Indie publishing has created a revolution. Hugh Howey became one of the top selling science fiction authors via self-publishing. Author Earnings reports that indie published titles are approaching 45% of all eBook unit sales on Amazon!
But with that revolution has come a flood. Freed from having to run the gauntlet at major publishing houses, indie authors are creating new works at a staggering pace. A tidal wave of new books.
In place of needing to secure a publisher, indie authors face new challenges — in addition to the actual writing! Foremost comes the task of marketing your work. Authors are bombarded with advice — do blogging, twitter, Instagram, giveaways, book tours, virtual book tours, book trailers, interviews, reading events, and many other activities. It’s almost more work than writing the book!
How do books find their readers? For writers to prioritize their marketing efforts, it’s necessary to study how books are discovered today. Formerly, major media (print and online) wrote reviews and people read what they were told to read. The economic collapse of the news industry (print especially) has lead to a dearth of professional book reviews at a time when the number of books published has exploded. And the gatekeepers at the major publishers have less sway over what gets seen.
The Yelp-style “ratings and reviews” model for discovery is equally broken. Divergent by Veronica Roth has almost 100,000 reviews on Goodreads. How can I tell if it’s for me? Should I read all those reviews to find out? Of course not. It’s not helpful any more. Too much noise, not enough signal.
HOW DOES A READER FIND THEIR BOOKS?
Increasingly, readers are turning to curators — people focused on finding and sharing great books, and with whom I may share interests and taste. Curators come in many varieties. The classical curator is an individual with a specific focus area (say, Ryan Holiday for philosophically-oriented books, or Maria Popova at Brain Pickings for intellectual culture). Sometimes authors become curators. George R.R. Martin and Joseph Finlay (indie author of Enoch’s Device) regularly surface wonderful science fiction and historical fiction. More broadly the entire “book blogger” culture is curation writ large.
Organizations can also be curators — for example your local bookstore’s blog, or the New York Public Library’s family of fascinating book blogs. Discount books email newsletters like Bookbub are curators of sorts. And of course the remaining major media forces — The Guardian, The New York Times, Washington Post and others continue high quality book coverage, albeit with less volume than in former years.
While curators help reduce the flood of information, the universe of curators itself can be daunting. If you are a romance reader, Ryan Holiday and Maria Popova aren’t going to help you much. Finding the curators who share your tastes and interests, and then keeping up with them, is a challenge all it’s own. That led me to create The Hawaii Project, a book discovery engine. Created primarily to serve readers, it aggregates what the curators are writing about, then personalizes to your reading tastes, alerting you to personally relevant books, content and curators. It’s like a personalized Google News for books.
WHAT’S AN AUTHOR TO DO?
If readers are increasingly turning to curators to discover new books, what’s an author to do?
1. Get in front of the right curators.
Pick comps (books like yours) and see who is writing about them. You can do that with simple Google searches, or The Hawaii Project will do some of that work for you (e.g. see Martin Cruz Smith’s fine new novel The Girl From Venice on The Hawaii Project — under Recent Mentions you can see who is writing about the book). Directly approach those curators — there’s little more flattering than an author approaching you!
Blog Tours are another way to get in front of the right curators, and a good Blog Tour host can help you identify good places to start.
Pay attention to your local bookstores and libraries — they love local authors!
Don’t skip over smaller sites. PR used to work top down — first you get in The Guardian, then everyone else covers you. PR now works more bottom up — build presence on smaller sites, then the larger outlets will begin to notice you, and the other coverage builds credibility.
2. Become a curator.
People hunger for authentic voices and content. As an author you are advised to be “active on social media”. But endlessly tweeting about your new book is actively harmful. You will be tuned out immediately. But readers DO want to have a relationship with you. Write about things you know and care about; if I share those interests I will listen. Become a curator. Write about the books you love, the writers that inspire you, the way you research your book (if you want your blog included in our curator list, you can sign up here for free). Indie author Thomas W. Jensen’s Walking At Night Between The Two Deserts, Singing is a fine example of how to do it.
3. Use your curation to build your email list.
Your email list is your secret weapon. With it, you can communicate with people when they’re not actively seeking you out. But people need a reason to give you their email; intriguing content is the answer.
Ryan Holiday is a great example. He uses his monthly book recommendations post as a way to gather emails; he has over 40,000 subscribers to his newsletter. Because his content is so good, readers are entirely open to hearing about his books when they come out— it’s an authentic continuation of my relationship with him and his content.
Most major blog and website platforms have easy email collection widgets. Pick one that works for your site, and get people signing up!
Curation is one of the most powerful ways people deal with the digital flood. Harness the engine of curation to drive awareness of yourself and your work!