Sunday, June 26, 2011

Discoverability: Authors responsibility in finding book buyers

As I mentioned there where two aspects at BEA that were talked about over and over again and they were:
  • Author Platform
  • Discoverability
I've contended in many posts in the past that the platform, is not only important, but in today's environment where readers want to connect with their authors, but essential. One look at what Pottermore and you can see the importance of this connection.

Not surprising there was a lot of gnashing of teeth at BEA about author discoverability. Many espoused that bookstores were essential as that is how readers have traditionally found authors – by browsing the shelves. Others pointed out that discoverability becomes more difficult online where hundreds of thousands of books make it impossible for readers to find what they are looking for. They made it sound impossible for an author to be found due to the vast number of competing titles.

PubTrack (the consumer market research arm of Bowker) recently released their 2010-2011 Book Buying Report. It collected buying behavior from 40,000 unique U.S. book buying men, women, and teens. The sample represents more than 96,000 unique book purchases and 65,000 shopping occasions. Here is what their study said about how readers become aware of a book:

What I find most remarkable here is that 33% revolves around author loyalty (liked the author or because it was a series). Co-op placement still plays a fairly large role but not nearly as large as the publishers at BEA seemed to indicate. I’m surprised that Word of mouth (friend/relative recommend) didn’t score higher and that Online avenues such as book reviews and online retailer book recommendations also seemed negligible.

Primary reason, is important but I think the buying decision is rather complicated and actually involves many of the above simultaneously. In marketing I learned that it takes multiple exposures of someone’s product to get them to buy. The first time they hear about it, the information goes in one ear and out the other. After three or four mentions they start paying attention, and by six or nine mentions, they actually decide whether to buy or not. So I suspect that seeing a review on a blog, then hearing from a friend that they liked the book, then finally seeing the book in the “also bought” when cruising Amazon for a new read all contribute.
What this tells me is that there are a few things authors have to focus on.
  • Writing well – word-of-mouth, like the author, part of a series all come into play only if the story is compelling – those three categories add up to 41% which is almost 60% of all the reported methods.

  • Write a series – whether you are doing romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers people like reading series. Think about this carefully before you start a single “one-off” book

  • You need to “make a name for yourself”. Which again harkens back to multiple books and building a platform. The prolific writer has always, and will always, have an advantage over those that write slowly. If it takes you ten years to put out your first book, this may not be the profession for you.

  • If you are published traditionally (sold through book stores) your publisher’s marketing efforts are probably focused on corporate buyers (the people who stock the stores and buy for libraries). If they believe in you enough to give you co-op dollars (providing you a more visible bookstore presence) then you’ll be one of the fortunate few and this should indeed give you a boost.
In many ways, my take away from this is platform and discoverability are directly related. If you work on building your platform, then discoverability becomes as simple as letting your fan base know that a new title is out. If you have a publisher, they can help you with discoverability, but ultimately, you can’t control what they do and don’t do. Successful authors rely on themselves to get noticed. The efforts of your publisher are not under your control and should not be looked upon as the exclusive means of promotion. Think of those activities as nice “value add” but realize that no one cares about the success of your book like you do, and you need to be an active participant to have the best chance at success.


Sean Black said...

Another terrific blog, Robin. Definitely in my top three publishing blogs. Not every writer is comfortable writing series but they can work brilliantly as it gives readers more time to discover an author, and of course, when they do, there is a nice juicy backlist all ready for them to buy.
From a writer's POV, I would add that writing a series takes a lot of patience because frequently it takes until the fourth, fifth or sixth title until they really take off with readers.

Christopher Wills said...

Great Post Robin on one of my favourite topics; discoverability. I wish there was more science around this word in the blogosphere. A lot of posters blandly say 'to improve discoverability; blog, tweet, facebook, comment etc., but most of it is platitudes with no evidence. I've just read John Locke's book on how he sold a million ebooks and he has a method that has brought him results (worth reading by the way). I wish more posters would do experiments. Has anybody stopped posting or stopped tweeting or facebooking? I've experimented myself, but the only thing I have found to date, is posting affects blog hits but not sales, and price does affect sales. However I have such a low sales rate I'm not in the best position to produce any definitive evidence.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Christopher, yes I agree with you and Robin that John Locke's book is worth reading. Although, I'm not going to tell which bit of advice was most helpful to me. I'm concerned that if everybody keeps giving away all the details in the book, it won't get the sales volume it deserves. ;)

One of the things that has been very effective for John, as everyone seems to already know, is Twitter. And I don't doubt that it could be somewhat effective for me. I've used it on a limited basis. But to use the way John does would require more time and effort than I am willing to give. I've already got to many other things taking away from my writing time.

I do think Facebook is useful. I spend very little time on it, making a comment whenever I have some interesting news. Sometimes I go a week without commenting. I believe you can easily overdo it on Facebook. If you comment four or five times a day every day, people will begin to Unlike you. I do try to always respond whenever someone comments.

I think the most effective tool I have is my website and newsletter. I offer over 300,000 words of my fiction for free on my site. And my free monthly newsletter includes a brand new flash fiction short story in each issue (which is not available on my website).

Most self-published authors seem to worry that if they give away too much of their writing, there will be nothing left to sell. But you'll never sell much until people get familiar with you and your writing. You've got to hook them first. ;)

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Robin, that chart is amazing. Only 3% buy a book based on its online review? Yet authors are working so hard to get them.

I love complimentary reviews of my books. What author wouldn't? But my books have done very well with just a handful of reviews. One of them recently spent 29 days on the Kindle Top-100 Bestseller list with only thirteen reviews.

As I said in my previous comment, I think that if you are unknown you have to give away some of your writing. And not just a small sample. Joe Konrath gives away many of his books on his website (not the blog), yet he sells a ton of those same titles. I do that too.

