Random Thoughts and Comments 20220819

A few things that have crossed my timeline recently that I figured were worth mentioning.

For anyone looking towards trade pub and bookstore placement, I think this was a really good summary of the current state of affairs with Barnes & Noble.

I hadn’t realized they’d gotten rid of their co-op placement and that’s actually a really nice thing that means I may drop by my local B&N just to see what they have in there. I used to love walking through bookstores to browse the shelves and find something new to me, but recently the books that were getting a lot of attention in my genres were ones I didn’t want to read.

Which also reminds me that one of the drawbacks of becoming a writer is sometimes you get to know other writers and then you can’t remove that impression of them from your judgement of their books.

There was a recent big release by someone who annoyed the hell out of me at a conference by talking through all of the presentations, being generally arrogant, and flipping their hair around way too much and it means I won’t check out their book even though it might’ve been something I would’ve enjoyed.

(On the flip side, you meet a ton of great writers you would’ve never known otherwise and get to check out books that may not have even been on your radar, so it cuts both ways.)

Getting back to that Barnes & Noble thread.

I think something that wasn’t strongly highlighted in that thread and maybe because trade does work differently since books will literally go out of print, is that since B&N focuses so much on backlist sales that means there’s a chance for a book to get shelf space later if it follows the slow build, steady sales over years path.

(And honestly I’d rather not be on their shelves for a year and then be there for ten than be there for a month and never be carried by them again. Of course, trade pub doesn’t actually reward that pattern, but still.)

Anyway. There are a ton of options out there that come along later and maybe aren’t immediately available at release.

Bookbub, for example, rarely if ever (at least last time I checked) takes new releases in its promo emails. They want to see a nice track record of reviews first.

My first BB deal I think the book had been out for two years at that point?

So that midlist title that isn’t stocked at Barnes & Noble, eh, who cares? I mean, yeah, you care because you want to walk into that store and see YOUR book on the shelf.

But if you can create buzz elsewhere those people will order from Amazon or through the Barnes & Noble website or through any of a number of other places.

You do miss a random discoverability sale (which for kids’ books may matter more, since my mom would take us to the bookstore to pick out a book once a week when I was eight), but if people want that book they can still get it.

And if you get those steady sales so that you stay in print and people are continuously asking for your books, eventually maybe you do become one of those backlist titles they stock.

That does come back though to the need for authors to promote themselves somehow. There are so many ways to do that, but most take a lot of time and effort.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have a Twitter account but I do go there and read tweets by about a dozen different authors most mornings.

And you know what? The people I read are people who tweet every single day. Multiple times a day.

They aren’t necessarily the people saying the most interesting things, or the people I would like the most if we met IRL, but they’re the people who are there and delivering content when I’m bored and want something new to see.

Tweeting multiple times a day though is a lot of time sunk into one website that you have no control over.

Because the people I follow don’t just schedule tweets and go about their day. These are people seeing things while they’re on there reading other people’s tweets and sharing and reacting.

I wouldn’t be surprised if each of the people I follow is on there at least an hour a day. Probably more.

That may be fine for them because it’s where they hang out with other writer friends so it’s like lunch break. But don’t think that isn’t time spent. And that it isn’t something you have to dedicate yourself to for weeks or months or years to even get to the point of being visible enough that others share you and help you build an audience.

And at the end of the day…I’m not sure how many new readers it brings in.

I have a friend who killed it with social media. And who gets paid a nice little sum for some of the things they do as a result of building that audience.

But…That didn’t guarantee success when their books came out.

I do think it helped them get a few of their trade publishing contracts. It definitely helped with their first. And may be a factor in being kept on with their current publisher because they’re also very good at promoting other authors.

But social media followers don’t necessarily become dedicated readers.

Eventually I buy at least one book from someone I follow on social media. But I’m trying to think of one of those authors who I then became a regular reader-fan of. And I can’t. I bought that one book. Maybe two. And…that was it.

Because social media is different from novels. And just because someone likes a tweet you sent doesn’t mean they’ll like how you told a 90,000-word story.

Ironically for me most of my favorite authors suck at social media. They either have a snarly out-dated Q&A about the books arriving when they’ll arrive or they have a blog that gets updated maybe five times a year with things I don’t care about or…Yeah, they’re not savvy media types.

So building up a social media following that’s not based on people who are fans of your books is likely not going to drive significant sales of those books.

It might raise the tide enough, though, to get to the people who really would be your readers…But those numbers need to be large enough for that to work.

One of the early self-pub success stories was someone who kept leaving out the part of their story where they released three books almost immediately and then had a Bookbub on the first title for free that moved 40,000 copies at a time when people actually read the freebies they downloaded.

I think if any of us had 25,000 people read one of our books and were a competent storyteller we’d find our way to that core audience of 1,000 that you need to build from. Especially if it happened in a very short period of time when Amazon’s algorithms could see and react as those people bought books 2 and 3.

But for most it’s a much slower grind so there is no algo-love.

I still think of the excellent presentation Courtney Milan gave years ago about being that little paper airplane and trying to get the lift to get it up that initial cliff of discoverability.

And sometimes it seems to me that social media followings are a side quest. You climb a mountain and it is an accomplishment, but it’s not necessarily one that will help you climb the cliff of steady book sales.

Anyway. With that bad analogy, I am done for the day. I have some audio to process and then some groceries to pick up so pup and I can go have lunch with family.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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