Suppose I got tired of producing written content and finally turned to the other half of what the middle-class worshipfully admires as “publishing,” which is the commercial exploitation of content. I look at that alternative now and then, mostly when the bills mount up.
In the past, sales have been based on the idea of “quality,” dictated by experts, including institutions like the New York Times list of best-sellers (implying that the “cloud” reflex of paying customers is an indicator) or Book-of-the-Month club (without readers understanding that the choices depended as much on unseen contract negotiations as on the quality of the writing). Today in this huge haystack of available content there are two governing indices: one is the cult of personality that we are used to because of movies and TV; the other is sales figures, which are partly based on customer studies.
I’m using blogs several different ways: one is simply an archive and reflection about a professor of acting, Alvina Krause. One is a repository of posts about Blackfeet matters for the Blackfeet to ponder. (They can’t afford books but can get access to computers.) One is an archive of materials about Bob Scriver. These blogs are focused on a specific audience but they are not widely read.
The students of Krause numbered maybe forty at a time, which over the years would amount to maybe 1600 potential readers of a book, many of whom are now dead or elderly. Outside of her students there is not much prospect of sales based on her teaching. There would be more if a writer were to focus on the fact that the School of Speech at the time was covertly gay-friendly which stirred up backlash among the righteous administration and ultimately forced out AK. Then there would be the element of her post-retirement renaissance in Bloomsberg, PA, where her ideals support a fine repertory theatre. The audiences of Northwestern, Eaglesmere, and Bloomsberg would be another source of sales, but only Bloomsberg is recent enough to amount to many numbers. Raw population density is the secret of success for theatre audiences and physical book sales, though today -- through video and internet sales -- the world via google and UPS is the only real limit. Still, people like to read about their own familiar world. On the other hand, theatre has drastically changed from the “Method” based realism of AK to spectacles involving fire, trapezes and “flying.”
Bob Scriver’s case is a little different. First, he is ambivalently “located” on the Blackfeet Reservation which can’t really decide whether they love him or hate him. Second, he was on the periphery of what I call the Cowboy Art Cartel, which is based on the marketing of Remington and Russell, rigidly controlled and defending a mythic patriotic understanding of what cowboy art really is. Third, most people would not be interested in Scriver as a person, except in terms of what makes his work worth money. His work is ‘trading stock’ and books can increase or decrease value. The interlocking complex of auctions and “museums” are really semi-religious institutions defending that same myth of cowboys and Indians that Bob accepted and illustrated in his work -- not in his life. Revelations of reality will hurt sales.
The blog I call prairiemary (www.prairiemary.blogspot.com) is the closest I come to a personal writer’s platform. But my life-path is in compartments located differently with different audiences. Unless I could find enough readers for any one of them, or somehow combine them into a grand theme, they wouldn’t support a readership. Two other people have tried to develop books about animal control, but were overwhelmed by the great romantic unreality of the Humane Society of the United Society which never saw an animal it didn’t want to convert into a human baby, though it is the American Humane Society that takes on both child-welfare and animal-welfare.
Small town infrastructure interests me greatly, since that's where I am, and could be developed if it were properly targeted. A lot of people are struggling with the issues. In fact, I think the pressure is great enough and closely enough related to Third World problems that a lot of technical breakthroughs that will change everything are in the pipeline -- not least the breaking up of grids and the most difficult the safety of the water/sewer cycle. Doing this properly would mean a lot of research and travel. It ought to be done by a younger, better- financed person.
The religious issues in the world consciousness are so potent and various that it would be fair to call them “fulminating.” We are about to step away from the dogma, admit to the historical and territorial sources and expressions of religious institutions, and possibly to change the nature of the institutions themselves, finally recognizing them as variations in the theme of “nations” trying to defend and expand boundaries. I don’t really have the chops to take on such an overwhelming paradigm shift.
My specific interest is reconciling neurological research about how the body operates to create consciousness and identity with what I know from experience as an ordained minister about creating ritual and deep experience. Things are moving so quickly, partly in response to the chaos and damage of today’s world, that as quickly as I work, I fall behind. Nevertheless, other people are strung out over a continuum between sorcerers to iconoclasts. Those who could benefit from an intense spiritual retreat or a steady Sunday morning reassurance include just about everyone on the planet, but sales could only be made to a narrow span of that continuum. Still, that could be a lot of people.
Now step over to the practicality of selling. I’m told by publishers that they make few sales at the Montana Festival of the Book. Placing ads in the Montana magazine of Western History produced no sales for me. Despite a barrage of postcards I sent to them, the institutions that supposedly preserve Scriver’s work failed to realize his biography existed. Review copies produced nothing. The blogs that monitor such things say that readings at bookstores don’t work, partly because there are too few bookstores, partly because readers cocoon. Review sections of the major newspapers are defunct. Magazines? WHAT magazines? Radio seems possible. Both the local radio and regional newspaper are highly political. I'm not.
Circles of people who know and promote each other are the real source of book publicity but they no longer lunch together. Recently the Missoula bell-mare went into the Bozeman range with mixed results. Anyway, that foray was about a movie. The NY agents who used to have magic Rolodexes are gone, though a wave of dismissed editors has joined them. Instead, the conversion of writing into actual books has migrated out to the grass roots, which haven’t existed long enough to form a thick and resilient turf, despite the efforts of a website like www.lulu.com, which represents itself as a printer with benefits, something like a friend with benefits. (Sex is sales and replication.) A book may require a bit of professional grooming.
Today’s business section in the GF Tribune includes an article by Rhonda Abrams of The Planning Shop. http://www.planningshop.com The topic is marketing. If you are marketing by using a percentage of your profits, you will need to already be a major, prominent, advantage-generating entity whose simple existence IS advertising. (Rhonda Abrams’ example is Costco.) This is a variation on word-of-mouth.
If you are small and unknown, you will need venture capital. The trick is to prove the product. The third option is to create such a big controversial stink that people get to know your name and buy the book out of curiosity. (Many will save money by reading reviews instead.) For example, Krakauer is always writing about something sensational or purporting to reveal previously unknown and shocking facts -- regardless of consequences. (Like, hiring big physical ghetto guys with respect-issues to be athletic stars -- and bringing them into a little white self-important town that aspires to be worldly -- will probably result in sexual boundary loss that will inflame a lot of cowboys.) It works for the newspapers. And lawyers.So far, none of these options is attractive. None of them would generate enough money to tempt me to give up the wealth I have, which is time and freedom. I can sit here all day and write what I want to write -- immediately putting it out there for you read at no cost to either of us. If you want print on paper, use your computer printer. Or go to www.lulu.com/prairiemary. As for the cost to me, I prepaid with my life.