Today, let’s talk about publishing! Yes, I’m going to talk author shop. That said, I’m supposed to talk author shop really, aren’t I? That’s why I mark all the McMini and dementia posts ‘off topic’ although to be honest I go off topic so often that the book-related stuff is the off topic theme here nowadays. But hey ho, onwards and upwards.
So this week I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast, at least, I think it was this week’s, it might have been last week [MT disappears to check]. Ah, yes. Last week, number 402. The point is, she was talking at one point about the apparent disappearance of the also-boughts on Amazon. Now, I’ve never actually got much out of the also-boughts, myself, because the folks who read my books seem to have very enquiring minds and read all kinds of weird shizz so they were always stuffed to perdition from the start. People who bought my books have also bought thrillers, horror books, text books and mostly, my other books leaving the Amazon recommendation engine going, ‘Uh?’
However, if your readers are a bit more genre-centric, I’m reliably informed that you can glean readers from the fans of authors similar to your via the also-boughts, readers who are likely to enjoy your stuff. Amazon notices their buying habits so if readers of Terry Pratchett books start buying mine, for example, the recommendation engine goes, ‘Oy-oy!’* and starts automatically recommending my books to people who have bought Sir Terry’s books (oh how I wish). If that happens Bob’s your uncle, your work is introduced to a new and interested audience.
* you didn’t know it was Jewish, did you?
Word is that for some time, Amazon has been trialing the removal of these also-boughts from its current, prime position, or removing them altogether, and introducing more strips of paid advertising instead. They’ve been doing this mostly on their US site so I haven’t seen it but obviously, if they make the switch permanent, it has some serious ramifications.
If the also-boughts disappear, then, in theory, the ads should provide a similar premise, since most authors who advertise chose similar authors’ names as advertising keywords, so that when readers look at books by them, they see adverts for your similar book. However, as usual, there are some unscrupulous spammers advertising everywhere, without a nod to relevance at all like those people who keep offering me products to enlarge my penis … when I’m a WOMAN (money down the drain boys). Or thinking about it, maybe they just have the SEO equivalent of also-boughts like mine.
Anyway, a lot of authors head the advert something like, ‘If you like Douglas Adams you’ll love M T McGuire’ except I don’t because it’s like telling everyone you’re actually God, down to visit the planet incognito, and will unleash a string of one star reviews from Douglas Adams fans who are incensed at your presumption. Indeed, advertising anything funny that’s not Douglas Adams to Adams’ fans is a bona fide recipe to send them into conniptions about your sheer brass neck and bring down a tidal wave of snark upon yourself – believe me, I’ve tried it. Luckily Terry Pratchett fans are more benign so I say things like, ‘The K’Barthan Series. A bit like the discworld series but not as funny.’ But I digress.
So will also-bot-ageddon make any difference if it sticks? Yes, in that it will mean authors and publishers will have to pay for their place on the also-boughts. For readers, there will be no also-boughts to trawl for similar authors to the ones you like. For authors, there’ll be no easy way of finding alternative yet similar authors to yourself to use as advertising keywords. But as David Gaughran, points out, the infrastructure will still be there and Amazon will still use the also boughts algorithm to make recommendations to customers by email. Also, since what an author thinks her audience is may not be correct, Amazon will always go on the buying habits of target readers rather than an author’s guestimate, because that will make them more cash, so presumably they are unlikely to bin the also bots long term.
As a reader, I only use the also boughts or buy on personal recommendation, I never use search because it never returns interesting books, only commercial ones and I’m British so I’m far too cynical to click many ads. That, alone, is enough to suggest Amazon probably won’t bin the also-boughts entirely. I can’t be their only customer who works like that. Maybe it will appear in some other form or maybe they will fix the shambolic awfulness that is AMS ads so they present a more accurate alternative. We can but hope.
