Monday, August 06, 2012

Using The Long Tail

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Long Tail and how new authors are part of it.  To get an insight into the best way for authors to use it we need to take a look at the music industry.

The changes made by the digital age to music have been dramatic and have occurred in a relatively short space of time, but that's as much to do with demographics as technology. Music sales are generally higher among younger people than across the generations, so any change to the way people buy/listen to music tends to happen quite quickly and to a group more in tune with technological change.  With books, the demographics are different, with people of all ages buying across a range of interests so change takes longer to see and come through.

The technical side is not as different as you may think either, with books and music being files that need to be presented.  With audio it's how you get the sound to a speaker, with books how you display the text.  MP3 players are now ubiquitous and ereaders are getting that way and in some ways, presenting text is an easier problem to solve.  The only real difference, as mentioned above, is the buyer.

So why does the tail work for music?   One of the reasons is the filters people use to find their favourite music and other tracks that are similar.  You can find songs on sites like iTunes, Amazon and the like and get recommendations for other music you may like too.  There are also an increasing number of sites like Rhapsody that smaller bands and singers/musicians use for their own material.

What the new musicians have done is build a fanbase through gigs, then extended themselves onto sites like Rhapsody, iTunes and the like to reach an audience not based locally.  They've created their market.

But how do authors use this experience?  With care.

I'm sure you've heard the word 'platform' before.  'What's your platform?' will be a phrase sometimes used in conversations with agents and publishers and it's a valid question.  Like new bands and singers, authors need to build a fanbase of sorts with gigs.  How?  Blogs and short story publication are two options, while Facebook and Twitter are among many others.  Don't ignore writing for magazines either.

Get known by the readers of your genre, not just people who publish.

What you shouldn't do is leap on a bandwagon because someone told you to or because it's the latest thing.  If you can't find a way to use it, ignore it until you can or you're just wasting your time.

Get known by the public who read your chosen genre by whatever means are needed, be it digital or personal. Think about each of these gigs before going ahead.  Will it help you, if so how?  Can you give time to it and do it properly.  Consider, then act.

For books there aren't many sites that come close to Rhapsody, in fact the only one that springs to mind is Goodreads.If you know of others, let me know in the comments section.

With all that in mind, I've come up with a short list to help.

  1. Have a blog.  While tweets suit some art forms and celebrities, will they really appeal to a group of people who like long pieces of written work?  There's nothing wrong with twitter, but does it suit the author and their audience?
  2. List your books on Goodreads if they're not already there.  You have to become a librarian, but it can be done relatively easily.
  3. Make sure your tags on Amazon, Smashwords etc are appropriate.  It's pointless trying to list your book as a thriller just to get more people to look at the cover.  Niche is best for the new author as you will build a solid fanbase.
  4. Whichever site you sell through, make sure your author details are up to date.  Let the readers know who you are and what you are like.  Be personable.
The long tail can help us sell and become known, but in this new digital age, it's likely that few will hit the heights of fame and fortune that authors over the last fifty years have reached.  The blockbuster isn't dead just yet, but it's on the way out as local and niche entertainment replaces it.

We can be part of that change, or left behind by it.


Jeff Chapman said...

Good ideas, Martin. Have you tried to use any of the marketing tools on Goodreads? Like ads and giveaways? I was looking through them this morning.

Authors should definitely have a blog. We're supposed to be people who like to write! : ) Almost as important as having the blog is some type of contact page associated with the blog. It's very frustrating when you want to send a writer a private message but there's no method to do so. And you definitely don't want to frustrate an agent or editor who wants to contact you.

Nick Wilford said...

Having a blockbuster can be a double edged sword as there's so much pressure to follow it up, what made it successful could be a fluke (or down to market reasons) and you could end up as a one hit wonder. I really like the ideas you put across here.

Lauren said...

Another thing to remember is that the "niche" market is much larger with electronic. A smaller piece of a pie fifty times as large can still be significant.

Martin Willoughby said...

Jeff: I'm looking into goodreads at the moment, but it seems to be based mainly around printed books.

Nick: Being a one hit wonder would set you up for life. Though I'm told money isn't everything. ;)

Lauren: Spot on there. It's one of the point Anderson makes in his book.