main publisher, I won't get any more contracts. I'm not even sure I care.

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