We Are Living In The Future…

…and it’s not always a good thing for sales.

I was at the book store t’other day–the real brick-and-mortar one, to sign a couple of my books, and I was browsing through the SF/Fantasy section, and I tripped over a trilogy*

It was a big set of books. It would be a substantial cash investment for yours truly. And reading the back, the premise was…whimsical.

I am all for whimsical. My career is largely founded on whimsy. Whimsy is a Good Thing.

It’s also easy to do badly and slide over into saccharine and twee.  I have slid across this line more than once myself, I can judge no one for it…but I don’t necessarily want to read it. (Don’t ask me where the line is, I don’t know, and my opinion is skewed to one side anyway, as I am possibly the only person on earth who hated the Little Prince and thought it resembled the magic of childhood about as much as it resembled a dead mackerel wearing a top hat.)

In the olden days, I would have had to buy the first book and see if I wanted to throw it across the room after a few chapters. But we live in the future now! I have an iPhone! Blind trial-and-error are no longer required! So I pulled out my phone and googled the author’s name.

The first thing that came up was the author’s website.  I poked the search result, and up it came.

Sure, it wasn’t optimized for iPhone, but that’s a forgivable sin in this day and age (though in a few years, it won’t be) and as I un-pinched and dragged my finger over the screen, looking for a clue–writing style, reviews, links, whatever–I found…”The Daily Blessing.”

Sigh.

And that was pretty much the end of the chance I’d buy the book.

Not entirely because it was Christian. I was in fact standing in the book store with a Christian and a Unitarian, so I showed it to them and the Christian winced and the Unitarian said “Oh, that’s unfortunate.”  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was part of it–religious fiction that doesn’t beat you over the head savagely with the Jesus-stick is rare stuff, and I wasn’t about to plunk down trade-paperback money on the remote chance that I’d found the next G.K. Chesterton. (Go ahead and tell me I’m a horrible person if you have to get it off your chest–but I also don’t read military sci-fi, legal thrillers, westerns, or contemporary romance, for the exact same reason. The genre doesn’t work for me. If you are in that genre, it doesn’t make you a bad author or a bad person,  it just makes you an author I’m not reading.)

Now, it’s possible that the author has strong religious principles and didn’t feel obligated to rub the book-reader’s nose in them. Absolutely possible. Unfortunately, the whole thing was also…hokey. And if you are splashing hokey across your webpage, and I am searching to see if you can do whimsical well without descending into mawkishly sentimental, this is going to be a deal-breaker and I am going to click the little button on top of my phone with my thumb and stick it back in my pocket and put your book down and never look at it again.

The funny thing is that if they hadn’t had a webpage, that would have been fine. I was actually thinking vaguely about Amazon reviews when I pulled out the phone. I don’t require authors to have webpages. But if you have one…well, we live in the future now. People can find that, not just at home but when they’re standing in the aisle with their hand on the spine of your book, and what yours says on that first main page may be the difference between picking it up and putting it down.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t talk about your principles on your blog or whatever. Clearly I am the LAST person who could tell you do that with a straight face–we’ve hashed out just about everything here, with frequent guest appearances by my love live, my adventures in intimate grooming, and the state of my colon. But in practical terms, we’re nevertheless living in a world where what people see on your home page is suddenly a sales issue up there with cover design.

And y’know, it’s an interesting thing. Used to be you went to an author website to learn about an author you ALREADY liked–now I can see it rapidly sliding towards checking the website BEFORE you ever buy their book.

Now, I doubt people are doing much serious browsing in the book store–can’t imagine they’re scrolling through the backlog of blog posts on their phones. It’s probably the main page and that’s about it. Although Kevin whips out his iPad and checks author things, also on the spot, and I have grabbed it from him and looked up game reviews while standing in GameStop, which does involve some digging…

And now I’m wondering what you could do to optimize that landing space so that people were more inclined to buy the book, without turning into vile screaming ad-space with “BUY MY BOOK” in vibrating neon letters.

I suspect bad web design would turn off a lot of buyers. I know it’d turn ME off. And probably “optimized for mobile phones” is gonna be really important in the not-too-distant future.

I wonder if good reviews/quotes prominently would be a good idea, or if it would look egotistical? And do author photos help? People like to see faces, it’s a primate thing, but some of us do photograph very badly…I’d pay money to get that horrible con photo of me off the web where I am slumped exhausted in a chair under nasty industrial lighting, and thus appear to be three hundred pounds and three days dead. (Gang, don’t snap photos of artists on the last day of a con, I beg of you. Hardly any of us look good at that point.)

I’d say it’s a whole new world out there, but it’s really been a whole new world for years, and I’m only now paying attention because I can stand in the bookstore with my iPhone and look at it.

*Don’t ask me the name–I am not protecting the innocent, I have totally forgotten.

  • reply TangoPig ,

    Wait … The Little Prince was *supposed* to be about the magic of *childhood*?

    I’ve been thinking for years it was about entropy and despair and loss of faith in destiny and the quest for God when you know that God is dead or insane. Are we both talking about St.-Exupery or is there a different Little Prince I’m not aware of?

    • reply helen ,

      I wonder if good reviews/quotes prominently would be a good idea, or if it would look egotistical?

      I dont know about on a website but often you pick up a book and the first 4 pages are all glowing reviews and i put the book down immediately as to me it smacks of desperation by the publishers. (as in they are trying to push the book to hard)

      • reply dreamforest ,

        When I’m looking for books, online, I’m looking for a synopsis of the story. Since I want a book to grip me the second and third time I read it, so spoilers aren’t a big deal. But maybe hide that away on a special spoiler page or cut for people where that is a big deal.

        Also, I like to see writing samples. It doesn’t have to be free chapters out of a book, but rather is the author someone I’d like to read for 100-300 pages. This goes along with wanting to know if the story goes interesting places. I want to know if the author can amuse me while going to those interesting pages. Granted, in a brick and mortar store, I’m just as likely to read the first chapter as look online for this kind of thing. But it’s handy for places like Amazon.

        And since this is Ursula, I’d expect some interior book art, but that’s not important for most novels. But if there is art in the book, there should be some sample on an author’s page about it.

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