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Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Grow an Audience

For the last few months, I've been standing back and watching how other people 'push' their books. I think there are basically two camps.

Camp 1 authors have a large loyal audience who will buy whatever they put out. They use social networking for...well, to be sociable. There's not a lot of pimping going on. They'll do interviews and occasionally write articles, but talking up their book is kept to a minimum.

Camp 2 are relative unknowns. They're on Twitter, FB, Linked In, Pinterest, Tumblr and any forum that will let them talk about their book. They spam the air waves, mad to get their name out. They usually have only one or two books. And who can blame them? There's no time to write when you have to sell.

Camp 1 authors have longevity on their side. They've been writing longer and have had the time to forge a back list of good books. Word of mouth is their best form of advertisement.

Camp 2 authors must rely on social networks to get the word out--a tricky business because social networking is still morphing and we're trying to sort our boundaries on what is and is not acceptable.

Shouldn't social networks remain social? Does spamming sell work? More importantly, has spam ever worked on you?

The other elephant in the room is that we're not only advertising to friends, but to other authors. The trick is to ESCAPE the sea of familiar faces and make ourselves available to people who have never heard of us.

Ah, but there's the rub. How do we reach new readers?

We used to get a nice bump in sales if our books were sold through a good-sized publisher. They have the clout to get your book in front of big name reviewers. But even that muscle is diminished because of all the competition.

The mediocre is shelved with the fabulous, forcing the consumer to wade through the choices.

...or is he? 

I'm finding that I'm more likely to choose an author I know than try an unknown. This makes the onus of achieving recognition even more crushing.

To grow an audience requires one thing that only the really successful authors in Camp 1 employ. Write a lot of good books. A strong back list implies reliability, readability, and readership.

We're bombarded with newsflashes of overnight successes and runaway bestsellers so often that we forget the majority of authors grow their audience one book at a time. Don't fall for the hype (like I did) that good writing is appreciated immediately.

Be patient and choose your venues wisely. I have a feeling once the ego-rush of self-publishing wears off and most of the dilettantes walk away, we'll end up with core professionals who are in it for the long haul. I want to be in their camp.

Quick survey: When was the last time you picked up a book from an author who was totally unknown to you? How did you find him? Was he good enough to buy his next book?

The last new-to-me author was recommended by a friend who knows my reading tastes. Since I didn't follow this author, I never knew she had a book out so all her time and money on pitches was for naught.


Anonymous said...

The last time? This week, because a friend left a novel in my loo. Seriously. I don't often read mystery novels. Am i enjoying it? That's... debatable, It is certainly different in style and content to what I usually read. Otherwise, I have picked stuff at random from Kindle, but usually it is because someone else has recommended someone.

L.G.Smith said...

After growing up watching commercial television I've pretty much mastered the art of ignoring the sales pitch. Out of habit I tune out when someone starts advertising to me. That's a signal for a bathroom break. :P

BUT I did sort of impulsively buy a semi self-published e-book a few days ago because a friend highlighted it on her blog. The author actually started up his own publishing company with friends, and his was one of the first releases. I liked the premise, and the blogger had read it and said it was thrilling, so I bought it. And it turns out it's one of the most unique books I've read in awhile. It's called Expect Civilian Casualties.

I wouldn't have normally given this book a second look, because I'm not especially impressed with the cover, but good old fashioned word of mouth sold me on it.

Angelina Rain said...

Great post and great topic. Honesty, I try to be one of those authors who spams my book out there, but I can't get over the whole shame factor of spamming, so not many people know about me and my books. I admit, I don't do much promo for my works. But at the same time, I make the time to work on that backlist.

As for picking up a new author. I'm always reading someone new to me. I don't remember the last time I've read one of my all time favorite authors. Being a book reviewer has given me the chance to find new books and new authors.

Krista D. Ball said...

I read a lot of "no one's heard of them" authors because I like to find people to promote. I only have so much tolerance for saying, "Buy my book." But I have endless tolerance for "Buy books by these people!" People seem to like it, too, because they get to find out about new authors and books.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Of course, I'm in a different position but I do check out books from unknowns if the storyline sounds interesting.

personally, hard sell doesn't work well in my opinion. It irritates rather than invites people to read your book.

I've always said, an author is more than ONE book. Yes, you want to talk about your book but a better way is getting people to know you as a person. Could be through blog articles with tie-ins to your book, or about hobbies you enjoy when not writing, or music, etc. I think that blog tours help if you look at it as a way of letting readers get to know about the person behind the book and the blogger host highlites your current book and when your next release is expected.

promotion is tough.

