More than a decade ago, I partnership-published a couple of novels and my publisher told me how many books he expected me to sell. I was shocked at the low number, and I do admit to huffing and bristling. If I’d had hair on my back I’d have looked like a spooked kitty. He explained that we have a personal reach, immediate family, friends, and co-workers. For the sake of easy numbers, let’s say that reach is 400 (although he said the average number is closer to 250.) He said of this 400, not all would buy the book, but somewhere in the vicinity of 25% would actually buy. That meant 100 confirmed sales. Yikes!
Hold on to your hat! That was a long time ago. There was no big publishing house backing me, it was pre-indie publishing, pre KDP Select, pre the big Amazon publishing machine, and the long, long reach of social media. Back in the day (or as my kids say, before the wheel) I had a website, no blog, and I did speaking engagements at libraries and women’s groups, and book signings in real brick and mortar bookstores. Imagine that! I did no online marketing. Everything I did was face to face.
In today’s market, we authors stay at home and blast the internet. I think now we have the opportunity to build contacts that far surpass what would be considered our normal reach; however, I sense the people we reach out to in the social media forums are inundated with other authors also reaching out to them. All of the grabbing hands and ceaseless voices whispering: “Buy my book.” Sometimes I feel like I’m speaking into a void, or shouting above constant chatter. But I also know, speak too softly and you’ll get overlooked, and speak too loudly and you’ll get overlooked. I often question if I must continue, unpleasant as it is, to be one of the grabbing hands and whispered voices.
I do think the initial 25% of my readers who liked my work have stayed true, and maybe now my reach has grown a little. With KDP Select I saw good sales with book #1, but I had to give away 20,000 free books to achieve that. There are now way too many free books flooding the market and KDP has changed. I know for sure that I’m more selective of the free downloads that are available. Are you? At first, I had so many books on my Kindle I couldn’t find those I’d intended to read and review. Sadly, I began to skim first chapters and delete. I don’t want to be an author who readers delete.
That brings me back to the question, how does one build a genuine readership in this age of super-big, super-fast, disposable everything? How do we retain our readers? I don’t think social media is the whole answer. It’s so easy to click a like and move on, or fire off a tweet and move on, giving the semblance of caring. So what is an author supposed to do to get the word out? I know, I know…write a good book, and then another good book, and so on. Seriously, it goes beyond that, because I’ve read some fabulous books and wondered why they never caught fire. I might be crazy, but I’ve decided to slow the merry-go-round, build on face-to-face contacts, develop friendships, and have fun. In the meantime, I’ll be super-happy with my faithful readers. I want readers to look forward to the next book with a sense of pleasure.