Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lawrence Gooley: A New Service for Local Authors

Books Image JWThe company that my wife (Jill Jones) and I operate, Bloated Toe Enterprises, recently launched an extensive, time-consuming effort towards improving the lot of authors across the region. Note that there was no mention of “we.” Jill saw the need, had the know-how, planned the design, and wrote the programming code for our new venture, the North Country Authors website. There is no cost to anyone. Authors who supply basic information will be featured there, including photographs, biographies, books, news, and book-related events. The site will be kept up-to-date at all times.

The group North Country Authors was actually formed several years ago. Although we had a vision of where it should go, time was lacking. But after attending regional book events during the past decade, Jill recognized the need for organization. With that in mind, she went to work. The current configuration of NCA is easy to navigate and provides loads of information.

One of my roles was reaching out to authors, letting them know about the new NCA. Those with no website keeping the public informed will now have a distinct online presence (if they provide us with information). For those already on the web, this new site will help further elevate their profile.

It was during the “reach-out” phase that I ran into a familiar problem: instead of being simple to contact, many authors simply can’t be found. If you’re a writer or aspiring author, that’s one giant step towards failure. You should be easily accessible through an email address.

Here’s one reason. Let’s say the next “reach-out” comes from a library, a historical society, or some other group looking to host a lecture or book signing. The author might be paid for appearing, or might earn income through sales at the event. In that scenario, there are some guarantees: if you can’t be found, you’ll miss out on income and free publicity—and people will probably soon stop looking for you.

Don’t let anonymity sound your death knell in the world of writing. Try any web browser and search your name. Can someone do that, and after a few clicks, reach you by email? If you can’t be easily contacted, it’s something you might want to remedy.

And if you’re considering a pen name, you might have your own reason, but remember, if it’s to maintain privacy, then rest easy. It’s not necessary—you will not be hounded by paparazzi just because you wrote a book. Remember that very often, in selling your book, you’re selling yourself. It’s personal, and name recognition is important. You’ll most likely need all the attention you can get.

While we’re on the subject of books, Amazon was in the news again this past week. As I’ve noted before, authors selling their own books might find ways of using Amazon to their advantage, but be careful of getting stomped. The company’s only interests are dominating the market and making money.

Why are they making headlines? In an ongoing battle against the world’s other major publishers, Amazon recently used a tactic they employed against little ol’ me several years ago. As a self-publisher handling my own distribution, I made my books available from only one source on earth: me. (It was a marketing ploy that worked, but no time to explain here.)

Despite that fact, my books suddenly began appearing on Amazon. Back then, authors dreamed of such luck, but I wasn’t one of them. I complained to Amazon and received a call from one of their lawyers. We argued back and forth for some time, and in the end, they agreed to remove my books from their website.

However, they also told me they could list anything for sale, even if they didn’t have it and couldn’t deliver it. Why would they do that? Because they fully understood that the average online shopper almost automatically goes to Amazon to buy any book, lured there by the belief that if Amazon doesn’t have it, it isn’t available anywhere.

In my case, that wasn’t true, so it was hurtful to my business. And I soon discovered their promise was only temporary. When authors like me didn’t cooperate, the next step was to administer punishment: relisting some of my books, and applying one of several killer notations—Out of Print; Not Currently Available; or Ships within 4–6 Weeks. When you see those entries, you’re likely to either buy something else or give up looking. Many shoppers opt for other purchases: you lose, Amazon wins.

To combat Hachette Books, one of the publishing giants, Amazon has recently employed the same tactic. Instead of the victim being little ol’ me, it’s the likes of J. K. Rowling, J. D. Salinger, and others. Are you familiar with those “Pre-Order” buttons on Amazon’s book listings? Thousands of copies can be pre-ordered before a book is actually available.

Well, for Rowling’s book, soon to be released by Hachette, the “Pre-Order” button has been removed. But there’s more. Assuming you’re familiar with Amazon’s ability to deliver almost anything quickly: for Salinger’s and a host of other books already in print, shipping is being delayed by 3 to 5 weeks. (Apparently those same-day drone deliveries of the future will be for Amazon products only).

And for many books that are currently available from other sources, the company has done what it did with my books: marked them as Not Available. Remember, most online shoppers go straight to Amazon, so Not Available carries a lot of weight in their purchasing decisions.

