Monday, October 17, 2011

"Discoverability"




Continuing Jim's great discussion yesterday, I heard a term last week that I think sums up one of the challenges in this new e-book publishing revolution - "discoverability". It's one of the things a traditionally published author would look for in a publisher - their ability to get your book noticed. "Discoverability" is about being able to rise above the noise out there in e-book land and, for me at least, I think it represents a real and ongoing challenge.

While I agree that we authors should view this brave new world as a marathon not a sprint, I also think its hard enough already to juggle writing with all the publicity currently demanded. This marathon could, for so many writers, become a marketing slog to the detriment of honing their craft. For me, therein lies the dilemma. While I would love to be putting out independent e-books as well as traditionally published titles, I worry about how I am going to fit in all the marketing and publicity I need to make both a successful endeavour. Likewise I see the vast wave of self-published e-books and worry how will my books be noticed amid all the flotsam and jetsam.

So just how can a writer increase their "discoverability"?

First off the quality of the writing needs to be there - that's a given...but then what?
  • Social networking sites, websites, blogs, twitter feeds etc. are all necessary components but there is still a lot of 'noise' (and a lot of writers hawking their wares!) out there in all of these;
  • Advertisements (in all print, media and digital forms) - although I think many authors have had mixed results when it comes to traditional forms of 'advertising';
  • Word of mouth - the most powerful of all and the driver of almost all successful novels. I suspect however that 'discoverability' is an important precursor to getting this;
  • Reviews and review sites (by industry, readers as well as peers) - definitely an important component of any marketing plan - but nonetheless there remains the age old problem of books that receive great reviews but still fail to garner much in terms of sales or recognition;
  • Personal networking opportunities - still, I suspect, as important as ever, but with book tours falling by the wayside, writers have to increasingly use social networking media to achieve this.
What else should be added to the list?

Do you think that despite the revolution, traditional publishers may be able to regain an upper hand by offering more opportunities to achieve this elusive "discoverability" (and the jury is out on this one as many publishers paid little attention to getting their authors noticed anyway!).

So what does "discoverability" mean to you? How are you going to try and achieve it?



26 comments:

  1. Woo Hoo! First comment!

    Smashwords did a survey asking how ebook buyers find books. The results are at:

    http://blog.smashwords.com/2011/09/how-ebook-buyers-discover-books.html

    The results hit my habits dead on. I use blogs and social networking as my primary resource. My friends and professional acquaintances are going to get my support. If I like them enough to socialize and interact with, I'm going to give their work a chance. So, that can't be underestimated.

    Then the Amazon "customers who bought . . ." and other cross-referenced recommendations are solid gold.

    For every superstar there are a plethora of the "midlisters" in ebook land gaining readers and supplementing their incomes.

    Terri

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  2. I plan to wear big hats...and bells. They will discover me fo sho.

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  3. Basil - how dare you steal my idea:)! Terri, thanks for the survey link. I do agree authors are taking solid ground out there in ebook land. You don't have to be a superstar bestseller to be doing well! At least in the ebook world authors can manage their careers and create 'discoverability' without relying on publishers. I forgot to mention that on the blog post!

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  4. Do you think that despite the revolution, traditional publishers may be able to regain an upper hand by offering more opportunities to achieve this elusive "discoverability"

    Yes. They still have the upper hand. Any time I see mainstream media coverage of literature, it is propounding books with traditional publishers.

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  5. Discoverability

    I like Basil's approach, big hats and bells.

    You're right Clare. Great post. How does one go about getting noticed.

    If I throw my work up on Kindle do I learn the marketing strategies as I go along? What resources are available to push our work through the marketplace?

    And how much of my precious writing time is taken up by all this?

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  6. Great post, Clare. I tweeted you into the blogosphere. Love twitterville.

    The reality is that even traditional publishers only go so far to promo your book, unless you're a big name. It's up to the author to "think out of the box" on promotion. Advance reviews from PW, Kirkus, Booklist, etc are not guaranteed. Fewer newspapers do reviews or they farm them out to free lance reviewers who are online bloggers anyway. So most advance reviews for the avg author come from the online community.

    I'm finding new ways ro promote as a result of writing for the young adult market.It's very important to get advance buzz 2-3 months prior to release that builds in momentum. A virtual book tour can help. I'm getting ready to launch one next month for my Dec 27th rlease of ON A DARK WING.

