In 2007, I went for an exchange semester to the US, to Oregon State University. It’s still one of the best memories I have from my time as a student. The campus was huge, modern, and overall student life on campus was fantastic. I also met a lot of international students and established connections for life.
After having been asked a couple of times to connect with them on Facebook, which I had never heard of, I decided it was time to check out what Facebook actually was.
I went online and registered for the site to connect with students I met. I was hooked quickly and I realized that this social network was onto something. I also realized that creating a Facebook page was easy, and that pages could grow really quickly from just a few members to thousands or even tens of thousands of fans.
Eventually, I started to work in a social media agency which was fully focused on Facebook. We had a great time designing and implementing social media campaigns for corporate clients. Growth rates were fantastic.
At that time, I was not sure about the main take-away from this episode. But years later, when I was already in business with Scribando | Novelify, it became very clear to me that the core insight was how powerful it was to latch on to a trend early. The rewards for early entrants catching a big wave in business are so much higher than the rewards for the players catching the second wave. Very often, it is also not possible to really profit from trends if you are too late. You need to be early.
We have seen the importance of being early and catching publishing trends numerous times in business, such as with Google, which was not the first search engine of course, but still within the first wave of major players fulfilling the growing need of a great search experience; with Zynga, one of the early social game developers on Facebook, the creator.
The emphasis is on being early and not first. Google, Facebook, and Amazon have certainly not been the first companies in their fields, but their growth was still fueled by catching the immense wave of a trend being created behind viral games such as Farmville, reaching 10 million daily active users (DAU) within just six weeks; or with “Toniebox”, a more recent example of a German company, whose “listening boxes for kids” have grown into a household name in German-speaking countries within just two years.
And the importance of being early is not any different with books. Especially when we focus on book marketing. The big publishing houses had to learn their lesson painfully regarding e-commerce, when they had to sit still and observe Amazon taking over the online retail space for books, as well as consuming a huge portion of self-publishing with its Kindle Direct Publishing service.
And authors realized quickly around 10 years ago that self-publishing was more than a short-lived trend, but instead a bigger shift that would alter the playing field forever. Today Amazon’s KDP service is the absolute market leader in self-publishing, with sources referencing its book market share in self-published books as up to 85% . Amazon definitely caught the wave early and grew tremendously.
Early self-publishing stars like Amanda Hocking in the U.S.A. or B.C. Schiller in Germany have profited immensely from being early talking about areas related to book marketing, such as distribution and availability. Trends are relevant for the core field book publishing a lot as well, such as with formats (eg. ebooks, audiobooks), publishing processes (eg. lean book publishing), as well as book genres (eg. growth and decline of genres).
A fantastic example was provided by J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. When she published the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 1997, nobody wanted to touch fantasy stories, as Michelle Smith, senior lecturer in literature at Deakin University, told ABC.
Fantasy stories were seen as old-fashioned. But Rowling created something new. She added wizards, witches, and magic, bringing new life to the formula. Belle Alderman, the director of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature at the University of Canberra, even said “the series was the first to blur the line between children’s and adult’s books.”
Rowling’s success could be more related to catching a trend early than we had assumed so far. We can also learn that there are frequent opportunities in classical aspects of book publishing, such as new or changing book genres, hot and trending book topics (eg. the latest cooking trend, a new celebrity, a hotly debated phenomenon, etc.) and trending formats (such as short stories, audiobooks, podcasts and conversational stories), to catch and to benefit from.
However, talking about the benefits of being early is one thing. What’s even more important, from my experience working personally with more than 100 authors and
publishers from around the world, is to talk about the costs of being late and of trying to be successful in a market where you have little experience.
A good observation can be made by looking at job postings related to “book launches,” “ghostwriting,” and “book marketing support” on freelancer webpages, such as Upwork. Many postings unveil author and publisher intentions to follow outdated tactics, combined with inexperience about book marketing. You can read about requirements and expectations, such as “launching book to 100K copies sold,” “social media management for aspiring influencer,” “getting Amazon bestseller badge quickly,” or “ghostwriting Keto Diet book” (which is probably book number 10,000 on that topic already on the market).
