In the last few weeks, Amazon has bought Goodreads, the largest social network for readers. You can read a digest of author reactions and articles in the fantastic Ether for Authors here.
Personally, I'm happy about the acquisition, both as a reader and an author, because the site aids discoverability and we all need help with that! In today's article, Jessica Bennett from Compulsion Reads talks about this challenge.
When I first decided that I wanted to be a writer, I assumed in perfect naivety that the hardest part of the process would be writing the book.
It’s easy to make this mistake, because writing a book is hard. By the time I had a manuscript in hand that I was actually willing to show the world, it’d been a good ten years since I printed out my first rickety short story and thought, hey, maybe I can do this writing thing. It wasn’t a bad ten years. In fact, I was pretty proud of all the words I’d typed in that time.
Now that I had a book, I thought the rest would be easy, or at least less hard. How wondrously wrong I was.
If you happen to be looking for a new book to read at this very moment, then you are in luck, because you’ve never had more reading choices then you do right now.
Amazon and other online publishers have made it so simple for authors to self-publish that the number of books hitting the electronic shelves each year has skyrocketed. For example, in 1950, only 11,000 new books were published. Seems like quite a good amount of books, doesn’t it? The year 2011 welcomed an estimated 340,000 new books into the world, according to data company Bowkers.
In the days of bookstores, titles were quickly retired to make way for the latest and greatest. With online book retailors like Amazon now the go-to place for literary material, books can stay on electronic shelves indefinitely while each new year brings an ever-increasing tidal wave of newly published selections.
Readers have more reading choices than ever, but writers have never faced a more competitive environment or struggled so hard to get their book noticed.
This is a lesson that many writers learn the hard way. I am no exception.
When I self-published my first novel, I dreamed of my sales as a little snowball.
I’d tell my friends. They’d read the book, gasp and cry in delight at how wonderful it was, and then tell their friends about it. Roll, roll, roll, until my sales reports would creak under the weight of such big numbers.
What ended up happening is that my snowball didn’t so much go downhill as it got lost in the desert and melted.
A study performed in 2007 by the Ipsos Public Affairs for The Associated Press found that only 27% of Americans read 15 or more books a year. That’s still a good number of books, but nowhere near enough to go around for all writers. Assuming that the majority of readers mostly stick to their favorite authors and rarely wander outside the bestseller list, then the rest of us authors are clamoring for the attention of a tiny percent of the reading public.
How in the world are we supposed to get a reader to pluck our book from the masses?
This is the great challenge of discoverability, and there are no easy answers (though reading about how other self-published authors, like Joanna, achieved success is a good start).
Authors regularly build websites, lavish hours each week cultivating their Facebook fan groups, spend their hard-earned dollars on ads, giveaways and book tours, and hit up overwhelmed book bloggers to review their books. These are all great marketing tactics, and I’ve tried them all with mixed results, but the problem is that most other serious authors are doing the same thing, so you’re more likely to be keeping up with the crowd rather than pulling ahead.
After struggling to figure out that elusive perfect marketing strategy that would boost my sales numbers, I finally confessed my difficulties to my trusted book critique partner, Leslie Ramey, who had also recently self-published her first novella. It turned out she was dealing with the same challenge.
It’s not just authors who are having problems getting their books seen. Readers are also struggling to make sense of all the new reading choices they have. In a recent article published on Forbes.com, author David Vinjamuri points out that readers are really facing two big challenges. The first is too much choice and the second is lack of resources to effectively assess the options. In other words, readers may be able to choose from hundreds of thousands of books, but they have no way of telling if a book is going to be any good unless they stick with authors they know and trust. Peer reviews seem like an obvious solution, but a string of sock puppet scandals last year has shown that reviews are not always trustworthy.
In his Forbes.com article, Vinjamuri highlights some companies that are trying to help readers parse the slew of books on the market, including Netgalley, Goodreads, Bookish and Rabble Reads, a service that is still in the works but intends to be the “Rotten Tomatoes” of the literary world. These companies may also provide writers with a tantalizing opportunity to scale the treacherous slopes of Mt. Discoverability.
As for myself and Leslie, we’ve thrown our hat in the ring as well and created Compulsion Reads, a company that evaluates and endorses self-published and indie books that meet a specific set of quality standards. Our endorsement is meant to spotlight talented authors and to give readers an easy way to distinguish well-written books from the masses.
All in all, it’s a tough road ahead for writers and for readers. The literary world has been turned upside down in the last five years, and I don’t think the majority of us have yet found our bearings. As more and more books pour onto virtual bookshelves on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers, writers are going to have to work harder and harder to stand out from the crowd.
What do you think about discoverability? What are you doing to stand out from the crowd? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.
Compulsion Reads, created by Jessica Bennett and Leslie Ramey, seeks to shine the spotlight on quality indie and self-published books by endorsing those books that meet CR’s strict quality standards. Learn more about Compulsion Reads by visiting www.CompulsionReads.com. Enjoy our kooky video, read about our endorsement criteria and visit our growing library of endorsed indie books.
Top image: Maze by Tim Green, Flickr Creative Commons