    Since I'm posting on Thursday, I'll share what that has entailed for me. The YA market isn't just for kids. More & more adults are discovering the genre, but online social media is vital these days to find & sustain readership IMO. More on Thursday. Thanks for the idea, Clare.

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  7. Hats & bells can't hurt...unless someone actually sees you.

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  8. "Discoverability" is only one third of the tripartite marketing calculus. We'll use that term, and add the others:

    1. Discoverability
    2. Perceived value
    3. Post-purchse assessment

    You need all three to run this marathon successfully. Vis-a-vis 2 and 3: If your name is Lee Child or Stephen King, you have value, so the price point can be a little higher (which is why traditional publishers push the A list). If not, a lower price point is essential. But there's also your sales copy here. You've got to have killer copy that does the convincing (just as a good salesperson pitches any product).

    Then, post purchase, the reader will assess the book itself. This is the most important part of the transaction, as it should be. If the book meets the perceived value, or exceeds it, you have a repeat buyer.

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  9. Great advice everyone. Marketing is the one thing I have the biggest trouble wrapping my head around; how to do it, what's effective, what isn't, how much, where and when to do it. A lot of issues.
    To build on what JSB said, I think in the modern online world of selling, copy or a good cover blurb, cover art and sampling are all critical to getting new readers interested, and quality storytelling and professionally edited work will get them to return.
    I believe, fast writers will do well as they can build a large inventory relatively quickly, making them available where shelf life is no longer a limiting factor.
    Finally, one of the biggest bangs I've gotten to getting noticed has been to offer a short story for free as a lost leader. You need to have multiple titles available for this to work, but this has given me my greatest marketing return so far.
    Good luck everyone,
    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny - a Grace deHaviland novel

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  10. When I have this dicussion in writing groups, especially those with a lot of noobs or vanity-press refugees, I lead with:

    "I am your potential customer. I read every day. I don't have cable, so reading is my evening entertainment. I have a Kindle and open it at every meal. I have wide tastes in genre fiction and love short stories. I don't have a lot of disposable income, but I am willing to dispose of it on books.

    Okay, make me happy . . . "

    All true BTW. My three-point buying decision is the place where price point - pitch/back cover copy - cover art meet. If I've interacted with you through social media power-up 10 points. If I've read, and liked your stuff, that's another huge power-up.

    Most of my "maybe" buys fail on the pitch. If it is awkward (Joe loves Judy, who he isn't supposed to because she goes out with his brother and is also the sister of his best friend who Joe really likes), pretentious (this 110,000 word earth-shaking story written entirely in parable and metaphor will blow the lid off the paradigm of the [insert industry]), or heaven forbid, riddled with errors, I keep moving.

    If somebody wanted to start a little consulting service, I would recommend critiqueing and advising on cover copy for Amazon.

    Terri

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  11. I think quality is still the cornerstone in the overall wall of publishing. I have noticed that some of the authors who say that the epublisher has to write several books a year is not nearly as important as what is published. I will wait a year or more for a great book. I'm on a waiting list for Chuck Hogan & Guillermo Del Toro's final in THE STRAIN, THE FALL, their vampire series that is amazing.

    I have read some authors works who are publishing more than a book a year and frankly the quality is lacking. My philosophy is to Never rush my work. I could write six below average novels a year.

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  12. And to think I could have been a bricklayer.

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  13. "Anything can be great. I dunno, bricklaying can be great, if a guy knows...what he's doin' and how to pull it off." - Fast Eddie Felson, "The Hustler"

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  14. Just so everyone knows...the big hat and bells will be balanced atop the mass of extremely high quality military and historical thrillers that I have also just happen to have written. A veritable Cat-in-the-Hat-Stack of action packed novels teetering towards lofty greatness...et cetera....et cetera.

    Harumph!

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  15. Great blog post, Clare. It is such a conundrum- how much time to spend trying to become 'discovered' vs. writing well. I am of the category of authors who take a year to write a book. I simply don't think I could write any faster and keep any semblance of a life. And so, is that enough? And am i doing enough marketing? I can go crazy trying to answer my own questions. It's nice to know that others wonder about the same thing.

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  16. You know, the #4 book on the NYT bestseller list of combined paper and ebook sales is a The Mill River Recluse, a self-pubbed novel by first-time author Darcie Chan.

    One could write a case study on discoverability on Chan.

