Tag Archives: Claire Sowerbutt

E-Commerce: buying with a click?

Ooh, catchy title. That’ll have ’em flocking to my blog in droves. In fact, that’s a lot of the problem I’ve been thinking about this week. Well, thinking about in the few spaces between bussing the Weasels to Weasel Camp, greeting merry Home Improvement Customers, laundering the Washing Mountain and resurrecting the long-lost Gazebo. Plus it’s hot.

As you know, I finished and made available, through the wonder of the internet, my e-book “Writing a play for the Amateur Stage” (or, if you’re in North America, “Writing a play for Community Theatre”). I knew, as it launched, that this was not going to be the end of the work. Nothing sells itself. But this is the internet, and everyone knows that selling stuff on the internet is easy. You just make a viral video, or tell a few folks, or mention it on your blog, and the next thing you know whatever you’re selling has been mentioned on “Oprah” and you have to give up your day job to stay ahead of demand, you’re appearing on reality TV shows and dating a singer…

E-Book to real book. Even I enjoy reading it....

E-Book to real book. Even I enjoy reading it....

I really, really thought about making a viral video for the book. I mean, I’m a writer, and I’ve written scripts for films before. Short ones, yes, and longer ones that didn’t get made (yet) but even so, writing a viral is a bit different. For a start, as someone pointed out recently, YOU don’t make it viral. The people who pass it on do that. Setting out to make a viral video is a bit like setting out to write a bestseller. It doesn’t get the title until it’s earned it, and that’s the bit you can’t influence. So I haven’t done that yet. Plus there’s the fact that at the moment I only have the Weasels on hand as volunteer actors, and they’re not interested unless there are special effects and lightsabres involved.

So I talked to other writers about my book. The first problem I ran into was that this is an electronic product. I handed out little cards with the cover on them, plus a neat Tiny URL (http://tiny.cc/ghfo9) that takes you straight to the sales page of our website. Neat, but useless, as you have to then go home and type the URL into something. What I needed was an iPad to demo the book for people there and then. I didn’t even try to convince Mrs Dim that an investment of $500 was a good idea to flog a book costing $10 a time. I needed to show people the book, in situations where I wouldn’t be in front of a PC or laptop. Social situations, relaxed situations. In a burst of brilliance, I realised that what I needed to do was have a physical copy of the book. Something with pages you could turn. Ludicrous as it may seem, I went off and negotiated with a Printer to get two copies of my e-book printed out and bound. It took a lot of explaining. He was concerned that the cost of producing the book would be prohibitive. I explained again that I only wanted two of them. He pointed out that the book wasn’t laid out in the traditional manner, with blank pages included, and so it was rather low on the page count. I reminded him that it was intended as a download, which made blank pages redundant. He asked me again why I wanted it printed. I wondered that too, as I gently banged my head on his desk.

A fortnight later, I have two physical books. Yes, they’re still a bit slim, and they don’t accommodate the changes suggested by Claire Sowerbutt at our last PWAC meeting, but people can look at them without a computer. They can see the product I’m trying to sell them. I’m sure that’ll help with the folks I see face-to-face, but what about everyone else? I’m not going to go out into the world and meet everyone who I think might like to buy the book. The internet should give me the opportunity to present my product to millions of potential customers, and in a way that isn’t half as intrusive as the leaflets that still come through my mailbox about getting my driveway re-covered. I saw a brilliant interview about this on BBC World the other day. A woman was talking about targeted internet marketing and saying it’s not a bad thing. She used an example of a book about Labrador Puppies. Surely, she said, it’s better that the advert for that book only appears on websites about Labradors? The people who visit that website are more likely to want a book like that. Compare that to an advert on the homepage of, say, Yahoo.co.uk, where only a fraction of the people logging on will care two hoots about dogs, let alone Labradors.

I think she’s right, but then I got to thinking about internet advertising in general. I have never, ever clicked on an advertisement on a web page and bought something I wasn’t already intending to buy. I use the internet for all kinds of shopping, from movies and music to electronic AV gear, but I don’t think I’ve been tempted to a purchase by targeted advertising. I get targeted adverts from people like “Things from another World” a comic and Sci-Fi store. They have literally thousands of products I would love to own, and their adverts turn up on webpages I view as well as dropping into my general-use email. I’ve bought one thing from them in the last ten years, and it was something I went to find online. I bought the thing I wanted and I haven’t bought anything from them since.

