Author platforms and the Black Box Effect
If you’ve spent as much time reading author blogs as I have, you may have noticed a disturbing pattern. In nearly every “here’s how I did it” post in which the author explains her route to greater visibility and sales, there comes a point when something happens that the author did not plan for or expect, that puts her over the top.
I call this the Black Box Effect: the degree to which authors are still mostly in the dark about what makes their book marketing and platform-building efforts succeed. For authors to take full advantage of this incredible time in publishing we need to reduce that effect, which means we need better data, and better tools to help capture and measure the data that already exists. So I went to Author (R)evolution Day last week to see how far along we are in chipping away at the edges of that black box.
Happily, we are further along than many authors realize.
I should back up for a moment and note that author platforms were only part of the ambitious agenda for Author (R)evolution Day. #ARDay, as it was fondly referred to, was in fact several events in one. Attendees got an overview of publishing, a call-to-arms against DRM, crash courses on copyright and metadata, and hot conversations about community-building, production, distribution, and discovery models.
I will focus here on some key takeaways and promising methods for minimizing the black box effect. For a complete archive of event coverage, go here.
What’s an Indie Author anymore?
Agent provocateur Jason Allen Ashlock pointed out that “indie author” is not an accurate term for what is now more of a team sport. Authors do best when they collaborate with editors, designers, and many others to publish their work. And moderator Kristen McLean presented some compelling numbers from DBW on the advantages of being a “hybrid” author: they earn on average $10,000 more per year than traditionally published authors, and $31,000 more than authors who are solely self-published.
Eve Bridburg of Grub Street spoke about the importance of authors supporting each other in finding the best avenues to discoverability, and on redefining success as something greater than just book sales. Author platforms, it seems, are intricately networked with one another and should reflect a well thought-out strategy extending beyond a single book.
Make it free
No, we blessedly did not discuss Kindle ebook pricing. Rather, we looked at free in terms of how to give readers that strong incentive to read our books. Rob Eagar suggested that it only takes one good reason, and laid out quite a nice assortment of marketing ideas, including offering exclusive unpublished writing in blogs, PDF downloads, and pre-launch emails.
One of the liveliest sessions was on Community-Driven Publishing, where free extended to podcasts and chapter readings, offering new content on Wattpad, and using Glossi to make gorgeous magazine giveaways. Kickstarter and Pubslush were compared, and it will be very interesting to see how the newer but more book-focused and analytics-rich Pubslush platform grows in the coming year.
Embracing data, hugging technologists
On the issue of better data, Laura Dawson informed us that while there may not be a map to discoverability, metadata is our gear shift and we ought to know how to use it. That involves cleaning up incorrect metadata associated with your books on all the “new Big 6″: Google, Apple, Amazon, Sony, Kobo, and Nook.
One of my favorite parts of the day was learning about the many promising platforms that offer new production, distribution, and sales tracking tools. Companies such as LeanPub, Net Minds and especially WriterCube are poised to crack open that black box in a big way. Most authors are not early adopters, but I hope Author (R)evolution Day makes these great startups more visible, which will also help them achieve scale and become even more effective.
Keeping it all in perspective
In the end, though, the day’s main message was to pay attention to metrics, but not let them rule the roost (see Rob Eagar’s related article here). Remember that conversations on social media are a two-way street. Keep creating great content. Figure out your overall strategy and goals first, then choose the tactics that work best for you.
The good news for authors is that we’re living and writing in a whole new landscape. You have a gear shift, if not a car. There are plenty of people—agents, publishers and technologists as well as other authors—ready with tools and collaborations to help crack open that black box. And the rest of us are just waiting to hear back about what works for you.