    I have no idea how she got on the bestseller list, weeks ago, nor how she's managed to stay there. But when I poke around the web, I see she's got 300+ absolutely glowing reviews on Amazon. I have to imagine quality plus word of mouth is her secret.

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  17. I heartily disagree with the by-now tired chestnut that proclaims, "It's a marathon, not a sprint". I think this is used way too often as a tonic to quiet anxious authors who are tired of working hard for months and months promoting their books and getting nowhere in return.

    There are far too many indie authors out there-- hundreds of them--who have sprinted to wild success in very, very short order while admittedly doing little in terms of promotion.

    These people have discovered discoverability and almost to a person, they attribute most of it to "luck". One author, who self-pubbed her first book at the end of July had sold 39,000 books by September 1, and she claimed she got "lucky". I can say with certainty that "luck" could not possibly have put that book in front of the staggering number of people that would result in 39,000 sales in just over 30 days on the market.

    Discoverability, yes. "Luck", no.

    I for one would be ecstatic if I never read or heard "It's a marathon, not a sprint" again.

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  18. Thanks everyone...I love how the time zones work so while I am sleeping everyone is debating. Jim thanks for the three pronged approach info...totally agree and yes, mike, there are many sprinters out there (though I do think luck has always had a lot to do with success...) I am looking forward to Jordan's post on what she has been doing for the YA market. I think the temptation to try and do more than one book a year can easily lead to a slip in quality as per JRM, so I think in this ebook revolution authors have to be careful not to rush the get stuff out there before it is ready.

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  19. Maybe when all this ebook stuff gets really popular and nobody is pounding on the doors of traditional publishers who are starving for new blood....I will slip them one of my polished works and hope to get a shot! :D

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  20. If I had the answers to these questions, my books would be bestsellers. We all have to do what fits within our time constraints and budget. I do social networks, guest blogs, email newsletters, and just try to reach out to readers, booksellers, and librarians as much as possible. I do agree that traditional publishers as well as epubs have to do something more to make their authors stand out in the crowd.

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  21. If you have a traditional career, you don't need to be marketing your self-published work. Let time and search algorithms do the work for you. Just write and make sure you've got an attractive product as well as a good read.

    If you're doing ONLY self-publishing, then you may need to prime the pump a little more yourself (although MORE time and algorithms will still do the job eventually).

    Remember, it isn't just Amazon's "also boughts" -- every time someone reviews any of your books, the rest of your books become more discoverable. Any time you comment on a blog, anything you do on the interent at all, any time anyone mentions you or one of your books -- all of that makes ALL of your books more discoverable.

    It's like blogging: volume, quality and time matter much much more than promotion.

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  22. I don't see "its a marathon, not a sprint" as some kind of excuse, and yes, there are many cases of people who have sprinted to success as you say. But, I think for most new/midlist writers the key will be to build their readership, one reader at a time, one book (or novella or short story) at a time.
    That is why I think building inventory (of quality, well written, well edited stories) is the key to success for most of us going indie. Putting out volumes of available stories that never go off the shelf will win out in the end. Which is also why I think faster writers will do better than slower writer, simply because they can put up more product, faster.
    That of course says nothing about quality. I do not agree fast writing equates with bad writing, no more than writing slowly guarantees quality.
    Also, the one book a year mentality is another left over element from traditional publishing thinking based on limited shelf space and overworked editors and publishers who could not keep up with quality writer who wrote fast. Which also led to the false thinking that readers would not want more than one book a year from a single author. James Patterson and Clive Cussler blew that myth out of the water even before e-publishing did.
    I think badly written, badly formatted, badly edited stuff will flash in the pan (maybe) and sink to the bottom. I think quality writing will always find a readership. I think writers who don't get discouraged by small numbers and $ right out of the gate, who keep pounding out quality work, will succeed and make big amounts of money...over time.
    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny - a Grace deHaviland novel

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  23. It's true, everything you do has a cumulative effect and makes you more "discoverable", the rick is finding the time to fit it all in!

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  24. So here's a question--has a slow novel writer ever learned to write fast and still produce the quality they were after?

    Or once a slow writer, always a slow writer?

    BK Jackson

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  25. BK, I've had some thoughts on that. One of the first books I got on writing was Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, which advocated the 10 minute "writing practice." It's a way to loosen up, get subterranean material and learn to write a bit faster. It takes...practice.

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  26. JSB,

    Thanks for that link. Yep, I definitely am going to have to practice hard!

    BK Jackson

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