Aside from the self-satisfaction derived from communicating thoughts and ideas, most writers are also striving for critical and commercial success. A survey of authors at Digital Book World 2014 found that their number one priority was to publish a book that people will buy and, secondly, to build a career as a writer, sharing stories with others. Attaining success is not easy and, for a self-publishing author, it presents a particular challenge.
In my previous blog I highlighted five barriers to success and showed how these could be overcome. I emphasised that, firstly, you have to demonstrate knowledge of your audience, then select an appropriate subject matter and, most obviously perhaps, write well. Add the assistance of an experienced editor and good design for both the cover and the internal layout and these factors combined will give you a great opportunity to maximise your success as a writer.
Unfortunately just removing these barriers is not enough. You now possess a beautifully crafted book, of which you are rightly proud, but you need to get it read, reviewed, discussed and debated. This is where discoverability comes in.
Discoverability is about making sure your title stands out from all the others competing for attention; and it is a very crowded and noisy marketplace. In the UK alone a new book is published every 20 minutes. This over-saturation of the market poses a daunting challenge for a self-publisher, as you have to ensure that your book finds its audience and that your readers find you. Your voice has to be heard so that your potential readers know your book exists.
Discoverability is down to the publisher or, in this case you as self-publisher, and it requires considerable effort. The reader’s role in the discovery process is, by comparison, somewhat passive. They will react to stimuli that provoke interest and thus learn about the existence of your book. As publisher you have to provide that stimulation and make the reader’s discovery an easy and inevitable process that then converts into a sale.
Books sell by a combination of active promotion and word of mouth. Promotion primes the process by drawing the attention of not only readers but also other influencers such as reviewers, bloggers and reader communities such as Goodreads. The ideal situation is created when, as more people read your book, like it, talk about it and then recommend it to others, the velocity of discoverability increases with more readers drawn into a virtuous circle that propels your book to commercial success.
But what are the steps towards discoverability? Although promotion is one of the cornerstones for commercial success it is a part of a much broader marketing activity. Marketing starts early in the process that is publishing your book. It is about understanding markets, defining your target audience, creating an audience development plan (which PPS can help you with) and identifying influencers such as the leading bloggers, reading communities, Twitter accounts, Facebook groups, and so forth that are interested in your genre/subject area.
Promotion is concerned with getting the message about your book to your target market and those influencers: enhancing discoverability.
Finally comes sales, the activity required to turn a lead into a sale. This will include demonstrating a USP – why your book is a ‘must-have’ rather than a ‘might-like’ – and the provision of discounts, offers and negotiation with retailers.
In marketing terms the complete selling process is frequently described as a funnel that represents, in sequence from the broad top of the funnel to its narrow tip: Awareness–Interest–Desire–Action. Discoverability is concerned with that very first step, showing readers that your title exists. Solving this challenge is crucial and that means creating awareness among your audience. It is unlikely that more than a few readers will find you by serendipity or accident. Therefore, the process needs to be proactive and you have to take your book to the readers.
Andrew Rhomberg, the founder of Jelly Books (www.jellybooks.com), has identified five ways in which readers are stimulated to discover books beyond simple perusal of the Amazon or newspaper bestseller lists. These are:
- Serendipitous discovery—the random stumbling over a book;
- Social discovery—word of mouth and trusted recommendations;
- Distributed discovery—discovering books from sources of distribution such as book reviews, conferences, blogs, etc.;
- Data-driven discovery—books marketed to readers through data, such as apps or adverts personalised based on shopping habits or previous purchases;
- Incentivized discovery—book giveaways, contest rewards, promotions, etc.
Consideration of these channels can help with your promotion plan as you determine how you can influence the discovery process.
The first thing to do is to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Where do you find out about the books you like to read? Where do you search for these books? How do you search? Which of the five discovery channels above do you use most frequently, or infrequently? What is it about a book that catches your attention? How do you find out about new authors?