The tactic is punishment for their publishing rivals (the scrap relates mainly to the cut each gets from the sale of e-books), but it’s also very harmful and scary to authors. Sure, the elites like Rowling and Salinger will be fine anyway, but others won’t, and Amazon couldn’t care less. Those who fall by the wayside are just collateral damage in the battle for domination of the publishing world.

And the customers? Apparently not even a consideration at this point. Amazon’s attitude: screw ’em … they’ll be coming back anyway. And that’s no gamble. The data collected from online customers doesn’t just help them predict consumer behavior. They also steer your purchasing decisions in a big way. Whether you’re happy or not is irrelevant: they know you’ll return for the next bargain.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.


7 Responses

  1. Ellen Apperson Brown says:

    I wonder if North Country Authors could include someone like me – an historian writing about the history of New York’s preservation movement….since I live in Virginia. I guess I’m not really a local author…

    • Larry says:

      Currently we’re looking at authors, which means a person has to have at least one book published in some form. We may expand to writers in general sometime in the future.
      To contact us, just click on the link in the 1st paragraph and click the contact link at the bottom of that page.

  2. Bill Ingersoll says:

    The fact that you might not be able to “google” an author doesn’t mean they can’t be reached or found. They are traditionally contacted through their publisher, using the contact information provided on the title and/or copyright pages. This should even be true of self-publishers. At least, it is in my case.

    • Larry says:

      Yes, but “traditionally” doesn’t mean easily, and that can make all the difference. That method also means you have to have a copy of the author’s book in hand. Many attempts at contact come from reading about an author in a newspaper or hearing about them.
      My contact information is in all of my books just like yours is, but the address provided is rarely used for that purpose. The Internet is how it’s done. Most people do an online search, and they use the results to contact me.
      The digital age is here, and it mystifies me why people who need a public persona remain so hard to find.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      I suggest putting the publisher’s website and email address in the book along with the physical address. I’m not talking envelopes and stamps to request information.

      If you don’t have the book, then search on the publisher’s name. If you read about the person in a newspaper, then contact the newspaper.

      You’re right, being an Adirondack author doesn’t make you a target of the paparazzi. However, I have been physically tracked down by a “fan” before, and it was extremely annoying. He was quite persistent in doing so, too. He read a newspaper account about me that said I hiked somewhere near where he owned a camp. The article mentioned the name of my employer at the time.

      About a year after the article ran in the paper, he wore a shirt with the newspaper’s logo to look like he was a reporter, and visited one of my company’s locations to obtain information about where I worked. Someone gave him that information. Then he drove to that building and convinced someone to buzz him in, because he needed to see me. There was no receptionist, because my building was not open to the public. The person who opened the door and let him in thought he was a reporter.

      I got a call at my desk from that employee. I was suspicious that it was really a reporter, because such a person would call or email rather than just drop in unannounced–and then got stuck in a 20-minute conversation with this person about his camp, why he likes the area, etc. etc. He was a retiree who just happened to have a polo shirt with the paper’s logo on it. He never worked a day there in his life.

      So in other words he gained privileged information about my work location and entered a secure area under false pretenses. NOT COOL. What he did is known as “hacking.”

      This was just one unfortunate incident in 13 years of being a published writer, and in this day and age there are very good reasons why she all be cautious about disclosing personal information–above and beyond the possibility of some little village library wanting to set up a book signing. The people who have a legitimate reason for contacting me seem to already know how to do it. For the people who just want to chitchat, there is a time and place for it.

      • Larry says:

        We’ll agree to disagree. I stand by my advice. It’s 2014, there’s Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. in the new world of communications. An email address is very useful. It’s also anonymous and simple if you have a website and use a contact form.
        Your problem is not the problem of most regional authors. We’re not all Hemingways, worried that fans will storm our homes. We need to be noticed. Hiding because of one nut is a personal choice, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The interaction with fans is one of the good parts about self-publishing and selling one’s own work.

      • Bill Ingersoll says:

        I wouldn’t exactly call what I do “hiding.” After all, here I am in plain sight, interacting. 😉

        My point is that if you were having difficulty tracking down certain people, the fault could have lied with your search methods, not with the individuals’ choices to not disclose their personal contact information. If you can’t find the person directly, contact their publisher. That’s not the type of research that requires a PhD. In my experience, the people who have needed to contact me on legitimate business have always managed to track me down without much trouble.

        That said, the idea of creating a database of regional authors is a useful one. Good job. I would add that it is possible (and often quite easy) to create multiple email addresses for a single account. Those older writers who don’t have websites (or an interest in Facebook) could simply set up an alias for contact purposes.

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