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SLOW BURNING

Whilst I don't review as often as I should, I'm a voracious reader. Most weeks I'll read one, maybe two, books. I've just read one in two days, which particularly gripped me. (Review to follow on that one.) This year, I've read a mix of traditionally published, indie published and self published and, for me, two books have stood out - both traditionally published, as it happens, and neither from debut authors.

One of the two writers, according to their website, has written more than 20 novels - and is hoping the next novel will be the breakthrough book.

You read that right. 20 novels, and there has been no breakthrough book.

The other writer first published nine years ago. I very much hope their current book is their breakthrough book.

So, what do we mean by breakthrough book? For me - and this is open to interpretation - it does need to be a print-book and available in a range of outlets, including e-book and bookstores. It needs to be stocked in the book chains. It will be talked about on multiple forums and review sites. The writer will become a well known name in that genre, usually for that book.

For some people, they get that deal with their first book. For most, it's more of a slow-build.

And that's what I wanted to talk about - the model of book releases. It's recently become more of the norm to release a couple of books a year, and that has been driven by the e-book market. To keep visibility on Amazon a writer has to keep nailing the sales. To do that, a quick turnover can help. It's the model I've mostly followed (more because I write like the wind than any real ambitions to be a two-book-a-year writer). But it's not the model I'll stay on.

Lack off new material looms. Not only that, but spin-off projects from some of my released stuff. Sadly, since I'm not one of those fancy brokethrough straight away authors, I also have a day job to keep on top of to bring the pennies in. Up to a month or so ago, that worried me. Not enough to wake me at night, but enough to have me frowning and nibbling my nails, wondering what to do. I have ideas, many ideas but - as those of us who have slaved over the completion of a novel know - that's only the first part of the path. Having received extensive edits today (after just turning in extensive edits on another book) I'm well aware of how long it will take me to get from idea to honed, and that's usually a couple of years.

I don't want to rush. I don't want to bring out something sub-par because I felt under pressure to do so. Which is why, when I read my two favourite books of the year and looked back over the length of the authors' careers, I felt somewhat reassured.

Over those 20 novels and 9 years, word has been growing. Fans have read a book and recommended it - as I'm about to do in a blog. Conventions have been attended and networks made. Things have not become static just because a book hasn't emerged. In fact, in some ways, it's a good thing - it gives people time to find and read the older material and time for the word of mouth to spread.

Which brings me to the next point. How do you know when word of mouth spreads? A writer can track their Amazon sales rank but that doesn't say an awful lot about how well a writer's name is spreading outside the Amazon algorithms.

In fact, let me digress just a little there. Amazon bestsellers are vulnerable to Amazon's algorithms. If they change and decide not to promote an author's books anymore - for whatever reason, and it has happened - that author can lose income very quickly. Being a bestseller on Amazon is not the same as a breakthrough author - although it's pretty impressive and I'm delighted for all my mates with that status. But, frankly, if I took the top names of the Amazon-dependent authors and asked how many were widely known of, it would be low (I know because a thread was posted up last year on a fan-forum to just that effect.)

To become widely known takes that elusive word of mouth. And word of mouth takes a long time to grow, generally over many, many books.

Here, then, are to my mind, some of the ways word of mouth starts to be seen:

Reviews. Not so much the number of Amazon reviews, but the quality of them over a range of sources. Sorry, but if I don't love a book I won't fall over myself to recommend it. But if I like it, I tell everyone who moves. (Anyone not know I loved Chris Beckett's Dark Eden? You do now. Go buy it.) So, starting to get people telling you they picked a book up through recommends rather than from Amazon recommending is a good sign, I think.

Mentions on fan forums. Fans talk to each other. They put into 'currently reading' threads, and discussions about books. If a book or writer starts to be mentioned organically on the big forums, I see that as a good sign.

Internet hits. This is another hard one to track. I know a blogger reviewed one of my books last year and said the hit-rate was much higher than normal. I know, too, when I'm in podcasts and what not I tend to hit over my weight in terms of hits. But is this word of mouth, or is it just that I talk a lot and lots of people know these things are happening? I have no idea.

For me, the concept of word of mouth gets consistently overlooked by those trying to launch a writing career - especially the indies. We/they focus so much on getting Amazon reviews, using every trick in the game, and possibly not enough on taking the time to write the best possible book we can and letting our name get out there between books.

For me, this opens a lot of hard questions about my route forwards. I know I should be trying to get a new agent at some point - that I was agented early in my writing career (2nd book) and have had bites of all three of my first books from Big 6 publishers tells me that I would probably catch another if I had the time and inclination to try. And I do believe there is more chance of the breakthrough book with a traditional publisher, than self published (and, believe me, I know all the arguments inside out, backwards, forwards and upside down.) In fact, all of the self publishers I know who have broken through have traditional publishers - albeit often off a strong self published background.

It most likely means 2018 will be a quiet year from me in terms of releases. By then, I'll have five, six if things go to plan, books out there.

If so, instead of fretting, I think I'll be more relaxed about taking that time to write and build up more material. I think, in seeing the models of slow build working, instead of focusing so much on the models of release-release-release and hope Amazon likes it as I have been, I have a wider understanding of how this industry works and how it really is almost impossible to speed it up, fasttrack it, or make things happen for you before they're supposed to (assuming they ever do.) 


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jo-Zebedee/e/B00VM61TZG/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1474981206&sr=1-2








Comments

Bottom line for me is the storytelling's got to be satisfying and enjoyable most of the time. Otherwise, why bother?
Joanne Zebedee said…
Exactly! So often, when a writer is rushing books out I find them a little unsatisfying. :)

Although, Pat Rothfuss, if you're reading this. There are limits.... :D

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