The Business Rusch: Marketing And Readers (Discoverability Part Who Knows)
Here’s the great thing about writing this nonfiction series in public: you folks let me know when I’m not being clear or if there’s something I need to explain. I’ve worked in so many aspects of business, and owned so many different kinds of companies, that some of the knowledge I have which I take for granted most people don’t understand at all.
This past week, with the pricing discussion, I realized that a bunch of assumptions about price—well known in retail—are completely new to publishing. Traditional publishers are so lazy about their pricing and discoverability strategies that they rarely think about what they’re actually doing. They just work reflexively—and indie writers have mimicked that.
So I need to go back and explain something we all understand. This is less about pricing and branding than it is about what’s coming in future posts. ( I suspect this is one of those introductory posts I should have had in the beginning. Since I do write out of order, one thing this experience has convinced me of is this: I’m never putting up a novel in progress. Imagine me writing a scene where a character rushes in to save the day, and I haven’t even introduced that character yet. Oh, yeah, I’d say. You guys have to trust me. I’ll write a new chapter 2, move the current chapter 2 to chapter 3 and….arrrrrgh!)
As writers, we have been “raised” in the business to believe that readers are one gigantic mass of creatures, all the same. Yet as readers, we know that’s not true. Just because Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl spent weeks on The New York Times bestseller list doesn’t mean all of us will like the book. Some of us will love it and some of us will wonder what everyone else saw in it, even if we bought it. Some of us will look at it and wonder who the heck would buy it at all. Some of us will buy the book after the movie comes out in October because we hadn’t heard of this major bestseller until New Regency Films started advertising the movie. (Because, y’know, traditional publishers don’t spend money on TV advertising. That would be so…last century.)
We readers know that’s how it works. We writers forget it.
And traditional publishers never think about it at all.
They treat all books by advance level. The amount of marketing dollars put into books varies according to the advance paid to the author, not how many fans the author has. In theory, advance and fans should correlate, but in reality, they don’t.
Traditional publishers don’t really pay attention to a fan base. Publishers sell books to distributors and bookstores, remember, and so target their advertising to those companies. When the chain bookstores took over the business, traditional publishers only had to convince a handful of book buyers to take tens of thousands of copies of certain books, based not on the author’s sales record, but on what was “hot” or a “great cover” or a “new concept.”
Independent booksellers bought what their customers wanted, but independent booksellers, who do not buy in bulk, have very little clout with traditional publishers.
So when you’re thinking of marketing for books, realize the model you’ve seen for it (traditional publishing) aren’t based on attracting readers. They’re based on attracting book buyers for major corporations, a hidden little industry that most of you have never ever seen.
As a result, no one has broken down the retail side of the business with the idea of targeting the advertising toward the actual final customer—the reader.
No one has except, of course, the romance writers.
A bit of history here.
The romance genre is a “young” one in terms of existing as a stand-alone genre. Yes, romances have been around since the dawn of time, but marketing books under the genre title “romance” has only happened since the 1970s. Before that the books were broken into categories like “love stories” and “Gothic.” Genre is a fashion, folks, not an absolute.
Because most of the romance genre is mostly written by women and sold mostly to women, the notoriously sexist publishing industry of the 1970s and 1980s did not believe those books sold. Remember, publishing would target booksellers, not actual readers, and many bookstore owners refused to carry “that stuff” in their stores. I bought my romances back in the day at drug stores and through Harlequin’s subscription service.
It wasn’t until 1982 or so that romance began to make an impact, and that was because the romance writers started banding together and proved to the industry that their books sold. Romance Writers of America was founded in 1980 with this kind of advocacy in mind.
And because bookstores refused to carry many of these books, romance writers were the ones who developed all kinds of marketing techniques that many of you still believe you need to use now. Some of the techniques are absolutely valuable, and we’ll be discussing them in the future, like newsletters and fan-based activities. Some have seen their day, like bookmarks and flyers, and we’ll discuss those too.
But what you need to know, what’s important to know, is that the romance writers are the only ones who have ever done a reader survey for the point of marketing books.
(A sidebar here: it was an education for me to Google every term I could think of for reader statistics/reader surveys. Because I found a million of them. For e-reading devices. For various magazines and online nonfiction publications. For schools and libraries, to see if kids are learning. But for book publishers????? Nada.)
The last RWA survey that I found, which is on their website, comes from a couple of years ago. I’m going to cherry pick some of the information there over the next few posts, because it’s evergreen. Some of the information is probably dated, particularly the social media and ebook stuff. Still, I think you should look at it, especially if you’re targeting readers.
The survey labels readers like this:
Avid readers who are always reading a romance novel
Frequent readers who read quite a few romances.
Occasional readers who read romances on and off.
Remember, this is romance focused only. And for romance, the statistics go like this (or at least they did three years ago):
Avid readers of romance: 31% of respondents
Frequent readers of romance: 44%
Occasional readers of romance: 25%
And here—my friends—is where it gets interesting. Looking just at me, Kris Rusch The Reader, I am a frequent reader, according to this survey.
However, if you look at my habits and bring in all books, all genres (including nonfiction), I am an avid reader. Right now, I’m reading four different books—two nonfiction (one history, one goofy) and two fiction (one mystery, one YA). I’m also in the middle of an Entertainment Weekly, a New Yorker, and an alumni magazine. Not counting the online reading I do or the two newspapers I read cover-to-cover daily. Or the manuscripts I read for Fiction River and when Dean finishes something.
I would call myself a voracious reader. I read all the time, if I possibly can.
Readers are clearly not one big mass of similarity. As you can see from my example above, I’m a different kind of reader if you break the questions down by genre, or by subgenre. Or by author. By whether or not I know the author or if I don’t.
That RWA survey looks at reading habits.
But let’s look at the types of consumers readers are.
