For those of us who market authors for a living, we know that 2013, more than any other year, saw bigger changes in marketing books. More in fact, than any prior year. The changes are largely due to the number of books that have come online both in print and digital and, in some cases, in digital only. In fact, the latest figures for books published daily are staggering. Bowker reported that in 2012 there were 3,500 books published each day in the US; this number does not include eBooks since many of them are often published straight to Amazon without ISBN numbers or other means of tracking. It's a perfect storm for change.
What this does for the industry is it forces new marketing models in place, while pushing others to the back-burner. So, what's the biggest change I've seen in 2013? Well, pretty much all things traditional flew out the window. Reviews are still important, but reader reviews took precedence over that. Engagement is still key, but direct reader engagement is even more crucial. What does this mean for you in 2014? Have a look.
More is better: For most of us, the days of writing a book a year, or a book every two years have long since passed. Readers want more content and one of the best ways to engage with them is to keep your books in front of them - and the best way to do that is to keep pushing new books out the door. Keep in mind that when it comes to marketing, content really is king and good content, in the form of a book, can really help to keep you out there. Also, something that I've noticed in the testing that I've done is that the more content you have out there, the more you sell just in general. What I mean by this is that (book) content elevates all of your sales. When an author releases a second book within a short 6-9 month window, they'll often see higher sales of prior books, just because the new title is pushing the others to the forefront. Though if you do this, you should use the back matter of your book to cross-promote all of your titles. The new year will see more of this being done; pushing out more books for marketing reasons will be a big game-changer for many.
Short is the new long: The good news with pushing out tons of content is you don't have to be writing 500-page tomes. We've seen this already in 2013, but the coming year will bring this so much more to the forefront. My recommendation is to create one or two full length books a year and then additional micro-content such as novellas or shorter books that focus on one topic or tackle just one problem. You'll see more on this in a minute. Suffice it to say that pushing a ton of books out is great, but they don't all have to be full-length books. Supplement your writing with shorter pieces but keep in mind that whatever you do has to be of equal quality. Don't sacrifice quality for quantity, ever. I predict that in the new year you're going to see a lot of authors pushing out books like this. One full-length and several shorter. It's a great way to gain visibility and stay in front of your readers.
Micro-Topics Rule: Your readers are busy, really busy. They want a problem solved or they want to be entertained, quickly. And sometimes they only want to able to pick up a book and read it in one sitting. That's where micro-content comes in. Focused topics solving one specific problem. For example, if you have a book on starting a business, you may decide to create a focused topic on how to create and execute a solid social media strategy. Or if you've written on parenting, you may write one shorter book on easy and inexpensive ways to 'green' your house. The point is that if you can isolate a reader problem and address it, you can win their loyalty. Own a niche, and I mean really own it. If finance is your topic, dig into all of the potential challenges and address them in shorter books. For fiction writers, you'll see a lot more situational romance. Meaning stories that are just short and sweet, focused on a few characters and one main issue they overcome to have their happy ending.
Readers are key: In the intro paragraph I mentioned the importance of readers. Now, more than ever, you must connect with your readers, you must take the time to reach out to them. I've addressed this a few times in other pieces, too. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/discovery-another-buzzwor_b_3800283.html; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/how-to-become-a-goodreads_b_3719161.html) But the point is that you want to encourage readers to review your book by including a (polite) request for this in your book, you want to engage directly with them on social sites like Goodreads, and you want to communicate directly with them. If you get a review from a reader, thank them. If you have readers who reviewed your other books, reach out to them and ask them to review your latest one. Also, readers don't just want engagement from you, they want it from your book. Do not, under any circumstances, end your book without giving readers a chance to engage with you, your other material, or your characters.
Be everywhere that matters: This isn't a new thing, but we'll see more of it in 2014. When it comes to social marketing, you don't have to be everywhere, you just have to be everywhere that matters. The spray-and-pray theory of marketing is long gone. No one expects you to be on every social media site, but they do expect you to be active on the ones you chose to have a presence on. More than ever, readers want communication. Some years ago authors could be on all social sites and be randomly active on them. Now it just looks like you've abandoned your own message. And if you aren't interested in what you have to say, why should your reader be?
