The 4 corners of your writer’s brain you need to open up now

drawing of two brain neurons connecting

Stinnett illustration archives


“The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world.” Henry Miller, 1945

Henry Miller was talking about an enduring problem every writer must face. Writers who refuse to embrace the beautiful utility of today’s book delivery systems (via digital) are on the wrong side of a rapidly deepening gap.

And it’s not that hard to get yourself up to date, people. Your biggest problem may be that you haven’t realized the role of “marketing brain” in the whole process of your writing. Yes, yes, of course: you must write for love, not for money. But make sure that some of that love is for your reader.

HEADS UP here: We have crossed the threshold into a new world of book delivery. This new world affects all writers and all readers. Fiction and nonfiction. Traditional publishing and everything else. We’re talking about digitally downloadable books, whether they are in print or in audio. We’re talking about your potential readers whom you have not yet considered. And we are talking about big changes in the control you have over your results: Your readership, reputation, and income.

YOUR MAIN JOB is to crack open your brain so new information about delivery models can come flowing in. Now relax, take a breath, and start learning this language. I need you in this conversation. We — the writers — get to steer this ship.


Realize that your readers are exposed to several new educational streams which are opening them up to digital downloads. They may already know more about it than you do. This is happening through libraries, through online book ordering sites, and through the friends of your readers who have already embraced digital audio and e-books.

GREAT NEWS: You don’t have to educate your future readers. That part is being done for you right now – and that’s a huge advantage.

Realize that marketing, which is essential to your success, really means just caring enough to figure out what your readers need you to know. You don’t need an MBA. You just need to care, listen and explore with your readers. Henry Miller spoke of utility – your reader may be utilizing tools you haven’t heard of. With search tools like Twitter, you have no excuse for not knowing what your reader needs you to do.

So commit to a deliberate inquiry right this minute, with this article, and develop a real understanding of what has already happened in book delivery systems. (Below are some of the systems in place.)

Look carefully at the statistics below regarding downloaded books, audio and e-books in 2009. Think about your readers and how many of them may actually be represented in these statistics. Broaden your horizons by realizing the potential of a readership connecting through web tools.

STILL GREAT NEWS: Remember you don’t have to educate your readers about the tech. Your job is to start building some connective tissue so you show up where they are looking.

Set your creative mind loose on the possibilities and potential of these different delivery systems to support your writing. See if this inquiry can change how you think about what you write. Notice, for example, that enthusiastic new readers who have visual challenges or other physical challenges may emerge when you make your books more accessible through audio and multi-platform delivery.

Imagine how you might put some of these pieces together to serve your readers better, while creating the flows (think income, recognition and reputation) you want from your writing. Get into this conversation and collaborate with your readers and your fellow writers.

Now that you have a solid brain area working around this issue, look at some of the ways your readers are finding and reading their books. These statistics can help you see what you might be missing out on. In the next post, I’ll provide some action steps to help you be efficient with this important exploration.

When you look at the stats below, check out the four adult fiction e-books most downloaded (after Dan Brown). Ever heard of Linda Kleypas? Wonder why her romance novels are the next four most-downloaded adult e-books? One reason is that she engaged the e-reading tools and provided this option for the demographic reading her novels. (She’s also very professional.) There are plenty of writers out there who can do the same thing. The stats for 2010 should be MUCH more diverse — if you — if we — get out there and engage this system. Linda’s doing it. Why aren’t you?

Check out those audiobook prices. This is also changing — and quick. I’m going to make some suggestions here. Just think about how this might change how you outline, write, produce and publish your work. Allow your brain to expand into this and be creative about it.

Content is getting cheaper — this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can mean that writers make more money. How?

While people are still buying digital books at print-book prices, often paying around $20 for them in downloadable audio, there’s a sweeping change under way.

Using sites like Smashwords, authors are starting to offer much cheaper options. What if your book was available on every e-reader platform for $1.99? Sound terrible? What if that meant that millions of people could find your book and downloaded it — because it’s such a small risk — instead of a few thousand or less buying your book in print or even digital audio? What if that meant that your name got circulated through hundreds of thousands of brains and you and your brand became highly recognizable? What if that could be done without cutting down trees?

What if you started making chapters of your book available, and writing fiction more serially and in short, compact forms? Could that mean your 300 page novel could be offered in six or seven or eight pieces at $1.99 each? Would you mind selling your book digitally at a total price of $14.00? What if you were giving up to 40% to the distributor? How does that compare to your royalties on print books?

STATISTICS TIME (chocolate might help with this section)

From this comprehensive article on

—  401 million website pages viewed by library patrons (69 percent growth over 2008) and 8.7 million digital titles checked out (63 percent increase over 2008)
—  4 billion minutes of spoken word audio downloaded from library websites
—  70 percent increase in audiobook checkouts over 2008, while e-Book checkouts increased by 53 percent
—  40 percent increase in new library users over 2008
—  The OverDrive digital catalog for libraries grew to 300,000 titles with the addition of 100,000 e-Books, 27,000 audiobooks, and 4,000 music and video titles
–Using new Facebook® and TwitterTM sharing features, library users shared what they were downloading from their library thousands of times
—  OverDrive launched mobile versions of nearly all library download websites and released audiobook apps for Windows Mobile and Android phones

Top five titles in each adult category include:

Most Downloaded Adult Fiction Audiobooks from the Library
1. “The Lost Symbol,” Dan Brown, Books on Tape
2. “The Host,” Stephenie Meyer, Books on Tape
3. “The Associate,” John Grisham, Books on Tape
4. “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand, Blackstone Audio, Inc.
5. “The 8th Confession,” James Patterson, Books on Tape

