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.


Featured image via Pixabay.

34 thoughts on “What?

  1. The gent shifting focus also said that he wanted to be a social media “influencer” as well as writing. And making money. I got the feeling that he missed the part about being a professional [whatever] is that it is your job. You sometimes have to dig in and labor even when you’d rather not. I wish him well, but I think he’s got his sequencing a little bit out of kilter.

    1. he wanted to be a social media “influencer”

      Yea right. What do ya bet he thinks that he’ll be able to just write his opinions (sans research or evidence) and people will just throw money at him?

    2. TXRED, yep. This is why I keep telling people that if you want to call yourself a “writer”, you need to remember that writing is your business. Yes, it includes the icky bookkeeping part, etc., but it means you write, even when it is difficult at times. It also means you stop from time to time and analyze what you’ve been writing, how it is selling and what is selling in your genre, etc.

  2. A big part of why it took me so long to embrace e-books was my love for books and book stores. The smell, the tactile feel of a book. Walking down the isles looking for a new author. OH! look at that one! (reads the cover blurb).. no, not quite what I was looking for. There’s an interesting binding! (looks at picture on cover)… Hmm… not quite “the one”. NEAT! This one has a squirrel with a sword on the cover! YAY! And a few hours later I’m curled up in my big overstuffed chair living the adventures of Sir Nutty, the Squirrel Knight. Note… probably not a real book… maybe… (runs to do a search)

    Then I got my e-reader, and as much as I’m ashamed to admit it, I now find paper-and-ink books inconvenient, and somewhat annoying. Doesn’t mean I don’t like curling up with a “real” book on a rainy day. It’s just too inconvenient to take them with me when I go places anymore. I used to love sitting in the corner of a coffee/book shop, reading. It was an experience.

    Then there’s the problem with finding what I want in a book store. Margaret Ball, in a previous post here on MGC, just announced book 5 of a series that looked NEAT, but I’d never read any of the series. If I was stuck with ONLY book stores, what are the chances I would be able to go get book 1? That it would reliably be there on the shelf waiting for me? Probably not very good. Either the book store wouldn’t carry it anymore, or they would only have one or two copies and other book-nerds would have snatched them up and I would be at the mercy of “we can order that for you” (complete with that smarmy oh-so-special “you weirdo, now I’ll have to actually DO some work!” smile) NO DARNIT! I WANNA READ IT NNNOOOWWWWW!!!! No really, it looks crazy interesting… I’m starting to feel like e-books are turning me into a spoiled reader brat. Naaa… can’t be….

    1. The Problem of Book One is very very real. If a person wants physical books it’s usually easy enough to order them from Amazon. Even there, though, I’ve found books out of print. I’m old enough that I should not find the concept of Out of Print confusing and yet I do. How is that possible? I wanted to buy a couple of “lending” copies of Alien Taste and (at that time, no notion about now) they were simply not available.

      Books Stores, OTOH, are pretty much hopeless. They don’t keep stuff in stock ON PURPOSE. So it’s never surprising that they don’t have a book.

      1. In this day and age, with the printing tech we have available, there’s no excuse for books being out of print. Really, they could be eBook and just-in-time published for $15 instead of the usual $10 for a paperback. They don’t incur a tax expense for a database, do they?

        But because publishers live in the fricking Stone Age, no one is doing that. It threatens their push model.

        But, with everything going to Amazon, there’s less and less reason for anyone to keep inventory. It’s all electronic ordering, the books never go on a shelf.

        I wonder what it would take to gather up all the authors (and legacy estates!) with out of print books in a co-op and republish those old properties by just-in-time? No inventory means no tax hit, always-on availability and internet ordering means constant sales. Then its all down to marketing and web design to hook people up with the book they want.

        Machine learning algo for the win? That’s what Amazon is doing.

        1. It’s not like the effort of putting the out-of-print into ebook and POD could not be spent elsewhere.

      2. I’ve been reading JFC Fuller’s A Military History of the Western World, and I keep discovering historical jewels in the footnotes. I’ve been amazed and delighted at how many of these old sources I’m able to get at reasonable prices. Print price is a bit much? There’s probably an ebook at a more reasonable rate.