A lot has been written about the true fan in the past few years, but let me quote former Wired editor and (as John Scalzi calls him) Web Thinker, Kevin Kelly, who, so far as I can tell, started this meme in 2008 or so:
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
This person has been reading your work for years and will buy your work when they’re ready to. They are, in the words of the retail market, Brand-Loyal customers. You the consumer can choose between Skippy Peanut Butter or Jif Peanut Butter, but you’re a choosy father, not a choosy mother, so you choose Skippy whenever you can. It’s automatic. You need peanut butter, you buy Skippy. You need a book and the latest Neil Gaiman is out, so you buy Neil’s book. But you don’t go to signings, you don’t buy the book immediately, and you don’t stand in line to get the limited edition version of whatever, although you might be happy if your spouse got it for you for Christmas.
The key point: long-time fans have bought your work for years, sometimes for decades.
These fans like a writer’s work, but doesn’t go out of their way to buy it immediately. Like the long-time fan, this fan is a brand-loyal customer. The only difference? They might not have been a fan for more than a few months, even if the writer has been published for decades. These fans would not call themselves long-time fans, but they will pick up the work when they’re ready.
The name says it all. This reader loves a certain aspect of a writer’s work, but doesn’t like other parts. I’m a sometimes-fan of Nora Roberts. I like her romantic suspense novels and will buy those when they appear. I occasionally like her contemporaries, and her paranormals I don’t buy at all. (And I have a completely different take on her pen name J.D. Robb. See below.)
The sometimes fan knows her own taste. She might like Skippy Peanut Butter, but not all types of Skippy. Just creamy, not chunky. And not low-fat. Brand loyalty isn’t here. It’s product loyalty within the brand.
The romance survey found these people, and called them avid readers of romance. When these readers have finished their most recent historical romance novel, they look for another one by a favorite author. When they can’t find that, they go for something similar. Both surveys that RWA commissioned in 2011 and 2012 found this breakdown for purchasers of romance, and the genre/subgenre fans are at the top of the list.
Top overall decision factors when deciding on a romance:
- The story
- The author
- It’s part of a series
- Back cover copy
Note that my preferences for Nora Roberts books, above, does not reflect my genre/subgenre fan preferences. I like paranormal romance more than I like contemporary romance. I just don’t like Nora’s paranormals. Your reader tastes are this nuanced. You know that. Think it through.
These people buy books constantly or go to the library all the time. They always have a book and/or reading material close by, whether it’s on their e-reader, their computer, or their bookshelf. Voracious readers might not buy new. They might not be able to afford it. But they consider books as important as breathing.
These people—who often have young families and full-time jobs—might have called themselves voracious readers at another point in their lives. But right now, they’re too busy to read all the time. They read when they can.
Some readers have always been like this, though. Reading is just part of their entertainment diet. They might consider entertainment (TV, movies, games, music, books) as important as breathing, just not one type of entertainment.
Likes to Read
Even more than the reads occasionally people, the likes-to-read folks buy a book when the fancy strikes them. They’re the people who claim to read one novel per year. Again, they probably slide into the Reads Occasionally category, depending on life circumstance, but they would never ever say reading books is as essential to them as breathing.
Yes, they buy books. As gifts for friends. Of necessity, because they believe (rightly) that they should read to their children. But they’re still not buying for themselves, and once the kids are grown, the book purchasing stops. Many of these folks never got into the reading-for-pleasure habit, and aren’t interested in acquiring it.
Here’s the important point about readers:
Readers embody all of these traits.
For example, I buy some authors as gifts for people. I will never read some of these writers I buy for other people ever. I don’t like the subject matter or the point of view or something. I am a true fan for one or two authors, a longtime fan of many authors, and a genre/subgenre fan. I am a voracious reader for the most part, but if you break down my likes and dislikes, I am an occasional reader of some things (certain types of nonfiction) and a nonreader of others.
I’m sure you’re the same way.
So…when you target your marketing, why do you treat all readers the same even though you’re not the same reader for every writer?
Think it through.
This all-the-same marketing breaks down even farther when you talk about purchasing books rather than just reading them.
Some readers cannot afford new books. They also can’t afford e-readers, for the most part. These readers go to the library or occasionally, the used bookstore. But they can’t purchase books brand new, for whatever reason.
They are a vast and influential part of the reading public. They influence what libraries put on their shelves, what used bookstores take into their stores.
But when we writers discuss marketing our books and pricing them, as we did last week, we can’t target these people. They will see the marketing anyway, and do their own thing, but they won’t hand money over personally to buy the books.
(I’m not trying to diminish their importance. I don’t know what the statistic is—because, again, no one has done this study—but I think the underground community of readers who can’t afford books is bigger than we think.)
Note: I’m not including the collectors either (except as true fans) because I’m dealing with readers and many collectors I know want the object and don’t read it at all. (Often, though, they’ll buy a reading copy.)
So, the following categories are of people with cash in hand, people who buy books.
Yep, they show up here again, because as Kelly says, they’ll fork out tons of cash for whatever project their favorite writer does. These people might not be rich, but they spend a disproportionate amount of what money they do have on their favorite writers.
Always Buys New
These brand-loyal readers will buy a book from their favorite author when they see that book. Not when the book is released, but the moment the fan discovers it exists. They’ll pay for the hardcover if the hardcover is out, the mass market if they missed the initial release. But they want a new copy for their shelves or their digital library.
Sometimes Buys New
The category title says it all. They’ll buy new when they see the book, but they might consider the purchase before doing so. Or they’ll buy the book at a used store as readily as they will from a new bookstore. Often, the readers buy these books to read and trade back in or give to friends.
My experience with Nora Roberts’ J.D. Robb pen name fits in here. I buy those books new or used, I don’t care. Usually I buy used. Why? because I’m not a huge fan of them. I like them, and I know they’ll provide a few hours of entertainment. I tend to read them on airplanes and then leave them behind when I’m finished.
I’m not sure if my J.D. Robb purchases will end now that I can read my e-reader throughout the flight. I didn’t read a J.D. Robb on this month’s trip to Vegas, and I would have last year.
