One of the most popular questions is “How do I find/build my audience?” There are common variations, like “How do I promote my work?” and even one I saw on a Leah Rae’s wire “How do people get self-published books reviewed?” It’s all basically the same question.
My undergrad degree is in marketing and there’s some good material that surfaces from that by-gone age once in a while. One tidbit is the idea that people go through stages of adoption for a product. It starts with awareness and, as self-published authors, that gets operationalized as “How do we get noticed?”
I think most authors look for reviewers who’ll talk about the work, and say nice things about is so that the people who read the review will become aware of the book. The problem with this idea is two-fold. First, you need to get the attention of a reviewer in such a way that they want to write about you. Second, you need a reviewer that actually has a following.
There is a metric butt load of reviewers out there, but I suspect that you can count the number of reviewers who have more than 1000 readers on your digital appendages. Those people are in demand and have more to review than they have time.
I probably should note that I’m tossing out anybody who works for an Old Media outlet, like newspaper, magazine, tv, or radio. Sure, everybody wants to be an Oprah pick. Don’t hold your breath. My reason for that is simple. Breaking in to get their attention is too much work, requires too much time, and ultimately has about the same odds of success as buying a lottery ticket. Buy the ticket, instead. It’s cheap, fast, and easy and you can get on with promoting your work.
Another bit of flotsam from the by-gone age is “Be where the customer is looking.”
If you jump ahead of the curve, from trying to get them aware of you to where they may be looking for you (or somebody like you), then you don’t need to spend time getting their attention. You can spend time selling your particular brand of hoorah. That’s where authors who publish on non-refreshable cellulose displays get into trouble because that field is already packed. It’s like trying to stand out as one particular spectator in the stands at an NFL game on a warm Sunday afternoon. The people who get the attention, aren’t necessarily getting it for being erudite and knowledgeable. They’re getting it for being (a) loud, (b) obnoxious, (c) egregiously costumed, or (d) all the above.
The answer to that is another axiom. “Big fish in a small pond.”
This goes back to the idea of the Long Tail. Everybody would love to sell a million copies, but realistically? Ain’t gonna happen. So what is realistic? A thousand units over two years? Unlikely, but possible. I think most first authors with majors sell a thousand or two. This is particularly true of genre writers. I’ve heard of a few folks who’ve moved a few thousands, but that’s with a promotional budget, support staff, and more time and money than the average self-pub can do.
So what if your target is more manageable, and you find yourself a mud puddle to work in instead of the ocean that’s Amazon?
First, my basic premise is that text is never a viable medium for first release. I know, you like text. Text is easy. Text is writing. Text is publishing.
Um. No. Text is crowded. Text is difficult. Text requires eyes — eyes that are already oversubscribed.
Second. Audio is a better for establishing an audience. And, yes, I know, you can’t read aloud, your voice sucks, and it’s expensive to hire voice actors.
Um. No. Again. You can read. It takes practice and editing, but you can do it. Nobody likes the sound of their own voice, and if you do it yourself (this IS self-pub, right?) then you don’t need any more money than it takes to get some basic recording gear–maybe $150 bucks. I did my first book with a $20 headset mic.
The advantage to this is that you get access to an unfilled space in the market. Millions of mp3 players in the world all need new infusions of content on a regular basis. Give it away. Listeners will flock to you if you’re halfway decent and if they don’t, then think carefully about the causes. Over the last three years, I’ve seen the producers who fail here are overwhelmingly the ones with poor stories, not the ones with poor production values. Some of them fail too, but listeners will forgive a lot for a story that engages them.
Build your audience in the small pond. When you swim out into the larger waters, they’ll follow.