Keywords rule: We know that keywords matter, but the more books that come online the more keywords will become a mandatory way to be found. We just saw a huge scuttle on Amazon over keywords (http://www.amarketingexpert.com/author-alert-resolving-amazon-keyword-issue/) but now we're seeing a new trend on Amazon: readers aren't searching by their favorite authors, they are searching by keywords and the more the better. What does this mean for you? It means that you need to figure out what readers search in your market and rank for those searches. It also means that you don't want to rank for the term: mystery, romance or business, because readers aren't searching that way. Our customer searches strings of words, like "romance books under 2.99" or something like that. Keywords on your Amazon page, in your book description, and book keywords will be a must as more and more books come online. You should be looking at this, trying new keywords, and keeping a close eye on your ranking within those words. Just "being on Amazon" won't get you a sale and the more books that get loaded onto that site, the further down the buying food-chain you will go.
eBooks: I am still amazed at how many authors release their print books without a digital counterpart. Giving readers access to as many formats of your book as possible is not just important, it's mandatory. Also, in the new year you're going to see some very creative uses for eBooks as a way to drive more sales. We've already seen enhanced eBooks, this is nothing new, but I think you're going to see more of this, done in some very unique ways.
Free: There are many who say that readers are immune to freebies, free books, free promotions. But I think this is wrong. Readers avoid poorly executed campaigns or poorly designed books. Readers want to try your material but only if they perceive it to be of good quality. Free, however, should be part of everything you do. We love to sample. You only have to go to Costco on a weekend to see how much people love sampling stuff. The same is true for content and freemiums are the wave of the future. Putting solid, free content out there will bring in new customers by the truckload. (Though, arguably, the cheese trunk shows at Costco are a tough act to follow).
Cover this: I see a lot of books out there with bad covers and some marketing people encouraging authors to self-design their covers. With more and more books coming online, your cover is the window to the book. Let me ask you this: if you owned a store, would you consider having a bunch of old junk in a dirty storefront window? It's amazing to me how many authors do this with their books.
Shelf Life: Earlier this year, the Book Industry Study Group did a survey on where readers discover new books. An overwhelming percentage of them said they discovered books in bookstores. This crucial factor in book discovery is significant as we enter a holiday season that might be make-it-or-break-it for Barnes & Noble. I think that in order to keep their doors open, Barnes & Noble will have to get creative and will make paying for placement a much more common thing. We know that some bookstores already charge authors for shelf space and publishers have, for years, paid for premium end-cap and front of store space. I believe that in 2014 we're going to see much more of this expanded out to a wider market. You want shelf space? Here's how much that will cost you.
Self-publishing: Thirteen years ago when I was first banging the self-publishing drum most people thought that I was, well, hanging out with the school nerds. Well, nerds rule and now, they are ruling publishing. Self-publishing has already become a much more acceptable way to get your book out there but in the coming year, I believe you're going to see more partnerships between publishers and self-publishing and, though it may not be in 2014, I think that you're going to see publishers start to adopt the partnership model that self-publishing brings with it. You want a Simon & Schuster to publish your book? That's fine, but the model will change. Authors will be required to be much more entrepreneurial when it comes to working with a traditional publisher and with the days of advances long since gone, I think we'll start to see a reverse model of paying for a brand name on your book. Sort of like what Louise Hay did with Hay House. She used her name to push Balboa Press, which is an offshoot of Hay House. The idea being that if the book succeeds at Balboa, then Hay House will pick it up. Now, I'm not sure of the success rate of this model, or how many authors actually make this leap. But I do know that more and more we'll start to see big-name publishing houses use their brand power to attract authors who are willing to pay for that level of exposure for their books.
Readers are savvy about the books they want to read and authors they want to engage with and 2014 will make it all about them. Being an author means serving your reader in ways that really speak to them directly. You'll notice that not one of my points above were about traditional publicity or marketing. It's not that this doesn't matter, but in the past authors have often put the media targets well above their reader connection. Now, if you want some big-time exposure, you'll have to go after your customer first. Readers have the power to drive the success or failure of books and no amount of advertising or traditional media will change that. As more books come online, those traditional channels will become even more clogged. As bookstores continue to dwindle and, in some cases, charge for shelf space, finding ways to reach your reader directly will become the ultimate goal. If you're already doing this, you're really ahead of the game; and if you're not, the time to start is now.