        My hat is off (and wallet open) to people who are taking the time to track down old books and provide good copies at decent prices.

    2. Yesterday I forced myself to leave the flat and go into town. I live in London, so this means traveling on the tube to go and visit Forbidden Planet, a large SFF megastore; books in the basement.

      I left with four books: two by Jim Butcher, and two by James Corey. These cost me £38 pounds sterling, which made me blanch a little, but made me think about the relative cost of print versus electronic. I can see the attraction, though I’m too attached to physical paper copies to transition in the foreseeable future.

      My point, I was simultaneously overwhelmed by the choice available, and yet underwhelmed by the choice of titles in the store. I think this is down to no longer knowing if a book will be enjoyable and not wanting to spend money on a dud.

      Still, I came away loaded with some good books to read, but unable to find all the title I wanted to check out. I know, I know that’s what Amazon is for, but I miss the joy of browsing.

      1. I did the same thing the other day, went to Chapters, bought the latest David Weber, which I mentioned on another thread. Hardcover. Between that and a couple of amazingly overpriced audiophile magazines, the bill was about $60. Plus the gas to drive from Hooterville to Hamilton, half an hour one-way.

        But they didn’t have the latest Larry Correia at all. So those I was forced to get from Amazon, they should arrive today or tomorrow. $63. Free shipping.

        Of the two purchasing experiences, going to the store was much more enjoyable. Pleasant interaction with the cute checkout girl, lots of other books to look at, a nice leisurely drive to-and-from, and an overpriced coffee served up by another cute barista girl. A very successful afternoon all round.

        Amazon, I didn’t move from my Central Command Chair. Point, click, its over. Some guy drops it at the door in a couple of days, I may even get to wave at him as he runs off to the next house. (Update! As I was typing this, the mail lady showed up bearing my books! She’s cute enough, so not a total loss. ~:)

        1. Heh. 🙂 We should all be cute and cheerful, male and female both, just as a public service.

          (My theory is that “cute” is usually do-able just via attitude.)

          1. (My theory is that “cute” is usually do-able just via attitude.)

            I don’t know. I am told that when I try to be “cute”, it makes people nervous. But I’m a rather big dude, and so far from “naturally cute” that it’s comical. My daughters, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. Even when they try NOT to be cute, it’s just SO cute.

            Non-sequitur. My 14 yo recently asked about starting to use makeup. She was completely reasonable in what she wanted, just some foundation and lipstick (in a reasonable color), basically a lip gloss. That’s when I realized, She has lips that a movie star would KILL (or shoot pig botulism into her face) for. I need a bigger shotgun….

            1. Standard load-out for First Date Situation:

              shotgun, short barreled
              pistol, high capacity
              revolver, airweight snubbie, ankle holster
              bear spray
              backup phone

              That’s what she carries.

              Dad gets all that. Substitute shotgun with scoped .338 Lapua in case things might get exciting. Vehicle mounted .50 M2 highly recommended option.

    3. That’s something I miss about the once-upon-a-time local media (they sold books, CD’s, DVD’s, and various things… but still felt ‘focused’ rather than lost in the diversity) – the clerks had no issue with placing orders, they even seemed to like it. That return customer thing, it must’ve been. But that was a different century…no, it wasn’t. It just feels like it now. Then a nationally known chain bought the place… and it went out of business rather quickly.

    4. I was the same way about e-books. Then I realized how many more books I could carry with me. Then the fact I could buy a book whenever and wherever I wanted. Talk about convenience!

      As for bookstore staff, I can’t remember with clarity the last time I went into a bookstore and had a clerk able to talk with me with knowledge about their staff, much less make a recommendation based on “I really enjoyed this author’s book “Y”. What would you recommend that is like it?”

      1. I’ve done that for people browsing, but I’m not a store clerk. They were too busy finding things for people. And I sort of knew the genres a little. 😉

  3. “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, you mean there are people who don’t squint at everyone around them trying to figure out what they’re reading? Huh. You probably don’t spend a lot of time at parties scanning your host’s bookshelves, either. How odd.