I’m sure you have books/authors that you read the same way.
Always Buys Discounted Books
These readers never pay full price for anything, whether it’s because of their own financial situation or their own financial preference. They’ll find their books in the discount bin at bookstores or they’ll watch Amazon for sales. They’ll buy a lot of titles from used bookstore.
The key to these readers? They’re usually voracious readers, but they’re loyal to price.
In other words, they’ll buy Skippy or Jif, depending on which peanut butter is cheapest or on sale that week. They like peanut butter, but they don’t care what type they actually get.
They are probably more adventurous readers than the readers listed above, but they will rarely pay full price for anything. They will also bitch the loudest if prices that were traditionally low get raised.
Always Gets Free Books
These folks are the same as the discount buyers above. But for whatever reason, they don’t buy books at all, choosing only to get things available for free.
Again, these readers are loyal to price—or lack thereof, actually—rather than writer, subgenre, etc.
That sounds harsh, I know, and honestly, the 100% free folks are rare.
But again, when we’re talking purchasing strategies as reader/consumers, we each fit in all of the categories.
For example, I always buy Stephen King, Elizabeth George, Mary Balogh and several of my other very favorite authors new. Always, always, always. I already told you about J.D. Robb, whom I occasionally buy new. There are many authors that I occasionally buy new—and a lot of them are new authors, if the books sound interesting enough and they fit into my genre/subgenre preferences.
I am a discount book shopper of nonfiction in particular, when I need research material. I will occasionally try something for free if—oddly—I’d already heard of the author or book. But I will rarely get to those books first.
Those are my reader preferences on price. I’m sure yours are different, according to your circumstance.
When I was a very poor newly divorced woman, I had $10 per week I could squeeze out of my budget for books (and I did this by eating less). I shopped at used stores and rarely bought new. I went to the library weekly. My circumstances were different and so were my buying habits, but not my reading habits.
The Whys and Wherefores
Why did I tell you all of this? Because, marketing one way to all readers—whether it’s free or expensive, whether it’s one type of book or another—ignores how complex readers as consumers really are.
When I talk about marketing strategies, I’m talking from this complex model, not the traditional publishing all-readers-are-the-same model.
The moment you stop thinking like traditional publishers is the moment your writing business will take off.
A lot of the writing board comments on my pricing posts called me a failure and someone who knows nothing about marketing. These commenters looked at my e-book numbers on Kindle (mostly) and decided that because those numbers were low by their standards, I didn’t know anything. I had clearly failed at “free” promotions or I was too snobby to try them, and I didn’t know what I was talking about.
I’ve used pricing strategies throughout my career in various places, from my work at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction to my various publishing companies to my retail businesses. I’ve used free and discounts, and consented to all kinds of promotions on my books even in the days before the internet.
I know the markets for my books, and honestly, I haven’t worked on growing them. That’s my 2014 plan.
Because I’m a hybrid writer, I concentrated on getting my backlist out for my fans—from the true fans to the simple fan and the occasional reader. Once I reached those markets (and I started to as of 2013), I will add the strategies for bringing in new readers.
Because I’m a long-time writer, I have a large fan base, including a very big base of true fans. I’ve cultivated it over the years, with absolutely no help from traditional publishers.
(My traditional publishing editor on the Retrieval Artist series, upon learning that I had about 10,000 true fans on that series, told me point blank: That’s not even a significant number. Of course, this was in 2007, before the 1,000 true fan meme exploded on the internet. Maybe the editor has a different opinion now.)
The rest of this series will focus on appealing to different kinds of readers.
The pricing strategies I mentioned the last two weeks and branding which I mentioned before that are really something you can do for all your works. That’s why I called it “passive” marketing.
Next week, we’ll move to “active” marketing. And part of that active marketing is figuring out who you will target with your marketing work.
During the week, think about what you know about your readers—if anything. And then figure out what you like to see from your favorite writers as a reader.
There are some clues in those things which will impact your marketing efforts and make them different from mine.
I never expected loyal readers of this blog when I started it in 2009. I was doing much of this for me, to write a book (The Freelancer’s Survival Guide) and to be accountable so that I would finish it.
I have thousands of readers who show up within hours of the blog getting posted. I’m stunned and grateful.
Several of you routinely support the blog with donations as well. Thank you! You’re the reason this blog continues
Because I’d like to be paid to take the time out of my week to write this, I ask that if you learned something or found a new way to think about something, please leave a tip on the way out.
Thanks so much!
“The Business Rusch: Marketing and Readers” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Great posts on all the different kinds of readers out there. Good points on how we may fall into different categories depending on author/genre/time of life/current situation so we need to think broadly on how we market, promote, and price books. Really important to stay away from “only one way to do things” mindset.
Thank you for this series of posts. I have a few questions regarding ISBNs and discoverability:
1. Does WMG uses its own ISBN for every short story or just for longer pieces? On some listings on Amazon I see an ISBN and on others I don’t.
2. Do I need an ISBN for print versions of a short story, one that will not be sold through physical bookstores?
3. Should I buy an ISBN for my ebooks, even short stories?
4. As I am just starting out and have no backlist to speak of, what is the size of the ISBN package that I should buy, and from where?
5. When do I need to purchase barcodes for ISBNs?
6. How do these answers change if I am based outside of the US?
Sorry for the barrage of questions.
Please, get to the marketing techniques, Kris. Love you to death but I feel like it’s been weeks of rambling preface teasers that could have been summed up in a few short sentences.
Romance writers and readers talk to each other. RWA conference is one of the best attened by fans (readers.)
Romance writers talk to each other, and the big publishers in romance have done an excellent job of keeping their price points low, author advances low, and sales high.
Most work on a three-in-a-series plan. They sell through subscription book clubs (meaning they know exactly who their customers are and exactly what they want.)
They order first print runs of 100k to 250K, then they re-bundle and re-sell those books again, through a secondary book club (like Reader’s Digest.)
