Sunday, July 22, 2012

How to Improve the Discoverability of Books

This is how my office looks as I prepare to head the Romance Writers of American annual National Convention.

(Yes, those are PRISM trophies, for those of you hoping to win one next week!)

Otherwise, those are boxes of bookmarks, business cards, special candies to give away and so forth. There's one reason I do all of this: to call attention to the books. I mean, I go to convention for a number of reasons: networking, rejuvenation, learning. But I could do all that empty-handed. No - the stuff is for discoverability.

And, yes, that really is a word. Now.

It's only become a word in these tumultuous post-paper, post-brick and mortar bookstore days. Oh sure, there are still paper books and libraries and book stores, but these venues are on the decline. Far fewer bookstores are available, even fewer are ones you could go into and have someone passionate about books hand sell you something you're sure to love. And there are all those so-convenient eReaders, which allow you to buy your next read from wherever you happen to be, with the click of the buy now link.

In the old days, the publishing house might have sent the author on tour. The gung-ho author would forge relationships with those hand-selling book lovers. For many years, publishing houses sold books to bookstores, not to readers. It's an important distinction. Publishers knew how to sell to bookstores and then those stores took care of selling to readers.

Thus the consternation in the publishing and book-selling community. In the electronic jungle, how do readers discover those new books to read? Lots of conversations on "improving discoverability," which really means "how do I get them to buy MY book?"

My take on that? I don't think you do.

I heard a great quote recently, when Susan Elizabeth Phillips spoke of what a generous and gracious person Sandra Brown is. (Fair warning: Sandra's website has flash, takes forever to load and has sound - dunno WHAT they're thinking on that!) Sandra said it's because "A high tide floats all ships."

This, to me, is the essence of social media. And of finding the path through the jungle.

We're no longer lone authors hidden away in our secret lairs, venturing out on pre-planned quests to woo booksellers. We're part of a web - a vast network of writers, editors, agents, publishers, book bloggers, readers and book sellers. The high - or low - tides affect us all. Everybody wants to sail their ships.

So, the people who get on the internet and shout BUYMYBOOK BUYMYBOOK BUYMYBOOK are not improving their discoverability. In fact, people are likely to turn their backs and put their fingers in their ears. No - it's about conversations and being passionate about books. All books. In some ways, we're all hand-selling books theses days. And that's about sharing the love.

I discovered this for myself just recently. The Bookpushers Blog (and boy, are they well-named) did  a joint review of Rogue's Pawn. And now they talk up and recommend the book all the time. Because they loved it. People who like them and their blog get excited and pick it up, too. This kind of thing is what our community is about. More - it's so fun.

Okay - so how did Bookpushers discover the book?, which lists books available for review in digital format. Why did the reviewer first pick it out - pretty cover? Compelling cover copy? Fabulous title? Hard to say. Serendipity, perhaps.

But my point - and I do have one ;-) - is that we maybe should spend less time talking about how to improve discoverability and more time just talking about books.

After all, that's what we love best.


  1. With all the things people can do with their time, I think this is huge--make it really, REALLY easy for someone who read a book they liked to pick up another one. On the industry side, because it's easy to find out more about titles and easy to obtain them, but on the social side because there are conversations to join and adventures to be had.

  2. SO agree, Ann Marie! Love how you put that!

  3. Very nice Jeffe! I'm sooo new at this - but I will try to relax and invest in relationships versus the sell! Thanks and see yo next week!

  4. It feels like more work, Sasha - but totally worth it!

  5. Great post!
    I myself will confess I read your books after reading your posts here on this blog. And I got here by stalking... ehm.. following Laura. So yes: I think that talking about books, writing and stuff and networking does pay off in discoverability of your own books.

  6. It's so true, Sullivan! And I started reading Carolyn Crane because of you, which led to other connections and reading adventures. I find it SO interesting.

  7. If I love a book, I talk about it all over the place. I still miss good bookstores, but now that I think about it, I'm not really missing all that much (especially since bookstores became music/coffee shops and daycare centers). Actually, the discoverability is so much better now. Since I've been online, I've found so many great authors - just be following one author to another similar author to another... Like finding you and the other Word Whores through Laura (who I picked up on a whim). And finding Carolyn through a chance purchase, too, only to have her show up here. It's like playing 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with authors. =o)

  8. This is great advice, Jeffe. Most of us fell into the writing business because of our love of books. Staying true to our roots is probably the way to go.

  9. I love the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon but with Authors game, BE! We should totally play this. Amazing how us birds of a feather find each other.

    The love of books is the thing, isn't it Shelley? I totally believe that.