By Jane Ciabattari
As a critic, cultural reporter, and journalist, I’ve been writing and reading online for years.
As an author, I’m more accustomed to print. I’ve survived two multiple-city book tours paid for by my publisher, with newspaper, radio, and television interviews from dawn till the drive to the latest airport (I learned to do my own TV makeup after the first). I’ve shown up for dozens of bookstore readings from Canio’s in Sag Harbor to Reader’s Books in Sonoma.
But I was an ebook newbie when Dzanc Books asked to publish a digital version of my first short story collection, Stealing the Fire, in late May.
“How do you sell an ebook?” I blurted out in April at Litcamp, in Calistoga, CA. I was speaking on a panel of literary folk. (Litcamp is the juried writers’ conference sponsored by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and Litquake.) Chris Colin, a nonfiction writer who has written award-winning work for Atavist, said he invited his friends to a bar, and after a few drinks, gave them a countdown — one, two, three, download!
I wasn’t sure if I could handle that. (The countdown, not the bar. Although it didn’t help that this summer the closest bar from my perch in Sonoma County was the Lagunitas Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary, where a free concert by folk rocker James McMurtry — as it happens, the son of novelist Larry McMurtry — was more likely than a book party.)
Like any author of literary fiction, I wanted to help get the word out about my new ebook. I set up a Facebook page. My friend Meg Pokrass made me a book trailer. I wrote guests posts and did online interviews (The Believer, Tumblr, the Big Other, Caroline Leavitt, and others).
I also experimented with a stealth approach. I ordered a batch of fortune cookies to hand out instead of books when I spoke at the Digi.lit Conference in San Francisco. They were free, they tasted good (at least everyone reached for one), and if someone wanted to buy Stealing the Fire, they could go online.
When I had a note on Facebook from Jan Weissmuller at Prairie Lights saying she wanted to sell my ebook, I learned from my publisher that Kobo has a connection with independent booksellers, so my collection could be purchased there. But that was still the bookstore model.
My understanding of the e-book universe changed when Open Road Integrated Media, the new distributor for Dzanc ebooks as of June 1, got into the picture. They created an online Dzanc Authors and invited me to write the first blog post.
They made the book available on Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, Kobo, and Sony. They featured it in their 150-ebook summer sale. I was in wonderful literary company: Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym, James Salter, Muriel Spark, Pat Conroy, and fellow Dzanc authors Hilma Wolitzer, Roy Kesey, Luis Jaramillo, and Elizabeth Crane.
This summer sale was supported by retail partners and a large-scale advertising campaign, with ads on Goodreads, Serious Eats, BookBub, SF Signal, The Millions, Mental Floss, among others.
Three weeks of continuous visibility on every platform, including the Open Road Tumblr.
“Here at midsummer was an expanded, special day when sunshine rendered each detail sharp and spilled over into the evening. Even this early, it dazzled her. In the stillness she was aware of the piercing smell of eucalyptus, the brittleness of the drying grass along the path, the steady working of her heart, the sweat as it trickled down the small of her back.” Perfect description of summer from Jane Ciabattari in her excellent collection, Stealing the Fire. On sale through July 22nd!
Aha, I thought. So that’s how to market an ebook.