Monday, January 17, 2011

My Promotional Juggernaut


by Rebecca Cantrell


Here’s my problem (and I suspect I’m not alone): there is TOO MUCH to do. I twitter. I Facebook. I do physical book tours. I do virtual blog tours. I check in at goodreads and shelfari. I blog. I read and comment on other blogs. I have a newsletter. I go to conferences and book festivals. I review books. I help out organizations. I judge major contests. I do TV (a couple of times). I do radio (likewise). I get great reviews (and bad ones). I read about marketing. I try to reach my niche. I check through my google analytics web site data. It’s exhausting.

And through it all, I have a sinking feeling that I’m not doing enough, or I’m not doing enough of the right thing. To make matters worse, I have no direct proof that any of those things work. Nada. It’s all “indirect.” Maybe I wouldn’t sell any books at all if I didn’t do all that stuff. Or maybe I could stop doing half or all of it and sell just as many. No one knows.

I’m tired and I’ve decided I’m abrogating responsibility to someone else. I’ve figured out what they need to do. What I want is for someone to invent the Right Place for readers. Readers will find the books they like, really like, and buy them. Readers will be happy. Writers will be happy. Once my books are in there, I know they’ll find readers who love them.

In the olden days, that place was bookstores, and sometimes it still is. There are many wonderful bookstores staffed by people who know what their customers read and like and can recommend books they’ll enjoy and set up events for writers and readers to mingle (Poisoned Pen in AZ for one, Book Passage in San Francisco, M is for Mystery in San Mateo, The almost late Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, Kona Stories in my hometown). I go to those stores whenever I can and I buy as many books there as I can afford. If they don’t have what I want, I ask them to order it. Sadly, it’s clear that not enough people do. More and more indie bookstores go out of business every year. Even the two biggest chains, Borders and Barnes & Noble, seem to be floundering.

I want the web analog. I want a giant online bookstore (and, yes, I have heard of Amazon, B&N.com, etc. Bear with me). How to build this online paradise?

Make it about me. Like Netflix. When I go to Netflix, it tells me what I just saw and how much I liked it. It gives me Top Picks of things I might like based on the bajillion movies I’ve actually rated and watched. It’s a small, manageable list. I can see it all at a glance. And, dang nab it, it’s usually right. I can scroll through the list if it’s not. Or scroll down and see more movies tailored to my preferences that are sorted by category (comedy? Here’s 5 you’ll like. Thrillers? Ditto). It doesn’t have a ton of things to look at and click on (although it’s still too busy).

When I go to most bookselling web sites, in contrast, it’s all about THEM. What books they have. What books they like. What books they want to sell me at a discount. I’d be old and gray if I actually browsed through all that. I don’t want infinite choices, at least not all at once. There’s too much. I don’t want to wade through One More Thing. I’m tired, remember?

Pop up that predictive software. Instead of “Customers who bought what you bought” at the bottom of the page, that should be my home page. Sure, I can choose to browse and look at all your other stuff, but I don’t have to. Yes, I know that Amazon has a “My Amazon” section, but it doesn’t captivate me like Netflix.

Start aggregating stuff. It’s not just about books. It’s about the love of books. Help me connect to other booklovers all in one place. Give me the top 10 mystery blogs. The top 10 mystery reviewers. Discussion groups. You get the idea. The content is all there already. Filter it. Curate it. Use your knowledge of books and bookselling to help me get what I want, not what you think I should want.

Simplify your design. I have a tiny netbook computer. When I go to bookselling web sites, do you know how many things I can click on without even having to scroll?

At B&N it’s 48, Amazon, 30. It’s overwhelming. Netflix comes in with a more manageable 18, although that’s still too busy. Apple, financial juggernaut of design? Only 10.


How about it indies? Amazon? Barnes & Noble? Google? Apple? Santa? Can you build this place for me and all the other readers out there? I know you have the technology. Build it so I’ll have more time to write and more time to read. Or, build it because it will help you sell more books (I like it when you sell books, even if they’re not mine).

I really want dialogue on this, Oh Gentle Blog Readers. What’s YOUR dream online bookstore look like?

(One of these days I also want to talk about online conferences, like the wonderful conference put on by Poisoned Pen last year. But that’s another post.)

18 comments:

Kate Gallison said...

Sounds like a plan. I'm almost tempted to program the thing, but I'd have to abandon the book I'm writing. (Scuse me while I go tweet--)

Meredith Cole said...