Mike Keyton said...

The library is my best resource for discovering (for me) new authors. You have time to browse and mistakes cost nothing. Recommend Francis Cottam for literary horror. One book wasn't so good, but I won't say what that one was. Suffice it to say, on discovering him I went through the lot.

Giacomo Giammatteo said...

Great post, Maria. I'm 100% with you on this. A few months back, when I started my self-publishing journey, I fell into the "push" the book trap, but quickly realized I didn't like it. I haven't found a magical way to get recognition, but I know it's not spamming everyone on Twitter or Facebook. Now I work on getting reviews and getting more books out. Sales will come eventually.

LD Masterson said...

Last time I picked up a book by a new-to-me author was at a book signing for multiple authors - one of the others was a favorite of mine.

I've come to realize that we get caught in blog circles. I've seen the same lovely new cover on four or five blogs today. It's the same group of people congratulating and encouraging each other. This is very nice but certainly isn't "spreading the word".

R. Mac Wheeler said...

Entertaining post. Maybe because you made me look up dilettantes.

I read nothing *BUT* new authors any more. So many are giving their work away free...and there are actually one in ten writing works worth reading, so I have enough novels to last me the next ten years.

Diane Carlisle said...

Spam doesn't work for me. If you're worth anything, you'll let your audience grow naturally. Just keep putting out a good product and let that speak for itself.

I will share links to my blog or links to my short story, but I don't do so in a manner that begs shamelessly.

Sarah Ahiers said...

i pick up a TON of uknown authors. I'd say abotu 80% of the books i read in a year are new authors for me. I don't always stay with them for the long haul (or even the next book) but a fair amount i do

Maria Zannini said...

Sorry to be gone so long, guys. My internet has been wonky all weekend.

Me too, it seems, but I'm beginning to feel a little better today.

Maria Zannini said...

Sue: Ref: ...because a friend left a novel in my loo.

LOL. Well, I guess that's one way to get a captive audience.


LG: You bring up several good points. My background is in advertising design and copy writing so I'm wise to all the tricks and hand waving. I've seen some gorgeous covers but the stories fell flat. And then there are covers that are nothing short of train wrecks, yet the story is a diamond.

My best gauge is still reading an intriguing blurb and an excerpt.

Ref: Expect Civilian Casualties
Wow! Love that title. Now I'm going to have to look it up. Thanks.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: One of the benefits of reviewing is the potential for discovery.

Ref: Spam
We touched on this last week and I'll add to it here. Spam in its broadest definition is 'unwanted and unwelcome communication'.

If you tweet about a great deal on diapers, it'll be spam to me, but gold to someone else.

The trick is to spread your information, not repeatedly, but targeted to an audience most interested in buying.

Maria Zannini said...

Krista: I don't promote authors as much anymore because too many have abused my hospitality with spam. I'll post links to books I think my readers might like and if several of my friends have books out at once, I like to do a big roundup of titles.

But I allow very few people to guest post anymore unless I am assured their articles will be entertaining to my readership.

Maria Zannini said...

Sia: Ref:...letting readers get to know about the person behind the book...

Bingo! You nailed my number one secret of guest blogging. When I write a guest post it's always with the intention of entertaining or sharing information that I think the host blogger's readers will appreciate.

My responsibility is always to the audience first. The rest will happen on its own--if at all. I have no control on whether people will buy, but I do control how I am perceived.

Thank you for bringing this up.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: You're a genius--a frugal genius at that which makes you double gold in my book.

I have no libraries near me, but when I did, I discovered all sorts of new-to-me authors, all without a tweet or a FB page.


Linda: Ref: blog circles

Linda, you're so smart it hurts. That's exactly the point I've been making about authors pitching to other authors.

Sometimes, especially with the first book, that's all we know. But it's really important to talk about books with a kindle-toting stranger, the people at the doctor's office, and your kids' teachers.

Maria Zannini said...

Mac: Ever since the craze for giving away books started, I don't think I've read a single novel I've seen free.

Sometimes I pick them up thinking (hoping) some cold night will find me with nothing to read, but I never do.

I do read some free nonfiction occasionally though. Not sure why I find one more interesting than the other.

Maria Zannini said...

Diane: Absolutely. We live in a world of instant gratification. Why work and grow a loyal following when we can wear them down?


Sarah: 80%? Wow! Either you find more winners than I do, or you're more forgiving. LOL.

I do enjoy the book profiles you write. I can tell right away if it's the book for me by the excitement level in your voice. :)

Stacy McKitrick said...

