A friend’s book is being published this year, so I’ve been learning from her about all the work expected of a debut author. It isn’t enough to have written the book. No, one must also be active on social media, do blog tours, notify contacts, seek out opportunities to do book talks, and I-forget-what-all-else.
But writers just want to write! Most of us don’t want to do marketing. We’d rather spend the time holed up in our cubbies with our laptops, lost in imaginary worlds, coming up with new books.
The problem? Basically, there are lots and lots of new books out there. There are lots and lots of readers as well, but readers all want to read the “best” books, books that are a guaranteed good read. Readers have easy access now to books from all over the English-speaking world, so they can pick just the books that they’ve heard are really good, and these tend to be the same books that other readers have also heard are very good. So a small number of books get read by lots of readers, and the rest of the new books (including some that are also very good) tend to go unread.
It’s a depressing situation if one of those new books is yours. Thus the need to market your book.
Shouldn’t the publisher do the marketing? Certainly they want your book to sell. But whether they sell a total umpteen copies of a wide variety of books or umpteen copies of the same book, they’ll still make money. It might be more efficient for them to focus their efforts on a few books, in that case. At any rate, that’s how it is. Unless they’re expecting great things, they probably won’t do that much.
Is there any way around this? The problem seems to be with our filtering system. There are several levels to it. First, the author writes the book. Agents filter out a lot of the books that are written, though some books are self-published and skip that filter. Then publishers filter the books presented by agents, accepting only some of them. Then the books go out into the world, where…
I think that’s where it turns into a combination of luck and money. Luck in who happens to pick the book up and how much influence they have with other readers. Money, because people are more likely to pick up a book if they’ve heard of it or seen it, and advertising can do that. Obviously the quality of the book also matters. If the people who read it don’t like it, they won’t recommend it to others. But a good book that never gets read won’t get recommended either.
So now I’m fantasizing about a system where new books enter a database and are assigned to readers to evaluate. Every book gets a chance, regardless of its author’s ability to generate interest on Twitter or lack thereof. Readers aren’t deluged with attempts to pique their interest, attempts that lead to their becoming more and more overwhelmed by the demands on their attention, and their having less and less time to actually read books.
The problem with this idea is that readers want to choose their books, not be assigned them as though they were in school. Some might volunteer to be assigned books, hoping for a serendipitous discovery, but more likely they’d rather browse the shelves and try only books that look appealing to them.
So that’s not promising. Well, who has the most reason to want such a system to work? Probably the writers themselves. So instead of assigning new books to random readers, assign them to other authors. Maybe their book gets as many reads as the number of others’ books they are willing to be assigned. This would provide a preliminary filter and ensure that at least a few people sample their books—and maybe go on to recommend them to friends.
Some further rules would be necessary. First, no reciprocal reading. If I am an author and I want fifteen people to read my book, I do not get assigned books by any of the fifteen who are reading mine. Nor do I get assigned any books by people I know. There can’t be any pressure to like the book.
Second, these aren’t book reviews. The only thing the reader has to do is respond, “I like it and would probably read another book like this,” or “I don’t like it and wouldn’t choose to read a book like this.” No discussion of merits, no details, no reasons why.
Third, given that people occasionally cheat (shock! gasp!), there would probably need to be some factual question that the reader has to answer to prove that they actually read the book. The author of the book could provide one. Otherwise, unscrupulous people could get their books read without reading anyone else’s in return.
Fourth, complete confidentiality. You don’t want to meet another author and have them know that you didn’t like their book—or the other way around. Too awkward. Again, there can’t be any pressure to like the book.
Given that there is nothing new under the sun, and especially no new ideas that aren’t already on the internet, there is probably something wrong with this imaginary system. Maybe it wouldn’t be of any use, or maybe not enough authors would participate, or maybe people would try to game the system by reading lots of competing books and saying they dislike all of them, in the hope of making their own book look better.
Or maybe it would work and is already in use somewhere on the web. There are lots of book-related organizations out there that I don’t know about, and maybe there are genre-specific groups that do this. If so, I hope I find out some day.
I hope I have reason to.
Till next post.