The #1 Thing You Need To Do To Get Your Book “Discovered”
This is the third in Valerie Peterson's series on author marketing. You may want to check out her previous articles, "7 Common Mistakes of an Author Website” and “How to Create a 'Selling' Author Bio.”
"Book discovery" is a much-used buzz-phrase of the publishing industry. In the increasingly competitive and very digital book marketplace with shrinking readerships and revenues, authors, agents, publishers are all engaged in figuring out how books are discovered by the readers who buy. Did they hear about it on television or online? Twitter or Instagram or YouTube? Word-of-mouth or a New York Times review?
Any author who wants his or her book to reach readers needs to understand by what means readers come to their books. When you understand how readers find — "discover" books like yours, you increase your chances of positioning yourself and your book appealingly and effectively in front of them. And if you do that right, you'll get them to buy and read.
Book discovery means author discovery, too — and setting yourself up to be "found" — found to be capable, found to have writing street cred — before you're even published will help position your for agent queries and publisher's editorial board appeal.
From what I've seen of my fellow MWA members, you're doing a lot right — but with some tweaking, you can optimize your chance of being discovered, bought, and read.
Book Discovery Is an Outgrowth of Book Marketing — But It's Not the Same Thing
"Book discovery" is the result of many factors, mostly "book marketing" (print or digital advertising, cooperative advertising placement or promotion at bricks-and-mortar or online booksellers, social media marketing) and "book publicity" (a publicist's efforts to gain coverage in the broadcast media, book tours, and author appearances).
Traditional book marketing and book publicity are resource-heavy for anyone who's taking it on. These efforts take either a lot of money or a lot of someone's time and, therefore, even at traditional publishers anything beyond the basic PR campaign is generally reserved for established authors who are most likely to bring a return on this type of publisher investment. This usually means authors with an existing platform or for books with hot topics.
From my own strategic content and book publishing pro viewpoint, "marketing" can be viewed as "putting out" — tweets, posts, press releases, "free first chapters." But more and more, in today's digital and social world, the critical concept to leverage is the flip side of the book marketing coin, the reader-centric view. Ask yourself: “Who is coming/will come to your book/s? Who is reading/will read them and why?”
There are those who answer: "Book lovers!" "Mystery lovers!" Or: "My friends and family, of course!" But I'll tell you frankly: not all that likely. I'm not kidding, even about your friends and family. Okay, they might buy the book to support you but the odds of more than a few of your nearest and dearest actually reading a book-length something just because they like/love you are surprisingly slim. (And that's okay, because you're going to be using them for other things, like researching resources.)
And that is because everyone is busy and there is much, much noise and distraction in everyone's lives.
I, for one, NEVER read that "FREE FIRST CHAPTER!" unless there are several other factors at play. And for first-time, little known, or midlist authors, those factors are rarely straight-on "marketing" unless there is the kind of critical mass of ads and media that is rare and/or cost-prohibitive for 98% of authors.
So while an author with a lot (A LOT) of disposable income or a great deal of free time on their hands can emulate a traditional publishers book marketing or publicity campaign, many miss a critical first step to boost their effectiveness and enhance their discoverability.
The #1 Step to Getting Your Book Discovered: Research
Marketing efforts without the "discovery" homework are wasteful and scattershot — like having your murderer try to kill her lover with birdshot versus a .22 to the heart. Sure, the victim might bleed out, eventually — but there's a good chance he'll get to the phone or escape or even overpower her before he collapses.
The digging needed to truly figure out how to leverage the combination of your book's content plus what you know about your readers and potential readers will help you reach the goal of: Helping more readers discover you and buy your books!
Research involves knowing your very specific marketplace — like the authors and titles that can be compared to yours. Deep research involves knowing about things like "search engine optimization" and "keywords" and "hashtags" — and where and how to can deploy them. I compare using them to planting the hidden clues to lead your potential readers to the places (your website, your social media channels) that you've ideally optimized for more discovery.
And, once readers have "discovered" you, you need to be able to deploy the secret weapon of your research skills on them to understand what might keep them coming back.
So much of book marketing is in the hands of every author these days — big houses like Penguin Random House are providing marketing education so authors can be more effective as the scale tips the onus toward them.
Research is a tool that authors can deploy more effectively than even traditional publishers because you'll likely have more time and brainpower to spend than the harried folks in the marketing and publicity departments (who have dozens of books to work on); you'll always be more intimately acquainted with your books than they are; and you'll always be more invested in the outcome. Even if your publisher is doing everything for you, it's great to be informed about what goes on behind the scenes. And if you're self-publishing, you'll definitely want to understand this.
The trick is doing the research and then using the info (thoroughly, consistently) to optimize the other tools of book discovery. Think of it as part of your ongoing job as an author.
— Valerie Peterson
Valerie Peterson is a proud member of MWA-NY, a semi-finalist for a 2016-2017 Writers Guild of America East Made in New York Writers Room Fellowship, and a 2015 Finalist for the CBS TV Writers Mentorship Program. She is currently finishing her first novel, which involves several intertwining mysteries and at least two dead bodies. Peterson is also a content strategist and book publishing consultant who ran major book marketing departments and campaigns (including for James Lee Burke and Robert Crais) and for six years ran the Book Publishing site for About.com/The Balance.