Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bursting Bubbles

I've been wanting to blog about a particular topic for some time now. It's been weighing heavily on me, but I haven't, to be honest, been able to figure out how to approach it without sounding like a whiner.

The topic is the Book Blogger Bubble.

I knew from the very beginning that small press publishing meant not having my book in bookstores. So I'm not in Barnes & Noble--I can live with that. Most people shop for books on Amazon these days anyway, and with ebook sales on the constant rise, I know my book doesn't suffer from lack of availability.

What it suffers from is lack of exposure.

So I tried finding book bloggers. People who review gobs and gobs of books on blogs with gobs and gobs of followers. Sounds like a great idea, huh? Except guess what? I'm discovering that a lot of those bloggers are all following each other. And their reason for that is they've banded together to make it look like they have a big audience so they can get free books from the big publishers. Highly sought titles to stock their personal shelves, with no cost but a quick post.

I know this is true because I joined a book blogger network in order to hopefully get some reviews of Finding Angel. What is posted all over that network are links to review blogs with, "Follow me and I'll follow you!" and discussions about how to gain followers so you can get the hottest titles.

I'm not saying all the bloggers are hooked up, but enough to make it frustrating. Too many are only shouting out to each other. Granted, a lot of those reviews also get posted on Amazon...

Haven't you noticed how the books by big presses often have a slew of reviews on Amazon before the book even releases? It's because of the book bloggers and Amazon vine and other such programs. Big presses send out hundreds of free copies all the time in order to build buzz and rack up online reviews.

Yes, you heard me right. Big presses send out hundreds of copies, at no cost to the author. How do small presses compete with that, especially when the big publisher freebies being offered are titles the bloggers are drooling over? We don't have a chance.

Besides, most small press authors must send books out that we pay for ourselves. Yep, that's right. Even if we could get into that bubble, we have to foot the bill ourselves.

I have been lucky to have had a good number of readers review Finding Angel of their own accord--by both blogging and posting on Amazon, and many of them bought the book themselves. And right now, the lovely Linda Yezak, author of Give the Lady a Ride, is stocking Finding Angel in her mobile bookstore. And Kristine Pratt, owner of The Written World bookstore is also stocking copies. These awesome people are helping to burst Finding Angel and other books by small presses out of the bubble we get stuck in.

But it's still a battle. Unless you are a writer yourself, you likely don't understand the need for reviews. Authors honestly carry little weight when it comes to the sales of their own books, unless it's a situation where we're meeting readers in person. But when a book is reviewed over and over again, in a bunch of different places, readers notice. Why? Because it's not the author saying how great the book is--it's another reader.

Readers have the key to bursting the bubbles.


Caprice Hokstad said...

Readers hold the key. Very true. And it appears they've been wooed by publishers with big name authors, big budgets, and big print runs that make their books cheaper. How do we compete with that?

I don't pretend this is the only way or the best way, but as I see it, the ONLY thing we have to offer is something DIFFERENT. Big pubs don't take as many chances. Big pubs print what's proven and safe.

In some ways, it's circular reasoning that turns into a Catch-22, like the reason I cannot find a modest bathing suit in any store I could afford. "Women only buy skimpy bikinis, so that's what we sell." But maybe women only buy skimpy bikinis because they can't FIND anything else and they HAVE to buy what they can find and afford. They don't have a choice so the market continues to offer what sells, even if something else might sell well too.

Somehow, some way, we have to find the readers who are NOT satisfied with the same-old, same-old, the ones who are sick to death of knock-offs and barely reworked old plots. The ones who are hungry for different and original and truly fresh.

How do we find them? I have no clue. But we have to stop playing the publishing game by the Big Six rules. WE have to burst THAT bubble somehow, or we may as well admit defeat.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I agree-it's a catch-22. The big 6 put out certain books, and hype them up, then everyone wants them, so no one looks elsewhere (mainly because they mostly don't know elsewhere exists).

And like the bikini analogy--you *can* find something else, at a specialty shop, for likely more, but only if you know the shop is there. And you only know it's there because a *friend* told you, because *she* got a swimsuit there and can vouch for their quality.

Kessie said...

I pondered this while I was making dinner. I've been trying to exit the echo chamber, so I've been reading The Kill Zone and other blogs outside my preferred genres.

