Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve and The Tipping Point

Merry Christmas.

I wish us all great sales this holiday season.

That out of the way, Joe Konrath posted his yearly resolutions and I'd like to respond with my own take on the state of epublishing.  It's true that I derived a push from reading Konrath in last 2008.  I tested the waters with Impossible Charlie/now Dream Horse, which I had already self-pubbed with Lightning Source earlier that year.  At that point digital was pretty much nothing.

And it grew fast.  So fast most of us can't keep up.

Where are we now?  There are millions of books for people to choose from and millions more will flood in next year as backlist books are added.

Just write a great book, publish it and write the next.  Rinse and repeat and repeat and repeat. 

That's what we hear and I don't believe it right now.  If you're Konrath and have a fanbase fine.  Sure there are outliers like EL James who comes along and makes a huge impact.  But the thing with her is that she had a fanfic fanbase already. 

So I sat down and said "How can I better understand this market and how to get attention over the din and the sheer tsunami of books crashing in upon all of us?"  I went back and read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.  He explained it pretty clearly.  It boils down to word of mouth.

Here's the reality.  You can write all the great books you like but if you don't light the fire under readers who then start telling each other "This is great!  You have to read this NOW!" you will be as unnoticed and unappreciated as someone who wrote dreck.  So yes, go write that great book.  What's step 2?  Go write another book?  Or get that first book to some readers?

It's your choice.  It's your career.  These are your books.  If you think having a shelf-full of ebooks is the way to go, do that.  It could work.

Here's another plan.  Flog that book.  I know a romance writer who flogs her work like crazy and it works.  She's a good writer and she should be read.  She makes sure people are aware of her.  She advertises, does book tours, gets reviews and does freebies.  She makes her books visible.  She puts them in front of the audience with a vengeance.  She twitters constantly.  She told me she doesn't care if it bothers some people, she'll redouble her efforts.

I've been reading about the life of Ruth Harriet Louise a portrait photographer in the silent era of Hollywood.  They flogged every movie, they flogged every actor.  They sent out tons of publicity photos.  Someone wrote in and asked for a photo of Norma Shearer, they got one.   There were fan magazines whose only reason for existence was to put actors in front of the public.  The interest was created.  People bought the magazines to see the stars, to get fashion tips from the stars, to read concocted rumors of the stars' lives and to go to the movies to see the stars.  The studios didn't let up for one minute.

You have to get people to know you're there.  Get them talking about your books.  Sure make it easy to find you with the best keywords and all your search engine techniques.  Have great covers.  Have great blurbs.  Don't stop there.  It's not enough.

And I'm not at all convinced (which is putting it nicely) that spamming on Facebook will help.  You are probably reaching more writers, not readers.  I have seen no proof that readers depend on Facebook to tell them what to read.  Maybe there are a couple pages with websites or blogs elsewhere that are influential but I can't tell you which those are.

I do know it's going to get harder to do as this year goes along so start gearing up.  You have even more work to do than before.


Jim Self said...

A lot of writer "self-promotion" is very inbred. Why that's useful, I don't know.

I agree that the advice to just write, write, write sounds fishy. Like you say, some people get a breakout book with very little promotion, and people take that to mean it isn't necessary or even useful.

It is pretty clear that breaking into self-pub today is much harder than it was two years ago. Back then you just had to be decent and promo at .99 once in a while. Konrath got in the game with a bunch of good titles early, and now the Amazon algorithms do the promo for him.

What people don't seem to get is that the internet is like a bookstore the size of my hometown. Some parts get a ton of traffic and sales. Some are so far from notice that no one ever, ever goes there. Their quality really doesn't matter if they're never seen.

I think the best bet is what Lindsay Buroker did. Work your butt off to sell the first 1k copies, and offer a freebie. Then you can profit from cranking out books.

The Hostess with the Mostest said...

I so rarely agree completely but I did with your comment, Jim.

This is much more difficult now than two years ago and it will get more difficult because of numbers.

I had Amazon algorithms work for me 2 years ago and it was like being touched by the Magic Wand. The moment the wand was pulled back, my sales plummeted and never returned.

I like the analogy of the town. There's the main street and there's the part of town people think of as riff-raff.

Search engines will do just so much for you, but still they're sorted. So if you have a novel with a medical bent, how many thousand are going to come up? How does the customer sort thru them? They'll look at the ones on top who already have the best sales, chose one and move on.

Jim Self said...

I'm hoping the big ebookstores are going to articulate their subcategories a bit more. As it is, if you want to read steampunk, you have to wade through a bunch of non-steampunk to find it. Or dark fantasy, or others. These are very different from other "epic fantasy" stories, just like paranormal romance is different from Anne Rice. The new world of business is all about serving a niche, and the current search systems at ebook retailers aren't catering to that.