Their top authors they’ll bring out in mass paperback to Sam’s Club or other markets at a rock bottom price.
Many authors outside of “the loop” would be shocked to know some of these ladies regularly move half a million copies in a year, yet you will never see their names on a best seller list, but you will see them get three or four three-book deals in a year.
I’m pointing this out because marketing is genre dependent. Building an email list of your readers is crucial.
As you stated, getting your name out there to readers will eventually lead to some checking out your books. If you have an idea of how to reach your potential readers, go for it. Neil Gaiman compared this to a dandelion’s seeds being blown by the wind.
Some ideas will work, some won’t, so try lots of things. The book world has changed dramatically, and how books are being marketed and sold has changed too, and is still changing. Trade publishers are the last ones writers should turn to for advice on how to market books. They concentrate on their outliers and leave the rest to sink or swim on their own.
Good luck to you all.
Two thoughts, from a young, voracious, never buys new reader:
(1) I don’t think this generation of never-buys-new is going to change its habits, and writers have to adapt to that. Megan McArdle once noted that people living in the Depression tended to be almost traumatised, and maintained those spending habits in later life. This happened even in the cases where they could afford more later on.
I don’t see a boom coming up. I don’t think that the current crop of broke divorcees, broke college students etc., are ever going to get their spending power up, so a pattern of a critical mass of people being able to afford more as they get older is going to be broken, at least to a certain extent. I wish that wasn’t the case, but the never-buys-new are going to become more numerous and very few of them are going to break out of it.
(2) This is less pertinent, but it’s a peeve of mine. Whenever people talk about e-books versus dead tree, it always seems to come down to things like tradition, preference, worries about big business, etc. No one ever considers that people can’t afford e-readers but might like them if they could. It’s the kind of sloppy thinking that my various professors and bosses would’ve torn me to shreds over.
Liz, having observed relatives who lived through the depression and later on became quite well off, your point about their spending habits seldom changing hit a strong note with me. That does not bode well for our future as writers, given the current world melt-down. However, coming from a used-books seller background, maybe I can see that light at the end of my tunnel. I did a charity book, paper, and yard sale show locally yesterday, and one comment that stays with me is the lady who said she might like an e-reader if she had one, but can’t afford it. My novels are paperbacks, but I’m often urged to make them ereadable. Trees are a renewable source, and my dad was a lumberman of the old school. He loved little more than cutting down a huge poplar for winter firewood. I’m a Celt in my genes, thereby a tree-hugger by nature. It pains me to have to burn wood (which we do) rather than pay up for fuel oil (which we also do). I’m trapped between both worlds, in more ways than one. But I see e-books looming in my writer future.
My traditional publishing editor on the Retrieval Artist series, upon learning that I had about 10,000 true fans on that series, told me point blank: “That’s not even a significant number.”
There is a rather hippy-dippy meme which circulates on the Internet that asks, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
Obviously, if you’re a traditional publisher, you respond, “Not even try.”
I can’t think of ANY kind of genre fiction book where if you were guaranteed to sell 10,000 copies, you couldn’t figure out a way to make it make money. And if you sold more, that’s gravy. Apparently they confused the floor for the ceiling, which will often happen to those unfortunates afflicted with rectofossal ambiguity syndrome.
Like you I am a voracious reader who is not confined to a single genre. In the recent past I read Jojo Moyes’ “Me Before You” (R); reread McKillip’s “The Book of Atrix Wolfe” (F) for my book group; read William Boyd’s “Restless” thriller/espionage; Michelle Zackheim’s”Last Train To Paris” set primarily in the 1930s, a historical novel that mixes fact & fiction; a 1950’s copy of Mary Roberts Rhinehart “The Frightened Wife” that includes three more of her short fiction (Mys); William Least Heat Moon’s delightful “Blue Highways:A journey Into America,” (NonF) which has been sitting on my bookshelf for some 30 years and “The Thurber Carnival” which can still put me in stitches. Finally I have just started Hillary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.”
Now where do all these books come from?
I buy new books, primarily trade paper,e-books when their price does not exceed $8.00, some hardbacks,used titles through Amazon and in used book stores(There’s a wonderful one in La Crosse, WI), and check out library books. Several friends read only library books and if they buy, buy used. The hardest sell both to me and them is hardbacks, which are too often overpriced.
I also receive free review books which are usually fun to read and either review or join a blog to discuss. I pass these on to friends when I finish asking them to do the same when they are finished reading.
I no longer assiduously follow writers such as Patricia Cornwall who have series. I prefer to discover newer, fresher characters and find more often then not that I read international mystery writers. That said, I still look for fresh takes on old themes and now find that I am willing to pick up books that have been on the shelf for a long time either to reread them or discover some that have been there just waiting to be discovered.
BTW Kris’s comments on young readers, those with families,and full- time jobs are spot on.
So in essence you’re in the same sort of industry as any where’s there’s the large publishers who largely determine popular content. Video game, music, etc., all operate in the same way. All those publishers also finance projects up front, recoup, then pay royalties (unless they’re using Hollywood accounting, which is probable). And likem those industries the people who actually create the product are waking up to the fact that nubmers that are insignificant to the bigs are quite satisfactory to the individual creator. As like the indepentent creators are finding out, you can price lower than the bigs do if you know how many you’re likely to sell, and get to keep it. In slight defense of the bigs, they are also funding unprofitable projects by other creators, which is not something an independent needs to worry about as much (unprofitable, yes, other creator, no).
Very thought provoking. I’m an almost true fan of a handful of author’s. I buy their books in hardback as soon as they come out. Some of these author’s, however, have lost me as a true fan because their books are just not as good. Shallow characterization, less word count, etc. All of these are signs the writer is shoving out content. So now I wait for their new books to come out in ebook or paperback. Building a base of true fans, cultivating and growing that base, seems like a stronger marketing strategy than low pricing. I’ve always talked about a targeted marketing approach, i.e. discounts, an interactive website, contests and giveaways, to that fanbase. I just never fully articulated in my mind who these readers should be. You nailed it, Kris. In my arguments against low pricing and free, I’ve mentioned my dad, who once he discovered free ebooks will never buy another book. He’s an indiscriminate reader, nobody’s true fan. Why on earth would I want to market to him or readers like him? The idea of discovery leading to purchasing your other works at full pricing just doesn’t work with this reader. My fear is that we’re creating a lot of these readers with our pricing strategies.
