Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Finding Your Audience

I’m puzzled this month.  And I can’t seem to get a handle on these numbers, so I’m writing this as a question to you all: How do you find your readers? Not just seen by the masses, but in this new world of a gazillion books on the market, what’re the best ways to find the right audience for your book?

I recently read a PW statistic that absolutely boggled my mind. It stated that in 2012, half a million e-books came out.  In 2013, that number is estimated to be one million. The projection for 2014? Fifteen million e-books. Fifteen million? I mean, we all know that in this digital (and cheap) age, the perception is that anyone can write/publish a book. And, obviously, millions do! We also know that the vast writing majority hasn’t honed the craft, not put in the blood, sweat, and tears that the bloggers and reader/writers here have. We all know what goes into a great or even good book, and we know that we’re now in the rare minority of writers who still strive to produce that elusive beast that is great art. But how does your book swim out of that vast sea to ride the crest of your audience’s wave? 

Readers are so very frustrated too. I’m surrounded by folks who read, and who tell me they can’t find anything worth their time. They, too, are inundated by all the free books out there. They tell me they download, peruse a page, toss. They buy the “bestsellers” from traditional publishers, and don’t have much better luck. Of course, they’ve come to the right place asking me! LOL. I always have a list in many different categories, and they go away happy. But that happens to me as well. I recently read the much-touted award-winning novel from Graywolf (a press I love), and was sorely disappointed.  Especially since I know of so many more deserving books out there (many self-published). 

Not long ago I read a blog from a prominent agent, predicting (of course, she’s not alone) that in the near future, promoting via Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest will be a thing of the past, as new social-media venues take prominence. Yikes. I’m just now learning those! 

And traditional publishers are, of course, scrambling to find readers as well, having found themselves lost in this very same ocean they didn’t see coming. As just one example, Penguin has unveiled a new program that will let customers see new titles months before they go on sale, in order to drum up word-of-mouth business. Called First to Read, its members can read excerpts from forthcoming books, and even request e-galleys. This is just one in the latest plethora of publishing gimmicks to find readers.  The point being, everybody is swimming against this tide.

I had to laugh this week as well, as my publisher looked into Oprah’s book club as a place to advertise our new book, What's Wrong With My Family, and How to Live Your Best Life Anyway. For a mere 50K, we could be featured. Fifty thousand dollars? I needed a drink!  And that people are paying this,
well, make that a double Patron.  

So, what’s working for you? I can’t really point to what works for my book sales. It’s baffling to me. While my newest is selling fairly well, it’s also had a ton of publicity. Five Keys For Understanding Men, A Woman's Guide,  which came out in 1999 and then was re-issued a few years ago via print and e-book, sells consistently and well every single month. Much more than the new one, and it has absolutely no promotion whatsoever—not even a mention here and there. My own publisher keeps talking about a slow burn, and that’s what’s working in today’s crazy market. Still, I can’t figure it out. I have people every day tell me they just found one of my books, and it was the very thing they’d been looking for for years. While I am of course quite gratified about that, I’m thinking, how do I find you earlier in the process?

Since what PW’s numbers say will affect us all in the future, greatly, how will you find your audience? 

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has five traditionally-published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:


  1. I remind myself it's a marathon, not a sprint. My sales have been growing, and there's no magic wand or crystal ball. Some things work, some don't--and it's not the same thing every time. I can only hope that the readers I find will tell other readers who will tell other readers...I don't expect everyone on the planet to read my books. I think we have to set our own level of 'success'.

  2. Not surprising your 5 Keys to Understanding Men book is doing well. 33 years ago a professor told us that 13 nonfiction books were published for every 1 fiction book. Doubt that ratio has changed much, if at all.
    On finding readers, that is a mystery hidden in a riddle wrapped up inside an enigma (apologies to Churchill for borrowing.)

  3. Ah, Susan, I'm afraid I have more questions than answers. As a person who has always loved to read, I myself long for a great novel to curl up with. I have trouble finding one, even from traditional publishers. Quality has plummeted, and the entire editing staff seems to have been on vacation throughout the publishing process. Yes, good reads no doubt exist, but they're tiny needles in gargantuan haystacks.

    Some writers whose books I edit direct their works to reading groups (or book clubs) and list questions for discussion regarding the content aimed at such groups. How they make book clubs aware the books are available, I don't know. Others aim their marketing at specific organizations that somehow are linked to the story or nonfiction content. For example, a story in which an autistic child is a primary character may seek to link with autism organizations. Some hire publicity agents who claim to have contacts in the right places. (This can be pricey, but at least one I've heard about bases cost on book sales.) A few buy ads to make readers aware of their latest books.

    It has been my dream (an impractical one, I'm thinking) to create some kind of rating system for independently published books. The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval has long been a mark of quality, and that's where the idea came from. Unfortunately, I haven't come up with a feasible way to make it pay. To charge a fee for a review aimed at gaining a literary seal of approval bears an unfortunate resemblance to buying approval without regard for quality and, I suppose, would open well-intentioned reviewers up to lawsuits in our sue-happy world. Sorry...I have digressed.

    I'll be interested to see what others come up as viable marketing strategies.

