FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
With the continuing decline of bricks and mortar channels, and the huge explosion of self-published authors (more people writing is always a positive in my humble opinion), there’s a genuine challenge facing indie authors and publishers alike – how the dickens do you engage and build an interested, enthusiastic, loyal (and paying!) readership? Latest statistics suggest that Waterstones only holds 2,000 titles in its Hub as core stock – if that’s the case then it’s virtually the equivalent of winning the lottery to get a new indie novel on the bookshelves. And unlike the big players, an independent publisher can’t afford to pay the price some retailers might ask to feature a title prominently in a store.
The truth is though that getting your book to an audience isn’t the problem, particularly if you’re conversant with the myriad digital channels available. Hell, get your book on Amazon and most readers in the world will be able to buy or download a copy. No, the real challenge isn’t finding a distribution channel or platform that functions, it’s in ensuring the audience that populates that channel find your book. And on finding it buy it.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Come on Matthew you’re saying, we all know that authors and publishers want to sell books and need readers to do it, it’s hardly worth your waffle or my reading time. But I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the various ways authors and publishers are trying to improve discoverability, and not least because I want to sell more copies of Remember to Breathe (see what I did there?). Of course you can spend a fortune on advertising, pretend you understand how Google Adwords work – as far as I can tell they’re designed for charging you to think up slightly cryptic words associated with a product – throw tantrums and cash at Facebook, and beg, plead and sell your children for just one tiny, measly review in a national paper – but it’s no guarantee of success. And nor is it good enough to just have a fabulous novel like Remember to Breathe (see what I did there again?) and support it with a rather funky website and lots of juicy extra content. Because if no-one sees all that media-friendly loveliness then it’s all been a bit of an egotistical love-in. No matter how much you kid yourself, masturbating is never as satisfying or fun as sex with someone else.
So back to the eternal question, how do you get readers to find your stunningly brilliant book? Well, here’s a thought, why not flip everything around and go and find your readers rather than hoping they find you. I know, revelatory. But think about it for a moment. Let’s take Twitter as an example (a platform I have reason to love and loathe in equal measure). As a publisher I’m as guilty as the next person of a certain age in thinking that just by being on Twitter and mentioning I’ve published a book it’ll suddenly be discovered by the eager masses, who will then crash Amazon in their eager demand for copies. In a sort of ‘build it and they will come’ fit of self-delusion I open the doors of Twitter and a readership falls into my lap. But apparently that’s not the case. Because I have no idea who my audience is. And they have no idea who I am, or my author, or the book. Why the hell should anyone trust me enough to spend money on a download just because I’ve spent the time to write 140 characters?
But perhaps they would if they knew me. Or if they knew the author. And if they felt some affinity with us, them, whoever. Or engagement. And this is where it gets interesting. Stephen Page of Faber said this week that success will be about the drive to get to know consumers – hallelujah, at last!! As publishers and authors we can’t just produce the goods anymore and then hope (sometimes rather desperately) that a kindly retailer will find a paying readership for us. We have to be willing to get to know our audience, and, scary as it sounds, let them get to know us. And that doesn’t mean just being on a platform like Twitter and becoming obsessed with the thoughts of strangers rather than those who care – and there are plenty of people on there who do seem overly concerned with how strangers view them – but it does mean authors and publishers have to open up, talk to readers, listen, share. There are some authors already doing this brilliantly and it helps of course that they write brilliantly as well. But they’ve let readers in and engaged. And why not, because for every author and publisher the reader is everything. Yes, fantastic books are still being discovered on their own merits – finding undiscovered gems will always be one of the joys of being a book lover. But there’s no harm in developing a little personality with your books – many readers want to see behind the magic curtain, feel a part of the creative process, develop an affinity for those who write the words they love. It can be rather scary opening up to strangers, especially when you’re eventually asking them to judge the value of your words. But there’s something strangely reassuring that in this interactive, open-ended, digitally-driven, fast moving world of ours, success may still be driven by talking to people, engaging with them, and bringing them along willingly for the ride. Who knows, by chatting to a few more like-minded souls I may even sell a few more copies of Remember to Breathe. I think you’re starting to see what I did there