Most people don't become well known until they have at least 20 books out. 20 is the magic number for "quit your day job". It made me ponder if I ever got into a series on book 1. Nope. I get into a series after it's finished, or well begun. I found Harry Potter after book 4 released. Every series in kids mystery books I consumed in my youth already had six or seven books available. My hubby didn't get into the Dresden books until book 13 came out. Even in my fanfic years, I didn't start getting fanmail until I'd written ten of the things.

So yeah. Quantity before people notice your quality.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I definitely see your point, Kessie. If I think about it, I'd likely say that's true for me. Or at least it WAS. Lately, I've found that there are a lot of debut authors getting serious promotion from big publishers in the YA category. Granted they are mostly books with girls in flowy dresses on the front :P. I think the difference is, well, trendiness. These debut novels are following in the paranormal teen romance footsteps of Twilight--looking for a big bang, then move to the next new author. It's not about finding books that will stand the test of time. The series you mention have the "classic" think going for them---they have staying power. I'd rather have that, to be honest.

Still, I do think having several books out there helps build credibility and audience. Not sure about it being 20, though. Ugh. Seriously not wanting to wait for THAT many.

Kat Coble said...

Ugh. I commented yesterday in the haze of yuck that was yesterday and it is not here. I'm pretty sure I didn't log in correctly. That's the kind of thing I do.

I'm not sure if I can repeat myself; the basic gist was that this is exactly why I'm not a book blogger. I don't want to use deceptive tactics to wheedle free books out of publishers and I would rather have 350 people who actually read my stuff than 2000 who fakefollow for reciprocal number boosts.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I will fully admit I am a member of Amazon Vine. I do not post the reviews here, though, because I feel like it would send the message I'm out for free books. Sure, I'm in Amazon Vine for the free books, but I give honest reviews on Amazon for those books. If one sufficiently impresses me, I'll review it here, too, but it would be as a service to the *author* because I want to spread the word. But any book I get outside the Vine program is something I have bought.

As for the deceptive follower numbers--that is another rant altogether for me. The people who have thousands of FB followers and blog followers--it's all inflated. I have a whopping 88 followers here and know that a good number of them never actually read my blog, so I imagine someone with 5,000 FB friends or 2,000 blog followers probably only get 1/10 (if that) of those people actually reading their posts.

Honestly, the way I've been feeling, this topic could lead to other related ones and a whole series of full-on rants. But I won't do that. I chose my path and love my small press publisher, but I am going through a particularly frustrated time right now regarding online marketing. Sure, the "personal" marketing here is going pretty dang well, but I can only reach so far even within my own community.

Kristen Stieffel said...

Kat, do the book reviewers require print copies, or will they accept e-versions? OakTara sent me an e-copy of The Serpent's Grasp for my review, and that totally worked. I'm sure the cost to them was minimal.

Your observation about the book review web rings is stunning. I guess I hadn't paid that close attebtion to it to notice that phenomena. Kind of makes the whole excercise pointless, doesn't it?

Kat Heckenbach said...

Kristen, some DO take ebooks. And that is good. But many don't. (I suspect some of them ask for print so they can sell the copies. Not all do--I know of specific book bloggers who state outright they do *not* sell their books, but rather donate them to libraries or do giveaways, but my guess is some are less scrupulous.)

And while there ARE book bloggers out there who are open to indie presses and such, they are harder to find.

Jessica Thomas said...

Despite the internet being "public" it can be very lonely due to the phenomenon you describe.

I became somewhat discouraged when I realized only writers read writing blogs and they could never possibly find time to read all the books they are exposed to (when really they are only trying to market their OWN books anyhow), so it's really no way to develop an audience.

I've also had the discouraging realization that yes, you need to have written loads of stuff before people start to take notice and/or you start to make any money.

These are the realities of being a no-name writer, and they have quite honestly made me question whether or not I want to keep doing this. But, I think Charles Darwin had some things right when he said the fittest/strongest will survive.

Eventually the fruits of your labor will blossom.

Kat Heckenbach said...

It is kind of ironic--it makes perfect sense that only writers read writing blogs, but most of us writers start blogging about writing to try and glean readers.

I honestly didn't know, until recently though, that the book blogger circuit was so self-read. Since posting this, I have received about three different notices from book blogger groups in that network I joined that were requests of "follow me and I'll follow you."


And I agree--it seems that those that persevere are the ones that survive this game. There are days that make me want to prove I'm one of those survivors, and days that make me the think the game is simply to juvenile to play. But since I love my story, I will keep going.