by Florrie Binford Kichler
New Models for Reaching Readers
Cash In on Your Garage Sale was the title of the first and only book I wrote as a solo author.
Those of you who know me as the publisher of the Young Patriots series of historical fiction may be wondering what garage sales have to do with children’s books about famous heroes and heroines in American history. I’ll tell you.
The garage-sale book broke all the rules that your association spends a great deal of time telling publishers they must follow to succeed in the book business:
A cover must be designed by a trained professional. (My garage-sale book had a homemade cover, and you can guess who made it at home.)
A book must have an ISBN. (Back then they were free, and I still didn’t get one.)
A book must have a marketing plan. (Huh?)
The interior requires a professional design. (The inside pages of my garage-sale book were designed on an Apple IIe computer, using WordPerfect and a rudimentary drawing program featuring stick figures called Arts and Letters.)
Cash In on Your Garage Sale was my pre–IBPA membership, one-hit wonder. It sold maybe 50 copies—since there was no ISBN or bar code, who really knew? In the good old days prior to eBay, garage sales were hot in my neighborhood. I wrote the book because I had become pretty expert at getting cold cash for hot trash, and I thought others might like to know how I did it.
Well, at least 50 others wanted to know.
And apparently so did at least a few cable TV watchers—I was the star of a featured segment on garage sales that aired on the Discovery Channel’s Home Matters show. The show’s producers didn’t seem to care what the book looked like; they needed an expert on garage sales, had seen an interview I had done on the subject for my local TV station, and, lo and behold, a star was born. If the star had only had a marketing plan, she probably would have sold more than 50 books, but that’s a topic for another column.
Hey, Readers—How Much and When?
My career as the garage-sale queen was short (and as a TV star even shorter), and the book has gathered dust for years. Still, as I was leafing through those 18-year-old word-processed pages, it occurred to me that, given the amazing number of alternative formats available today, I could rerelease the title digitally as is (sans stick figures). Those who want to know how to conduct a successful garage sale likely wouldn’t care what the book looked like as long as they could access the information quickly and on demand.
DailyLit is building a business based on exactly that premise. The company’s mission is to deliver what a reader wants when the reader wants it. It provides a way for consumers to read a book via plain-text email excerpts or RSS feeds conveyed at the time of their choice to the device of their choice—computer or mobile phone. Currently, many of the offerings are free and consist of public-domain classic titles, but offerings also include more than 300 Harlequin titles averaging in price between $4 and $6.
Right now I’m reading Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence via DailyLit. One of 124 installments, each approximately 1,000 words long, arrives in my inbox at 6:00 a.m. every weekday—I opted out of weekends. I chose email delivery since I’m always reading email anyway, so that was the most convenient mechanism for me. Reading time is about 5 minutes, but if I just couldn’t wait to find out what happens next, I could ask for the next installment to be delivered right away.
Since the email arrives as plain text, formatting is virtually nonexistent, except for double spacing between paragraphs. Not a problem at all for me—or for most of us for whom processing email is as familiar as breathing (if not more so). And I find myself actually looking forward to my daily episode.
As a reader, I get exactly what I need from the DailyLit service: content delivered at the time I specify, in short doses, to the device of my choice, allowing me to read easily on my computer, or on my phone while I’m standing in line at the post office. Although I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t want to read a whole book onscreen at one sitting, a few paragraphs every day suits me just fine. Do I miss the tactile experience of ink on paper, chapter titles, and running headers? Of course. As I mentioned in an earlier column on the Kindle, in my opinion, electrons will never replace ink. But for convenience and access, digital is hard to beat. And I guarantee that if I had acquired The Age of Innocence in print format, it would still be on the shelf, undisturbed.
Providing content as large print in multiple sizes for the visually impaired as well as in Braille and in “Daisy” (a special electronic format that allows the visually impaired to read and listen to books) is the mission of ReadHowYouWant, another relative newcomer to digital delivery. Although books are not “pushed” out to the customer as they are in DailyLit, ReadHowYouWant lets customers choose titles in any one of seven interior formats and then receive them as e-books. In addition, customers can view a free sample before ordering and see exactly the size print they will be reading. The service also offers the usual selection of e-book options—Kindle, Mobipocket, and so forth. Like DailyLit’s, its goal is “To make reading easy and enjoyable by delivering formats that suit the reader.”
As a publisher, I’m not predicting the demise of book design and the printed book, nor am I recommending that you leapfrog over print into digital without proper editing and interior planning. However, I am intrigued by both the DailyLit and ReadHowYouWant models, as they offer yet another opportunity for publishers to reach readers—on their terms and at their convenience instead of ours. With apologies to Field of Dreams, instead of “If you print it, they will come,” why not consider that “If you deliver it, they will read”?
You may just see Cash In on Your Garage Sale coming soon to an inbox near you.
My virtual door is always open. Please share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.