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  5. Facebook Groups, Goodreads, and attending fan events for specific genres (such as Boucheron for mysteries) helps you connect. Word of mouth is the way most books become well-known. I've read that bloggers of specific genres are invaluable. If they love your book, they will rave about it. Getting to them is something I should learn more about. Maybe 50 (or 1000) of us could band together and put tiny postage stamp covers of our books on Oprah? :)

  6. You'd think with the advent of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, it would be easier to promote your book, but it seems to have become more complicated and difficult.

  7. I truly appreciate your comments. We are all in this same boat, but with our great minds, we should come up with a solution! LOL. It just baffles me.
    Of course, traditional publishers have always faced this conundrum as well. All my NY editor friends have always told me they have no idea why a book sells! That hasn't changed, and doesn't look to.
    One thing that really baffles me is that we cannot tell what's actually working and what's not. I do all the things listed, and something has to be working, but what? Makes me nuts.
    And Linda Lane--you figure out how to do the Seal of Approval! I love that idea.

  8. One thing that impacts how potential readers react to promotion is how much promoting there is for work that is not of good quality. Like Linda said, it is getting harder and harder to wade through books and find those gems. That goes for books coming from big publishers as well as for the influx of indie and self publishing. In the last week I have started and abandoned 4 books, two from big name publishers, one from an indie author, and one from a small publisher. They all desperately needed content and line editing.

  9. Susan, please contact me privately through Let's put our heads together.

  10. If someone discovers the answer, PLEASE let me know!

  11. Half is luck, the other half is a marathon as Terry said. You've probably heard it takes at least 3 positive exposures to something before people will think about buying. One word-of-mouth praise must equal at least 2 exposures - vocal fans are a huge help. Getting talked about or interviewed by popular bloggers (check Google Page Rank) who write about something related to your book can not only spread the word but bring more publicity opportunities. And having guest posts on your own blog will bring that person's audience to you, too. Make sure the audiences are a good match. Also, it helps to redefine "success." Most authors aren't able to live off profits from their books.

  12. The answer is the same it's always been for any kind of advertising. Consistent and steady promotion of a good product, and finding new promo venues, then trying them out. Terry has it right, methinks, and certainly I see much success in self-publishing. There are also plenty of good books out there, and from someone who comes out of a traditional publishing world including selling Random House imprints in the 80s, there have always been crappy books! I find more and more that self-published authors are becoming very professional. They get beta readers, hire cover designers, formatters, and the work is better than average. Perhaps not literary fiction, but an entertaining read. How do I know this - I've downloaded almost 800 Kindle books, many of them free or cheap and often self-published. I've read about 100 cover-to-cover and have poked around in another few hundred that didn't hold my interest. They are often adequate or better - sure I can pick them apart and demonstrate their flaws, even the best ones. But I can do that with a Poisoned Pen Press or Berkley Prime Crime novel just as well. The times are changing fast, and mostly for the better.

  13. I wonder if you must do something outlandish...but not land in jail. I often feel as if I am in a dark void, yammering. Even with Facebook...after a fashion, does anyone really buy a book based on a post there? Perhaps initially, when it was fresh, novel. Now, everyone is on Facebook talking about their latest. And I find myself asking, "who cares?"

    Best guess is to keep plugging along, picking up readers who tell other readers. That, or run naked in a crowded mall with the book cover painted on my butt. It's all I got, Susan. :)

    Oh, and don't even get me started on some of the books I've attempted to read lately. Unbelievable. I spend countless hours honing my work, only to see such garbage in print...Makes my blood pressure go wonky...

  14. Okay, I'm with Madhatter--run naked in a crowded mall with the book cover painted on my butt! Altho these days, I think I'd better hire an actress!

  15. I'm afraid my audience is MIA ... I'd send Chuck Norris after them ... if I could find him.

  16. Dani, you have been lucky to find so many good books in your 800 or so downloads. My ratio of good to poor is not nearly as high as yours.

    That said, I have read some truly good self-pubbed books, mostly ones that I got because I met the author online or someone recommended the book and I trusted that recommendation. The ones that have come to me via review requests or requests to be hosted on my blog - and many freebies I decided to try - have not always gone through that process of beta readers, editing, and careful rewriting. I see lots of mistakes in some of them.

  17. I fear I am one of those 'now that anyone can write and self-publish' writers. I'm not trying to garner a share of the market; I write because I have something to say, and want to share it with as many as I can, and get them to share it with those they think will benefit from or enjoy reading it. $50K is not even in my wildest dreams, Oprah. What I write is written well, and to the point. I can't afford to hire an agent, nor an editor, but I do edit my own work, and the work of other self-pubs. All my life, as a baby boomer, as a child in a family of nine children, and as a public school teacher in a union, the answer has been "No. Because there are so many of you." I don't ask any more. I just do what I do, and leave it about for others to find. Please be patient with me, and with others like me. Thank you.

  18. Susan one of the problems, to which you alluded, is that no one has any scientific data about this. Everyone takes a scattershot approach because we are told that we only have precious weeks to make a "splash" that will be heard—so we knock ourselves out trying everything. Even those things that don't reap enough reward to bother doing them.

    One thing that does not work, for almost all of us, is when authors repeatedly tweet or post on FB something like "Buy my book"—or even worse, yet so often seen, "Buy my book so I'll never have to work again." I unfriend/ unfollow these people.

    I think the trick is to write work that OTHER people want to talk about on social media. And given the huge range in subjectivity, I'm not so sure there's a way to predict that.


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