What this whole panic does flag up to me, though, is that now, even more than ever, it’s important to avoid being beholden to one big business for anything, be it a retailer for all your income, a particular form of social media for all your communication, or even one product. We have to get our books out to as many retailers as possible, in as many formats as possible and while social media is best done in earnest on one site alone, there’s no harm in having your blog posts go to all the others if the software you use allows. And yes, that means I really should make some audio books. I’m not sure it has to involve remortgaging the house or tying myself in an exclusive deal to one retailer for however million years* for a crappy 40% royalties, anymore.
* actually, I think it’s seven, or maybe fourteen years, but that’s a sod of a long time. I may be dead by the end of that.
For a number of reasons, mostly Real Life’s continual and annoying interference with my plans for literary world domination, I write slowly. That means that, ideally, I need to engage the kinds of readers who are prepared to pay for my books because there’s a longer gap between each one. But, as digital content becomes further and further devalued we probably will reach a point where it’s all free on subscription and we authors get paid for page reads of our electronic content, if at all. If the review site I used to write on was anything to go on, payment starts at a good rate, the site in question paid 50p a read at the start. By the end, it paid a fraction of a penny for each read and you needed to get hundreds of reads on any piece you submitted to net 10p. I see the subscription model going the same way; 1p per read of each of my 100k+ books. Ouch.
Yet, one of the things Joanna Penn raised this week, was that while recent trends point to electronic content decreasing in value to nothing, there is an increase in people buying other things, instead; their favourite albums on vinyl, hard backs of their favourite books or box sets and other deluxe or collector’s versions. There’s also the idea of the author as a brand, the value of a personal appearance, visiting conventions, schools etc. Not something Real Life gives me room for at the moment but there’s no harm building the MTM brand.
As for product diversity, as well as forms of output for my books, there is merchandise. Many readers do and will buy merchandise, possibly more for comedy books, but, for my own part, the stuff I made on Zazzle with the art work from my books netted me rather more than the books, themselves the first year they were out. Again, I stick that stuff everywhere; redbubble, zazzle, cafepress, and any I go on to find. More importantly, I should to put them on my own site – don’t forget to do that, kids, I’m working on mine. It’s an easier decision for me, since my books aren’t mainstream and committing to one retailer makes little business sense if you write the kinds of books I do. My fans are eclectic and far flung and I usually only sell a couple of copies of each book a month on each site (it’s particularly low at the moment because I’ve run out of cash for ads). The way I see it, on pretty much every site where my book is on sale, I’m likely to sell a handful. The more sites my book is on, the more people will be buying those couple of copies and suddenly, £5 a piece from twenty or thirty obscure book retail sites adds up fast.
Finally, it’s all about control. I think, possibly, the smartest thing you can do is retain control of as much of your work, rights and reader contact as you can. I’ve spent enough time in marketing to be wary of relying on any one big business. Remember when Facebook showed your posts to, like, everyone? Remember when they stopped and authors with followings of thousands found they were only reaching a handful of their fans? Yeh. That. So to me the most important thing, above everything else, is to get a mailing list going, achieve a rapport with the readers there, sell your stuff on your own site and keep all those small sites going. Because that way if one of the big boys does something funny and stuffs up your earnings, it won’t be the end of the world.
To sum it up then, nothing is constant, the only thing we can guarantee about the ebook business is that it will keep changing. And people who are reliant on Amazon will run round complaining that the sky is falling on their heads. So you have to keep as much of the process where you can control it as possible while, at the same time, giving yourself as many options as possible. That’s why, if you write slowly, the way I do, there are probably only three golden rules:
- Have as many sources of income as possible, by having your products available in as many different places as you can.
- Aim to generate as many different income streams as possible around your books.
- Aim to get a good rapport with your readers and sort out as much of that as is humanely possible, through channels where you have control, on your own cyber turf.
Happy news. If anyone wants to try reading the weird shit I produce without having to join my mailing list to get some free, and then be subjected to even more weird shit in the form of newsletters, you can buy Book 1 in the K’Barthan Series at a reduced price on Kobo from today until 27th November. There are a lot of other books reduced like this on Kobo, too, not just mine!