Does What We Do as Authors Really Matter?

Today’s post is another contributing chapter in the Social Media saga as it pertains to authors trying to flog books to the millions of as-yet unaware readers “out there.” If you will direct your attention to Exhibit A—the chart you see here was pinched from a recent Romance Writers of America article. (The article had a whole bunch of other interesting facts and stats you might want to check out.) While it’s true that Romance readers are different from other genre readers, there’s an argument to be made that how they decide on what book to read next is not terribly different from how other readers decide.

As you can see, if this chart is correct, a whole lot of effort is being made by myself and my fellow-authors in areas that prospective readers are not very interested. In fact, the only area with a remote interest shown is that of our websites and even then it’s less than 50%. Personally, after you wince your way through the big long blue bars, you have to discount the red bars, too. Because let’s face it, if you have to convince people first to do whatever the thing is over and above looking at your book, it might as well be a blue bar. For example, on the one that says “saw a promotional book trailer and bought the full book,” if 23% said “not done but some interest,” what does “some interest” mean? I think it means now you have to convince them or interest them in watching the damn trailer before you can lure them into your web to peek inside the book. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through before they start to consider whether or not they want to read your book. In fact, the only portion of this chart that we need to be looking at is the purple part and, except for the author’s website (even so, barely 40%) the rest of these activities look like, if not a waste of time then at the very least something that takes you away from writing.

Again, that’s just me and if you know me at all, you know I lean in the direction of lazy. So what do you think? Is the chart shocking? Do you still believe? Are dreams really not about ROI? Love to hear your take…

11 thoughts on “Does What We Do as Authors Really Matter?

  1. I guess what’s happening is symptomatic of an industry in flux; the old systems for publishing, for writers getting to be known, are being supplemented and joined (not ‘supplanted’) by online social networking. But it’s early days and I am inclined to think that everything will shake down into recognised processes in due course, just as the print publishing industry did in the nineteenth century. I think the ‘romance novel’ is symptomatic of the new form because I’m fairly sure that e-books actually will replace print for certain genres – the disposable thriller, romance novel, pulp story and so forth – the kind of thing we buy in airports before we dash off for that 19 hour flight trapped in a tube. That said, I think it is becoming clear that the real issue – which will remain so – is discovery. The best book in the world won’t be read if nobody knows about it, and I get the impressison that social networking is only a partial answer because there are too many people shouting for attention. The good stuff gets lost in the clamour. We’ll see.

    Matthew Wright

    • Absolutely agree, Matthew. And well said. Your line “the best book in the world won’t be read if nobody knows about it” is the rub, as they say. And is also what makes us go on trying to give our books visibility. Bottom line, there’s GOT to be a better way! 🙂

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics were very much the same for any genre. As a reader, there are very few of those activities I have any interest in. As a writer, it tells me I’ve been right to ignore a lot of activities that are constantly being touted as vital to selling books. My biggest online activity is blogging, but as a writer who’s in the process of learning and discovering. Very little of my blogging is about trying to sell my books. The covers are in the sidebar, along with the “buy” links, for anyone who’s interested. But what little “promotion” I do is confined to my author’s blog, and I haven’t been giving it much attention until recently.

    • I’m with you on this 100%. I like to blog so I’m happy to spend time doing that. Tweeting is like forcing down cod liver oil so I do it, sparingly. I’ve surprised myself at having discovered a community online–a Facebook group no less–that I love to read and interact with. In the very small niche of equine authors it’s wonderful to natter about horses and riding and talk about how to sell equine fiction to horse lovers, etc. Again, it’s a v narrow audience but the community stems from a shared passion so why we all get along and want to help each other. I don’t think we “sell” to each other altho we do tend to read each other’s stuff in order to support the group in that way. Last week I had a cover design for my latest release that I’d had for MONTHS before I got a wild hair and decided to add a human element to it. I threw both covers up on my Equine Authors Facebook to ask for input and got so much wonderful advice and opinions from people who are also targeting my same audience. It was invaluable info and made me decide to change the book cover. So, there is community “out there” in social media land and I’m glad to have found it. That, and the folks I interact with here and on their blogs, I find very satisfying and fulfilling. But the success of it has to do with friendship, not salesmanship.:-)

