eReaders - an author's affliction
Authors, especially new writers trying to build a name and fanbase, work hard to market themselves. They need to build name recognition, get readers talking about them, and actively promote the title of their latest work.
The old advertising rule is it usually takes three interactions with a consumer before purchase. So, your potential readers may need to see your name and book title three times before giving your work a try.
How are electronic readers changing or more importantly, damaging this process?
eReaders are changing the marketing process for authors today
Back in 2002, I boarded a KLM flight out of Amsterdam. Dressed in a suit jacket, skirt, and high heels, I took my business class seat and pulled out the latest Harry Potter book. I sheepishly looked around then burst out laughing. Nearly every other business class passenger was reading the same!
How many times have you walked onto a plane or through a coffee shop and scanned around to see what others were reading? Now, all you see are eReaders. Those good old snooping days are over.
Give me your tired, your poor, the cover of your book yearning to be free!
My biggest pet peeve with my Kindle is the lock screen. Thanks for the educational lesson, Amazon. I get it now. We use pencils, pens and typewriter keys to make books. But what I’d like to see is the cover of the book I’m actually reading! The author, or their graphic designers/agent/publisher, took time to design a cover that would create an insatiable interest in the story. I no longer get to enjoy that colorful design while I’m reading the novel.
I do occasionally access the menu on the device, use the “go to” function and load up the cover just because I'm curious what image is on it, and if I've figured out its relevance in the story yet. But nine times out of ten, even after finishing the novel, I wouldn't recognize it if I walked through a bookstore or library. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is an appalling state of affairs for authors and publishers.
The shame dance
What are you reading? I used to love to get this question. It was a great way to begin a conversation with someone, stranger or friend, and often find common ground you didn't know existed. Now, I dread it. My brain does a tap-dance of, “oh crap-tap-tap-I should know this-tap-tap-if I have to look it up, I’ll feel stupid-tap-tap.”
Granted, avid readers with calm and orderly lives probably know precisely what they're reading, and can recall a long succession of books that came before it, but for those with hectic work and family lives, we're just grateful for the ten minutes a night to read.
I put the “shame dance” as I’ve begun calling it, down to the fact that on an eReader page, the name of the book and/or the author doesn’t show. In the printed book, it’s always there, reminding you of the author who took years to pour their hearts out into this work for you to enjoy.
We’re taught that “sharing is caring,” and I discovered many of my favorite authors when a friend lent me a book they had finished. That doesn’t happen anymore, as most Kindle, iBooks, Nook or whatever books can’t be shared anymore, or at least not easily in the few cases where the author has allowed this feature.
Luckily, libraries have devised ways to check out electronic books, and for that authors and readers everywhere are grateful.
Trends do change so over time, you'll notice a difference in the packaging of all products. However, the recent change in book cover design is primarily due to online bookstore sales.
Covers used to be designed with the first print of a large hardback in mind. It was rich in color and imagery, vividly depicting the world within its covers. Now, covers have to be designed to be "readable and eye-catching" at the size of a postage stamp.
Here's a tip for you. When you've narrowed your cover design to a couple of choices, or you think you've got "the one," have a friend hold it up on the other side of the room. The impact will be entirely different, and the one that will sell best is probably the one with minimal text, large lettering, and clean, bold shapes and colors. Sadly, this is often the most boring option, but we are, after all, selling a product. And packaging does matter.
Is there an upside?
In the world of printed books and traditional promotion, tens of thousands of copies are published at a time, and posters and store displays are created and shipped across the country or world. Your cover and promotional text are set in stone for the foreseeable future.
With electronic sales, there is flexibility. If you want to change your cover, modify the emphasis of the promotional text, or change the type of ad promotion you're doing, this can be done easily for sales through online stores, especially those for eReaders. You can also quickly publish a new version with the click of a button. So, as much as I feel the trend away from physical bookstore and paper books is a scourge, it does have a few advantages.
Ease is perpetuating decline of print books
I am the first to admit that I love browsing books stores, both new and used, running my fingers across the spines, pulling out the book and flipping through the pages. I like to feel the weight in my hand, flip it over and read the synopsis, and imagine myself lying on the beach enjoying the novel.
But I don't. Now it is all about ease and time. I don't have time to go to the store (sadly I even buy groceries online these days), I don't want to carry the weight around with me, especially when taking multiple books on a trip, and I certainly don't want to order a book and wait two weeks for it show up in Dubai. I know living and ordering state-side is fast, but it still does not provide instant gratification. The electronic age has turned us all into five-year-olds with no patience.
I won't deny the benefits of my Kindle and the Amazon store. I can try new Indie authors I wouldn't find in traditional bookstores, and I can download samples of a novel before buying. Features such as search allow me to look up a character or find a past scene quickly, and it’s easy to always have with me as I can read on my phone or computer as well. But most importantly for me, the sun won’t melt the glue binding allowing the wind to send the pages flitting across the beach and into the Arabian Gulf.
Marketing for the online buyer and reader
I acknowledge there are many benefits to eReaders, and I use them almost exclusively myself, but it does change the way authors need to think about building their name and title recognition.
Authors must now market where the buyers are, which is online. Display advertising, paid promotion within online stores, reader reviews, search, and social media are more critical than ever. There are lots of resources online, and you can also check out my blogs on how to get reader reviews (Review, review, review) and how to incorporate marketing, blogging and networking into your busy schedule (Finding balance in your day and time for your writing).