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Discovery: Another Buzzword We're Wrestling to Understand

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The publishing industry (and any industry for that matter) loves to throw out buzzwords. A few years ago it was "platform;" now it's Discovery. You can't read a single publishing blog without seeing that phrase and wondering: what is discovery, really? Well, unlike platform which was a tad bit nebulous, the term discovery is pretty obvious. The ways to get discovered, however, are not.

When I was first in the industry discovering a book was easy and pretty uncomplicated. Back then publishing had seasons and if you wanted readers to find the book, you stuck to the rules. Big books in the Fall, change-your-life titles in January and summer reads, smaller books and fluff-type titles the rest of the year. Now, however, there are no hard and fast rules and other than news or seasonal tie-ins, there's little rhyme or reason to when a book is published. The landscape has changed and we're all just trying to figure out the rules.

With thousands of new titles flooding the marketplace each day, discovery becomes even more challenging. You may argue that the books being released on a particular day have nothing to do with your title. You're in a different genre and therefore you won't be affected. The truth of the matter is that you are affected; even if the next 10,000 books published have nothing to do with what you've written they're still taking up bandwidth and virtual shelf space and they're all still vying for the same thing: readers.

More than ever, our readers are bogged down with to-dos, overwhelmed with email and inundated with choices. We get 30 seconds, maybe, to capture their attention and most of the time we fail the first, second, and third time. In order to get in front of your customer you have to do it multiple times. The old marketing rule of 7 may now be the rule of 70 - or more.

What's an eager author/publisher to do? Well, while I haven't done any official market research per se, I speak to hundreds of authors a month. Some total rock stars living the sweet life of book sales and (you guessed it) discovery while others (the majority, to be candid) are just trying to get noticed. Let's face it, the landscape has changed, the rules have been modified and, in some cases, tossed out entirely. Things like publishing seasons we mentioned before no longer apply. Advanced reviews are great, but books that hit their stride don't often do so because of all the advanced reviews. Time to market is shrinking and pre-orders aren't the end-all-be-all they once were. Discovery happens in a different way and, as you'll see from my points, it begins and ends with your reader.