Last book I read by an author totally unknown to me, was Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. I got her book FREE at a convention, had some time and started reading it. Fell in love and now plan to PURCHASE the remaining books in the series (that's if I don't get them for Christmas!).

Yeah, I get tired of seeing FB notices about the same book over and over (even her blog won't shut up about it and I stopped visiting). I hope I don't end up annoying someone like that!

Angela Brown said...

This post is especially priceless for me since I'm in the throes of blogtown touring and trying to figure out how best to get the word out about my own work.

I will have to say that I've been reading a lot of new authors' works because I find out about them from various blogs I visit or I may look at an Amazon recommendation and give it a try.

Social medias, I'd agree, should be social. I think I did one big "FB fun day" of congratualting, high-fiving and sharing about my book the day it launched but have since quieted down to just the occasional mention about how I'm doing with writing, or some other "non-writing-related sharing" but no more "Hey, here's my book. Buy it now!" Maybe it's because I'm afraid of becoming a spammer and don't want to end up kicked aside with all the rest jumbled in the static.

It's a tough balancing act to traverse as a newbie. Still so much to learn.

Darke Conteur said...

It's sad, but I will chose a book written by someone I know, over an unknown. I was burned three times by unknown authors who's book looked good, but ultimately I wished I never picked it up. I also keep a close eye on Twitter and FB to those who spam and I keep away from their books too.

As for my own books? I do small promotions for them when they're close to going live. All my social sites have pictures of them and links to purchase, if someone is interested, they'll look. I wonder if these authors who spam realize that they've become nothing but background noise?

Krista D. Ball said...

Maria - yes, some authors need to be smacked upside the head :p

Jenny Schwartz said...

Discoverability is a huge issue. Have I solved the problem? Why, yes. Just buy my book and the secrets of the universe will unfold for you

... what, Maria? What? I can't hear you shouting ... "Don't spam my blog!"


Noooo Iko, good boy, don't, don't attack-dog lick me!

Seriously, I don't know the best strategy, but I enjoy being part of the reading and writing community, so being sociable in social media is fine with me, and then I go back to writing the next book. I think backlists are the way to build a market -- unless you're one of the lucky few authors who burst onto the scene and claim the bestseller charts.

Anonymous said...

Well your post inspired me to write my own post on the subject, to which i did reference you *G*. I don't know, I have this dread about the whole subject. I really am one of those authors who would prefer to plink away in her attic and never have to see anyone, and hope they enjoy my novels without me having to take 'darling' photos of me doing this or that with my horse. Or interacting. Don't take me wrong, I enjoy interaction to a certain extent but like everyone and their wife these days, time is such an essence.
I guess it is easy to press a button and 'spam' several hundred people on FB or twitter. I mean I do have a book coming out and it is something I have thought about but, in a brief change of subject, what happened to me last year is more important than any novel. The main reason I can even get my mind around it is because it is something Rich wanted and because a great friend can edit where I can't, yet. At the same time, the idea of getting published is to share and the mystery of how to do that 'properly' is an interesting one to contemplate.

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: The same thing happened to me. I was at a con and met fantasy humorist, A. Lee Martinez. He was so charming and gracious, giving me several books and a personalized drawing. I enjoyed his books so much I bought the next couple immediately.


Angela: I think I need to take lessons from you. :) I think geniality and genuineness are qualities that are hard to express in a digital world, yet you do both flawlessly. It will carry you far, child. Just remember me fondly when you hit the big time.

Maria Zannini said...

Darke: I expect and even demand authors to tout their books the first couple of weeks after release. This is especially important if they release through a publisher. Books are pushed out on a conveyor belt every week. You have a very short window of time before it's the next guy's turn.

It's when the author hawks his book like a used car dealer that he becomes persona non grata.


Krista: You've heard of the most interesting man in the world. I'd like to name you the most dangerous woman in the world. If anyone can smack someone upside the head--and get away with it, it'd be you. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: You are so lucky you have a cute dog. And oh, yeah, you're like a pretty good writer. (All right. Really, really good.) Someone I actually buy.

So me and Iko are going to let you slide. LOL. Just watch it, you. I've always wanted to go to Australia--even if it's just to unleash my attack-licky-dog.


Sue: Some people are naturals at networking. My strengths lie mostly in this blog and guest posting so that's where I concentrate my efforts. I know I can't keep up with the Twitter or Pinterest pros, like Miss Smartypants Schwartz just above here. :)

Focus on what you do well, or what you're most comfortable doing. Your path will unfold by itself.

Krista D. Ball said...

