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Warren Adler

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The Enigma of Matchmaking Between Author and Reader

Posted: 10/05/11 03:39 PM ET

Now that the skeptics in the publishing industry, the media, assorted prognosticators and self-proclaimed experts have finally realized that they had it all wrong about e-books, it is time to move to the next big idea affecting readers and authors.

Matching up the serious reader with his or her natural author mate?

How does one find their reading material of choice when the filters, meaning the old army of "experts" who once dominated the book pickers round table have been lost in the fog of the Internet. Let us confine this discussion to the realm of fiction, which, for obvious reasons is my abiding concern. I'm talking about stand-alone serious fiction, well outside the genre fiction categories and subcategories.

Genre fiction is a perfectly legitimate category of reading entertainment that is essential to the profit picture of publishers and authors who produce them, but there is also an audience for fiction that are looking for a deeper exploration of the human condition and thirst for stories that move them to explore a more complex aspect of the mind and heart. It is the kind of fiction that has been produced by authors that continue to resonate from generation to generation.

It used to be that readers of this kind of fiction were given their marching orders by a circumscribed population of reviewers and recommenders that used the bullhorn of the old media to make their choices known to avid readers. They presided over special book review editions in daily newspapers and weekly magazines, and a scattering of radio and television shows.

Generally these outlets provided the content that left considerable space and time to advertisements of books offered by publishers usually with a plethora of affectionate blurbs by other authors, mostly friends of the published writer or in the stable of the publisher. These factors helped push many authors to best seller lists maintained by these outlets as an inducement to publishers, advertisers and bookstores to stock and readers to buy.

Bookstores were further induced when publishers bought position displays and shelf advantages to enhance their branded authors.

Whatever may be said about the process, this was the marketing religion of the publishing industry, abetted by the bookstores who stocked by consignment books that were judged by their exposure, paid and unpaid, to these inducements. Note that I have deliberately shied away from the word-of-mouth factor about which no one has ever unraveled and has wielded its amazing power of recommendation and effectiveness.

Alas, the tried and true method of this marketing architecture will soon be in ruins, blasted away by the e-book and Internet juggernaut.

Here's why.

Those traditional filters and inducements are on their deathbed. Book review sections are disappearing. Print newspapers are shrinking rapidly and morphing in different forms to the web. While they will feature book reviews, they will have less impact because they are competing for attention in a giant pool of information and a plethora of distractions.

The big brick and mortar book stores have already begun to implode, largely because the sale of books will no longer need big space to sell the diminishing number of print inventory. The end of Borders is a prime example. Amateur book reviewers are multiplying like rabbits on the web, each with a small pocket following. Everything now is fractured, splintered, diverse and diffuse. The filters are giant strainers spewing out material in unmanageable waves of opinions, taste levels and personal agendas. The so-called once authoritative voices are being drowned out by a chorus of self-appointed "experts."

Authors and publishers who once relied on traditional methods of marketing will have to rethink their strategies to rise above the chatter and individualize their authorial products. Those who have reached some level of popularity under the old system will be ahead of the game but not for long as more and more competition enters the fray.

The line between what the academy and their camp followers deems literary and the crass products of commercialism will become fuzzy and force an expansion into more and more little niches. Book festivals, writing contests, and literary magazines on the net will proliferate with reviews and opinions by ever more self-appointed "filters" with limited followings.

In the near future no books will go out of print. Last year half a million books were published in America, split fifty-fifty between self-published and traditional published books. Within a few short years the number of self-published books will reach into the multi-millions, far outpacing the traditional publishers' offerings.

Thus, the next big challenge will be how a publisher or an author will be able to reach his or her reader. How will he or she get known? Get bought? Get read?

There are now hundreds, perhaps thousands of entrepreneurs on the web, offering the magic elixir for authors to get known, bought and read. What they exploit are the hopes and dreams of authors seeking fame and fortune. Just drop some money into their coffers and they pander to the gullible, although they do provide psychic joy to the authors willing to pony up for their mini-second of recognition.

There will, of course, still be readers out there hungering for material to reach their minds and hearts. There is nothing like a novel to enrich one's understanding of the human condition as spawned in the mind of a writer creating a parallel world in his imagination. A serious novel or play is a magic bullet into the mind. But then I am hopelessly prejudiced.

Everyone is reaching out to find a new paradigm. Tiny bookstores are sprouting all over America where writers read their material before small groups of dedicated readers. Perhaps that will be the wave of the future. How it will play out is anybody's guess.

Having digitized all my previously traditionally published books eleven years ago and evangelizing and predicting the rise of digital reading long before Kindle, Nook and the Sony reader does not make me a great futurist. It was a no-brainer.

It was also a game changer for the serious author and a punch in the kisser for the traditional publisher.

And so the next big thing for both a reader finding his or her author of choice and an author reaching his or her natural audience is hacking out a path through the cacophony of a modern Tower of Babel. I haven't figured that one out, but I sure as hell am trying.

 
 
 

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