Thanks to Nate over at The Digital Reader for alerting me to this great blog post by author Lindsay Buroker.
Buroker runs through a number of Amazon ‘tricks’ which, for various reasons, are losing steam as powerhouse author tools. Some tools, such as tagging and keyword manipulation, never worked that well anyway because people don’t tend to search for books using those methods. Others, such as freebie promotions, are less potent than they used to be because of Amazon’s restrictions on these practices.
So, what was Buroker’s perhaps surprising conclusion? She points out that authors should not lose heart when these things happen, because all of these ‘tricks’ were based on gaming the system—and a career built on ‘games’ will not be much of a career at all. What does work, then?
“The good news,” Buroker says, “is that the legitimate stuff that’s always worked (releasing good books, gradually building up a fan base, collecting readers’ email addresses for a mailing list, and promoting the next book to those loyal readers while continuing to collect new ones along the way) still works and should always work.”
I applaud Buroker’s sensible advice to aspiring authors. However, I do think some of this ‘gaming’ stuff may have a place in this marketplace. There is just so much stuff competing for the average Web surfer’s attention!
GigaOM just ran a great article where they surveyed a handful of people about their YouTube usage, and one person, a teenager, said he went on YouTube for an average of three hours a day, after his homework. Three hours! That is time this guy is spending on justone website! It boggles my mind. There is so much content available—much of it free or of inconsequential cost—that the problem is not ‘Joe Average User would have nothing to read or watch if it weren’t for the indie people widening his choices,’ but rather, it’s ‘Joe Average User is so overwhelmed by the content he has already that he is reluctant to learn about new content even if it’s cheap, available and something he might enjoy.’ How do you market to someone in this era of exploding choices?
Even an outlier like me, a fast reader who can plow through several books a week, is feeling the pressure. I somehow got subscribed to a free trial at Zinio of a weekly entertainment magazine. My RSS feeds require about an hour a day of reading, some of which I do on the bus on my way to work. I have about 200 novels in my backlog from the old days of Fictionwise deep discounts that I haven’t read yet. There are some 400-odd library books on my to-read list. There are a handful of spiritual and personal development books I enjoy that feature daily assigned readings. There are another handful of books in French (most from the library) that I read to keep my language skills up to snuff. And as for the classics, which I will pay for (even if it’s in the public domain) if the version is nice—it’s often cheaper to buy the complete works than it is to buy the single book you might be browsing for. I could get a year’s worth of reading just from the Dickens and Trollope collections!
Ultimately, Buroker is right, and the truly career-building, successful authors will be the ones who build a good old-fashioned fanbase the tried-and-true way. But I think that sometimes gimmicks do help authors break through the noise a little and get that audience base in the first place.
Of the authors I regularly follow, I can think of only three who entered my radar after I had gone ebook-only—Cory Doctorow, who I found via his blog and who I first tried thanks to a free giveaway; J.A. Konrath, whose blog was recommended to me by my sister and who had a freebie available for sampling; and Blake Crouch, who is a Konrath buddy and had a sample in one of Konrath’s books. I have read other indie books, but most of them were one-shot deals. Most of those authors didn’t have websites or mailing lists or new books coming out regularly. They had a chance with me, and then they just … didn’t do anything with it. As a result, they’ve fallen off my radar.
Obviously, not everyone can be a Konrath and crank out a dozen books a year. But he is a prolific—and good—blogger (as is Doctorow), and so can stay on my radar even when he doesn’t have a new book out. I don’t know what the magic solution is here.
Is it fair that most authors, even good ones, won’t attract much notice without working hard at the PR stuff? Maybe not. But that’s the difference between having a hobby and having a job. If authors are in this to make money, they have to do the less-fun business stuff too. The market is more open than it ever has been, but it’s more competitive, too.
Use the tricks to attract attention if you need to—but then have a solid career-building plan to back it up. That’s really the message authors should be hearing.