Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?

How does one book take off like wildfire and another die like a match in the wind?

On one agent blog today I read about how she and a fellow agent had gone out to celebrate because their client’s book had stayed on the NYT best-seller list for twelve weeks. In fact, sales were rising, and the title had climbed to #2, with a shot at #1 if things continued to progress. The thing that I noticed in particular was how surprised she was that sales were growing, not shrinking.

Another agent today mentioned an article about how short the life of a link is these days. Apparently, if people don’t respond to your Facebook link or Twitter link within the first couple hours, they aren’t going to respond.

Out of sight, out of mind?

On one hand, this doesn’t surprise me because I know my own Twitter and Facebook habits. As a general rule, I’m not visiting my friends’ walls and reading their updates for the last few days or weeks. Instead, I’m reading the most recent updates whenever I pop over to my home page. Same with Twitter.

On the other hand, though, I’ve thought of book sales as a growing thing — the PyroMarketing approach. Mind you, I haven’t read Greg Stielstra’s book.

I do know that a good portion of new releases only stay on bookstore shelves for three months, that another portion of them are routinely returned to the publisher, never having been in the hands of a potential buyer. So I’m not saying naively that a book is bound to grow in sales simply because a writer tells people about it on Facebook or Twitter. And yet, I’ve believed the publishing marketers who say that word of mouth is the best marketing there is. Consequently, it seems sales should start to rise as word begins to spread.

One more thing to consider. A small press publisher tweeted today that book blog tours are largely worthless. Of course it’s a tweet, so no added information as to why this particular person reached this conclusion. You might guess that I have a different opinion, but here’s a professional who doesn’t see the return for the time spent organizing others to post about her books.

Not so long ago, author and friend Mike Duran hosted a discussion about social media and book marketing. It was interesting to see that some thought the online chatter was overrated.

So I come back to that first agent I mentioned, the one who was so excited their client’s book was increasing in sales. Could it be that the Facebook/Twitter model, something equivalent to a person’s fifteen minutes of fame, is the norm for most books — a quick blaze that fires hot for that three-month window, then burns itself out?

Does this happen because our culture is so ready to move on to the Next Big Thing? But if that were the case, then how is it that Harry Potter could remain such a huge commodity for over a decade?

Is the answer in the lack of persistence on the part of the author and publisher? After all, a book that’s been out for three months is about to be eclipsed by the author’s next release. So the efforts and emphasis now are going toward the book that will be, not the one that was.

In this environment, how, then, can a book/author grow an audience?

I’ve thought some about the phenomenon of The Shack because that book seemed to burn brighter and brighter. In relating its success to the factors I wrote about over at Spec Faith on Monday, I’d say it succeeded because it had three of the five elements I identified.

But The Shack had something I’d never seen before — in the back, the author listed action points for a satisfied reader to take to spread the word about the book. Rather than letting the book fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category, or hoping that the reader would seek out the author online, this plea to spread the word almost became a part of the book.

It was unique and perhaps unrepeatable. And perhaps that’s the thing that will spread the word about books — something that isn’t an imitation of what others are already doing.

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There are still three days left to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll.

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Published in: on September 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. You wrote: Is the answer in the lack of persistence on the part of the author and publisher?

    My experience is limited, but from the little I know, this may be the case. A writer must continue to believe in her work. If her publisher can’t go with her on that journey, she must go on anyway.

    It’s hard work. It’s a learning experience. There’s no formula. She must believe and work, and pray. The book was born for a reason. It’s important in its own right, no matter what books are born later.

    Also then, a writer must consider her projects carefully and invest prayerfully only in what is vital to her. So, as you’ve noted elsewhere, the Lord can then applaud her. If He does, He’ll make sure she finds the measure of success intended for her work.

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  2. I think something writers are doing that might be increasing their sales is being available to the public. They let them in on little tidbits of life. You can see the success of this idea at ComicCon or at SciFi conventions. Actors show up and tell background stories, insider stuff, and it makes the fan feel connected, and by that, loyal to the person they are fans of. I think that sort of thing, verses all these contests that frankly, get so old so fast, works pretty well. We all like to be a part of something, and feel that connection. Facebook and Twitter make us ‘feel’ like we have a chance to know ‘famous’ people on a different level than just reading about them in a magazine.

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