One of the biggest changes I’ve seen since starting in the publishing world is the shift from books as creative projects to books as products. However, they’ve gone beyond that. It seems like since the influx of internet marketers, who had worn out their shallow fields in other industries, turned their attention to publishing and authors around 2011 or so, that books have taken a turn away from product and into a widget.
In marketing speak, a widget is a fill-in for any product that needs to be bought low, sold high, and a profit turned upon an unsuspecting public. In this case, the product is the belief that books are widgets, when flipped fast enough, can make a certain level of income regardless of any other factor which plays an important role.
That isn’t to say authors aren’t making money. Sure, some make more than others, and there’s a variety of factors which influence that decision. But the bottom line is a book is seen as something on an assembly line. Write one a month. Write ten a year. Fill in the number–marketers will tell you their favorite–and some result will happen.
It’s the “widgetization of books” that is the burr under my saddle, so to speak, because it’s the number one thing that causes authors to burn out, lose faith, or even quit all together.
And buried in the belief of “widgetization” is that a book is a book. Figure out what the reader is hungry for and make it available for sale. And while that’s true to some extent. I’ve loved romances since middle school, and I can tell you each and every one ends in a happy ending. Sometimes for now. Sometimes forever, but it’s always happy. There’s always love involved, even if the numbers and genders of the people change, or the different humanoid species fly across the galaxy. It’s all good. And yet, each author brings their unique perspective, their unique way of looking at these individual characters and these stories that are being told. It’s not the same. And it’s that spark which sells the story, because I think we all know authors who don’t hit the right emotional tone with the reader, often don’t get purchased again.
That right there tells me that a book is so much more than a widget. Whether it’s any of half a dozen pans being sold on infomercials during my evening shows, doesn’t matter emotionally to me. I have the pans I have because of the price and they work. The only pans I feel any emotional connection to are the ones which came from my family. But the ones you buy off an infomercial? Very little emotion there. Does the egg stick? Nope. Is the price right? Yep. Let’s get it.
Books bring about a much more visceral set of emotions. We love (or love to hate) the main character(s) and we are on the edges of our seats (or whereever we’re reading) hoping for the best outcome of this story. Even if that’s the bad guy getting his just rewards.
So please, when you listen to someone talk about systems or tricks, or gimmicks, there may be a place for them (your onboarding sequence for your newsletter is a great place for a system), but what brings the reader there? Well that’s your pure magic. So let’s celebrate that. Let’s celebrate you.