Being active on portals like Upwork as a professional can get a little crazy sometimes, but of course I am not here to throw blame. Upwork is a place for connecting with professionals who can help, so that is all fine.
What I want to make you aware of, though, is that unfortunately lots of these postings find an agency or a freelancer who will fulfill the client’s need without much questioning or a specific background in book marketing, resulting in actions and campaigns that are simply far from being effective in the current landscape.
And honestly, my heart is bleeding every time I see great book projects petering out because of outdated marketing tactics.
Here you have the author who invested a year writing his book, months into polishing, editing, and formatting it with professional help, often investing thousands of dollars, who is finally able to publish it on the market, only to realize that the current approach is not good enough.
For me, personally, it is painful. It’s one of the factors that keep me most motivated about what I do on a daily basis, as I want to keep as many authors as possible from this painful cycle.
It definitely is one of the aspects I am most passionate about regarding my job, namely, to help my clients with the latest strategies for success, and to save them from going on overcrowded paths that, most of the time, lead to nowhere.
The good thing is that I see a development in the market. Both publishers and authors see more and more that it is beneficial to catch marketing trends early.
Clear indicators are the commercial success of self-publisher support companies, like Self Publishing School, Kindlepreneur, or KDSPY, as well as outcomes, such as sales figures of self-publishers, and the strong performance of established publishers in the audiobook sector over the last couple of years.
I’ve even developed my own contribution to helping support authors and publishers in caching book marketing waves early, with my company Scribando (www.scribando.com). In case you haven’t, I highly recommend that you sign up for the service and give it a try.
My goal is that this service becomes the best investment for a publisher in terms of staying up-to-date on the best book marketing opportunities in the market. So what should you be doing as an author right now, in order to catch the worm?
What are the main marketing trends?
My answer at the time of writing (late 2019) is straightforward: right now you should be on the forefront of “audio first,” “automated book sales funnels,” and “AI related to content production.” Audio is already happening, as you can see by the growth rates of audiobooks and the success of Audible in recent years. But there is still big potential for audiobooks related to ebooks (just do a search for a keyword on Amazon vs. Audible, to compare the numbers of audiobooks and ebooks on the market).
The most important aspect, though, is to think “audio first.” This means you should at first think about questions like, “How would that sound?” “Is that a topic for audio?” etc… Ideally, start with producing an audiobook first.
The next area is Amazon’s Alexa. Amazon says it sold over 100 million Alexa-powered gadgets before the beginning of of 2019, and the catalogue of skills has grown from just 130 upon its release in 2016 to over 100,000 skills as of September 2019.
Once you have an audiobook, creating an Alexa skill in order to promote your book or creating added value for your audiobook is the next step.
Today, almost no one is doing that, but my data and insight suggests that this will change quickly and provide a big opportunity in the upcoming years.
AI related to content production
The next major area to be in early is AI related to content production. There are already numerous applications and companies offering services in the following three areas, all substantial for authors.
- Content production: Speech to Text (related to speed) makes producing a book much faster
- Content production (content automation): Content automation supported by AI. You start a text, AI continues to write a story
- Book editing (with AI): You provide the raw manuscript, software makes a book out of it
It will take some time for commercial readiness in these applications. But once that readiness for marketing has been reached, the wave will grow quickly, and you should not miss it.
I want to finish this chapter with my perspective on the popular quote: “The early bird catches the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese” by advising: “Be both.”
“Be both the early bird that catches the worm and the second mouse that gets the cheese.”
The most successful authors and publishers I work with have a great attitude toward staying on top of the latest market developments and opportunities. But they are also wise enough to wait for proven concepts and tools to develop around an opportunity.
You do not have to have the expenses of the first mover. That’s why, at Scribando, we have also decided to test opportunities whenever possible ourselves, before communicating the insights with our members.
The next secret will teach you not only how to be the early bird, but more importantly how to be the second mouse which gets the cheese. So read on and discover a proven concept for reverse-engineering successful book publishing models and businesses.
Secret #7 Checkbox
Book Marketing Secrets : The 10 fundamental secrets for selling more books and creating a successful self-publishing career
Founder & CEO of the book publishing startup Scribando & Novelify.
Previously Albert was Head of Digital at Dorotheum and consults companies and authors in digital strategy, digital marketing and book promotion.