Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writer’s Dilemma—Finding And Keeping Readers

By Mark Young
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”—Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities.

This classic opening line might well describe the current publishing world. It is a wonderful time to be a writer—getting published has never been easier unless you are trying to attract the attention of legacy publishers. And, at times, it seems almost daunting trying to get your novels recognized in a sea of new works that flood the market every day. Getting your book out there is getting easier. Attracting the attention of readers is not so easy. If fact, it might be describe as Mission Impossible.

Writers’ chances of getting a hefty number of new readers might seem less likely than winning the lottery or getting a majority of liberals to vote conservative. I gathered a few stats from the internet to illustrate what writers are up against. Did you know:

  • Besides feeding information to the CIA and NSA, Google gathers an assortment of stats including how many books are out there on the market. They claim there are at least 130 million books in the world at last count. This figure is rapidly climbing faster than Amazon’s share of the market.
  • And speaking of Amazon, this tight-lipped conglomerate has millions of books—print and eBook—just a click away from customers across the globe. Their lending library alone boasts over 475,000 books available to their Prime members. That’s a lot of competition.
  • Another source of interesting book facts comes from Bowkers, the official ISBN Agency for the U.S., who gives authors and publishers that little number—called the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). They also keep stats. According to them, the number of self-published titles in 2012 reached more than 391,000, a 59 percent increase over the previous year and a 422 percent increase over 2007.
  • Americans buy approximately five million books a day, and it is believed that 125 new titles are published every twenty-four hours. And then there is the rest of the globe.

So how do writers and readers connect amidst this tidal wave of competitors?

Since I have not hit the NYT's bestseller list, I am still trying to figure that one out myself. As a writer and reader, I try to use a little common sense and figure what works in my small part of the reading world. From that, maybe you and I can figure out the bigger picture that would help us to understand how to reach new readers.

Since the advent of eBooks, as a reader I have been able to sample more books than I would have ever encountered by regular visits to the library. I can do this at all hours and with greater ease than ever before. So what makes readers like me choose one book over another, one writer over all those others? We have only a certain amount of time to settle on new writers that we might like to read. And we don’t like to feel our time has been wasted. So, how do we make these choices?

First, word of mouth—whether it is face-to-face or online acquaintances—still remains one of the most
persuasive ways in my world to settle on the next book to read. I give a lot of credence to people whose opinion I respect. But I don’t generally buy a book solely on their opinions. Another way I zoom in on a book is to read a variety of blogs that I enjoy that focus on books, writers, and writing. An interesting interview with an author might persuade me to buy a particular book. Maybe. Then again, maybe I need more information. 

Personally, I like to sample the wares. One of Amazon’s most effective tools allows potential customers to read a sample of the book they are considering buying.  The Look Inside click and read function is a great way for readers to find out if the new author’s writing style interests them.

Another way to attract readers is the free or heavily-discounted promotions that are offered—particularly through Amazon’s Kindle Select program. These programs allow authors to promote their books to a larger audience than they might normally reach, particularly if it is pushed by Amazon’s secret matrix system that everyone is still trying to figure out. I am much more willing to take a chance on an unknown author if I can try out a free or heavily discounted book. More than once, after reading a novel I particularly enjoyed, I sought out and paid full price for other novels by the same author.

A method I use to gather writing samples is to subscribe to a number of free web sites—like Bookbub—that showcase free or discounted novels each day. I can scroll through the list and click on any that seem to strike my fancy, particularly if they fall in the free-to-$.99 range.

Now let me slip over and wear my writer’s hat for a moment. Once I have attracted a reader who seems to like my novels, how can I ensure that that reader will keep looking for my next release or buy earlier works?

There are three ways that come to mind, although I am sure there are others. First and foremost, keep writing good books. Secondly, use social media tools to stay connected to readers. And lastly, encourage others to review your books so that new readers will find out about your novels.

American author Fran Lebowitz is attributed with the quote: “You are only as good as your last haircut.” I’m not sure in which context she said this, but for most authors I would like to change this quote to say: You are only as good as your last novel. Writers need to strive to make their next novel even better. Readers deserve it, and I believe readers appreciate it. This goes into all aspects of making the novel, from the writing to the cover design and everything in between. Don’t get lazy. Do the best job you can and it will be reflected in the quality of your work. Readers will notice.

Before, during and after writing that novel, writers should consider developing and maintaining a web site, blogging, and using a variety of social media sites to stay in touch with readers. Develop email lists and consider using a good email service like Constant Contact to stay in touch with interested readers. Don’t badger them, but send regular updates so they can stay updated. Let them know of upcoming releases or promotions. They have tight budgets also, so let them know when they can save a few bucks on one of your novels.

Lastly, consistently and faithfully market your books. Seek out bloggers who might review your book, offer an interview, or allow you to provide a guest blog on their site. Look for websites that allow you to post your latest novel for their viewers. Explore the ever-growing online radio and pod casts for opportunities to reach new readers. Look for book club groups that you might be able to connect with either in person, on line (Skype, Face-to-Face Live, etc.), or by phone.

And do not give up. Take every day as it comes. Enjoy the little triumphs: a good review; the release of a new novel; a jump in sales on a particular day; and just the mere fact that you experience a good writing day. 

Enjoy the journey. And keep writing.

Readers and writer: How do you find new authors? What makes you stay in contact with that writer?