Re reader habits, commentor William Ockham dropped some knowledge, below Konrath’s latest post, re a Pew Research poll on readers (http://jakonrath.blogspot.kr/2014/01/a-longwinded-screed-for-mike-shatzkin.html?m=1) including this doosie:
“Here’s some news. There are about 7.5 million adults in this group, about 3% of the adult population. And they read over 25% of all the books that get read in the U.S. And there is no one in publishing who knows this (excepting that Amazon almost certainly does).”
Do yourself a favor and hit that post with a CTRL+F search and read all of Ockham’s comments. Fascinating stuff.
There has been discussion of the RWA survey and Pew Research in the comments for http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ and jakonrath.blogspot.com. Specifically, William Ockham ran Pew Research data and . . . well, I’ll quote Wm:
“There is this measurable group of people who read more than 100 books a year, but show up as having read 97. The nice thing about this from my perspective is that it makes it really easy to analyze this group. I am pretty sure that these folks are the prime target for indie authors.
“Here’s some news. There are about 7.5 million adults in this group, about 3% of the adult population. And they read over 25% of all the books that get read in the U.S. And there is no one in publishing who knows this (excepting that Amazon almost certainly does). Wouldn’t you like to know how many of these people own an ereader? I will have an answer for that one soon. That answer will tell you a lot about how long B&N can survive.”
Wm calls these people ‘power readers’. They are the target population for discovering new writers.
The infrequent reader buys one or two books a year: bestsellers they see at Walmart checkout. It is unlikely that these people own ereaders.
The frequent reader buys a book or two a month. I think many romance readers fall into this category. May own an ereader, but it was probably a gift. I wonder if their reading is genre-specific.
The power reader buys a book or two a week. I’m in this category. I read four languages, half a dozen genres, and have paid $100 for a book. 99% of my reading is now on Kindle. Currently I am reading 12 books on my Kindle. I read Jerry Pournelle, Prince of Mercenaries, this week on Calibre, the first book I have read solely through Calibre. But it would not fit in my reading rotation and I got hooked in the sample at http://www.baen.com/.
The Big Four or Five or how-ever-many-they-are-this-week bet their houses on finding bestsellers. Those are the books that will sell to the infrequent readers.
Who sells to the frequent readers? Harlequin does that best. There used to be Book-of-the-Month clubs that sold to the frequent readers. I want to see some survey results on this group. My guess is that 80% of their reading is in one genre, but I say again, that is a guess.
Who sells to the power readers? Better stated, how do I market to power readers? That’s worth researching.
I suspect indie writers have a better chance of cultivating True Fans than traditionally published writers do because indie writers can make their own decisions about pricing and have the control over accessibility of their work.
My husband and I are not “fans” of many authors currently working today. (Though we are voracious readers and fans of certain genres and types of stories.) But I suspect we would be more likely to be if traditional publishing companies didn’t make it harder for us. For instance, my husband loves the Dresden Files books. But he’s not willing to spend $15 for a Dresden ebook. Though he had read all of the previous books in the series and was really looking forward to the next one, he didn’t buy Cold Days when it was released because of the price. He didn’t get it until very recently when I noticed it was on sale for $5 and grabbed it for him. He was interested in getting some of the older Dresden books in ebook format but didn’t, because of the prohibitive price. Likewise I recently saw on Amazon that there was a new Discworld book out and I’ve always been a fan of Discworld. However, it’s not available at this time as an ebook, just print. Will I buy it when it is available as an ebook? I don’t know. Depends on the price because by then my enthusiasm has long since faded.
Indie writers don’t have to put these hurdles up in front of their readers.
Kris, 10,000 true fans for the Retrieval Artist series is an amazing number! Wow!
You told us that you didn’t do newsletters for the moment. But perhaps you have the e-mails of these true fans? Have you ever thought to send them an e-mail when you release a new book in the series? Have you ever thought to incite them to buy the ebook on Kindle, so as to make your rank grow, and to gain visibility?
I know you are advocating multi-platforms (I am, too), but still, readers in the US buy mostly on Kindle when buying ebooks, and if the emails are mostly from US readers, it would make sense to experiment such a marketing push, to see if the visibility gained in Kindle ranking is a good deal for you. Just with one book, once, to try.
Talking about e-mails, do you know a way to send them to thousands of readers with one click, without using a newsletter? Anyone reading this knows how to do that?
I use MailChimp (the free version) for my newsletter, but I find it a lot easier to collect emails from my readers than to have some people subscribing to the newsletter?
How do I collect emails? When a reader uses paypal for buying an ebook on my website, for example, or when on a signing session, when a reader buys a book, I tell her/him to send me an email (I give my email) in order to get the ebooks version of the paper book freely.
So, I’m able to create a spreadsheet with names and emails adress of readers, and with the title of books or ebooks they bought. In that way, I can target more efficiently my mails when releasing a book. But when not using mailchimp’s newsletter, I’m limited to something like 100 emails a day, which may be very annoying at a certain point.
And I don’t want to add these people to the newsletter, because they haven’t subscribed to it.
“Talking about e-mails, do you know a way to send them to thousands of readers with one click, without using a newsletter?”
Alan, this is spamming, yes? You understand that Mailchimp gives people a choice to unsubscribe, and that if people don’t want your newsletter, they don’t want your unsolicited emails either.
The reason your email provider limits to 100 emails a day is to prevent the accounts being used for spam.
