Where are the readers for self-published e-books?
Self-published authors are finding there’s more involved in becoming the next Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey than just uploading your masterpiece to Amazon and waiting for sales to roll in. The most important part of the process is now up to the author; they have to market their own work and find their reader base. There’s no traditional publisher in the mix to get their books out in front of readers. Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble will list your book and let you write a nice bio and blurb but there are lots of other books available to consumers. Amazon has over one million e-books for sale on its site. That’s a lot of competition.
Hocking wrote a series of fantasy novels and was one of the first authors to successfully utilize social networking to sell her wares. It worked; she sold tens of thousands of books and developed a huge following. When the offer came from a traditional publisher and she saw all the zeroes behind the dollar sign she jumped at it (and I may well have done the same thing). Howey’s situation was different. His “Wool” series of short stories caught fire. He self-published his first one and reader interest propelled it to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists. When readers demanded more, he wrote four other installments and they’re still selling at a ferocious pace, every day. It goes to show that with a good product and a bit of good fortune readers will find your book and they’ll tell others too. Unfortunately, Howey is the exception. Most self-published or indie authors have to work at finding the elusive reader.
If you wade into the gazillion of Facebook groups out there you’ll find many of them devoted to e-books and e-book authors. Some are for readers of specific genres or for U.K. or North American readers specifically. The groups were set up by authors as a way to market their books and find readers. Most of them are busy groups with postings flying by almost as quickly as you can read them. Funny thing though, the comments under the posts are almost always from other authors, not readers. Initially these groups may have worked in terms of building a reader base, but I fear now they’ve just become authors talking to other authors.
Then, there’s Twitter. Self-published authors are tweeting and retweeting their hearts out trying to find their audience. My experiences with Twitter are hit and miss. I’ve had readers email or tweet me and tell me they found my book through a random retweet, but I’ve also utilized Twitter to death with no noticeable change in sales. For example, I was interviewed for an online site a couple of months ago. The author of the site has a system where 50 other authors tweet and retweet the interview to their followers. That’s a lot of tweeting going on. I watched and waited for the sales spike, and it never happened. Or, if it did, it wasn’t of any consequence.
There are other social networks and there’s no denying that some of them can be effective in spreading the word. Linkedin and Pinterest come to mind, and I know some authors have built strong networks of potential readers and exerted lots of effort finding readers, and it worked for them, for a while. I just wonder if it’s still working or if the whole indie author community is spinning their wheels and patting each other on the back while the real reader, or customer, is out there somewhere else.
I’ve been lucky; my lone self-published book has sold very consistently, and as I wrote in a previous article, Amazon has a system whereby you run a free promotion on your e-book to gain momentum and get the ball rolling. Although its effectiveness has waned, KDP Select was certainly the best way for me to find readers. Unfortunately the huge sales spike that KDP Select gave me didn’t last, and my sales have since plateaued (yep, slowed down).
My background is sales. In my day job I sell a product that’s easily identifiable and I know exactly where to advertise to find folks that are interested in it. This is different though, and although I do believe a good book will find readers, I still constantly look for other ways to expand my reader base. For example, I wandered around the Vancouver airport a few weeks back. I purposely arrived a little early for my flight, and approached other travellers who had tablets or e-readers in their hands. I gave them my business card in the hopes they might click on that important “buy” button on Amazon and take a chance on my book. Didn’t work, again, no noticeable spike in sales, and fortunately no security guards hauling me away either.
I had a video documentary made about my self-publishing journey and it was released on YouTube two weeks ago. Again, I sat back waiting for it to go viral and for the sales spike to happen. Again, no noticeable improvement in sales.
I’ve done books signings and talks and all of them, as well as the other things I’ve mentioned, certainly help from a branding standpoint but, again, none of them have given me that meteoric spike in sales that KDP Select first did. E-book marketing is a whole new world. I know readers are out there I just haven’t figured out exactly where, or how to find them. If any of you would like to give me a hint I’m all ears; just put your hand up and let me know where you’re at. I won’t bug you; honestly, I’d just like you to take a little look at this book I wrote...
Martin Crosbie is the self-published author of the novel My Temporary Life.