Thursday, June 12, 2008

Balanced on one foot at the crossroads...

Most folks who read my work ten and fifteen years ago must have come to the conclusion Keegan’s given it up and gone into something more lucrative and appealing to the soul ... like selling fish and chips, or vacuuming swimming pools on a professional basis. Not true. Though I admit, there have been times when it crossed my mind that I was swimming upstream against and current and was likely to drown!

It’s been ten years since GMP was taken over by Prowler, and then Prowler was promptly taken over by Millivres, and not-so-suddenly, Keegan was high and dry without a publisher. It’s been eight years since Dave and Jade at DreamCraft suggested POD manufacture, and marketing books on the Internet...

The tricky, sticky words in the previous sentence are ‘marketing books.’ In fact, you can track the sticky content to a single word. Marketing. ‘Books’ are simple enough. You write them, edit them, print and bind them, and then people buy them ... if they know where you are, and what you’re publishing!

That’s where the ‘Marketing’ part comes in, and it’s been a process of trial and error as we explored what worked, what didn’t, and what should have been brilliant, but wasn’t.
Any writer who is in the business of marketing his or her own books knows this, but every one has to go through the process for him- or herself, because all genres are different, and even inside the same genre, two books will perform differently. And yes, you tear our your hair. Sometimes you do ... almost ... quit. Then something great comes along, like a fantastic review on another website, or a letter from someone who deeply appreciates something you wrote. You keep going, and new solutions to the enduring problem do suggest themselves --
Internet marketing. Of books. Of GAY books. Of KEEGAN gay books.

This is where we are right now (mid-2008), and for myself, I’m highly optimistic. A mammoth task has already been accomplished, silently and invisibly: the whole MK OnLine website has been rebuilt from the ground up. It goes ‘up’ in a couple of weeks, accompanied by a ‘campaign’ something like Wellington at Waterloo, and what happens next will decide where DreamCraft and Keegan are headed in the future.

To me, it seems gay publishing is at a crossroads. Specifically ‘gay books’ are certainly a niche, but Keegan novels have always hovered in the vast gray zone, where the characters are gay, and some of the issues ... but the setting, the action, and the ‘bigger issues’ (you know, things like war, death, survival, justice, political reform) belong to the wider field of publishing. I imagine Keegan books have been the kind to give distributors nightmares. They’re difficult to pigeonhole, and if you can’t fit a book into niche, it has marketing problems.

But recently we’ve been seeing an increasing trend, where the publishers that actively solicit submissions (always genre, pulp, and frequently in the ebook market) have been asking specifically for what I’d term ‘genre with a twist.’ It’ll certainly be a romance, but this particular publisher is looking for ONLY romance with a supernatural storyline, and so on.
So, the years when niche marketing made a ‘crossover’ book difficult to sell are passing. And the Keegan books have always been crossovers between gay, and [X], where x = science fiction, historical, sea story, fantasy, thriller, or plain old romantic adventure. In other words, it’s always been a bear marketing Keegan. But the market is starting to swing around, and we’re in an excellent position to plug right into it.

So, where will the future take us? Depends on many factors, but I’ll tell you what the DreamCraft group and ol’ Mel would like. We’re ‘rediscovered’ by the readers who genuinely believe I’ve been selling fish and chips or vacuuming swimming pools since 1999 ... and we’re freshly ‘discovered’ by a lot of new readers to whom the name of ‘Mel Keegan’ doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. (Something to do with a boozy actor who used to make Aussie movies twenty years ago? Or that soccer player who was the best all-rounder in Europe, even longer ago?)
Five years from now, we’d like to be at the helm of a publishing house that might just be able to give a start to new young writers. Three years from now, we’d like to have the Internet book marketing puzzle so well worked out, we can do a book about THAT, and put smiles on the faces of the armies of writers who are trying to crack this nut. One year from now, we’d like to be well on our way, with three brand-new Keegan titles in print and three more on the way, as we look forward into 2010.

Right now, I’m looking at the new website design, and also the NARC sub-site design (yep, it’s done, the whole show goes online in July), and I’m feeling not merely optimistic, not merely delighted, but also damned proud.

In fact, let me share some screenshots of the new website design with you here. You won’t see it online till July, but I want to show it around...

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