As an independently published author of two suspense novels, I am always looking for ways to get noticed. It’s no mean task either. Amazon is the largest book retailer in the world and they currently have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million print and e-book titles available, give or take a few hundred thousand. In other words, I am a broken needle in a haystack the size of Mount Kilimanjaro; but at least I’m not alone. We’re all in the same over-sized boat, if you’ll please pardon the mixed metaphor. What to do… what to do.
The publishing industry has changed drastically over the past decade and a half. On the plus side, it’s quicker and easier than ever for an author to get his/her work into the marketplace. However, the size and scope of said marketplace has increased exponentially. It’s sort of a double-edged sword. Sure, you can get your masterpiece published tomorrow, but it’s going to be tucked away somewhere in the vastness of an ever-expanding virtual bookshelf. Remember when the only way to purchase a book was to find it in an actual store? Those days are over, and bookstores are rapidly going the way of phone booths, arcades and drive-in theaters. They’re not extinct yet but definitely on the endangered species list.
Whether self published or represented by a “traditional” publishing house, it’s increasingly the responsibility of the author to shoulder the burdens of publicity, marketing and promotion. That isn’t a problem for a guy like, well, let’s just say Stephen King. But for every one of him, there are thousands upon thousands of Michael Sovas, M.L. Stoughtons and EM Kaplans. How do we, the collective anonymous, even begin to make a name for ourselves? Good question.
When I published “A Shot at Redemption,” my debut novel, I scheduled a signing event at a recently defunct local bookstore. I was deathly afraid no one would show up so I thought outside the box and came up with a little insurance policy. Without going into too much detail, I arranged for a high school music group to perform in conjunction with my appearance. It was a tremendous success, thanks mostly to them, but I knew at the time it wasn’t sustainable. As nice as it might be, I can’t travel around with my own personal minstrels.
When it came to “Parlor City Paradise,” my second release, I decided to try something different. I sponsored a photo contest and announced that the winning entry would be featured in the book’s cover design. I not only ended up with a great cover but also got some free publicity in several area newspapers, on websites, etc. My strategy was effective to a degree, but once again, not sustainable. It likewise failed to reach beyond my local market.
The vast majority of book buyers are now doing their shopping online. They go to Amazon or wherever, type an author or title into the search box and that’s it. That whole browsing thing has sort of gone away because it’s no longer possible to randomly wander aisles until you see something that looks good. If you don’t know what you want going in, your best bet is usually to pull up a book you already read and liked and start investigating related items. Here’s the point, if you’re not familiar with Michael Sova, M.L. Stoughton or EM Kaplan already, the odds of stumbling upon them by chance are somewhere between slim and no f***ing way… and that might be the key to this whole thing.
I was listening to a recent episode of NPR’s “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me” and I learned about a new trend in publishing that’s both interesting and kind of disturbing. There is apparently a concern that millennials aren’t buying enough books and a concerted effort is being made to change that. What, you might ask, could make boring old books so enticing that they can compete with Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Candy Crush and the slew of digital media that’s available 24 hours a day? The answer, apparently, is profanity.
It appears that more and more books are being released with deliberately vulgar titles. Yes, I’m bleeping serious. Adult coloring books have suddenly gotten very popular so now there’s one called “F*** Off I’m Coloring: Unwind with 50 Obnoxiously Fun Swear Word Coloring Pages.” And for the culinary-minded, perhaps you’d like to pick up a copy of “Bake Sales are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane.” That’s a perfectly legitimate sounding book, with a B-bomb dropped in to make it more marketable.
As distasteful as it may sound, this idea does have some merit at least in the practical sense. Think about it. With works of non-fiction, it’s easy enough to use keywords to attract readers. Let’s say you wrote a book on classic muscle car restoration. Put those words in the title and anyone interested will find it in pretty short order. That, however, doesn’t work so well with most other literary genres… until now. You want to sell books? No problem. Incorporate a few of the most popular curse words in your title and you’ll be able to quit your day job in no time. My next release will be a football-themed cookbook. I was going to call it “21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food.” Upon further consideration, I’m going with “21 Sundays of F***ing Amazing Football Food.” Bestsellers list here I come!
For the record, that last bit was a joke and I will be sticking with my original title… probably.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.