  3. Well, while I do believe the stats in question are accurate, I have this itching feeling that the thing as a whole is misleading. First, imho, and as a member of RWA, I think the organization is biased in favor of traditional publishing. Not only that, but biased in favor of a particular agenda within traditional publishing that has determined what romance readers should want (i.e. Regency-era novels for historical and marketing aimed at middle-aged housewives. Seriously. The middle-aged housewives thing is stated on the RWA website.). I’ve interviewed a lot of historical romance novelists, for example, who have indicated that they would love to see other time periods represented in historical but that the big six publishing houses aren’t interested and have purposefully directed readers towards Regency and its surrounding eras. *cough*conspiracy*cough*

    The other side of the coin is that the graphs in question only show what readers are NOT doing. There is no bar graph for the way that readers ARE finding books. Did they ask readers about attractive cover designs? Product placement in stores? Peer recommendations? Banner ads on websites like Facebook? Author name recognition? If these are the ways that readers are NOT finding books to read, then what are the things that readers DO respond to? I mean, if we knew that then maybe it would level the playing field a little more for those of us who self-publish.

    Then again, I don’t think that’s what the big six want us to know. As soon as we know then they will lose a lot of money. 😉

    • Great point about the fact that RWA is biased in favor of traditional publishing. And that does skew how one might read this chart. As Indies, we are in unchartered territory here at least for now. Be great if the Indie movement could start putting together promotional tools that work for self-published books, but likely that will take time to develop and then prove effective.

      • Amen to the Indie promotional tools! And I would love to see more studies of what people are really reading these days. I keep feeling like we’re working off of outdated information, like doing a report using the set of 1952 World Book encyclopedias I have.

  4. What an interesting post. Rather horrifying if one has been busting oneself to make a dent in the reader population. I think the thing I have learned as a reader is that if a writer I know and quite like hits me with hard sell on Twitter, FB and via their blog, I will shut down as quick as a wink.

    Thus as a writer, I find it very difficult to hard-sell. My blog is eclectic and tries to be far from writing and book-selling, Twitter is extremely difficult because the vast majority of my readers are northern hemisphere based and I live in the deep southern hemisphere so engagement is patchy and short. FB? So many writers sell, sell sell but it seems only to other writers and I fail to see the value in that.

    But all that aside, I think the Merry Farmer has a point. It would have been extremely enlightening to hear just what does make readers buy one book over another. Especially online. I’d like to know if they draw distinctions between an Indie book (with good cover and visible editing) and a mainstream-published novel, and what those distinctions are. I’d like to know why the readers seem less interested in because its hardly likely that middle aged readers aren’t computer savvy. That era is surely past. I’d like to know the demographic as well. Middle-age is a very loose and elastic term. Especially with baby-boomers. So many questions not yet answered and as an indie writer of medieval hist.fict/hist.romance, those answers ‘would level the playing field a little more for those of us who self-publish’.(quote Merry Farmer unquote)

    • Would be awesome if some retired Indie (someone who had the motivation, time and resources) could do a study for us other Indies on why people buy the books they do. Obviously, the Big Six aren’t going to fund such a study, but God it would be helpful for those of us out here trying to invent the wheel if we had something more concrete to go on in promoting our titles!

  5. Well, from previous comments I suspect you know where I stand on the issue. It’s all about getting satisfied readers to tell other readers, be it one person or ten. For me it was Initially a video trailer set up not to sell books, but merely to convince skeptical reviewers to invest their precious time in reading a free review copy. After that it was a note in the back of the book inviting (OK, begging) readers to email me with their comments and opinions.

    And each and every email gets a personal response. In many cases, these exchanges have developed into wonderful and continuing dialogues — I’ve made genuine friends. On the one hand, it’s time consuming, but in another way it’s almost effortless because I’ve find it enjoyable. I do blog erratically, and Tweet, post to, FB etc, but those are really somewhat perfunctory tasks at which I spend only a few minutes each day. After I get my 1,000 to 1,500 words written every day, I spend an hour or two exchanging emails.

    Really, I think it all boils down to doing what is enjoyable for YOU, because you’ll probably only excel at things you enjoy. So if you like to blog, blog. If Twitter is your thing tweet away. But make sure you ENJOY it.

    Life is too short to do crap you don’t want to do.

    My opinion, for what it’s worth.

    • LOVE your opinion, for what it’s worth. Plus, I’ve gone forward on the great tips you gave a few posts back about how to amass reviews (something I’ve not done v well in the past) and again, can’t thank you enough for that. I’ve got a goodreads giveaway going on for the next two weeks and am systematically going down your list, checking off the items! I agree, do what you enjoy. I love this blog and so will likely continue it forever. Tweeting, not so much! 🙂

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