2013 was a legendary year for book marketing…
Partly because of the self-publishing revolution. There are more books around these days than ever before, most of which are published digitally.
In 2012 Bowker reported there were 3,500 books published every day in the USA alone. This figure doesn’t include ebooks. 2013 looks set to reveal even bigger numbers.
The book marketing implications are dramatic. The traditional models are, to all intents and purposes, broken. So what will 2014 bring for authors who want to market their books?
The Huffington post has made a suite of fascinating predictions. Here they are.
Do you need to write more?
Most authors trundle out one or two books a year, max. But according to the Huffington article, readers want a constant stream of new content.
It’s true that content is king, and great content helps keep your ‘brand’ in front of readers. Every online marketer worth their salt knows it. And it makes sense that the more stuff you have out there, the more people will see it. If you release a book within 6-9 months of your last one, you will often see more sales of your previous books simply because new titles put old titles in the forefront of people’s minds. Fair enough.
But does it really mean writing more books will drive more sales? Can you write more, or are you already writing your poor heart out? The idea makes depressing reading for authors who, before the e-revolution, wrote to an old school and entirely different schedule, with fewer demands on their time.
Do you need to write shorter books?
How about writing shorter books, so you publish more frequently? According to the Huffington article, we saw this in 2013 and it’s a trend that may well continue.
You might find yourself writing two full length books per year and supporting them with shorter stuff like novellas and short stories. The key is to maintain quality in everything you do, something that’ll be an enormous challenge if you already task yourself with writing more than one or two 500 pagers every year.
Playing devil’s advocate, what if you just don’t ‘do’ short books? Do you really have to change the way your innate creativity expresses itself to meet the perceived needs of readers? Would an artist be prepared to do the same? Have readers’ needs really changed that much? What do you think?
What about micro-topics?
The assumption is that readers are suddenly very, very busy and don’t have time to bother reading long works. If this mass generalization really is true, which is debatable, micro-content might just be the savvy author-marketer’s way forward.
Huffington’s argument goes like this: If you can identify a popular reader issue and solve it, you’re onto a winner. But can ‘niche writing’ really help boost your brand in readers’ eyes? Will short and sweet novels and stories help you sell more and gather a wider audience? Only time and experimentation will tell. It’s an interesting idea. What’s your opinion?
Do you need to write with your readers front-of-mind?
Imagine you’re an artist. The best and most successful artists don’t go all out to please their audience. They’re rebels, innovators, creative powerhouses, revolutionaries, misfits…
What about writers? As a reader, would you really want authors to give you what you want every time? What about serendipity? The Huffington article proposes that you must take the time to reach out to readers. What do you, as an author or reader, think? Do you write for the love of it, because you can’t not write, because there’s something you need to say or just to please readers?
Do you need to interact with readers?
Not so long ago, authors sat in their ivory towers and we didn’t hear much from them. Today many of them are out there online, loud and proud, encouraging potential and existing fans to review their books, engaging directly with them via social media, and carrying out digital direct marketing to communicate directly with their audience. The Huffington post article says:
“Do not, under any circumstances, end your book without giving readers a chance to engage with you, your other material, or your characters.”
If this really is the way ahead, it means being everywhere that matters. It means forgetting about scattergun marketing, which is nothing new – targeted work has always worked better than ‘spray and pray’.
As the Huffington article also says, “if you aren’t interested in what you have to say, why should your reader be?”. It makes sense logically. But what about real life? As an author, it’s a tricky situation. You want to write. There are only so many hours in a day. Can you realistically spare the time to constantly engage with readers, or is it a crazy expectation?
What about key terms and SEO?
If you’re marketing products online, whether it’s ebooks or underwear, keywords rule. If you want to sell your books online, you need to make sure people can find them. And that’s a search engine optimization job, no doubt about it.
To illustrate the point, there’s a new trend on Amazon. Apparently readers aren’t searching by their favorite authors so much any more. They tend to use key terms instead, searching on terms like ‘best selling crime authors’ and ‘new thriller books under $3’.
This means you need to find out what potential readers are searching for, so you can use those terms in your marketing materials. Unless you do, nobody will find you when they search using those terms.
Whether you like it or not, you need to identify and use key terms in your Amazon page and book descriptions, on your author website, in your blog, in articles you write for marketing purposes and in social media marketing. Just being on Amazon isn’t enough. This is no Field of Dreams.
Do you need to release ebooks as well as printed books?
It makes sense. People read ebooks. When you release a new book, it’s wise to create an ebook too. It’s a book marketing no-brainer. The same goes for all your books, including your back catalog. As ‘enhanced eBooks’ make more and more of an impact, they medium isn’t going to go away. Quite the opposite.
How about giving content away for free?
Some say readers are immune to freebies. Really? Readers are people, popl are readers, and people love free stuff. There’s no reason why readers wouldn’t want read good quality free work from you. And it makes good marketing sense, too. Giving free samples, in whatever form, brings in new potential customers. Another marketing no-brainer.
Does the book cover matter?
Good covers help sell books. Great design matters. DIY design is all very well, but graphic design is a specific skill that people spend years at college learning. It isn’t something you can just pull out of a hat. We always recommend getting a proper, qualified, talented designer on the case to create/maintain your reputation as a quality author.
Where do readers discover new books?
The Book Industry Study Group’ 2013 survey looked at where readers find new books, and the majority apparently still do it via bookstores. Some bookshops are already charging authors for prominent shelf space, joining publishers who have had to pay for premium visibility for years. Are you ready to dig deep into your own pocket to fund a high-vis presence in your favorite offline or online bookstore? Do you think it’s a good thing?
More self-published books than ever
Watch out for more partnerships between publishers and self-published authors.
Traditional publishers can’t afford not to join the SP revolution, and a wide variety of new partnership models are already evolving. The days of generous advances are gone, so we may even see a reverse model, where authors pay to have a traditional publisher’s brand name on their books, benefiting from the publisher’s existing kudos and reputation. It’s a fundamental change, and one that won’t necessarily benefit authors or readers. Again, what are your views?
Our own book marketing predictions for 2014
These days, readers directly influence the success or failure of books. But hang on a minute… haven’t they always? If they don’t buy, you don’t make money. Some things never change.
The thing is, readers have more choice, more channels through which to discover books and more opportunity to engage with authors than ever before. In some ways these are great times for writers, who have more control than ever over the success or failure of their own work, even if the market is more crowded. In other ways it’s a bad thing for authors, who are being forced to market themselves when, just a few years ago, they could safely rely on their publishers to do it for them.
As it stands right now, unless you’re a superstar author you need to find ways to reach your audience directly. The big questions are how you do it, how much of your creative ‘self’ you need to sacrifice, and how far you need to go. And the game is wide open.
If you haven’t already made inroads into self-marketing, we’re here to help you see the wood for the trees.
Mike is CEO of PML Media Limited, a virtual agency staffed by 14 independent marketing professionals, copywriters and technical geniuses.
PML helps authors build and manage their Author Platforms, social media channels, build email lists and create ongoing strategies to help boost their brand, get noticed and sell more books.