Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at email@example.com for more info on her book coaching services.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Andromeda: The Backlist, Sustained Marketing, and Digital Solutions on the Horizon (a "Rotten Tomatoes" for Books)?
When do you give up on marketing a title and move on?
Recently, I was approached by an enterprising writer-blogger-reviewer who asked to include me in a lineup of monthly interviews she is doing with authors of novels that involve art. I said yes—thanks!
But my first gut response was to feel only a fraction of the motivation I would have for helping to bring attention to a new or yet-to-be-released book. I don’t talk much lately about The Detour, which came out what seems like hundreds of years ago – 2012 – because I’m more interested in talking about what I am writing now. And maybe my second novel’s window of opportunity has already closed? It’s easy to buy into the old-fashioned publishing attitude that a book will hit big right away, or not at all. That’s short-sighted thinking on my part, as I’ll explain toward the end of this post.
When your book is published, your publisher will give it one big new-release push—hopefully. With luck, there may be another little boost when the paperback is released a year later. What constitutes a push is debatable. It used to involve book tours, radio interviews, advertisements, and more. Now, it may involve a reading or two organized by the author, and not much else that is highly visible to the author or readers. Of course, the publisher may be plenty busy just getting books into the hands of reviewers and bookstores, paying for premium shelf space, and trying to grab attention in a marketplace crowded with over 3,000 books published daily.
It used to be that if the bookstores weren’t ordering and re-ordering in large quantities, the book’s life might be over in a handful of months or even weeks. Hopefully, that extremely small window of opportunity is a thing of the past. One reason I am grateful to Amazon – while keeping my mind open to the valid criticism regularly lobbed at the behemoth—is because at least online retailers provide a place where millions of titles can remain available to anyone willing to search.
A recent study showed that 60 percent of book sales have migrated online – a comfort to those of us who don’t see our older titles, or even many newer ones, stocked at Barnes & Noble—the company that used to be criticized as too powerful, before Amazon became even more imposing. But the bad news, the Codex Group study tells us, is that online sales still have a “discoverability” problem. Only 17 percent of books are first found online. Internet booksellers like Amazon account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Buyers still use physical bookstores as places to browse, even if they don’t buy. Brick-and-mortar browsing and recommendations from friends, the most powerful discovery tool – not online marketing or even book reviews – are the way most people decide what to read next.
But is this something to worry about, or is it just another evolution-to-digital problem that will go away in time? Amazon acquired Goodreads to address the discoverability problem. Net Galley—providing online access to advance copies—has expanded. Book-loving realists are dreaming up other ideas: like how about a really robust critical-and-amateur review aggregator, a.k.a. a Rotten Tomatoes for books? (One site already claims to be just that, but I’m guessing there will be lots of competition.)
Smart people are working on the problem. Meanwhile, I think of my own recent buying habits, just from the last week or so, whether or not they are typical.
From Title Wave, my favorite used bookstore, I bought a pile of books, including the classic Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966) and The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (1978). From Amazon, I bought two e-books – get this, books I already own and have stored in boxes and want to read again, annotate electronically, and carry around more easily. (Many e-readers are like me, eager to own the same books in both digital and physical format.) These titles were Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz (1998) and Specimen Days by Christopher Cunningham (2005).
Good news on the e-book front, by the way: people who read e-books read more in all formats, and 42% report their reading has increased since they started using e-readers. For me this is true, and I’m heartened by the fact that I see an even bigger increase in my teenage daughter’s reading, now that she can peruse (via Kindle samples, for example) and acquire books in digital format more easily and independently.
Finding an altogether unknown author is still trickier online, but finding books by authors we already love, or books similar to ones we’ve already loved, is getting easier all the time. For that reason, I should not consider my older titles past the date by which they might still make a splash, and neither should you. I should remember that anything I can do to market a work is important as it was two or five or ten years ago. As this worthwhile industry article says, considering the changing nature of the backlist, “Any book is new to sombody who didn't know about it before."
Amen to that.
Posted by Andromeda Romano-Lax at 8:47 AM