If you’re an author you may have heard this term – as an excuse, an explanation, or just as a realistic view of book sales today.
I’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again: there’s more free information out there than one can possibly digest in a lifetime. Free eBooks (in every genre, offering escapism as well as knowledge), countless blogs and whitepapers, free downloads and a plethora of tip sheets.
How many times have you downloaded a freebie and stored it away to read later but never did? How many free books in your Kindle library are only half-read or untouched? And of the books you did find time to read, ones in demand, how many piracy sites do you imagine they appear on?
Every author releasing a book – numbers of which have exponentially increased since the introduction of self-publishing – is competing against anything FREE. To therefore ask your audience to be interested in buying your book when they can’t even read the freebies they download, or to buy your book when it’s available via a pirate site, is a huge ask.
And that’s not taking into account the sheer volume of books on offer that you have to wade through to even get to this dilemma. Getting noticed is the first, practically insurmountable, obstacle of the whole book marketing process.
The long tail
My personal interpretation of the long tail is that patience and niches rule. Patience, because book marketing is not a get-rich-quick process (if it ever was); it’s now far, far more stretched. Niches, because aiming to hit the mainstream is crazy.
If you like the scattergun approach – the thought that you’re appealing to many people all at the same time (however deluded) – and the practice of shouting into an abyss, then continue to be everything to everyone. I get it, your book could be enjoyed by lovers of romance as well as crime novel enthusiasts, but trying to get any headway in just one of these genres will be an incredibly hard slog – tackling two at once doesn’t make any sense at all. If, and it’s a big if, your book became a hit, and you became a household name, then you can cross genres and expand your platform. Make it easy for yourself – you’ll find things hard enough.
An author’s tipping point…
Ian Rankin found relative notoriety after releasing his eleventh book. The average ‘tipping point’ for an author is on their seventh release. If this isn’t an example of patience in the long tail, I don’t know what is. Maybe those flooding the market give up after book three, which is why only those with seven books or more profit. The ongoing promotion involved with all seven books must also pay off at some time – right?
Using niches to your advantage
There are ways to cheat the long tail, if only by a little. For example, why put that 120,000 word book on sale – why not start a series, with book one and two at 60,000 each? Your audience’s perception will be two-fold: impressed that you’ve already achieved a sequel, and also that they won’t have to wait long to find out what happens after book one – book two is waiting in the wings almost immediately.
If you want to cross genres, do it in small doses. Write a free, short story as an eBook (don’t forget that you can use the power of FREE to your own advantage) in the ‘second’ genre and start capturing readers and feedback, then introduce them to the cross-over book you’ve launched in the other genre when you’ve got a decent response. The majority of your time should be spent building relationships with readers in your main genre, but an hour or so a week spent in the second ensures your marketing messages aren’t conflicting, and that you’re playing things strategically. Your readers, who you want to become longstanding, loyal fans, are also then learning about you for free. Even the cost of a Kindle book at a few pounds is a big risk for someone to take on a new author.
My own personal opinion is that you should use FREE, practically until your seventh book tipping point, but I can imagine that’s not a popular initiative to anyone. Read 'The Curve', by Nicholas Lovell, and it will make more sense. And, yes, I do understand that bills have to be paid.
The only things we search for nowadays are things that are niche or obscure
Because we can buy anything at any time in our fast-paced, continually connected 24/7 world, we don’t ever assume that something isn’t abundant. Therefore, discovery and obscurity have become the new passions for many people – to belong, to set trends, to be identified by our choices. You don’t need to search for best-selling items, whatever they are, as their promotional activities are rammed down your throat subconsciously, such is the reach of marketing and advertising nowadays. The things we search for are rooted in niches – that’s why we have to search.
But does this translate to books? After all, how can you ‘search’ for something without knowing if it even exists? And how many of us search for a book based on its probable content?
Of course, we don’t. Online, we’re led, mostly, by the eye and by signposts. Therefore, the aesthetics of your book must be top-notch. As must your sign-posting. But before you publish a thousand tweets and Facebook posts with links to your book, this really should be signposting by others on your behalf, to really have any effect in today’s screaming marketplace. Self-promotion is dirtier than a pig in mud.
There’s far more to the long-tail of book promotion than I’ve detailed here, of course. I’ve met many first-time authors who think the writing of their book was hard work. Guys, you haven’t even started.