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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Writing – competing in the marketplace

Long gone are the days when authors could simply spend their time writing novels. Yes, maybe some authors with the big publishers (five, six, a number that’s shrinking as I write?) can leave it to the PR machines – Cusslers, Archer, and Child, among a few hundred others. The rest have to fend for themselves and get their books noticed.


Because there are a lot of books out there, and the number shows no sign of reducing.

In 2013 (latest figures) the US traditional publishers produced just over 300,000 titles. And for independent publishers it’s perhaps three times as many.

Readers have never had it so good – so long as they can tell the wheat from the chaff, of course. Selection by genre can help, but not every book that’s available is necessarily a good book. At least with e-books, and the majority of online offerings, you have the opportunity to read the first chapter or so as a sample so you can get a feel for the story – do you want to read on? The online version of browsing in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop (remember those?)

Not so good news for readers is that market forces seem to be affecting book prices, too. A recent report from the Office of National Statistics says that the price of books rose by 12.8% in the third quarter of 2014, and an average of 7.4% over the whole of that year – the highest rise since their records began about 17 years ago.

Some pundits opine that these figures – which include hardbacks, paperbacks and e-books at online and high street outlets – suggest that book buyers are returning to the printed page in preference to the e-book. Hardbacks are selling well from bookstores, apparently; though I suspect only since they’re heavily discounted from the high cover price. I can’t understand the surprise. Avid book readers probably buy both print and e-book, and maybe have more on their shelves or in their reader than they can hope to read in a lifetime. Certainly, e-books reduce the imperative for yet more book-shelves; my e-reader has at least 180 items (several are book collections) so that’s a big saving on shelf space.

Talking of shelf space, most bookstores have only so much room in their emporiums. New books keep arriving, so the older books have to be shunted to the back store, or returned to the publisher. This fate doesn’t apply to books by best-selling names, of course, because they’re always in demand and create turnover of cash for the shopkeeper. So, should it appear on a shop shelf, your new book may have a short few weeks of glory. At least in the online stores, it’s visible ‘forever’ after an appropriate search.
As hinted above, most book readers have only a finite amount of time to read. Their choice in the marketplace is already too large, and that applies to all genres. So, if authors want to be read, they really need to grasp the nettle and get their book noticed – it has to stand out from the crowd.
And that’s the conundrum. How to get your book noticed. [We’re not talking about how to make lots of money from sales. We’re talking about enlisting readers to your cause, your words, so they will come back for more (when you’ve written it, of course)].
Giveaways for reviews is a tried and tested method, and it might work. Nobody is forced to provide a review, however, and feedback suggests that giveaways do not generate great volumes of reviews.

Reviews. This is precious feedback from readers, and I'm always grateful for them! Usually, the reviews from friends can be spotted a mile off – ‘I love this book. I can’t wait for the next book from this author.’ There’s nothing wrong with friends reviewing honestly, seriously, of course. If you do get reviews, try to thank the reviewer on social media – they’ve made the effort, after all.
Approach local newspapers. Forget the nationals and glossy magazines; they’re already inundated with thousands from the big publishers every week. Perhaps offer a copy of your book as a prize.

Blog and guest blog are two ways to spread the word.

Twitter can be used to plug your book.

FaceBook can be used selectively in appropriate focus groups.

Pinterest might generate interest (no pun intended).

Goodreads – offer the book as a prize or giveaway.

Give talks, at the end of which, plug your book or better still sell a few copies.

Book signings – if it’s a print version – worth a try, but if you’re an ‘unknown’ don’t dream of multiple sales (though some are fortunate enough to shift over a half-dozen copies!) Beforehand, you need to prepare a PR sheet and perhaps bookmarks to hand out.

Wherever you post online, ensure you have quoted the appropriate buying links.

All of the above takes time, dedication and eats into that creative writing time that’s already quite scarce.

Whatever method you employ to find readers, try to make your approach sincere, reasonable and not an ‘in-your-face’ shoutout. If you intend to repeat any of the above, try to vary the text and approach to maintain interest and avoid being categorised as 'spam' which turns people off. You want readers to be drawn to your prose – use that prose to generate that interest in your appeals.

Now, I must get back to writing that sequel…



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