Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The mysterious connection

After clearing the major hurdle of publishing a book, the next thing new authors usually ask is: "How do I find readers?" They're encouraged to do online networking, among other promotional activities.

Authors try to compare notes on what kind of online promotion works, and what doesn't. One problem is that outcomes are difficult to measure, because the connection between a promotional activity and a book purchase is usually not something an author can trace. Except at live events, where we talk to readers face to face and we see (or they tell us) what has drawn them to pick up our books and buy them, we just don't know.

The connection between book and reader is based on emotion, taste, mood. The desire to read a book can evolve over time. It's often not an immediate, one-to-one correlation ("Buy this book!" "Okay, I'll buy it!"). Which is why I think tweeting things like, "Buy my book!" or "My book is so great!" at random strangers, or blasting strangers with email, are not likely to succeed. (There are other reasons I wouldn't recommend that approach, but I don't want to go too far afield of my point here.) And if an author does an activity such as a blog tour, the effects of that tour will not necessarily be direct or immediate.

It can be a while between the time a person hears of a book and purchases it. In fact, most of the books I buy are not impulse purchases; they're usually books I've heard about, put on my list, thought about more. I ask myself: Do I have the money for this? The shelf space? Am I in the mood for this? Do I want to wait until next month when I'll meet the author in person? Do I want to wait and buy this at my indie store to support them? Do I want this in paperback or hardcover? Would I rather check this out from the library? Does this book still sound as good as it did when I first heard of it? Is it part of a series and do I want to commit to starting a series? Can I handle the topic?

Mostly what makes me pick up books now is what made me pick them up when I was younger: 1) I've liked the author's other work; and/or 2) the story sounds like it's right up my alley. (As I'm a voracious reader, my "alley" is more like a multi-lane superhighway, but even so, there are some books that interest me more than others.)

I took a random look at some books I've bought in the past few years and the reasons I bought them. Here are the reasons:

--Saw in a bookstore, liked the cover, liked the opening pages. Had never heard of the book before seeing it in the store.

--Saw a synopsis online and made a note of its title; bought it when I saw it in a bookstore months (maybe years) later. (2 books)

--Saw a synopsis online and either ordered it or got it immediately from a bookstore. (4 books)

--Someone online recommended this book to me years after it came out, but I can't remember if it was in a blog comment, forum, tweet, or what. Bought it months after getting the recommendation.

--One of those "I buy it because I love the author's work and there's a 99% chance I will love anything with her name on it" books.

--I was in the bookstore with a friend, and she pointed this out as something she thought I would like. She was right.

--Sequel to a book I'd read and liked. Bought it because I didn't want to wait for the library to get it.

Perhaps I'm not a typical reader, but looking at this list brings home to me how long and twisty and varied are the paths that bring books into readers' hands. As for how many of these books I found out about from the author's own blog, as opposed to someone else's: only one of the above. Which is also why I like recommending other people's books. I love to help readers find good books, even if they're not my books.

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