Friday, September 11, 2009

Kemble Scott on Non-Traditional Publishing

by Cindy Bailey 9.11.09

I went to see Kemble Scott read from his second novel, The Sower, at Kepler's in Menlo Park the other night, and it was a treat. Kemble Scott is a pioneer in - how do I put it - discovering nontraditional, cutting edge methods of publishing and succeeding tremendously with them. He's also a skilled novelist of course (his first novel, SoMa, became a best-seller and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award), an Internet Marketing guru, and just a really nice, approachable guy. He's hugely supportive of fellow writers and graciously, generously shares his marketing/publishing secrets.

On the night of his reading, he shared the story of how his second novel came to be, and that may have been just as intriguing to fellow writers as the actual story in the novel (which is a kind of thriller!). Let me see if I can encapsulate it accurately: after the success of his first novel (and he's got some great stories about that), he decided to team up with a company called Scribd to bring out his second novel as a DIGITAL book! Scrbd was/is getting 60 million unique users a month, mostly college students (Kemble defined them as the "YouTube" of the written word.)

As one of the first official authors to do this with Scribd, he got a ton of media attention - just explosive. The idea behind the PR was "democratization of the media;" that writers no longer have to put up with waiting 18 months to see their book in print after acceptance to the publisher (or even have to be accepted by a publisher!!), and then have to wait another year or so to even know how many books they've sold (because pubs are not required to tell, he says), and then wait even longer to get paid from those sales! No, readers could have their books in hand (or on their screen or printer) right away. Scribd lets you know the second you make a sale, so you can adjust your marketing tactics--and even change your book jacket copy!--instantaneously to attract better sales. You don't have to wait years to get paid, either!

But do people read e-books? According to Kemble, everyone is different and has their own choice about how they read: someone only reads e-books, another won't touch them, another will read e-books on his/her iPhone while commuting, but a paper version at bedtime. There is a market and it is growing.

This story doesn't end there, however, for Kemble's second novel. After all the media attention, within a month (I believe; I have to verify timing), Kemble got offers from traditional publishers to print his digital book as a regular hardback book. What did he do? Something once again nontraditional. In Kemble's novel, he creates an alternative present day (it's today, but George Bush has been elected to a third term for example), and Kemble makes many references to modern day icons, such as Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent. Those icons might be forgotten by the time his book is published in hardback 18 months down the line. So he picked a small publisher who cranked out those books in a record 29 days!! Isn't that amazing? And to show support for independent bookstores, for this first edition hardback, you can only find it at independent stores, which is where he's making his reading/speaking engagements too.

That is just such a neat story. Love it! Looking forward to reading the other story (his novel).

Some links:

Some press on this: NYT, East Bay
The book: The Sower
About Kemble Scott.

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