I like this. I’ve been brainstorming how to give my regular better service–I want to make sure they have all my stuff (even though they might only like part of it) and can talk me up/give things to their friends easily. Right now I’m debating whether to do a Gumroad option for “All the Ebooks” for a year and make it stupid cheap, or to a Patreon campaign, or both.
Why *shouldn’t* I treat my regular readers better than everyone else?
And of course people fall into those categories differently; right now, because unemployment, I’m price-sensitive (Though never to the point of getting a book or a peanut butter strictly on that!). I never buy new hardbacks, no matter who it is or how much money I have in the bank. Some books I always get in MMPB because I always have and I want the whole continuing set. Some I get in MMPB if I’m at a con and ebook if I’m not. And if the book does come out in MMPB, the ebook damn well better be the same price or less! Duh! Some authors still haven’t learned that. Last week, I saw a book that was $10.49 in e and $11.99 in POD paperback; at those prices, ain’t nobody getting the ebook! And I bet the author is somewhere complaining about lack of sales.
I am one of the 10,000 who always buy “Retrieval Artist” (and 10K sounds like a pretty good number to me, something any author would be happy for), but am meh on “The Fey”. I like JD Robb more than Nora Roberts. I don’t buy doo-dads for anyone, and I only go to signings at cons.
I wish non-fiction, esp. history, were cheaper in ebook. There doesn’t seem to be much discounting there. Invariably, the trade paper will cost the same or less than the ebook, so guess which I buy. Often, the ebook is the exact same price as a hardcover, even when there’s a trade paper edition out! I’m sorry, folks; I’m not paying $45 for an ebook, particularly when I know you haven’t bothered to redo the maps and illustrations so that I can zoom in on them. The pretty scenery in National Geographic and the pretty people in Entertainment Weekly and the pretty art in digital comics all look fine; take a hint from them.
(This also applies to sprawling epic fantasies. If you can’t make the map zoomable, then run it across several pages, so I can read the names of the legendary kingdoms and cities as we quest.)
Zoomable maps. That is fantastic feedback, Sally! (I consume all my fantasy on audio, these days. Never thought about maps. Must research how to do that.)
I totally agree with you on the non-fiction. I much prefer my non-fiction in print, but if I can get it for a reasonable price on ebook and I don’t need the pictures, then I’ll do that. But usually the ebook is just as cost-prohibitive as the print copy. (At which point I’ll add it to my Amazon wish-list and check every so often for a reasonably priced used copy.) I always wonder how many sales to enthusiastic amateurs they are walking away from. I can’t imagine most academics, who are the target audience at those prices, wouldn’t prefer the print copy regardless. (Myself, I’ve discovered that have a hard time remembering what book I read something in if I read it in digital. Seeing the cover every time you read the book is so important for branding that information into your brain…)
I think a lot of academics, along with the enthusiastic amateurs (and writers doing research on obscure topics are probably a big audience for a lot of scholars), would *love* to have cheaply available print books of academic texts. The problem(s) is that the mindset of university publishing is even less amenable to modern technologies — and pricing ideas — than traditional non-ac. publishing, and the idea that you’re publishing at a loss, so it’s all going to happen in very, very expensive hardovers with tiny print runs for the library market. And it’s hard for academics to self-publish and get into the peer-review circuit, which is necessary. I was just thinking I could do a translation of Dante’s letters … and wondering about how to go about it.
But it would solve a fair number of problems with academic publishing if they got on the cheaper-technology bandwagon AND PRICED THEIR BOOKS ACCORDINGLY. They could still peer review a POD/ebook edition!
There are a lot of academic books I’d buy if they were available for under $100 used. Some I’d get are not available for under $500 used. Scholarly editions, in particular …
Recovering medievalist turned fantasy novelist here …
Last week I read an ebook where I could tell the author had gone to a great deal of trouble to get a nice map of the Epic World of Epicness, with all the fabled Lands of Epic nicely illustrated and the mountain ranges and rivers and towns all labeled helpfully.
And on a 7″ diagonal screen, I could make out… um… the name of the ocean. A big lake. The name of the biggest country. Little triangle lines that were probably mountain ranges, but not which was which. A blob that was probably the capitol of the big country, and maybe the name began with an M? or N? or W? It was on a river.
I mean, I KNOW what Europe looks like and what the countries and seas are called, and I can’t make those out in history ebooks. No way am I going to know whether Epic Land A is east or west of Epic Land B.
Yes! This is a huge problem even with publishers (e.g., Baen) who have been doing ebooks for a while and should know better.
Maps and other illustrations MUST be zoomable. I’ve seen far too many examples that aren’t legible even on a large-screen Kindle Fire or iPad, much less on a phone.
The most egregious offender I’ve encountered is Patrick O’Brian’s 21. I bought it knowing full well that it was incomplete (O’Brian died before finishing the book). I was totally fine with that, and didn’t expect a complete, polished novel. I did expect something that I could actually, you know, read.
What I got was a collection of scanned images of hand-written manuscript pages that were utterly illegible on any screen I own (not Kindle eInk, not Kindle Fire, not iPad, not my desktop display). It didn’t help that O’Brian’s handwriting was…challenging.
I find it impossible to believe that anyone at the publisher actually looked at that thing before it went on sale.
So, yeah, zoomable images are a must.
Ugh, Tony! You expect that lack of quality control from people who scan public domain books and put them up, but from a major publisher of a world-famous writer? They obviously didn’t care. And they’re probably saying “Look, no one wanted the ebook of that, they all bought paper. Dead-tree 4EVA! Let’s not care about growing that part of the business.”
I realize there are probably technical difficulties in getting images to be zoomable in .epub or .mobi or whatever. But they can’t be insurmountable.
If it’s too much trouble, break the maps down into smaller parts and put them on several pages, each covering the same amount of latitude and longitude, at a scale where we can make out features. If a one page map in the MMPB turns out to take a dozen in ebook, so what? Electrons are cheap. Put the overall map up first, then pages ii-xv can be the details.
