One of the biggest challenges for new authors is discovery. Readers will not read our novels if they don’t know about them. The Internet has led to the rise of self-publishing, which has democratized the tools of publishing, allowing anyone to to publish a book. It’s great that we don’t need to get through the gatekeepers (agents, publishers) anymore in order to reach our readers. But as unknown authors, we face another daunting challenge: how to we get discovered? The market is flush with an endless supply of new books by authors with different levels of skill and prominence. How do we avoid drowning in a sea of too many fish?
The challenge of discovery reminds me of whale-watching in Monterey. For a blissful two years, I lived in beautiful Monterey, California. During certain seasons, whale-watching was a popular activity. It wasn’t cheap to get a spot on one of the boats that sail out into the Monterey Bay. Passengers hope they will be lucky enough to see a whale come to the surface of the ocean, but a whale sighting can seem rare at times. There are millions of fish in the sea, but we get excited about seeing whales (and dolphins) because they’re rare and awesome to behold. We don’t look for the fish, which are plenty.
In the world of writing, famous authors and rising newcomers are the whales and dolphins. Readers flock to get their books, and information is passed quickly by word of mouth. The rest of us are the fish in the sea. No one comes out onto the ocean to see us rise to the surface. They don’t even know we’re there. All of us want to be whales or dolphins. So, how do we get noticed when there are too many fish in the sea? How do we climb the fish ladder?
Time and time again, I hear from self-published authors and marketing experts (like Tim Grahl at www.booklaunch.com) that the key to selling books is an email list connecting authors directly with their readers. If we can acquire 1,000 loyal readers over time, then we can make a decent living at writing. But building an email list is difficult if no one knows who you are (except for friends and family). There are a number of strategies to get started with your email list-having your own website for exposure and a place for readers to come to learn about you, developing an active social media presence and offering giveaways or valuable content to get readers to join your list.
This week, I tried a crazy experiment with a site called Noisetrade. NoiseTrade Books helps authors meaningfully connect with fans through the exchange of free music for email addresses & postal codes. The experiment is crazy because my book is not edited or even finished…for me this writer’s journey is figuring things out as I go alone. I don’t mind making mistakes so I’m willing to take risks. And I heard about NoiseTrade on a podcast and didn’t want to forget about it.
On March 20 (Monday), I uploaded an excerpt of my unfinished novel, The Bionic Bug, onto the website. Check it out if you’re interested! On March 21 (Tuesday), I promoted it with people I know via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. By Tuesday evening, I made it to #1 on the top downloads list for Mysteries and Thrillers. For a moment, I was a whale surfacing the ocean for all to see and discover. Not hidden beneath the sea. And it was a glorious feeling…to know that I can get exposure with the right strategy.
I held the #1 spot in the Mysteries and Thriller category until March 24 (Friday). During this roll, I even made it onto the front page for all book downloads. Currently, my standing has fallen to #68 (third page).
So how did I do during my run as #1?
- I had 27 downloads. This doesn’t sound like a lot to get to #1 placement. I assume that NoiseTrade prioritizes new uploads and keeps them at the top as long as their download trade is higher than longer running books. In other words, to stay at the top of the list, I think you need to keep a high download per hour ratio. It’s possible that new uploads get greater preference for a period of time.
- I received $14.85 in tips. This was a surprise. It is particularly meaningful for me because this the first money I’ve ever made with my fiction writing.
- I added 18 new people to my email list (beyond friends and family). That’s pretty good seeing as I didn’t have a promotional plan going into this and simply asked people on social media to check it out. If I had planned better, I imagine, I would have done much better.
Next time, I plan to integrate a release on NoiseTrade as part of a planned strategy. For example, I would do a few things differently:
- I would send out some emails to my current list and create some buzz around my release of my excerpt (or FREE book). I would ask my current list to share the post with their friends.
- I might do a giveaway to drum up downloads on NoiseTrade.
- I would do more promotion on social media.
- I’m planning to use Goodreads as well, but that site requires a finished book.
In any event, I think my experiment was a success. For a few days, I gained exposures on the front page of a website with a huge following. More importantly, I feel more confident in getting myself out there when my book is actually finished.
- Sterling and Stone for everything they do on the Self-publishing Podcast. I learned about NoiseTrade from a guest interview.
- Tim Grahl for his Book Launch podcast and FREE resources. I’ve learned a great deal from the podcast about email lists and strategies for building email lists.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.