Friday, July 30, 2010

Not Expecting the Unexpected

By Russel D McLean

I recently heard of those blunt but interesting questions asked of a writer by a reader. To put it in context, it was at an event organise by the convener who wanted to “promote writers whose books deserved more attention”. An honourable goal, and done in the form of a book club to ensure that those present did indeed read the books.

And it worked, I think. The people present responded well to the books and the writers.

But one question at the end intrigued me:

“Why aren’t your books getting more attention?”

A question that’s easy to ask and not so easy to answer.

From a reader’s point of view, it seems cut and dried. The books are out there. Surely the strong will survive and the weak perish. The good books will endure. The bad ones will die.

That is not always the case, however, as was shown by these two writers whose sales were not in line with their level of skill (although still, in both cases, fairly respectable).

But how do you answer that question?

There are so many factors at work in whether a book succeeds or fails. A great deal is due to timing and luck. The right book at the right time can take off. The right book at the wrong time can tank.

And then there’s visibility. Hard as it is to believe, most publishers don’t have limitless marketing. Just because you see certain books everywhere doesn’t mean they are the best. It means they are the safest bet at the time. Everything else is a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” style of campaign. Some books barely get into shops because buyers aren’t made aware of them. Some books are sent out to reviewers far too late or not at all. Many are jacketed poorly or presented in the wrong light.

And nearly all of these factors are outside the author’s control. The only author I know who has near enough direct control of marketing his books is James Patterson. That’s why he’s everywhere; he has huge influence over publisher’s marketing of his titles.

But not everyone has that influence.

Some authors have a marketing budget of zero. And if no one sees your product or if its in the wrong place, how is anyone going to discover it? Word of mouth is powerful but scattershot.

It’s a tough old business out there, but readers can do their bit to help. By experimenting. By taking a chance on the authors without the advertising. Laying aside pre-conceptions and taking a chance on a book that looks interesting even it its not plastered all over the bookshop or the train station or the local supermarket. Don’t wait for marketing permission to try something. Dip a toe into the waters of the unexpected. You might get a very pleasant surprise.

1 comment:

Dana King said...

I discover almost all of my new authors now by reading blogs like this (not that there is another blog quite like DSD), and the Crimespace site. You get to know and respect some people's opinions, see who they're reading, and give it a try. It's not 100% effective, but I'm 1000% more likely to find a book and author I like that way than by reading an ad on the side of a bus.