Many questions can be asked but the purpose of this activity is to identify how your readers behave. It continues and extends the ‘Need to know your audience’ that I highlighted when considering barriers to success. Having mapped this behavior in an audience development plan you can then more tightly focus your promotional activity.
So here are some tips and ideas for Ten Ways to Improve Your Discoverability:
1) Your personal website
Effective promotion for a self-publishing writer starts with the creation of a personal website that features you as the author and provides a showcase for you and your writing. You can engage a web-designer but at PPS we know that it is feasible to construct your own site quickly and easily using one of the many free or low-cost options, such as Weebly or Wordpress. If you do only one thing to enhance discoverability this should be it.
2) Get active on social media
Your website should be supplemented by widespread use of social media promoting you and your books. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and others can all be used to build a presence, generate interest and develop a following. The emphasis here is on proactivity. It is not sufficient to expect readers to discover you via a Google search. Readers normally search by title or author, which indicates that they are already know what they are looking for.
3) Build contacts
One advantage of establishing an interested audience is that you can build a database of contacts and use this to communicate directly with these people in future. Obtain email and contact details as a minimum and add more data if you can, although there is a balance between maximizing your data gathering and turning away readers. A list of influencers and potential customers is a valuable asset. Regular communication with them ensures you maximize opportunities for promotion.
Regular blogging and blog tours are an important part of the promotion process. You are a writer so this should be easy! Offering opinion, providing comment and insight as well as responding to other blogs will raise your profile. There is a lot of information available on the web that suggests how you can use blogs to good effect. At PPS we monitor our website analytics and have noticed that regular blogging significantly increases website engagement.
5) Community websites
Active participation in relevant reader community websites will grow your presence and build audience contact points. Use your blogs and website to facilitate the development of your own online reader community. This offers an opportunity for readers to gather, socialize and share their thoughts. Traditional publishers use this concept to establish a direct rapport with their readers, as do successful self-publishing authors.
6) Offline activities
Authors have traditionally used book festivals to promote themselves and increase their profile. Although usually the preserve of traditional publishers who want to highlight their ‘stable’ of authors, festivals and other events provide an opportunity for the self-publisher too. Depending on the nature of your book these can include attending local interest societies, a reading at your local bookshop or library and school events. Such events lend themselves to printed books but it is possible, with some imagination, to promote your ebook effectively too through these kind of activities.
Website and social media sites can provide a lot of useful data and analytics about usage of your sites by visitors. It is possible to track the behavior of readers, their interests, buying habits and purchasing activity. Accessing and considering this information can indicate what is, or is not, generating interest and enable you to fine tune your web presence in order to maximize engagement with readers and influencers.
Offering readers an incentive to engage with your site or provide information such as email addresses is a classic way of driving more traffic towards you and your books. Sample chapters, free ebooks, free downloads of ancillary material, or even competitions, are all examples of incentives that can attract attention and encourage potential readers and customers.
9) Reader devices
Unless you have decided only to publish in printed form it is important that your ebooks are compatible with the wide variety of reader devices available. Whether an ereader, smartphone, iPad, laptop or tablet your book should be available and look its best. At PPS we have seen many ebooks that are poorly laid-out or incompatible for certain devices. This applies to your promotional tools as well as to the book itself as readers will miss the discoverability opportunity if their device is not supported or the ebook is of low quality.
10) Building sales advances
The principle objective should be to have sufficient advanced orders and sales leads to sell enough books on publication that you cover the cost of production. To achieve this you have to plan your discoverability campaign well in advance of publication. Traditional publishers have always done this, positioning their authors and books to maximum advantage so awareness and interest have been aroused and a desire created among potential readers. The successful outcome is a large pre-order and customers desperate to get hold of a copy of the book on the day of release. As a self-publisher you need to work on discoverability from the start and thus maximize your potential for commercial success.
Commitment and persistence does pay. Review your audience development plan regularly, update it and add to it. Promotion should be frequent and regular, particularly so within social media and among online communities where acknowledgement is often ephemeral and your presence can be forgotten quickly.