Awww you say the sweetest things, Maria!

I once broke up a bloody fight at the homeless agency with nothing more than me putting my hand out and shouting stop. True story. Though, I might have also said the F word a lot in there, too ;)

Jenny Schwartz said...

Wow, Krista. That's impressive.

Maria, Toby has grumpily agreed to let Iko have his second bed (not the most comfy one) so we'll expect you Friday! :)

Krista D. Ball said...

Jenny, not really when you consider that I'd worked there for 3 years, I was nearing the end of a 90 hour week, everything that could go wrong went wrong that week, and I really just took my bad mood out on the guy that was pounding on the other guy and bellowed so loud that everyone just froze LOL

One of the gang members said afterwards that he was going to come help, but I scared him too much.

I was in a foul mood ;)

Maria Zannini said...

Krista: Ref: ...with nothing more than me putting my hand out and shouting stop.


Years ago, I worked as a window dresser, and the store's security person asked me if I'd had martial arts training. (I had not.) She said I walked with so much confidence there was no way anyone would mess with me. Then he asked me if I wanted to join his team. LOL. Tackling shoplifters is not my idea of fun.

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: Wait. Is that your Friday or my Friday? Oy. I can't make it anyway. Who's going to watch the chickens?

But if I ever talk Greg into taking me to Australia, I am definitely looking you up.

Suzanne Brandyn said...

I purchased a novel from Twitter about a month ago. It seemed okay, the author was INDIE, and I thought it would be good. Urgh!!! never again. I usually stick to recomendations from people I know and follow author's whose books captivated me.

So I'm not going to pick up an unknown again. I think this was the third time it as happened. So, doesn't three times prove it. :)

Interesting post Maria. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Suzanne: I'm not on Twitter enough to get lured by recommendations. But I've been burned twice by friends' recs whose tastes were clearly different from mine.

The first book was okay, but the author's writing style felt tedious and dense even during scenes when things should've moved quickly. I couldn't see reading a whole series like this.

The other book had characters so over-the-top snarky it felt insincere and mean-spirited. Then I met the author online and she sounded just as bitter and mean in person.

Krista D. Ball said...

Tackling shoplifters is boring because their parents yell at you afterwards!

Jennifer Shirk said...

We talked about this a lot at the PAN retreat at the NJ conference.

SPAM works on me when it's SPAM from author about a book that is not their own. LOL
So RTs on twitter actually work on me. :-)

Barbara Ann Wright said...

The last time for me was this weekend. I was browsing and picked hers up at random.

I guess I'm doing the networking kind of pimping right now, but I'm settling down at this point.

Maria Zannini said...

Krista: It was a different generation back then. The kind of shoplifters we dealt with were professionals--not little kids.


Jennifer: I think someone else tweeting about a book is the digital version of word of mouth.


Barbara: You're totally entitled to talk about your book for the first couple of weeks after it releases. Your publisher expects it and your readers expect it.

And judging by some of the pictures I've seen, you've been having a good time doing it too. :)

Dru said...

I love discovering new-to-me authors and only a few times was I disappointed in the book.

I tend to scour book newsletters, author's blog, Amazon and word of mouth for new authors.

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: I wonder though, with as well read as you are in your genre if that doesn't give you the advantage of making good choices.

Thanks for popping in, Dru.

broken biro said...

If I ever get properly published I'll try not to turn into category 2! I like the way you promote yours - they're on the page but you don't go on about them all the time. 8-)

Because I work part time in a library I'm surrounded by books and yes, I will sometimes choose an unknown - usually because something attracts me enough about the title and/or the cover to make me pick it up and read the blurb - but mostly I go for ones that are recommended to me (my friends, borrowers or, more sinisterly, websites who know what I like like 'GoodReads'.

Maria Zannini said...

Broken Biro: I've always been insanely jealous of where you work. Not only are you surrounded by books all day, but you get a first look at the titles.

Ref: ...websites who know what I like

Ironically, Amazon's logarithms have been pretty good at picking other titles I'd like. It scares me that I'm so easy profiled. ;-)

Cate Masters said...

The million dollar question, how to reach readers! It's difficult these days, but you give some good advice. Sad that so many are unwilling to try a new author.

Maria Zannini said...

Cate: Before self-publishing I gladly tried new authors. But now the ballpark is crowded and sometimes I don't feel like spending the time to learn about someone new.

But I'm a firm believer that publishing with an established and respected publisher does a lot to give an author credibility without having her start at the bottom of the obscurity pit. Add a few self-published titles on the side and an author could have a nice income.

I learned that from you. :)