Or perhaps “wut?”
That’s pretty much been what I’ve said to a lot of things recently. Everything from my current WIPs to industry news, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering “what?”. Sometimes, it’s been with a degree of amazement and wonder, sometimes sheer befuddlement. All of it has been with a great deal of head shaking and wondering what in the hell is going on.
Barnes & Noble, that once noble (pardon the pun) bookseller, has decided on a new advertising campaign. As noted by Campaign, it is the first major ad campaign the company has launched in years. I thought about that for a moment and realized just how true it was. Think about it. How often do you see an ad for B&N? Rarely, if ever, unless it is around the holidays. Was it hubris preventing them from advertising or the feeling it wouldn’t do any good since they were basically the only “game” in town?
The work, entitled “Nobody Knows Books Like We Do,” is the brand’s reminder of the joy and discovery bookstores can bring us in a world dominated by digital.
I might not have shaken my head so much–or laughed so hard–if they still employed workers who not only knew the stock but who read and didn’t mind talking about books and making recommendations. I certainly wouldn’t have looked twice at the announcement if I knew I didn’t have to walk through so many non-book items when entering a B&N to get to the ever decreasing number of books.
“Our biggest challenge is that people are busy and don’t have the same amount of time they once had to read,” Tim Mantel, Barnes & Noble’s chief merchandising officer told Campaign US. “We’re competing with how busy people are in their own lives, as well as all the entertainment and information they can get right in the palm of their hand.”
Wait, what? If people are so busy, why are they focusing an ad campaign on their stores and not their online presence? If we don’t have as much time to read, we surely don’t have as much time to get into our cars and go browse a bookstore on the off-chance it might have a book we want to read. Am I the only one seeing a logic break here?
“Barnes & Noble has always been an incredible place of discovery, whether it’s for people shopping for themselves, or looking for a thoughtful gift for someone they care about. This campaign gives us the chance to remind our customers around the country of what a special place our stores are, and how amazing it is to come into a Barnes & Noble to find just the right book or gift during the holidays.”
Ah, there’s the rub. It isn’t that they are focusing on being a bookstore. They want you to come in and just buy something–and it is a holiday ad after all. Not a wider ranging ad campaign. I have a feeling it is yet another example of them trying to spit into the wind. All that’s going to happen is they’ll spend a lot of money for very little, if any, real return.
And yet, if you watch the ad, it is for books. At least that’s what it says. But B&N management doesn’t care what you do as long as you come in and buy something, anything.
Then there was the blog post by another author lamenting the fact that things aren’t as good for them as they once were. No, not family. Their income was down. They’d been losing readers to social media, gaming, etc. Writing was like–gasp–working. So they weren’t going to write books any longer, at least not for awhile. Instead, they were going to write what they wanted to: screenplays.
Okay, I’m not going to get into the eye rolling and snark I could. I don’t know this author and they might actually have the connections in the industry to be able to make good money writing screenplays. However, the whinging about lower earnings and writing being basically like a job now did cause me to shake my head. It is work. It is our job. Some projects we are going to enjoy doing better than others.
Much was made out of the fact that on a trip they hadn’t seen nearly as many people reading as they had on other trips. That is easy to think. After all, folks don’t carry around physical books and magazines like they used to. But they also don’t carry around e-readers like they used to either. Many of my friends now read on their phones or tablets. So, unless this writer went up and down the aisle on the train, bus or plane, looking at screens, how in the ever-living hell did they know what someone was doing on their device?
What bothered me as well was the apparent (and I say apparent because there isn’t mention of it) critical look at their own work. Maybe it hit me because I’ve been doing a great deal of that with my own work of late. Sometimes the decline in sales isn’t because there are too many books like yours out there or because you haven’t promoted it enough. Sometimes it is because your work isn’t of the quality it used to be.
As writers, we get into ruts if we aren’t careful. Just look at some of the traditionally published authors who put out double digits in the same series. Or who write in the same basic genre and have for years. How often have you picked up one of their books and realized it was the same book you read six months or six years ago with only a few changes–like names of characters and setting?
I took a hard look at one of my series this past week because I’d hit a wall with the newest installment. I realized, suddenly, I was very close to falling into that trap. My subconscious was making writing difficult because it saw the problem. It would have been nice if it had reported it to me before I was hitting my head against the wall, but what can I say? At least it finally dawned on me and now I know what I need to do.
Yes, it will be work.
Yes, I wish I didn’t have to do it.
Yes, it will take time because it means a major rewrite of what I’ve already done.
But–and this is a very big but–it is worth it because it will make for a better book.
Sometimes we have to look hard at what we are doing to determine if our own actions are behind a drop in sales. Yes, there might be other factors but, before you go there, you need to see if you are doing all you can to hang onto your readers. I know I’ve been slacking the last six weeks because of Mom’s surgery and rehab. I’m barely keeping up with blogging here. My blog has been basically dark. But that will be changing over the next few days.
Writing is work. It isn’t always easy and it doesn’t always turn out the way we want. But we have to be honest with ourselves. Are we doing all we can to get word out that we have a new book coming? Are we doing all we can to write new and engaging text or are we falling back on what’s comfortable? (Remember, what is comfortable for us can get boring for our readers, especially if they keep seeing it book after book).
Now, to get to work. Until next week.