Monday, March 22, 2010

Awareness is the Key

When it comes to selling books, the most important thing is reader awareness. We can talk about craft a lot and that is important, but the fact is that if the author has put in the effort and enjoys reading the book he has written (if he’s honest with himself) there are other people out there who will enjoy reading it as well. My books have been well received by those who have purchased them. That says nothing about the people who looked at them and decided they weren’t interested. So let’s say that every book, no matter how well or poorly written has an audience that will enjoy reading it. The question that publishers are forced to ask isn’t whether there are people who will enjoy the book but whether the cost of production plus the cost of making those people aware of the book is low enough that the income from book sales will cover the cost. But there’s no need for me to restate the obvious.

One of the things I was better about doing when my first book came out was to compare what I have been doing to raise awareness of my books to what others have been doing. I always come up very lacking in that area, so it’s easy for me to get away from it, but the other day I ran a simple Internet search and compared the appearance of my name on blogs with that of Colleen Coble. I would tell you that I used some elaborate selection process to come up with Colleen Coble’s name, but I didn’t. It was just one of the names that came to mind and she is an author that Michael Hyatt calls “important.” By that, I assume he means that she keeps bread on the table of several people at Thomas Nelson. In any case, the results were disheartening.

My name showed up 127 times. Some of those referred to other Timothy Fishes, but most came from interactions I have had with other bloggers. Some referenced things I have written on my blog and some had to do with comments I have left in various places. Colleen Coble, however, showed up 3,320 times. I didn’t go through each occurrence, but her results seemed to be dominated by reviews. Many of the reviews contained the book title The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, which came out a couple of months ago. I also found references to Lonestar Secrets and some other books. I did find her name on a blog post about gout, but percentagewise, she had many fewer opinionated results than me and far more people talking about her.

Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” I’m sure there are many reasons that people are aware of Colleen Coble’s books and not of mine, but part of it is because strangers are talking about her. I labor over the stuff I put out on the Internet and occasionally someone will quote me or reprint something I said, but seldom do they mention one of my books. In my search I found Colleen Coble’s The Lightkeeper’s Daughter mentioned almost 100 times. Doing a similar search my Searching For Mom appears five times. And Thy House only appears twice. It isn’t because Colleen Coble is so much of a better writer than I am. (She may be, but that isn’t the point.) I’ve received feedback from enough readers who aren’t related to me to know that I’m not a terrible writer.

I think what would help me raise awareness of my books is for me to find more people to review my books. To be honest, I find that a scary thought. That, as much as anything else, may be why it is important to get other people involved in our publishing journey. Other people will prod us to take risks that we otherwise fear to take. My fear, whether rational or otherwise, is that when I hand my book over to the reviewers, I won’t get it into the hands of the people who will enjoy it but into the hands of people who either don’t get it or have a bone to pick or something along that line. But I suppose the old saying is true that all publicity is good publicity. Many of the best selling books have many bad reviews. In among the reviews for The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, there is at least one reviewer who writes, “I was actually a bit disappointed this time around. It just wasn't up to par with her other books. There was more fluff romance than normal and it just didn't grab me like her books usually do.” Had I not been looking for it, I might not have noticed it, but its there all the same. We don’t find those who will enjoy our books by picking and choosing, but by raising the awareness of as many people as we can, even at the risk of putting them in the hands of people who don’t like them.