How I Discover New Books– Hint, Not in a Bookstore

It’s been said that the reason an author should stick to traditional publishing is book discoverability and distribution by way of a publisher’s marketing budget and sales staff.

bookstore-482970_1280I was fortunate to get a three-book deal with a mid-size Christian publisher who did get behind my book generously with marketing dollars. They even landed me in Sam’s Club with my first two books in hundreds of stores nationwide.

Just, why, didn’t I hit the bestseller lists? I think the books are good. Proof and Poison got starred reviews from Library Journal. Both were nominated (though never won) for awards. Lots of favorable reviews.

In fact, I might even say that landing in Sam’s Club hurt me a little. Why? The issue with Sam’s club is it’s a BIG order. It’s a risk for the publisher. If you’re not a well-known name who can move those novels many are going to get returned and your royalty report is going to look like a defaulted home loan and the bank is knocking on your door.

I began to analyze how I discover books, and does it match with the way a traditional publisher markets novels?

Sure, your best chance of getting into a bookstore is partnering with a traditional publisher but how often are you going to bookstores anymore? I used to go weekly, when they were close. There aren’t any close ones anymore. The one at the mall I would stop in while shopping for other things . . . gone . . . both of them. The closest bookstore is a 15-20 minute drive. And as NYT’s bestselling author Jamie McGuire blogs here— even she wasn’t seeing her novels in bookstores during release week.

Here is a list of how I now discover books.

1. Goodreads Reviews. Goodreads is the place for people who LOVE books and where book lovers leave reviews. I find I have more Goodreads reviews than Amazon reviews. I have close to 2,500 friends on Goodreads. Every day, I get an e-mail of their reviews. I’ve come to know whose reading tastes are similar to mine. A good review of a book will cause me to look further on Amazon. Plus, since I’m friends with so many, I get exposed to a wide variety of books outside my general reading genre (suspense) that I probably wouldn’t have heard about– even browsing bookstore aisles.

2. Amazon Lists. Amazon lists are fun to browse. Of course, there is always the 100 top paid and free Kindle lists but I also look at genre specific top 100 lists. I also pay attention to novels getting a crazy number of reviews and try and read those to see what is catching the reader’s eye. So, from my first two examples, I don’t think any author can say that reviews don’t matter . . . they do.

3. Advertising Lists. There are a couple of advertising lists that I belong to– BookBub and Inspired Reads. On these sites, you can narrow down the types of e-mails you receive to genres you like. Every day you’ll get an e-mail about books that are on sale. Bookbub lists are the primary way I’m buying books. If I see an interesting book cover then I click the buy link for Amazon and check out reviews. Based on the number of reviews, I make a decision about whether or not to buy the novel. BookBub has a very good reputation among authors that though pricey– is generally a good investment of your marketing dollars. I think the same is true with Inspired Reads for their reach/price ratio.

4. Word of Mouth. I’m like every other human being. If a good friend says, “You must read this book.” it will climb up to the top of my TBR list. The more people that say it– the more likely I am to read it. One author I’d almost given up on until a good friend said, “Just read this one. If you don’t like it, I give you permission to never read this author again.” Reading that novel changed my opinion of the author and their work.

What I find is that I’m rarely in a bookstore anymore but I’m discovering a lot more books because these things are available to me every day.

For my fall release, this is how I’m spending my marketing money. I’ll likely not be arranging bookstore book signings, but that’s a topic for another time.

How are you discovering books? Does that determine your marketing plan?

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Word of Mouth or Cyber Bully?

I’m hearing more and more conversations crop up lately from small business owners who say dissatisfied customers with even an ounce of Internet savvy can create an unfair disadvantage for their businesses. They argue customers are too quick to zap off a bad review, poor rating, or negative ‘word of mouth’ without ever giving the business a chance to make it right. “Feedback is a gift,” business owners claim. “And I never even got to open it until it was too late.” I can’t help wondering if it’s more like a party too many businesses don’t pay attention to until a hundred people jump out of the dark and yell “Surprise!” Either way, these highly visible online rants and ratings of the unhappy and dissatisfied can be a real detriment to acquiring new customers. And some businesses are crying, “Cyber bully!” 

But are they really? Let me take it closer to home: enter the novice or mid-list author. These author folks may feel a similar squeeze when negative comments or one-star ratings crop up for their books at various reader/author social networking sites or online booksellers—sometimes even before the book is released and based solely on how excited someone is (or isn’t) to read the book. Add the rumor of authors gaming the system by soliciting everyone and their brother for 4 and 5 star ratings and by low-balling competitors’ titles, and you can see why authors can be squeamish about the power of word of mouth on the Internet. At its best, it works for you. At its worst, not so much.

But does that mean people who scatter low ratings like jellybeans at an Easter egg hunt—with or without commentary to support them—are really abusing the author? Don’t readers realize how much power they wield, how much of a boon or a detriment their ratings could be for an emerging author? 

Probably not. And not only is it a bad idea to police the system, I think it’s futile to try. Internet word of mouth is organic in nature. Those who trust and value the opinions of others will continue to seek them out, and in the long run, that’s a good thing for everyone. Just like when we write we make positive assumptions about our reader’s intelligence and ability to follow our stream of consciousness, we shouldn’t underestimate the sensibility of those same readers when it comes to their ability to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly reviews. I like to think unless the negative rating came from a highly trusted or personal source, most prospective readers toss out the outliers and look for themes anyway.

What about you? As a reader, how much do negative ratings influence your decision to try a new author?