My novel Gene Genie, published by an independent press in 2005 is about to rise, not so much from the ashes more from the literary doldrums. In 2005 it was practically impossible to create a literary firestorm without a legacy publisher no matter how good the material; for a small independent press it was, and is, doubly hard. I have decided to embrace the digital age not just by using a Kindle, but by adding to the thousands of authors who are clamouring for attention in a global marketplace.
Whether one is with a legacy publisher – traditional books printed on paper and sold in bookshops and online – the same issues arise, how to bring your book to market? Unless you are supported by an established publisher with a healthy marketing budget, it remains remarkably difficult to get your novel onto bookshelves, cyber or otherwise, and then on into the hands of a reader.
Taking a long hard look at Gene Genie’s previous book jacket I soon realised that when viewed on a Kindle, in greyscale and the size of postage stamp, its impact would be nil and you wouldn’t be able to read the title or my name. My highly creative friend, Victoria, who I met on my MA, has the talent and the technology to quickly resolve this issue. The cover has been redesigned.
Then there is the formatting, the person who I earmarked to handle this technologically challenging task had packed up and I had to search for another company. I chose one that advertised in the back of The Author www.ebookpartnership.com magazine and so far they seem to be responsive to queries and very helpful.
I never really gave a great deal of thought to the bits and pieces that go on inside the cover of a novel until I had to assemble them for formatting. In the past my publisher and the printer dealt with the internal bits and bobs. There are numerous snippets of written ephemera that have to be allocated space: my biography – short and sweet; acknowledgements; the title page, the eISBN; the copyright assertion; the dedication page and a quote attributed to Tom Parks. The thing is, when you are planning to launch yourself into the e-reader world you quickly become aware that your potential purchaser can download ten per cent of your novel as a sample that they read before they hit the BUY button. In Gene Genie this would be twenty-seven pages, but for the fact that the first five or six will be filled with the aforementioned matter. I am relieved to say that twenty one/two pages in my potential purchaser will have some notion of the plot and a reasonable introduction to the major characters, and I sincerely hope that he or she will want to read on.
As an author must I keep this ten per cent rule in mind? Will a novel with a slow burn be a thing of the past? We are all aware that attention spans have shortened, particularly in our attention-deficit youth; what with their x-boxes and nanosecond ability to wipe out an entire cyber universes at the twitch of a joystick. According to scientists their brains are now being hardwired in a completely different manner to the generations that went before them – giving a whole new meaning to the expression ‘generation gap.’
Clearly more traditional terrestrial media, film and television move at a much enhanced pace too. If you don’t believe me just compare the rapidity of Downton’s plotting to Brideshead Revisited (the stay-home, unplug the phone, period drama of several decades ago, and yes, I am comparing a costume soap to a literary great, but that’s not my point). I can assure you that most Downton watchers would baulk at the measured pace of Brideshead.
Which brings me to flash fiction; you know the stuff, three hundred words to punch out a short story in. I blithely thought that this miniature fiction was the sport of writers with tattoos and an overuse of edgy expletives who had trouble concentrating when at school, or competition judges who weren’t well disposed to reading reams of dross, but I am beginning to wonder whether it is in fact the future. Bite-sized novels for those with what will, by then, be the typical nanosecond attention span; the novella could become very short indeed.
Meanwhile I am learning in a sea of e-books how to make mine rise to, if not the top, somewhere nearer to it. According to the author, Michael Alvear, ‘Make a Killing on Kindle’ eISBN: 978-0-9849161-4-6. Well worth buying. Firstly, I need a ‘clickable book title’ and I think Gene Genie is clickable and Victoria has designed a ‘must-click cover’ so now I have to discover the keyword phrases and Amazon’s ‘leading indicators’ and use them to attract buyers. I must also pick the right categories for my book; I may select just two. I can then learn how to increase my sales through ‘category leapfrogging’ and put a ‘billboard’ my competitor’s pages. I have to write a ‘magnetic book description’ which goes at the front, not on the back cover, as you would with a legacy book, and ‘I must optimise the ten per cent sampling’ feature. Not forgetting my ‘pricing strategy’, apparently cheap does not guarantee mega sales. I have already written and posted my author page at Author Central, ‘so that I can forge a strong personal connection with my reader.’ And when all that is done I must work out the relationship between my ‘sales ranking and units sold’ in order to forecast my sales and track my competitors. At the same time as learning about ‘Adwords and search engine optimisation’ and just how to move up Amazon’s rankings…and you thought being an author simply meant making up stories and tapping away on a keyboard when the inspiration moves you, oh no, there is another world out there in cyber sales and you, dear writer, ignore it at your peril.
When I have completed these myriad tasks it will all come down to the same thing. Is Gene Genie a page-turner and do people want to read it? I am encouraged by a recent review on Amazon by Ms C A Foxhall:
‘As topical now as when it was written.’
‘Crisply written, moves at a good pace and a good read. Mullin deals with a number of ethical issues - sperm donation, the power of the press/sleaze - from the perspectives of its main characters in a sensitive and humanistic way. I look forward to reading more by this writer.’
As for ‘more by this writer.’ When you read Gene Genie on your e-reader you can click on ‘rate this book’ and you will also find extracts from my forthcoming novel Casting Shadows. And two novels languishing in a drawer that got a long way with an agent and publisher may also get a cyber-airing. In the end what makes a novelist successful are readers; cyber or legacy, if you want to climb the rankings it comes down to the same thing, readers enjoying a good book and then telling their friends to read it.
My creative writing students’ felt that I should have a cyber-book launch. So on the appointed day I will ask you to raise a glass of cyber champagne in a toast to Gene Genie. You will, of course, be expected to make cyber small-talk, make cyber connections and cyber passes… that’s cyber, not Khyber! Later you will nurse a cyber-hangover and worry that lurid details of your cyber faux pas will be posted on YouTube. So keep an eye out for your cyber-invite to the book launch of the year, and remember to behave yourself – it’s a viral, global world out there!