Most Downloaded Adult Fiction e-Books from the Library
1. “The Lost Symbol,” Dan Brown, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
2. “Devil in Winter,” Lisa Kleypas, HarperCollins
3. “Again the Magic,” Lisa Kleypas, HarperCollins
4. “Because You’re Mine,” Lisa Kleypas, HarperCollins
5. “Dreaming of You,” Lisa Kleypas, HarperCollins

Most Downloaded Adult Nonfiction Audiobooks from the Library
1. “25 Things to Say to the Interviewer to Get the Job You Want,” Dexter Hawk, Blackstone Audio
2. “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell, Books on Tape
3. “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell, Books on Tape
4. “Three Cups of Tea,” Greg Mortenson, Tantor Media
5. “The 4-Hour Work Week,” Timothy Ferriss, Blackstone Audio

Most Downloaded Adult Nonfiction e-Books from the Library (2009)
(Title, Author, Publisher)
1. “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company
2. “The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People,” David Niven, HarperCollins
3. “Marley & Me,” John Grogan, HarperCollins
4. “Dreams from My Father,” Barack Obama, Crown Publishing Group
5. “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” Daniel G. Amen, M.D., Crown Publishing Group

OverDrive also operates the Digital Bookmobile (, a high-tech 18-wheeler traveling North America on behalf of public libraries to raise awareness about free library downloads. In 2009, the Digital Bookmobile held 155 events with public libraries in 34 states and provinces. Since the tour launched in August of 2008, the Digital Bookmobile has traveled more than 25,000 miles and trained more than 35,000 library users on download services from their library.

Don’t be afraid to play in this ballpark. Your ability to think experimentally about how your writing will be delivered is key to your future success.

Even if you really want your book in print, and that’s fine, consider experimenting with these delivery models in order to build your name. Your publisher will be very happy about that. (If your publisher doesn’t “get” this, best look for a different publisher.)

Addition: In recent months I have become involved with publishing through Amazon on Kindle. There are many reasons to do this. Here is one of my Kindle guides, The 4-Hour Publisher, which outlines what you need to know and do to have a good product in the Kindle store:

Relax with these ideas and let your massively creative brain bat this around. See what happens. Start noticing more of these emerging worlds, and observe what authors are doing with alternative modes of delivery which are already firmly in place, with words flowing through digital audio like a fat, healthy river.

To happy, productive writing,
Suzanna and the E-book fairy

The E-book fairy says:
On Twitter, follow @novelsandebooks, @brainmaker (me), @audiobooks_uk, @djainslie, @writingspirit

old green leather book called ebook fairy

Volume One coming soon

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8 Responses to The 4 corners of your writer’s brain you need to open up now

  1. Kim Nelson says:

    Great content, Suzanna. I’ve pondered the e-book phenomenon from both sides of the aisle as both an avid reader and a published author. The advent of new technology and delivery systems is exciting and encouraging. I think we’re on the cusp of an explosion in the number of leisure/pleasure readers. It’s so easy. No excuses for anyone.

  2. Suzanna,

    Very good analysis of the situation as it’s unfolding. The authors who “get” what’s happening and jump into the new distribution options opening up all around us will profit from the exposure. These changes will change “content delivery” (formerly known as book publishing) they will change the book itself, and they will change the way we relate to our audience. So listen to Suzanna and put your thinking cap on!

  3. Suzanna Stinnett says:

    Thanks, Joel. I was in #writechat yesterday and found that only a few writers there had been exposed to the importance of these changes, so they were not able to converse about it at all. Overwhelm is kind of the rule, so I try to focus on using these tools for more efficiency as well as optimizing your control over brand, outreach, and influencing sales.

  4. Suzanna Stinnett says:

    I’m glad you said “it’s so easy.” !!! When I speak, I get some funny looks about that one. Cusp of an explosion, for sure. Isn’t it fun to help create that?

  5. Marisa Birns says:

    Bookmarked this to read over again. Was at #writechat yesterday and certainly was not able to converse about these important changes. Overwhelming, indeed.

    Thank you for this.

  6. martha hart says:

    While I agree with just about everything here, I want to immediately add that there are exceptions. Most of my tweeps in #litchat and #writechat are full-time writers and bloggers, while I am not. I make my living as a writer and editor, but that’s hardly the writing the feeds my soul. So the books I make are creative and personal works, and tied in to my alter ego as a photographer. At this time, I’m able to self-publish with print-on-demand ( and sell fewer than 100 copies. Is this practical? No. Is it satisfying? Yes. Will I do something different in the future? Of course. But for now, it’s important to have the physical book.

  7. Suzanna Stinnett says:

    Thank you for your comment, Martha. And as to the exceptions — hallelujah for those! I am very interested in the ongoing diversity of the delivery of print. It will be interesting to see how much more we value our beautiful books, luscious books full of photographs, turning pages with our fingers, the smell and texture, all of it. We are kinesthetic beings, and I can’t imagine a world without print books. I’d love to see your work!

  8. Susanne Dyby says:

    Outrageously well written piece that opens up this world of the future, but, but, but ….the degree of noice-to-signal is also very high in the Internet universe. Successful web- authors are those who are already well known or have gone “viral” somehow, either due to coverage by the conventional media or some specialist appeal (survived falling 15000 feet from an airplane or had fifteen kids or….). Despite my objections, you have still given me hope and enthusiasm for getting on the web. I especially liked the idea of selling chapters or whole books cheaply. As you point out, there is a huge market out there, and people would hopefully be willing to take more of a risk on unknown authors and creative works if it does not cost them more than a cup of coffee.
    And PS Amen to luscious printed books. My dad is a retired typographer and happens to have an old 1930’ties, large and heavy, bound and basted reference book of fonts and all those twirly-gigs used for chapter headings/endings/frontipieces. It is knock-out gorgeous. The precision is better than what digital can accomplish. So here’s a toast to variety.

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