Chain Mail is a telephone tag by email round-robin interview session with authors from the Book View Cafe writers collective. Images are links, connecting to biographical information about an author or more information on their current work. Additional information can be found on the contributors page.
Amazing Stories: BVC is about authors getting together to mine their backlists, share some of the workload and mutually promote each other. Is this a representative model for how an established author will be able to survive in the e-publishing age? What one thing would you like to see added to the mix that you believe would help increase the effectiveness of your efforts?
BVC is but one of many possible models for how established authors can survive in the era of e-publishing, and the important thing to keep in mind is that for the most part, these models are not mutually exclusive. In fact, from the perspective of an author, they might better be labeled strategies, or modes of operation.
However, BVC has two strengths that set it apart from most other strategies: its cooperative structure and its consensus-based decision-making process. Say what you will about “traditional” publishing; at its best it offers an extensive support system for authors that’s hard to replace. It’s a rare author that has all the skills needed for a successful writing career, but as BVC grows, so too the support it can offer members increases.
The other half of the equation is consensus, which lets BVC explore the new publishing landscape without getting locked into old ways of doing things. It leaves us free to experiment, learn from mistakes, and profit from new perspectives. It’s hard work—artificial hierarchy and power relationships are a lot easier—but it’s far more adaptive. And interesting!
That brings me the long way round to the second part of the question. What one thing would I like added to the mix to increase our effectiveness? I’ve no idea, but I fully expect I’ll know it when I see it—after much discussion and modification. For me, that’s the best part of this experiment in cooperative, consensus-driven publishing, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
I think networking has always been important for authors. I see BVC as more a small, formal network than a representative model for established authors.
There are other entities publishing backlists. We do more co-promotion and sharing of the work than other backlist publishers, but I’m not sure that means we have the right formula. We try to keep our finger on the pulse and all that, but most of the time we’re trudging through, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff of the Brave New Internet World.
There’s a lot of interaction between us and we’re all terribly creative. That means we’re always looking at bandwagons and trying to figure out if we should jump on or follow behind to pick up the offal. I hate to even mention anything I might like added to the mix because one of us here will pick up on it and next thing you know we’ll have a new committee or something. It’s exhilarating and exhausting.
We’re in the midst of so many changes now, I’m almost afraid to think of any more. We’re currently working on a new store, which is an essential part of the mix, and the publicity committee is hard at work developing new strategies.
Farther along, I’d like to see us get a stronger connection with reviewers, maybe via Netgalley or something similar. Just getting the word out is, to my mind, the biggest challenge.
As we get bigger, we get more businessy. We’re now publishing two books a week more often than we publish one. That pace accelerated on us rather suddenly, and threatens to get faster. We’re making more money. With that comes business responsibility. The hardest thing for a business to do is to survive growth. Our process is no longer jogging along with our work. It’s beginning to lope.
BVC came about because a group of us were despairing of the work load (above and beyond meeting deadlines) that was expected of writers by major publishers.
We are expected to do our own PR, come up with marketing plans, and promotions. We were wondering what publishers actually offered besides the physical book. The publishers’ model seemed to require every author to be writer, editor, PR department, marketing maven, song and dance man and event coordinator all rolled into one.
The BVC model works on the theory that while few writers really can be the whole package, if we banded together, we could cover all the bases. We were pretty much right. And as the membership grows, we are beginning to have depth at the various positions—heh, it’s like a baseball team, I guess. I think it’s a very good model because it allows the writers to own the entire process, to do things collectively and collaboratively, to have the editorial opinions of peers who have their best interests at heart, to have a support network they can call on for help and ultimately to have an outlet for the publication of their books.
I think the piece we want to grow most, now is public and market outreach so that when BVC releases a title, readers flock to buy it. I think we’d all love to see our backlists continuing to be read and, of course, earning us money so we don’t have to do anything but write.
It’s worth mentioning that BVC doesn’t just publish backlist. We publish original work too. Some of these books are additions to previously published series, and some are totally new creations. We also have shared world anthologies.
The strength of BVC is that it’s flexible and evolving — something essential in the current marketplace. If someone has an idea, we have thirty plus creative brains who can make it work — or set up an experiment and prove that it doesn’t. One of the things that life soon teaches you is that, however well you plan, something unexpected always come along. Which is why flexibility is key.
If someone had told me three months ago that getting BVC books into libraries could become a big deal, I wouldn’t have been convinced. But then the major publishers started pulling their e-books from libraries, or raising their prices, or restricting the number of times an e-book could be borrowed. And an opportunity arose for us to step in and work directly with libraries.
In that line, I was reflecting only this morning, about how an individual author, having published some ebooks, might be able to sell them to a library system. The answer: with great difficulty. Municipalities do not want to cut deals with individual authors. They want e books in big old wads, many at once. They want to write one check, to Simon and Schuster or Random House, and not fifty checks to Author A, Author B, and so forth. Having lots of authors makes it possible for BVC to do this as well. If we had rolled up, one by one, to give it a try, nobody would succeed.