So what about YOU, dear reader? Do you follow the clicktrail from the brightly coloured adverts on your homepage and make impulse purchases? If you belong to a Facebook group, does it annoy you when people use the Wall to post adverts for their products? Or is that part of what Social Networking is for? I know I would be much more likely to follow a link from one of the people I follow on Twitter than I would be to open an advert. I’ve contributed to independent film production through a Twitter link (For the brilliant “Origin” by the one and only Danny Stack) but I don’t even click for the movie preview trailers on the Yahoo homepage. Answers in the comments box please!

The anti-social life of a writer


Sometime during this last week (look, I’m sorry, but things have been busy, and it’s the Summer Holidays. Don’t expect me to remember which day is which…) I went along to the latest PWAC social evening. PWAC, as you regular readers will know, is the Professional Writers Association of Canada , and I’m a member of the Vancouver Chapter, which makes us sound more like Hell’s Angels. Anyway, we meet in the salubrious surroundings of the False Creek Yacht club:

A nice way to network with other writers

With the weather the way it is, and the view being so good…:

Sunset over False Creek

……it’s hard to be maudlin about the struggles of life as a writer. Especially with the company on hand.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m in an interesting position at PWAC – I’m the only playwright (or at least, the only playwright who’s attended the meetings I’ve been to) and the others have different skills and niches in the writing world. Two meetings ago I sat with a group who were mostly Technical Writers, something I’d heard about but never investigated. Technical writing is hard work, by the sound of things, but it could be just the thing to suit you if you are good at immersing yourself in new subjects, enjoy interviewing people and are dedicated enough to produce top quality copy to a deadline. What baffled me, as a butterfly writer (I do some of this, drift about a bit and do some of that…projects get finished and started in no particular order…) was the notion of diving into an entirely new subject, learning and absorbing huge quantities of information which is then repackaged for an instruction manual, a policy document, that sort of thing, and then moving on to an entirely different job. One lady spoke of her exciting time writing policy for a casino group, despite having previously had no interest in gambling, and then moving on to a firm that built helicopters. In that situation, I thought, you have to love the process, have to get all your satisfaction from the way you work. I also spoke extensively with Steve Bain, who’s written eleven books (and had them published) but was less enthusiastic about the process than you might think: “It can take years for the books to begin to make money..” he said, ‘and the production process is months of hard work and deadlines.” He wasn’t complaining, just explaining, but it again highlighted a point I hadn’t thought about before – even writing a non-fiction book can be a slog, and it doesn’t guarantee an instant return.

Last week I arrived a little late, missing a big portion of the social side, but I did get to speak to the brilliant and brave Jackie Wong who’s recently gone freelance. There’s no doubting her talent and enthusiasm, so I’m hoping she can find the writing jobs she deserves.

So what’s the point of this socialising? Is it to get away from the lonely life of the writer, plugging away behind the desk, staring out the window and only communicating with real people via email and phone? Well, partly, yes. Claire Sowerbutt said that she’d been working all through the week up till 11.30pm every night, and this was the one evening she allowed herself a break. Freelancing, whatever your field, means you have to work hard on finding work even when you’re already working. Every day I wake up and thank God I’m a playwright. So we get together, sit in the sun and talk about jobs we’ve had, cheques we’ve chased, stories we’ll write one day when a: someone will pay us for them or b: the people involved are dead or unable to litigate. For me, every social evening is a kick in the butt, a reminder of how hard these REAL writers are working to find work, to publicise themselves, to get paid for doing the thing they love. It shows me that despite my decade of writing success, I’m still a dilettante, still only playing at writing for a living. I can’t say for sure what it is the others get from it, but there’s certainly a feeling that it’s a relief to find others in the same situation – to spend time with people who understand how frustrating it is to have to chase payment for work already done, people that understand love of writing doesn’t mean accepting ten cents a word but holding out for serious recompense. That even though you are building castles in the air at your lonely desk, it’s a job. And sometimes, it’s a vocation.