One of the great advantages of giving away your writing is that you'll get feedback---especially if readers really like your writing. Then you can take those glowing comments and include them in your Kindle (and B&N, etc.) book description section. I believe this has been very effective for my books.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

It seems to me that two major venues are missing here: libraries and used bookstores. Both offer readers the ability to sample new-to-them authors at little or no cost. Also, although it doesn't always happen, librarians and used bookstore staff have often recommended you-might-also-like authors to me. Between the two, I've come across scores of authors whose books I now regularly purchase.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Fascinating stats (as always), Robin. I agree that establishing name recognition and a reputation -- preferably in advance of publishing your first book -- is the most cost-effective way to generate sales.

That's certainly been my experience during my first week promoting my first novel. I had decent sales, because I had established some name recognition in various circles. Distinguishing yourself is also a key to "discoverability," I think. In our cluttered marketplace, you have to "stand out" in some way. Great marketing books have been written on the topic of "Positioning." I recommend those by Jack Trout and Al Ries.

David Gaughran said...

Hi Robin,

Interesting numbers.

I would love to see a similar one where online book transactions were broken out, and e-books were broken out to see what differences there were.

Actually, do you know if this survey was just offline sales or a mix of everthing (offline, online, and e-books)?

The old adage was the number one reason people bought books was because they had read something before by the author and enjoyed it, and number two was a recommendation from a trusted source. They always said that everything else was in single digits, but a good cover was far ahead of the rest.

I think that adage is borne out by these numbers. If you take "Like this author" and "Part of a series" as the same - that's 33%. Most of the rest that appear in this chart can be considered a recommendation from a trusted source in one sense or another, but it's fascinating to see the breakdown.

I wonder if we were dealing strictly with online sales or even just e-books whether appearing in "also boughts" and online reviews (whether blogs, Amazon, Goodreads etc.) would be a big factor, and whether appearing on a bestseller list would be a bigger factor.

Hard to know for sure, but that would be my hunch.

Author loyalty would still be out in front though, that's never going to change. I wonder if that will lead to authors extending the power of their brand to other books. We see it to some extent with blurb trading (Joe Konrath is very good at this), and collaborations (again, Konrath).

However, could it go one step further? Could we see authors publishing other authors and extending the seal of approval of their brand? I suppose Seth Godin's Domino Project could be seen in this light.


wannabuy said...

Interesting survey and a great find Robin.

I was going to disagree with the numbers until I realized how *one* person who utilized reviews could influence a large number of book purchases among their social circle. :)

I would like to know more behind these numbers too. With 12% of purchases being influenced by "In store display/On shelf/Spinning Rack"...

It implies the survey is biased towards readers who do not primarily buy ebooks... It begs the question, how were these readers found?


Robin Sullivan said...

Thanks Sean...I agree that the tipping point can be several books in - which even further illustrates if you only have 1 book the potential for success decreases.

Robin Sullivan said...

Christopher - blogging, tweeting, other social networking puts you "on the map". It's necessary to get the ball rolling as it where. Assuming you have a good book that people will recommend to others, then once word-of-mouth starts picking up then you don't NEED to be so active. That being said...your networking becomes important at that point to "connect" with your readers so it still is important-but you'll find it shift to speaking to the choir rather than trying to convert the uninitiated.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert - I think the thing with Twitter is not to look at it as a chore or a time sink. You need to realize that it is just a communication tool. You need to enjoy being part of the community - and you can do this in small doses.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert - I agree that newsletters and giving away writing to get people to sign up is a great approach. This gives you "direct" access to your fans - the most powerful tool in your marketing arsenal.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert Bruce - I agree that the "question" leaves off some important possible answers. Libaries are generally difficult for all but big-six titles to get into. Self-publsihed and small presses can get some traction here but only with A lot of effort.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert Bidinotto congratz on the release - I just went out to purchase. The Amazon page looks good - well written, a good price, and nice reviews. You're on your way !

Robin Sullivan said...

@David and Wannabuy, I'll make my next post focusing on "where" the books on this survey were bought.

Moses Siregar III said...

Very interesting stuff, Robin. Thanks for posting it.

This is reminder #4,532 for me that writing a series makes more sense than writing standalone novels. I need the reminder.

I'd prefer to write standalones, but I should link them together in a series.

Alex F. Fayle said...

I love that as indie-publishers series have become good things, especially for newbies. As little as a year ago, a series was a huge no-no for writers because a publishing house would be less likely to buy a series.

How quickly it's all changing!

Lois D. Brown said...

I heard once that the best way to make money on a book is to give it away first. (Hence the advance readers copy, etc.) I think indie pub is brilliant because it lets authors do "ARCs" without cost (besides time of course.) :)

Life of Lois

Splitter's Blog said...

Thanks Robin, informative as always.

I can give you a telling anecdote on the importance of a series and author loyalty:

I bought the first three books in Dalglish's Half Orc series because they were offered at a very low price as a set. I saw three books for one low price and took a shot.

My mother-in-law borrowed my eReader and for some strange reason, read the first three books. Believe me, they were nowhere near her typical genres.

Just yesterday, she asked that I buy books four and five for her at $3 and $4 respectively. She liked the first three so much, she had to see the next two at "regular" price.

Having multiple books allowed Dalglish to create a "deal" on the first three books to attract a new reader. The real money, though, got made on the next two books.

As for an author getting their name out there, THANK YOU for turning me on to GoodReads. I have not only enjoyed the community, but am getting reviews and a few sales as a result of joining there.


John Brown said...


Is this book buying in general or just for fiction? Can you break the numbers out for fiction? Or even genre?

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