The other fun thing with a co-op model is being able to step out of your zone, and sail off into new adventures. I would certainly never have set up my own blog. But splitting the blogging duties among a group makes it much easier. And a BVCer with the gift for that sort of thing could become quite a master at the massaging of software and managing of e-stores. Not me, babe — if I get the time my ambition is to master graphics programs.
Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, we are going to have to address the print option and some way of making our catalog available in bookstores and dealer’s rooms. As it is, our sales potential is limited by how to get readers into the bookstore — or how to let them know about individual books. As we’ve discussed recently, the blog portion of the website gets a lot of traffic, but very few of those visitors wander over to the bookstore. Most of our promotion is on social media sites, which are inundated by announcements and “buy my book!” from self-published authors. Unless a BVC author has an established readership or the promotion is done as a discussion, interview, or other “value-added” method, there’s little to distinguish our releases from the gazillion others.
Once potential readers take a closer look, read a sample chapter, etc., I think most of them are smart enough to see that the quality of BVC publications (both content and formatting) sets us apart from those gazillion self-published books. I suspect — although I do not have any data to back this up — that one sale predisposes a reader to more. The challenge is getting the reader to, in essence, pick up and look at that first book. This is where a partnership with bookstores comes in. Even if the reader does not purchase that particular book, the connection BVC = professional quality gets made.
I like the suggestions above — it illustrates the importance of choosing great, creative people to work with! We are on the same wavelength — get quality work into the hands of our readers, in every form we can figure out.
One thing I think I can add to the mix is that I’d like us to come up with a simple way to let people know that new works have entered our ebookstore. Perhaps we can create a form that each product manager can use to enter the pertinent data and images. So each Tuesday when new books launch, anyone on our mailing list would receive a tiny digest of “New Works this Week @BVC.” You’d have to opt-in, but we could show a sample to people of what they’d receive. This would be sort of an RSS for people who don’t want to use RSS. And have a link to recent announcements on-line, so people can quickly see what is new for the month, etc.
You note I’m not mentioning an obvious way to do this — a newsletter. That won’t work unless we can create a form, and then assemble the forms easily into a newsletter. Part of my scheming is to automate everything we can, so we can get back to writing!
I think Kathi just made my job as keeper of the catalog a bit more complex. It’s a great idea. We have half the mechanism in place. Now we need one more step (or six) but I’m sure someone will think up a way to do this. That’s the beauty of the co-op; every email or forum discussion triggers something newer and better. We evolve.
I was in on the very first discussions of how to increase our web presence. We did that and kept on growing as our readers evolved and wanted something a little different. We have the collective skills to keep up with those demands as long as we listen. And we do listen. With forty members we have forty different circles of contacts and exposure. A lot of those circles overlap but not all. I don’t have the same readership as Pat Rice but I share many with Deborah J. Ross. We are reaching orders of magnitude more readers than one or even two working alone.
Because we are all working together and learning from each other, I see our membership as much stronger than at the beginning. I see members stretching their skills and adding new ones every day. That is the most satisfying part of the entire experience.
What do I want to see happen? As mentioned before I feel like we’re ready to explore print options soon after we launch the new book store. Other than that, I’m not looking for any one improvement. Working with the constant evolution is marvelous enough. I’m starting to see name recognition of the Book View Café at SF conventions. I’m looking forward to that
Book View Café is one possibility among a number of possibilities. I like the camaraderie and the pooling of skills and the community. I hope that as time goes on that our operation and other small independents will get more attention, as people learn that they can read independently-published books on their dedicated ereaders, rather than being locked into the larger distributors.
What They All Said.
Building our readership has always been one of our main goals, and probably always will be. Finding a way to be heard above the roar of the crowd. Experimenting with different strategies.
Interesting that so many members have mentioned the print option—I was vocal in support of it when I first came on board in early 2009, but everyone agreed it wasn’t time. Is it time now? I see we’ll be working on that again soon—and maybe this round, someone will say, “I have an idea! I’ll see what I can do to make it a reality!” And someone else will say, “I don’t have the skills to do what you’re doing, but here are some other things that might help.” And then a third person will add, “OK, while you two work on this, I’ll see what else we can do to push this thing toward completion.” And that it will happen, because that’s how we do things around here.
I think we’ll see more groups of authors working together in the future. There are already a number of author collectives out there and more popping up all the time. Just this week a new one came out – romance authors working together to brand their work as quality ficiton. BVC is a true cooperative, with a model that’s unlike any of the others I’ve seen. We’ve been around for over two years now and we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. There’s more to learn, of course.
Print is definitely in our future. So are some formalizations of our structure – inevitable as we grow. But we’ll always be a cooperative, a group of authors helping each other. That’s our foundation and our strength. I think outreach is one of the places where we need to grow, and I expect our new bookstore to make that a lot easier.
Next, the BVC authors tackle Google and asks Is There An Alternative?