Readers, Authors and Discoverability: Writing and Publishing in the 2020s (Part 2)
by Michele Tracy Berger
Think about the last time you read a book. How did you find out about it? Twenty years ago, you might have seen a book review in the pages of a magazine or newspaper.
This is less likely to be true now. More likely is that you stumbled upon an author reading their work on YouTube, heard about a book on a podcast or you’re already subscribed to a favorite author’s newsletter and receive their updates. You could be a Goodreads aficionado and seen a recommendation about a book there, or maybe you’re a member of a book club. You might also have typed phrases into Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, or Google Play and searched for the kind of book you were looking for, finding thousands or even tens of thousands of results.
And, of course there is still the wonderful word of mouth recommendation by a friend that shares, “I just read the most amazing book! You have to read it, you’ll love it!”
In my last column, I talked about how major shifts in publishing, during the last decade, has created new opportunities and challenges for writers. How people find and read books has also changed, dramatically affecting writers.
If you hang around a group of writers long enough, you’re bound to hear them discuss their use of social media and strategies to both find and engage readers. And, it often isn’t a happy conversation. In an ever growing ocean of content, writers, especially emerging ones, have to work much harder to be discovered by readers.
Algorithms that undergird much of what we experience online also contribute to how readers find books. Well-established writers (especially those traditionally published) have an edge in that name recognition helps sell the next book. But, publishing houses still expect their authors to engage with readers in multiple ways (e.g. for novelists offering a free standalone story in between novels, for nonfiction authors creating compelling online video content).
Whether one is traditionally published or indie published, finding and hooking readers is a central concern.
Many writers resent the pressure to promote themselves across a variety of platforms. To do this well means being strategic about how one uses social media. Writers struggle with feeling that much of their energy for writing is used to produce numerous tweets, blogs and Amazon ads. Making a plan about how one uses social media and sticking to that plan is key. Thoughtful efforts by writers on social media can help the discoverability factor.
From a reader perspective, it’s a different story. Once found, many readers crave to know more about the authors they read than they ever have before. Social media provides unprecedented opportunities to connect with an author. By interacting with authors on social media fans can access deleted scenes, backstories of characters, recipes and other kinds of content connected to a book or series they enjoy. Being an author still holds mystery and intrigue for readers and many take delight in learning about an author’s writing process and what makes them tick.
I’ve made peace with the fact that creating opportunities for readers (and the writing community) to find and engage with me on social media is an important component of being a modern writer. I’m active as a blogger (for over 10 years!) and also through my Author Facebook page, and Twitter. I’m on Instagram and Pinterest, though less active there. My goal is to show up consistently and authentically on my preferred platforms.
Whale Readers and the Rise of Audio
During the past decade, the frequency of reading has shifted, too. You’ve heard of binge-watching, but have you heard about “whale readers”? Whale readers are those that like to read at least a book a week. The creative term was coined by writer and publisher Michael Anderle and originates from a term applied to high-rolling gamblers who visited Las Vegas known as “whales” and received special treatment.
Whale readers are often found in genre fiction (e.g. mystery, romance, science fiction, etc.), but that is changing. I think this is an amazing trend. This phenomenon has spurred on Anderle’s company, LMBPN Publishing to “rapidly release books” to serve an eagerly waiting audience of readers.
And, finally, how readers actually ‘read’ has changed dramatically. Most publishers have seen extensive growth in audiobook sales (driven even higher during the pandemic). Audiobooks are increasingly how readers want to engage with stories. The rise of audiobook consumption is being driven by technology (e.g. smart devices like Alexa and Google Home), entertainment preferences and the desire for many to have time away from their screens.
As Joanna Penn, author and podcaster, has argued some readers are now ‘audio-first consumers’. Audio-first consumers prefer to buy an audiobook over a print book or even e-book. While the rise of audio opens up enormous possibilities for writers, it circles back to discoverability, too. How will new writers be found in this new environment?
Despite the disruptions in both publishing and reader habits, one thing that isn’t going to change is the human desire for excellent storytelling. And, writers will always find innovative ways to meet that need.
Michele Tracy Berger is a scholar and creative writer. She is founder of The Creative Tickle®, a creativity coaching practice. Have a writing question? Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org To receive her free guide: Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19 go to: https://mailchi.mp/creativetickle/tenways