    1. Back in the paleolithic, I lived in the east bay and commuted to San Francisco, I Loved the Bart, but it was often packed. Everybody read over everybodys’ shoulders. And then you’d never know how the story ended . . . or even the name or title. But there was a lot of reading going on.

    2. LOL. Far from it. I do tend to glance over to see what those close to me might be reading–or playing. But the way this person wrote, it was as if they surveyed everyone on their plane, train, and automobile. The post was replete with statements like “On my next to last trip, this percentage of people were reading e-books and yet on my last trip only this much smaller percentage were.” It is that sort of absolute statement, with no proof behind it and no qualifiers, that drives me batty. (looks back to make sure I’m not guilty of it as well and plead only lack of coffee if I am.)

  4. > didn’t mind talking about books and making recommendations.

    Um. More likely, “We’re not paying you to stand around talking to people. If you’re finished stocking shelves, grab a broom and make yourself useful.”


    “Our employees don’t have enough to do, time to trim the headcount again.”

    1. That is now part of it. But part of it is a trend toward self-destruction by B&N. It hasn’t been that many months since I did a post here about how they were cutting costs–by releasing senior staff in stores and hiring them back as part-time employees. If they hired them back at all. These were often lower management positions in the store to mid-management, employees who had been there for years. The bean counters didn’t care that these were the employees who knew the processes or the merchandise. All they saw was a number of full-time employees costing them in salaries, benefits, etc. Most of all, they didn’t look at the impact of this action on the customer experience.

  5. We have one great SF Fantasybookstorecompany in the country. Two or three shops. Today there is a lot of Manga, and a lot of plushies, HP and Tolkien collectibles, too, but the staff know books and get stuff from everywhere when I ask for it. I can spend a couple of hours there about three times a year, and shop online for the rest of the time.

    Also. I bought a book called Valiant Dust, that was a very PC early Honor Harrington clone. Anyone read it?

    1. The name is vaguely familiar, like I saw it on a shelf, skimmed the jacket, and put it back? That or I’m just too much of a Kipling-a-phile and know the phrase.

  6. One point I found pretty amusing in the B&N ad was the part where they say that they’re for “Victorians” while showing a big, close-up shot of…Pride and Prejudice.

    No one knows books like you do, huh?

    1. Well, people in Victoria do read the book, so… No, probably not what the ad gurus meant.

      /sarcastic voice/ Well of course anything in the 1800s is Victorian! That’s when the TV show is set. /end sarcastic voice/

  7. Sigh.
    I spent the largest part of this day – from 8:00-4:05 having been called in for jury duty. Which, as the presiding judge informed a room-full of 500-600+ citizens (yes, the jury room was full to having standing-room-only along the side and back walls first thing) was a good, honorable and basic civil obligation, and one that I performed without any particular grudge or resentment.
    But … just about everyone else in the jury pool today had cellphones, tablets or laptops. And from what I could tell – and what I was doing on my own personal Kindle – was reading on them, or doing catch-up on social media and websites.
    There was even a little booth for the Bexar County on-line library, signing up potential jurors for a county digital library card, and loaning out library Kindle readers for potential jurors to use, during the term of their obligation.
    E-books – it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and supper. And on jury duty, it appears.

    1. Wow, our Jury Duty room was much less inviting last time I was called. First, getting into the court house was a pain. They wouldn’t allow me in because of my INK PEN! I had to take it back to my car, or toss it in the bin. And they REALLY weren’t amused when I asked if this wouldn’t fall under the auspice of the First Amendment. They said no, because it was a potential deadly weapon… I was barely able to stop sarcastic me from bringing up the Second Amendment at that point. THEN, when I finally got in (Did they really want me to leave such a dangerous device unattended in my car in the parking lot!?). The Jury Duty room had all the charm of, and was run similar to, a detention hall. Needless to say, I wasn’t selected for a trial. I almost wonder if my previous shenanigans might not have had something to do with that.

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