You're on to something Rebecca! It's too bad all of us are too busy writing and promoting our books to invent it... But perhaps someone else out there would like to give it go? Someone? Anyone?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

If we have to live in a world with fewer and fewer wonderful bookstores, then the Internet should at least provide us with a usable option that helps sooth the pain. We don't need another mousetrap, we need a better mousetrap.

Lois Winston said...

Rebecca, I'm exhausted after reading your post!

Thomas Kaufman said...

A nice piece, Rebecca!

Given the recent SinC report on mystery readers and their buying habits, I wonder just how effective it is to do all those things you mentioned at the beginning: blog, twitter, FB, plus the tours, both real and virtual. When are we supposed to find time to write our books?

I'm not suggesting we stop these ancillary jobs; the publishers expect it. I just wonder how much good it does us. I met an author who spends around 2 hours a day doing social network stuff. Would that person be better off, in terms of sales, by spending those two hours writing a better book?

Just askin'...

Maybe the answer is in balancing the "sales" part of our jobs with the creative, finding the right mix. I find the social network stuff much easier than writing, so it's tempting to focus more on that.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Kate! I'd hate to think of the book lost if you did! Still, I wish someone would create this place for writers and readers. And I know lots of folks are trying.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Meredith: Keep looking! If you find someone, let me know!

Sue Ann: I agree! Brick and mortar is still my first choice, but if I can't have that, I want the better mousetrap. Complete with cheese...mmm...cheese...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Lois: Me too! And I think I'm nowhere near as busy as lots of other writers.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thomas: You raise some great points and I think it's something that modern writers struggle with every day. How do we find time to write with all the promotion expectations? How do we find the sweet spot where we are writing the books we want and achieving the sales the publishers can stand? Unfortunately, I don't think anyone has an easy answer.

But if you hear one, let me know. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Joshua Corin said...

I agree with you that Amazon.com is a behemoth and browsing through it is far more cumbersome than it should be - and their "Customers Who Bought This Item" tends to be an echo chamber rather than an inspirational tool.

There should be a fairly simple algorhythm which can be used to calculate reading tastes based on book purchases. As you noted, Netflix does pretty much the same thing (although their recommendations sometimes are wacky too). Perhaps Goodreads is the avenue to explore for this. They already seem to have the apparatus in place.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Josh: Netflix's algorithm is way better than Amazon's or B&N's, that's for sure. I kinda like the occasional random wacky choice though, so maybe that's even built in.

Maybe goodreads, but I'd like a place that actually SELLS books. And I haven't really been able to do much interaction on goodreads. Am I doing it wrong? What am I missing?

Reece said...

Rebecca, I definitely agree that Amazon could learn a thing or two from Netflix. One thing that I like about Goodreads is that you can learn what your friends are reading and liking. As with Facebook, the problem there is that there are friends whose opinions on books you know and trust, and then there are Internet friends.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Reece: Knowing what your friends like can be very helpful indeed, even if it does lead to the "there are friends and there are friends" dilemma.

Shane Gericke said...

Very nice post, Rebecca. I had to drop out of this wonderful group and several other things I really liked just to accommodate the infinite jest (note clever literary reference!) of social and other networking and marketing. There are few better ways to write a book than sitting down and writing it--Snooki notwithstanding--but their MUST be a better way to sell books. I like your online idea lots.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hey, Shane! Sometimes the only thing to do is to shut it all off.

If only Santa would build me this ONE place where we could all hang out and simplify our lives...

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful idea, Becky!! I hope we get around to talking about that virtual conference too--it was terrific!

Once you find that place that Santa is going to build you ... can I come over? ;)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Once Santa builds me this beautiful place, EVERYONE is invited over, but especially you, Kelli!

That virtual conference was clever and fun, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I agree with what people have said about Netflix. A similar system for books would be good. I'd also like it if the system would track certain genres, subjects, or key words. I like traveling, athletics, and I like watching documentaries on the Beatles. I've never read a book on any of the above, but who's to say those interests couldn't flag a book on a wandering Beatlemaniac triathlete?

If there was a book I wanted, and I had a price in mind to pay for it, it would cool if the store could log that, then sellers could offer to meet the price.

The big thing about books is that there are so damn many, and how do you sort out the ones you like? Hmm. I buy books by going to the book store, sitting down in the aisle, sifting through ten of them and figuring out the one I want. Know what would be a big plus? If the interface was intuitive, animated, something that made it look like I was picking up the book. Amazon's interface works, but it's not *fun*.