(Like when we used to use Thomas Guides, for those of you old enough to remember that.)
Your comments really clarified for me what Kris is saying. You know how it’s so much clearer when you’re looking at someone else? I’m pricing my first novel on Kindle, an 80K word historical mystery. So let me think out loud, here, OK? You say, “I always assumed as an unknown, that I should be marketing to the “Always Buys Discounted” crowd.” That’s when it really hit me: that doesn’t make any sense.
1) you’re unknown, I’m unknown, most authors are unknown to most readers. It’s always shocking to hear the stats on how many people have never hear of Stephen King, Nora Roberts, insert million-selling name here. 2) How does any one know you’re new, much less unknown? Does your book look like a professional book? I hope mine does. I paid for a cover, editing and formatting, and my beta readers say it’s professional-looking. 3) You want “enough” true fans. It seems to me, in the Always Discounted group, there aren’t any. They will not pay more. Not for anybody. 4) I just discovered John Boyne (crazy, huh?) and he is a terrific writer. 🙂 I found him via Amazon’s keywords: Historical mysteries, et cetera. His Kindle prices range from $6-10. And I’m paying ’em. Maybe your books are easily as good as his. Why not give readers the chance to buy at not Discounted?
Thank you very much for your comment, as it helped me decide to price at $3.99 minimum. We’ll find out what happens.
But I can make it up in voluuuuummme! ^_^
More seriously — I did crank my prices up out of the 2.99 range for the novels, to about the max that I am comfortable with, when buying ebooks. As in the prior comment above… I wrote “for me,” so apparently I price “for me” as well!
Which gives me insight and also a certain comfort. I know why I’m uncomfortable with other price ranges, and I can either embrace that (flawed or not), or work on the logic of it — but that choice is because of what kind of reader I am, and not an Absolute Truth (or an Absolute Fail).
Kris, thanks for another great post.
I do have a quibble about the free and bargain readers statement:
“Again, these readers are loyal to price—or lack thereof, actually—rather than writer, subgenre, etc.”
It’s true the ‘bargain’ and ‘free’ readers will only choose a book that fits their price — whether cheap or free. So they are absolutely loyal to price in that way.
But once they are within their price range, I believe their loyalties to writer or subgenre are just as strong as people who pay more money, and that you could use library information, like their holds system, to tell you about what the paying market wants.
I fit into the ‘bargain category’ shopper myself much of the time. I use the library a lot. The instant I learned of King’s newest book (on your blog BTW) and of Neil Gaiman’s latest, I put them on hold at the library. Granted, I am more adventurous with what I take home with me, because if I don’t like it, nothing is invested except a trip back with a heavy bag. When I find someone new I like, I put everything they’ve written on hold.
Putting something on hold is the ‘free’ readers version of pre-ordering. The holds record in your city library system is a pretty interesting metric for how successful a book is. I used it last year when I was looking a new-for-me subgenre and deciding which books I would choose to study. I could have looked at Amazon rankings, but they can be pretty emphemeral. I looked at two books, both acclaimed and getting buzz, same subgenre, apparently equal… but the holds told a different story.
I read them both and it was clear why one had 8 holds and four copies, one one had just one copy and no holds. (And it wasn’t that the second book wasn’t good. It was beautifully written and a strong story.
I so appreciated you breaking this down by readers the way you have. It reminds who I am really marketing to and gives me a better sense of where I might want to target my visibility.
One other reason some of us may not always purchase books–we’ve run out of shelf space. I think that means that some library users might also be book buyers for things that aren’t immediately available at their library–and this is really a good thing for those of us who aren’t well known as indie authors.
Thanks for continuing to post in spite of the criticism you receive, Kris. You game some very interesting information here, but I must admit I have no clue what to do with it.
I’m an almost true fan of two authors. Always buy their latest releases as soon as they’re out. But don’t buy tchotchkes or omnibuses of books I already own. I do buy both the hardcover and the ebook of the new release.
I’m a true fan of one series. Buy the latest release the instant it’s out. But assess carefully other releases by the author that are not in the series.
I’m a would-be voracious reader, but can’t find enough new stuff to suit me. So I re-read a ton. Perhaps 1 new-to-me book for every 10 re-reads of old favorites.
I buy new hardbacks at full price of my three favorite authors. I sporadically buy trade paper non-fiction for research. I buy ebooks to replace falling-apart favorite MMPB’s and am willing to spend up to $9.99. I buy ebooks only now to try out new-to-me authors and have spent up $8, if the “look inside” is super promising.
You are so right, Kris. Every reader is different.
Can’t wait to see what you have to say next week!
Kris, I so admire your courage in taking on this topic, discoverability/marketing. This is truly the third rail of self-publishing, with more people passionately committed to a point of view than some major religions. Thanks for continuing to inform us all.
more people passionately committed to a point of view than some major religions
I wonder if this is something like… Writing for the reader inside us, and then pricing for the reader inside us? I am sensitive to price, so I price at the higher end of what I’m willing to pay for ebooks by non-favorite authors. (For a couple favorite authors, I pay Favorite Tithe and Impatience Tax willingly.) Someone who has even less disposable income than I may be committed to the 99c novel because that’s what they buy. Someone who embraces ebooks and cares naught for cost? Price what the market will bear!
…It’s almost like price is genre. Or sub-genre. (Or sub-sub genre…)
I really liked this post because it addressed a problem I have consistently found among writers–but in a slightly different way than I had been thinking about it. I usually go into a rant about how writers seem to forget how readers look for books when they put a book up on Amazon, etc. They don’t think about what shelves they put the books on (keywords and categories), they don’t think about how the product description should work the same way as a back cover, etc.
For some reason it seems as writers we are pretty good at writing for the reader within us, but we somehow don’t even think about marketing for the reader within us–much less the readers who are not like us. And that is what this post really points out–that we need to be figuring out how to make our books visible to all sorts of readers. Thanks!
They don’t? That is a very large absolute. Every writer I know thinks a lot about those things.