  1. Publish. A Lot: For those of you who have spent 10 years writing your last book I have news for you. You have ten days to write your next one. Okay, I'm sort of kidding with the ten days but, candidly, the most successful authors are pushing out tons of content meaning books, not blog posts. We'll talk about content in a minute. In most categories readers are hungry for new reads, new books, and willing to discover new authors. You'll have a better time getting found if you continually push new books out there. How many should you do? At a recent writers conference some authors said they publish four books a year. Yes, that's right, four.
  2. Bundling: If the thought of writing another book is making your head spin take heart, there's a solution to this and it's called bundling. The idea of bundling several books started in the fiction market, or rather it found its stride there. Many romance authors were taking their prior books -whatever two or three books they'd written regardless of age - and bundling them into a set or series. Guess what? It's considered a new book. In fact many romance authors I spoke to partnered with other authors of a similar genre and bundled books. In one instance, this gave them an eBook bestseller. You can see some samples of bundling here: http://amzn.to/186u3ah. Basically the idea is to create a new cover, slide the books into one offering, put it up on Amazon and voila: new book.
  3. Book Reviews Drive Your Market: Several years ago we saw the decline of reviews. Bloggers were inundated with book galleys and wait times to get onto big sites were huge. This drove a different type of review: the reader review. You may say, "Well duh, don't readers often review books?" Well, no; in fact, if you talk to most authors they'll lament the fact that they can't seem to get their readers to review their book. We'll talk in a minute about how to do that but for now, the focus is on getting a lot of people to talk about your book. You can do that by engaging your readers and encouraging them to review your book. I'm not saying to ignore bloggers but rather, supplement what they can offer you. They thing is, many of the very successful books or the books we hear about that crossed over from unknown to stardom did so through their readers and reviews. Hugh Howey is a great example of this. He's pretty clear that he wrote for his readers, he listened to his readers, he engaged his readers and guess what? He built a solid fan base and off-the-chart sales.
  4. Ask For What You Want: Now you're thinking, "Great, so how do I do this?" Well, ask for it - and you do so in your book. I have been testing all of these ideas with a book that isn't attached to me. We're not going public with marketing it, I'm not connected to it in any way. I wanted this to be a book by a first-time, unknown author. I had a page added to the back of the book that basically said, "I hope you enjoyed the book and here's how you can help me." I went on to explain how tough it can be for an author to get reviews for a book and how they, the reader, could help out. I wrote it in such a way that I wasn't begging, but empowering. Guess what? We're up to nearly 70 reviews on Amazon, all readers. Yes, it works.
  5. Smart Networking Online: When we do a blog tour for our authors we often get readers to go onto blogs and talk about the book. It's a great way to start a conversation and get on really high-traffic blogs. When we're done, I always encourage authors to stay in touch with the bloggers, or post a comment on that blog thanking the commenter for their post. I recently had an author do this. She posted thank you's and offered her book to any blogger wanting a copy to review. She got three requests from very high-traffic sites. And I mean big bloggers. See? Find an open door and then walk through. If you don't have people talking about your book, why not try commenting yourself? Engage with the bloggers, thank them for a great post and offer your own insight. Don't sell, engage. Trust me, this works. It works because you're digging into your network and creating connections.
  6. Relationships: More than ever, relationships matter, whether it's reader relationships, blogger relationships or bookstore relationships. Getting people to help you spread the word is all about connections and fostering them. How do you do that? Just listen to your mother. Say please, say thank you. Never assume you are entitled to a review or whatever just because you published a book. Even if you get a not-so-great review, still thank the reviewer for taking time to write it. If someone blasts you, ignore it. Good relationships are about knowing what to foster, and what to walk away from.
  7. Wattpad, Goodreads, Library Thing: Focus on connecting with readers through these sites. This is where some significant discovery can happen. Whatever you choose, get on there and be active. Don't have time for Facebook, Twitter and the like? If your market suits these sites then forego spending a lot of time on the other sites and stick with these networks.
  8. Does Size Matter? When it comes to putting a ton of books out there, do they all have to be 300 pages long? No, in fact I've written some that are shorter, under fifty pages, and others that are over 200. Shake it up. Short is the new long, so go for it. If you can't do four major books a year but can do one or two major ones and four novellas, great. Find something that works for you but don't let size stop you. If your content is good, readers will just clamor for more.
  9. Wait and See: Many authors want to put out a book and wait and see. Though patience is a virtue in many things, don't ask your readers to wait. Also, as an author you shouldn't just wait to see what happens. In most cases nothing will happen with one book. But publishing more books builds more connections. Your second book will sell better than your first and your third may sell better than your first and second put together. As your connections grow, so do your sales. Think about this: there's a reason that phone companies turn out new models seemingly every few months. They know that their audience wants new, and as technology becomes more advanced buyers want more. They know to give it to them, and so should you.
  10. The Power of Free: Finally let's talk about the free factor. A lot of authors balk at this but here's the deal: free is a great way to pull in new readers and that's what this is all about. You should know that since many authors are doing freebies, the numbers have dropped considerably. I used to see thousands of free book downloads a day, now we see hundreds. Because of this, it might be necessary to do a few rounds of free throughout the year. One freebie offer won't net you a ton of exposure, but regular offers just might.

Keep in mind that this list isn't the definitive guide when it comes to discovery. Some things might work for your book and some may not, but the key to remember is that the sales funnel has changed. A website will not lead you to discovery unless readers have a reason to visit. An ad is not the best way to gain visibility unless you have other things supporting it like an active community on Goodreads, an active blog, etc.

The good news is that the rules have changed; the bad news is the rules have changed and most of us are just trying to navigate this new world and rise above the noise. I believe the key to visibility will be going after your reader in ways that don't just encourage them to read your book, but empowers them to take action once they do. I believe that when you focus everything you do on your reader, they will reward you in ways that will help you and your book find its way into the hands of many, many new fans.