I’ve got 3 novels in the market now. In case you haven’t noticed we are in a ‘down’ economy, and it’s likely to get even worse before it gets any better. And I see the results in every royalty check I receive, and in the reduced number of purchases buyers make at sales events. Folks just do not have the discretionary funds to spend like they used to. They simply do not have the ability to buy a book from an author they haven’t read before unless a good friend recommends it to them. In other words, buyers have been forced to become very conservative in their buying habits.
On top of that, print-on-demand publishing and the fact that anyone with an internet connection can publish an ebook without paying a fee, and the ability to set up and maintain a web site for no money at all has seen an incredible jump in the number of writers competing for eyes on web pages. There are millions of author’s web sites in existence and millions of books published every year. A lot of them are utter crap by anyone’s definition, but how is the reader to know?
And every author – good, bad, or utterly atrocious, is competing for the same dollars. And those dollars are starting to get real thin on the ground.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores, whether chain stores like B&N or Books-A-Million, right along with independent new and used booksellers, have a difficult time competing against today’s marketplace on the web.
I’m not going to bore you with a lot of statistics that show how eBook Reader sales have increased over the past year, or how owners of such devices are perfectly happy to wait three months after the hard copy publication of their favorite author’s newest work to appear in digital format.
Suffice it to say that digital reading is not going away any time soon. Neither are bookstores. The independents actually have a better chance of surviving than do the more costly chain stores (they sell used books, remember).
Neither are authors. In fact, authoring is growing, and competition for sales on the Web is murderous (not really; metaphorically).
I do a lot of personal appearances; as many as I can find and fit into my schedule. And I don’t do it just to sell copies of my books. I do it to meet readers, and hear what they have to say.
When I set up at local community events around Florida, I have copies of my books on a table, and usually stand to greet people who pause to look over my book covers. They might comment on how pretty my covers are (and they are pretty – A local naturalist painter of my acquaintance paints all of my cover art on canvas, which I then have photographed). When I begin to tell them what the books are about, all too many say, “I don’t read”.
That comment deserves a long pause. Grown up human beings who don’t read. If the parents don’t read, there is a very good chance their children won’t, either. That scares me every time I hear it. And I hear it way too often.
But I also find that at these events people will run up, grab my latest off the table, push money at me and ask me to sign their copy, say “I loved your last book”, grab it out of my hands and run off. Some even stay to chat for a few minutes, and I really enjoy that.
Unfortunately, author’s don’t have that same ability to interact with potential customers on the web. I’ve thought about setting up a ‘chat room’, but I know that I simply do not have the time such a thing requires. On the web, folks searching for something to read come across a web site via a Google search (or Yahoo or Bing, whatever), and if they do not find what they are looking for in the first 30 seconds on the home page, they are gone, and it is all too likely they will never return to that web site.
And no, they will NOT scroll down to see the rest of that home page. What they see when they land on the page is ALL they will look at. Whatever the top half of your home page contains had better be what they are looking for or they will leave you in the dust.
You have 30 seconds to grab that visitor by the eyeballs. That’s about 15 seconds longer than a literary agent’s secretary will give an author’s query letter, so make good use of that time, and be sure that what they see is what they want.
Yes, business is war by another name, and every author in every genre is facing the same stiff fight. We compete for every sale; on bookstore shelves, on tables at community affairs, and on the Web. We each of us compete against millions of authors. Every dollar that goes into my pocket is one you will never see - unless I buy a copy of your book.