More than once I’ve heard writers claim to find a lot more success once they got their books into the right categories. I believe A.G. Riddle, who recently received a big boost from an Amazon promotion, cited revising categories as contributing to his success. The keywords in particular I struggled with. I didn’t really get the point. Reading your post on the subject was the clarity I needed to figuring it out. I kept choosing two categories, but I couldn’t determine how so many people ended up into more than two and got their books into the filter subcategories. So thank you for your post on the subject; it was a wonderful resource which I’ve shared.
It takes time to put all the puzzle pieces together when you are a new author. Also, new writers don’t always know how many pieces the picture has. That’s why it’s great to have blogs like your own and The Business Rusch to help new writers step back and be able to put it all in context. Even basic arithmetic needs to be taught before it can become common sense.
Did I miss a post about keywords? I don’t remember that one.
M. Louisa Locke has written several thorough posts about keywords.
In case you’re interested, Sisters in Crime also did a marketing survey. It’s older than the RWA one you cite, but you might find it of interest. You can find it here: http://www.sistersincrime.org/associations/10614/files/ConsumerBuyingBookReport.pdf
Thanks so much for doing this series, Kris. I’m definitely a “true fan” of your blog.
I have been assuming that, as an “unknown” to most, that I should be marketing to the “Always Buys Discounted” crowd — also, in part, since that’s where I tend to fall for ebooks. (Or, rather, I have price thresholds. Too close to the physical book, favorite author or not, and I want a physical one that I can hand to other people.)
I think I’m comfortable with my current e-pricings right now (though I’m plotting to raise the price of one of my longer short-stories), but as I get more books out, I can assess whether I’m getting true-fans enough… who won’t be upset if I tack a dollar or two onto the ebook price.
That romance survey is the first one I’ve read that contains data I haven’t seen, that looks like it might be authentic.
A lot of it was pretty obvious — that book cover art is important, that readers listened to family and friends and online recommendations.
What particularly interested me were the activities readers did or did not do (that’s the last chart on the page). Nearly 60 percent visited the author’s website, while 3/4ths did not watch a YouTube video, or attended an online event, or followed you on Twitter or Facebook. This can give you an idea of where to devote your limited marketing time for the best results.
One minor editing note: You might want to consider adding that it was an online survey of romance readers, to provide context for the information (as opposed to a survey of bookstore buyers or readers in general).
Thanks for the link to the RWA survey – where I found an interesting nuggest:
“Mean age for print romance book buyers: 49”
While I’m not writing a category romance, Pride’s Children IS a love story, and its heroine, Kary Ashe, is 49.
Which makes me very, very attentive to your next posts on targeting specific fans.
Not that I skip anything you write on the Thursday posts.
I almost feel you’re writing the series for me, and I’m waiting for the eventual book.
Talk about you paying it forward.
I had never really thought about the different types of books I read and what type of fan/reader I am. Very interesting.
With romance, I’m coming full circle, as I inhaled all those “gothic” books back in the late 60s/early 70s. 🙂 Phyllis Whitney was my fave (read all of her books the library had), but I also read Mary Stewart and others. I bought a bunch of those (used) just recently to see if I still enjoyed them, and I do. 🙂
Great, as usual. It’s beyond me how you could be criticized as a no nothing or totally wrong when you always lay things out in such a measured, judicious way and back your statements up with facts and real world examples. Fine and reasonable for readers/writers to question or disagree with specific points or recommendations, but most writers don’t have a clue about marketing and should at least seriously consider your vast experience and well reasoned views.
Thanks for doing this series…
I think you are very right about the large size (and invisibility) of those used book buyers and library users.
However, I wanted to pick on nit:
I think you are overlooking the influence of that group in the discount pricing range. The discount arena is the wild west right now for a very good reason: Customers for used books will buy new ebooks if they are priced in the used book range.
(And a portion of the freebies audience is the same audience as for libraries — but I suspect that the “book grabbers” who are loyal to “Free” currently overshadow that group.)
So along with the “known” discount groups, there is also an unknown (and I suspect very large) consumer group that hangs about in the same price range, but has very different habits and motives.
Of course, I think this is a large group because I am one of those readers. You’re right that we don’t know much about this group — except we do know that a lot of used books change hands in every neighborhood, not just at used book stores, but at garage sales and flea markets and in thrift shops.
And since a portion of that group is only buying discount because they can’t afford full price… price by itself isn’t a marketing factor. It’s an accessability factor. (This group isn’t loyal to price, they are merely limited by it — the same way distribution used to limit access.)
Your overall point is the same, though: the audience is diverse, and reaching each part of it will require diverse methods.
In addition, people’s circumstances change. A person who becomes a fan of your books through the library might, in a few years, have more spending money and start buying all your work. I’m an example of that. For several years my husband and I had absolutely no extra money and so we got all of our books from the library. Now that we’re in a better place we actually spend quite a bit of money on books and some authors we spend money on were discovered through the library.
Yes; when I was a broke college kid, I knew the staff at the local used bookstore well. Like tides on a shore,used books regularly washed into my apartment and back out to the store, leaving a high-water line of the ones I couldn’t bear to part with on my shelves.
I have since re-bought most of the best books, having lost them in moves or given them away, and bought more of the authors as they put out new books. Sadly, there are also a lot of authors I can’t find again, because they only had one or two books, and disappeared. (Usually in the middle of a series, which has soured me on starting series that are incomplete.)
Now that I have a kindle app on the new phone and am not afraid to use it, you are right – I can go browsing for unknown-to-me authors in genres I like at the same price point as driving across a city to a used book store, and the trips to McKay’s have suffered for that.
Expanding on the point about libraries is that many of us have our favorite authors, but try out new authors through the library. I’m a voracious reader who cannot support my habit with all new books, so I end up being in a variety of categories depending on the author or genre. I’ve discovered many new books while saving for a new pair of glasses.
Thank you for continuing this series!